The game is very well done if the videos are anything worth using as a measuring stick while it’s unreleased. The music and sound effects are mix of of old ditties and are also an extension of the style formed in New Super Mario Bros. DS. The visuals are just as splendid as the ones ushered in by Super Mario Galaxy and the levels are a mix of Galaxy’s and the bonus stages of Super Mario Sunshine. Toss it all in a coin block and you should have a worthy power-up for any 3DS.
Despite the production values of the game, the gameplay itself seems like it will be more dull than a lecture on chlorophyll at many points. Not that chlorophyll is a dull thing, I just think that many people would agree that it’s not a savory topic for everyday conversation. Mario’s movements make him appear to be slow, but that’s been true in most parts of other 3D Mario games. It’s just that the sensation of movement is much more significant an a smaller screen with the tighter controls expected on a handheld gaming system. I may have bad expectations, but I expect a certain feel and type of game for something that’s meant to be played while not being tethered to a tv screen.
In 3D Land it’s not just Mario’s running speed but also Mario’s ability to react. Enemy placement, level design and a ticking clock would often come together to bring a strong challenge to the players reflexes. Instead of moving stages like the third world of Super Mario Bros. 3 first world, we get a bad replacement in the form of stages with a moving ground that has holes in it. It’s still fun but the challenges are nowhere near to being equal in both forms. Super Mario Bros. games usually have a strong tactile feel that are brought to the player with strong controls and both the need and ability to react quickly. This is a skill that’s need fairly early in Super Mario Bros. games.
Mario and Mario inspired games normally complement the raw skill of players with power-ups or equalizers. Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario Party, etc. In the Mario Bros. series these power-ups are optional, a player can beat every stage as tiny Mario if that’s what they want to do. Super Mario World eased the difficulty of the game but increased the scope of the game world with multiple exits and re-traversable levels. That added a slight puzzle element to the game that wasn’t heavy handed in the series yet. Super Mario 64 “fixed” that, but was still a joy to play due to its’ content. Sure, it was a different game that made Mario treasure hunt like Knuckles but it didn’t lose the core platforming like Knuckles did in Sonic Adventure. Despite the game being a successful Mario game, it’s not a Mario Bros. game. I look forward to both types of Mario platformers, but 3D Land is being advertised as the best of both worlds. Hasn’t this happened with another series before?
The divide between Mario Bros. and Mario 3D games are easy to discern for most players. 2D based gameplay vs. 3d. Clearing stages and conquering worlds vs. treasure hunting and challenge-taking across a hub. Power-ups as an optional, but significantly different way to play vs. power-ups being an integral part of puzzles and challenges. They use the same content base but focus on the core architecture of the game differently. This hasn’t been much of an issue until Super Mario 3D Land. It’s using the same 3D Mario formula, but it’s trying to bring in the values of 2D Mario that Nintendo, not the player, sees as a value. That’s why the Tanooki tails are everywhere. That’s why the games palette and make-up attempts to be a different take of the theatrical play based sets of Super Mario Bros. 3. Super Mario Galaxy was a much more elegant way to reference the earlier Mario games and to build upon them in a different series. They didn’t steal wholesale from the earlier series while trying to masquerade itself as that game. Instead it was partly a nostalgia grab and added to the fun in the game without trying to present itself as being the same or equal. Just different.
I know that Steve Jobs said that “good artist’s copy and great artist’s steal”, but it’s kind of awkward to rob yourself. The tanooki tail and music are both iconic and nostalgic, but they are the products of what makes Super Mario Bros. 3 a compelling game 21 years after its’ release in the U.S.. The music perfectly captures the feel of each stage as you progress through the game. The controls are incredibly fluid and still remain tight. There’s an incredible amount of control afforded to a game that’s meant to be played with a single d-pad and two buttons. Mario as a character exists as the product of technical limitations in a game that had to convey speed, power, weakness and fear to players almost instantly. What stops Super Mario Bros. from being a shallow experience is the level design and game progression. The stages actively attack the players reflexes and ability to think. The game is simply challenging because it tests a players ability on many levels.
Super Mario 3D Land appears to be a bit shallow because it only attempts to mimic the surface of what makes Super Mario Bros. 3 revered and fun. Super Mario 3D Land is not a Super Mario Bros. game and I’m not expecting it to be one. I just wish that more of the actual 2D design elements would make their ways into these games if that’s what Nintendo is trying to achieve. Many enemies that used to live just to attack the player are static or solely on screen just to be there. Even worse, it appears to be making sacrifices to normal 3D Mario gameplay. There are many 2D sections that make the game feel as if it’s being made to compete against Sonic Unleashed and nostalgia. The gameplay looks like a mish-mash of Super Mario 64 with elements of an amusement park. Yes, it looks like a slow version of Sonic Adventure. Sonic games normally have portions of the experience that has the player holding down a single direction or sometimes nothing for a significant portion of the ride. There are entire sequences where doing nothing grants you progress or does not lead to any true danger. Super Mario 3D Land has quite a few of these based upon the trailers released so far. It also has a stronger focus on the background interacting with the foreground. It’s a cool effect but only will tell if it will grow old.
The most hostile part of the entire creation is how Nintendo describes the game. The description given by the producer, Shigeru Miyamoto, is that Super 3D Land is a “3D Mario that plays as a 2D Mario game.” Nintendo has confirmed that it’s still working on proper 2D Mario games, but is 3D Land meant to eventually replace either of the previous Mario Games? Each 3D Mario Game has tried to conform to certain bits and pieces of the 2D series, every release adds more from the old to the new. There was a 15 year gap between the development of a proper 2D Mario game. With that type of track record it almost feels as if they’re trying to wipe it out in favor of the other series. I honestly do not believe that I’ll enjoy 3D Land as much as I’ve enjoyed all of the other Mario platformers but I will give it a fair shot. I originally didn’t believe that I would like Mario Party but the first game surprised my entire group.