now that i’m more of less all caught up with the main mario series i’m more motivated to actually play the new games as they come out. although it’s true that i’ve kept up pretty well with the last few mario releases, the release of super mario 3D land was one of the few times that i picked up a game on the day it came out. i had my hopes up for multiple reasons, even aside from it being a new mario game: for one, it’s the first triple-A title for the 3DS; and second, although NSMB on DS and NSMB wii were enjoyable enough, i’ve been patiently waiting for a really brilliant mario game, one that reaches heights that i haven’t experienced since super mario world 2: yoshi’s island (technically a mario spinoff).
unfortunately, it looks like i’m going to have to wait a little longer. although i enjoyed the game overall, yet again the series is content to rework the trappings without changing the essentials. this is somewhat surprising to say since the game is quite successful at combining the traditional mario 2-D and 3-D gameplay in a way that is accessible to newbies. but as with the galaxy games, although there was a lot i admired there was very, very little that gave me that tingly feeling that to me is indicative of the presence of true nintendo genius.
my complaints range from minor details to major design choices. to start with some major ones, i found all the bowser battles to be terribly dull, and less enjoyable than even the sub-boss battles with boom boom and pom pom. the designers were clearly referencing the usual drawbridge/axe/lava scenarios from previous games, but slipping past bowser in this game is just never worth the wait since instead you can just take a hit and force your way past him.
although i appreciated the second and more difficult part of the game, i absolutely despised the number of levels that are simply repeats of previous levels but rehashed as speed runs or “cosmic mario” race-a-thons (where you have to avoid a shadow that mimics all your moves). i hated those modes in the galaxy games since they felt completely tacked on, and i quickly grew to feel exactly the same way about those modes in this game. the game’s more-deliberate pacing due to a slower mario works well for the most part because of the character to environment ratio (mario is much bigger due to the smaller screen, compared to the galaxy games), but this gets completely ruined in these speed challenges and thus mario ends up making way too many practically blind leaps, often winding up in a bottomless pit (= pointless memorization gameplay at its worst). the difficulty of the game in general is questionable since in the first half tanooki leaves are plentiful and that powerup makes the game much easier. i’m not convinced that leaving the difficulty level up to the player without providing any reward for taking the more-difficult approach was a wise decision for this game, and personally i found the easiness of the first half of the game made progressing through those levels feel fairly rote.
i was also disappointed that the worlds of the games were so completely incohesive and arbitrary: unlike almost all the other games in the series, the distinction between areas, such as the “water” world and the “desert” world, were tenuous at best, and without this hook there wasn’t any of the added interest of having favorites among the different sections of the game or that little extra motivation to finish the current world.
i don’t find the main streetpass feature, which is to exchange “mystery boxes”, particularly offensive, but having mystery boxes also provide star medals seems a poor design choice. i see why they did it, namely, to give people with less ability a chance to unlock more stages, but by increasing the total star medal account to an arbitrary number not tied at all with accomplishing objectives in the game they’ve completely stripped the satisfaction of the act of earning star medals. i’m also rather unconvinced about the “time attack” streetpass features which seem abruptly shoehorned into a series that has never had to resort to such pointless game mechanics.
it also annoys me that the game attaches the mario land moniker, but has nothing to do with either of those two game boy titles. this feels like a huge missed opportunity since a return to sarasaland would’ve been a great chance to shake things up in the mario series instead of yet another trek through the mushroom kingdom (much as we all love it).
as for my more-minor complaints, i appreciated the references to mario 3, but i really don’t see why the designers replaced the green leaf (which just provides mario with a raccoon tail and ears) with the tanooki leaf, which bestows mario with the tanooki suit. yes, the tanooki suit is the cuter of the two, but as a result (minor spoiler) the designers ended up having to add a third new item to account for the traditional tanooki suit abilities and a new look, when instead they could’ve just re-used the two already existing and perfectly pitched powerups from mario 3. my annoyance with this is probably partly a matter of nostalgia, but by lessening the distinction between the two powerups they’ve made the tanooki suit less special and thus have far less of an impact.
continuing on, i don’t see why they suddenly made the toads silent, who have been talking supporting characters since the very first super mario release. to not have them talking really takes away from their personality, friendliness, and approachability. also, a minor detail but one that has a major impact since it occurs so often, is the sound effect indicating that mario is moving from walking to running. the effect they chose seems completely wrong to me and sounds, quite frankly, rather flatulent, when it should sound zippy. also, coin heaven was way too mindless and easy. one of the fun things about coin heaven in the original NES super mario was that it was a challenge to get all the coins so it made you want to find another one to try the challenge again, whereas in this one they’re just little bonuses that aren’t much distinct from any other part of a stage that provides a stash of coins such as a 10-coin block.
a lot of minuses, but i guess by now i have pretty strong opinions about mario games and game design in general. as for the pluses, the use of 3D is generally good (although people with a strong sense of vertigo may want to proceed with caution). i tend to play for long intervals at a time, so my eyes got rather weary, but the average user probably won’t have that problem, although in general i found stages to be unnecessarily busy and crammed with moving elements. peach’s letters were thoroughly entertaining and a nice addition.
i’m actually having a hard time thinking of other parts i truly enjoyed, which just goes to show that even though this is far from a bad game, the mario series has such high standards that games even slightly off the mark will come under intense scrutiny. with that said, i would still have to rank this fairly low in my favorites of the series, even below the galaxy games. maybe i’ll grow to appreciate it more over the years, but i’m really counting on this not being the last word for mario platformers on 3DS.
flutter through these super mario 3d land links:
– i’m not the only one who’s getting tired of nintendo playing it safe with their software. here’s a good read at 1up.com.
– the official site includes wallpapers and a special section just for 3DS owners with screenshots you can save to your 3DS
– iwata asks feature with some interesting discussion about the game as “the missing link” between the 2-D and 3-D mario games
– nintendo of america continues to come up with fun promotional stunts. here’s the official video of a bevy of tanooki (actually raccoon) marios invading san diego.