As the first Mario game on 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land has a lot riding on it, so we're thankful to say it more than lives up to many of the high expectations we had before playing the finished article. Perhaps best described as a blend of the more straightforward, accessible 2D Super Mario Bros. games for Wii and DS plus the Wii's more challenging 3D Super Mario Galaxy titles, it's a product that attempts to cater for players of all skill levels - and it just about succeeds in this aim.
Super Mario 3D Land's worlds are essentially made up of linear obstacle courses, left to right dashes which see you timing runs and jumps to master the environments with the aim of reaching a flagpole at the end of each level. Mario can wander around a little in the 3D levels, with side branches leading to collectibles like extra lives and hidden coins, but there's always a clearly set path to completing the stage.
The majority of Super Mario 3D Land's levels are brimming with imaginative gameplay mechanics, new ideas, objects or enemy types popping into existence just long enough to make you smile and throw up a little challenge before making way for the next crowd pleaser.
Power Up time
Classic and new power ups help you navigate environments and defeat enemies. These include the Tanooki suit, which gives Mario a spin attack and lets him float briefly in mid-air, the Boomerang, which lets him launch boomerangs to collect items, Fire Flowers, which enable him to hurl projectiles at foes, and Starmen, which turn him invincible for a short period.
Every so often, to pass from one world to the next, you'll face off against long-time Mario antagonist Bowser or one of his henchmen, Boom Boom, in airship or castle battles which require you to jump on your opponent's head three times to defeat them or navigate your way past them to hit a switch to compete the level.
Game of two halves
Super Mario 3D Land isn't a very challenging game, at least not to begin with. Set across eight worlds, its core 48 stages can be completed by skilled players in about three hours. This section of the game has been designed with less experienced players in mind and will prove an accessible experience for anyone who's struggled with the challenges served up by past 3D Mario adventures.
After the credits roll though, there's a big surprise in store. Eight special worlds are unlocked, offering remixed versions of some of the levels in the main adventure alongside completely new ones. This more than doubles the length of the game by providing a much greater challenge, with new enemies, more of them, and time limits turning what might have been walk in the park stages into manic sprints and battles to the end. Finishing the entire game with all the collectibles is going to take seasoned Mario fans as many as 15 hours.
Super Mario 3D Land is a massively slick production, in which the developer's care and attention to detail is evident at every turn. The music is catchy and cheerful, the levels are stunningly presented, colourful, magical places, and the game makes fantastic use of the console's 3D capabilities, which is not only aesthetically pleasing but essential to completing some objectives. There are treasure rooms, for example, where the route can only be seen in 3D.
Offering gameplay and production values that match or surpass anything seen on Nintendo's latest handheld system to date, Super Mario 3D Land is a must play title for newcomers and Mario veterans alike.
+ Varied, accessible, fun gameplay.
+ Fantastic production values.
+ Plenty of replay value.
- Can be 'completed' in a short time.
- First half could be more challenging.