Sunday, 13 May 2012

REVIEW: Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario. The duo-tone suited, mustachioed plumber that kick-started it all. Back in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid-eighties, this platforming hero begun to gain popularity and eventually became a household name, granting Nintendo the clear view of making the dinky hero who truly launched the company into the realms of success, like the plumber himself advancing through a stage with the use of a novelty human-cannon, their proud mascot. Over the past 25 years, Mario has featured in quite literally countless games, a wide variety of genres and many different scenarios, with very few hiccups along the way. The main 2D titles; Super Mario Bros. and its two sequels, Super Mario World, a number of handheld iterations and more recently, the New Super Mario Bros. games have retained a feeling few other platformers have to offer, and this sustainability is mostly thanks to the fact that Nintendo rarely stray away from the roots of the franchise, with each title typically involving similar gameplay mechanics and the usual 'princess is kidnapped by giant turtle, plumber sets out to rescue her' storyline. This simplicity may have grown roots over the years, but never too many to transform Mario's main games, 2D or polygonal, into something as complex as Zelda or Metroid, at least if you forget some of the various spin-off titles, Mario role-players in particular. You should forget about those for the purpose of this review, however, because today I'll be dissecting Super Mario 3D Land, the most recently sprouted olive branch from the tree of simplicity that is the 2D Mario genealogy. This branch is one that sticks out at you more than any of the others, and it's all thanks to stereoscopic 3D, but while the game certainly holds up visually, how does it fair against its predecessors?

Despite my metaphorical description of a tree that houses the 2D Mario titles, the plumber's 3DS debut isn't strictly speaking a game that plays out on a 2D plain. In fact, as you'd expect from a platform that can handle this sort of thing, the game involves movement in all angles with full 360-degree movement being nothing but compulsory while you navigate levels, yet 3D Land has a lot more in common with the 2D classics than the more recent epics such as the Galaxy games. This is, in essence, a 2D Mario tribute that plays out on a 3D plain. The mixture of the side-scrolling games' formulaic structure and the tight controls of the polygonal releases certainly makes for a delectable experience, albeit one that isn't quite fresh - if anything, close to becoming rotten. Super Mario 3D Land isn't at all a bad game, it's just the flaw of it being all too familiar brings it down a little, and what's worse is that the gripes I and others had with the stereoscopic debut of the plumber don't end at a lack of innovation. Without trying to sound like a sceptical Mario hater, this release is far too easy, far too short and full of re-hashed ideas. With the plumber's 3DS debut, it feels like Nintendo have taken the ingredients that made past titles starring the heroic plumber so superb, and mashed them all up into one, afterwards adding a sauce that acts as the glitz of eye-popping (calm down, not literally) three-dimensional visuals. Super Mario 3D Land is without a doubt new enough to warrant a purchase, but that doesn't stop it from feeling familiar to its predecessors and unfortunately lacking in innovation.
On occasion, 3D Land pays homage to many segments we know and love. This scene is one all gamers should be familiar with.
Of course, some might say this tributary design is the whole point of this release, with us quite literally seeing what makes Mario so great in a whole new visual dimension, and that's exactly what 3D Land achieves. The game looks truly amazing, with colourful visuals popping out and sinking-in and locales that come very close to appearing as detailed as recent home console Mario releases. While the whole point of videogames, Mario titles in particular, is to enjoy them through playing and interacting with an experience, you can't help but see the stereoscopic visuals as the whole point of 3D Land. It's like a fairground ride that takes you through the realms of familiarity, but has you feeling exhilarated in the process. The plumber's 3DS debut is truly the first game ever created in which 3D feels like a requirement, and I mean that in a good sense. Each level has been crafted to take advantage of the system's visual fidelity, with the isometric Star Coin rooms (of which there are unfortunately very few) in particular making the 3D almost compulsory to see through the genius visual trickery that Nintendo have come up with. It's very difficult to imagine this game being as successful on a system with only two-dimensional visual capabilities. Super Mario 3D Land's visuals, while certainly the most plausible aspect of the game in my view, are fortunately accompanied by some superb gameplay, however all-too-familiar it feels as aforementioned. I could go on for several more paragraphs about how good the game looks, but of course, it needs to be expressed how well it plays, like any game (with the exclusion of something like Asura's Wrath).

While the vast majority of gameplay elements found in 3D Land have been recycled from past Mario titles, 2D and 3D, the game controls like a mixture of the two. You navigate the plumber on a 3D plain with the Circle Pad and jump with the A button, as per usual. However, players will discover that the dash button from 2D titles, never before seen in a 3D Mario game, has been added to the cauldron in the form of a button press. Brand-new is the ability to roll, which can be used to smash through boxes and fake wooden Goombas and the like, and followed up by the polyonal predecessors' super jump, which involves crouching with a shoulder button and performing a lengthier leap with the A button. With the exception of the new roll function, 3D Land feels familiar in the sense of controls, too, but it's in the context they are used that makes playing the game feel unique enough. As for the structure of this stereoscopic adventure, you traverse through eight worlds of mashed-up ideas with a good amount of enjoyment, before discovering that after accomplishing this task, not one, not two, but eight more special worlds are opened up to play through. That's impressive, considering the 2D Mario iterations of old never exceeded nine locales full of levels. Like the original Super Mario Bros., the stages of 3D Land don't stick to a specific theme visualised through a world map. Instead, levels are marked 1-1, 1-2, 2-1 and so on, with each level feeling distinctive and not restricted to a particular idea. Granted, some stages found in the special worlds are remixed versions of ones you played through in the first eight, but I digress, just like the package as a whole they're new enough to be enjoyable.

Do the maths and you'll discover that Super Mario 3D Land only has three different bosses. While not the point of this homage to 2D Mario titles, that's a bit weak.
As for the core gameplay, you'll find yourself sprinting through three-dimensional gauntlets built out of particular gameplay quirks specified to each level. One stage might be based around switching around platforms by jumping, an idea blatantly expanded from Super Mario Galaxy 2, while others range from the automatically-scrolling stages introduced in Mario 3 to the open-world environments of Super Mario 64 among other things. It's nowhere near as inventive as the Galaxy games, but that's to be expected. As previously mentioned, levels are marked by numbers, not words, and it seems that this is purely down to the fact that you couldn't give a name to the vast majority of levels you'll find in 3D Land - they're just too simplistic, despite typically being based around a single quirk. Ditched are the Stars and Shine Sprites of other Mario adventures that allowed full 360-degree movement, replaced by the retro level structure in which you run through a rarely branching stage in order to reach a flagpole. A time limit is also lifted from the grave of 2D Mario titles and mixed into 3D Land, making the game a great challenge for speed-runners. Airships and the Tanooki Leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3 also make a return, with the latter power-up being made quite a big deal in the run-up to the release of the game. Still, with all of these ideas from various Mario titles of the past mashed into one 3DS release, 3D Land somehow doesn't feel like a 'best of' package, nor does it feel too new. It's a strange case, one that is, in basic terms, a Mario game that looks and plays great and nothing else. With the exception of the forgettable Boomerang suit and a few other things, the game doesn't really offer anything we haven't seen before in a Mario game. It's a frustratingly brief title, too, one I found myself 100% completing in just over 15 hours. It's also even easier than New Super Mario Bros. That statement alone will put many of you off buying this game.

Despite the familiarity (there's nothing in this screenshot we haven't seen before in another Mario game), 3D Land certainly looks the part, even more so in 3D.
Still, even taking into consideration my harsh complaints, I had a lot of fun playing through Super Mario's 3DS debut, and in the end that's what these games are all about: having fun. It's a frustratingly easy experience for the majority of the time you'll spend playing the game, the plot is as basic as ever, feeling not just familiar but identical to past titles, and when compared to recent Mario experiences (even the boycotted New Super Mario Bros. Wii) it doesn't quite hold up as it simply isn't fresh enough, but despite these concerns, as a standalone package this 3D roller-coaster is well-worth a purchase if you own Nintendo's latest handheld. The presentation of the game is just as excellent as you'd expect from a 'main' Mario title, and while not a major release it's still a great way to showcase the visual finesse of the 3DS. It may be brief, it may be all-too-familiar, but it's still highly enjoyable and charming, just like the classics it cheekily borrows countless ideas from.


1 comment:

Kezz said...

I'll agree, it was too short and very easy (apart from that final level, of course). I ended up completing everything in about 20 hours. Still, a great game, had much fun with it.

Excellent review. :3