Greatest hit collections are meant to take the best work from an artist, put it together in a neat, efficiently awesome package. One of the things I’ve disliked about these collections is that they don’t come with the unique, albeit flawed other tracks that aren’t as talked about.
For every mega-hit song on best of albums there is three other songs that were less popular and possibly not as good on the album the hits originally released on. But some of my favorite songs by the musicians I love were songs that weren’t hit singles. The reason why I enjoy the tracks between the hits on most albums is that these are the places the artist experiments the most.
The parts between main attraction A and main attraction B don’t have the pressure of needing to be universally acceptable. You’ve got to have those filler tracks, and sometimes these usually unordinary segments in an artist’s work can showcase their personality. Being creative for the sake of being creative.
I present to you the dilemma with Super Mario 3D Land. It is for all intents and purposes a greatest hits collection of everything you’ve enjoyed about both 2D Mario platformers and the more expansive 3D games.
What does it do right?
Let’s get down to what the game does right. It looks gorgeous and challenges Super Mario Galaxy in some areas in terms of most impressive looking Mario game. Not only that, but it legitimizing 3D as an effective and game play altering variable worth including in the successor to the Nintendo DS.
Judging the distance and speed at which Mario should jump is aided by the use of the best 3D seen on any game console I’ve experienced. It not only makes landing pin point jumps easier to judge, but this added level of depth in player decision making allows the developers to make some fiendishly difficult levels. Often I would be stumped on where to look for the Star Medal I needed to gain access to another level when I would notice a great amount of special depth between where I was and something around me. Noticing that there was more 3D space around you in certain areas of stages hints at where hidden Star Medals may be.
Star Medals? You meant to say Star Coins or Power Stars right?
Star Medals are essentially giant coins hidden in each level. There are three per level and as you progress through the 16 worlds (8 available right away, the other 8 available after you beat Bowser at the end of World 8, unlocking as 8 “special” worlds) you will be required to use the amount of Star Medals you have to purchase access to particular stages.
Sometimes Star Medals are hidden in obvious locations, and other times in ingenious and treacherous territory. You’re going to have go out of your way to discover their locations to advance to some of the best stages in Mario history later in the game, and doing so is (almost) always a blast.
Controls are pretty spot on as well. At first, I cringed at the thought of holding down a run button like in Super Mario 64 DS but rest assured that the controls are far superior to those found in that game. There are sections when you should definitely not walk at full speed, and other moments when you should haul ass across always dropping away platforms while being chase by bullet bills or Bowser’s fire balls. It works pretty well most of the time, and it makes sense why the developers didn’t think simply changing your movement speed by pressure on the circle pad would suffice.
Levels, how awesome are they?
Stages are crafted well, and there are some of the most difficult and unique level designs in this game than in any other Mario. If you keep getting killed by enemies you can use a Super Leaf to become invincible after five consecutive deaths. After 10 deaths you can skip the stage altogether and get to the end, but be warned to unlock stages later in the game you will need a large number of star medals and you have get star medals and then complete the stage on your own for them to count towards your overall total. Meaning, the game may throw you a bone every now and then, but it won’t hold your hand all the time.
How much value will I get out of it?
You may fear the game lacks content and longevity when you realize you can beat the first 8 worlds in about five hours. Don’t fret because once you beat the main story you unlock “special” worlds which are a collage of new, and remixed older stages. Special worlds provide an even bigger challenge than the first 8 worlds, and upon completition of the special worlds I can tell you that you will most likely squeeze out 15 hours or more out of the game before all is said done.
Where does it go wrong?
Identity is where this wonderfully crafted piece of gaming goodness stumbles. Yes, there are new additions like the boomerang suit. The propeller and tanooki suits are both a blast, but for the most part there isn’t a whole lot of new ideas to be found. This isn’t normally an issue with Mario platformers, but I believe we’ve been spoiled by the once mandatory Mario evolution between console generations.
The leap between Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy all brought core game play changes. They retained the same charm and overall mechanics, while adding a refreshing twist. Sunshine had the levitation of the water pack with huge levels. Galaxy had crazy physics and planetoids full of fun. Super Mario 3D Land has a lot of old things, but there is very little spice to this dish.
That isn’t nessecarily a bad thing. Like I said before, best of albums are terrific. They represent the greatest work ever produced by an artist. The void of those filler tracks that show personality and experimentation are what is missing in Super Mario 3D Land. Super Mario Sunshine had huge levels with a water pack that while frustrating, added something new to the traditional Mario game play. Sure, the vast levels may have been a pain to traverse and the water pack needed to be constantly refilled but it had charm. It was flawed fun.
What it does and doesn’t do.
Super Mario 3D Land is a tight package, filled with the best ideas from nearly every Mario game. But it is also hard to pin point if this is more like 2D Mario games or 3D Mario games. There are no power stars to collect at the end of levels, instead Nintendo puts in the return of flag poles. Triple jumping is no more as not only does Mario lack the ability to perform this maneuver but doing so probably wouldn’t be wise since the stages are largely designed with loads of bottomless pits if you should fall off the edge.
Gone is Mario’s spin attack and he no longer can punch or kick. He can roll for a few seconds but this doesn’t damage enemies. The only way to attack enemies is to jump on their weak spot or hit them with your boomerang or tail. This means jumping on heads is the only way to defend yourself if you don’t happen to have a particular power up with you.
Boss fights are more 1986 than 2011.
The boss fights are reminiscent of New Super Mario Bros more than they are of Galaxy. Bowser fights are always simple in that you have to hit the switch behind him to destroy the bridge he stands on. Some boss fights deploy koopas that either have spin attacks or throw boomerangs at you. Sometimes you will have to fight more than one boss at a time.
While each boss encounter is fun, I did miss the whole “spin bowser around” or “slap bowser in the tail” aspect from other 3D Mario games. Once you play the three bosses in the game once, they will almost always play out the same way. Bowser mixes things up with more than a handful of attacks but things never change too much. At times it did feel like the Bowser boss fights were the weakest part of the game.
Each Bowser fight begins with him shooting fireballs at you as you try to make your way across platforms littered with enemies to his location. That is usually the exciting part of Bowser fights, as once you draw closer to him you simply have to wait for him to jump and run under him to stomp on the bridge destroying switch.
Music is always a big part of Mario games, and 3D Land doesn’t disappoint. While it may not have as good as a soundtrack as Super Mario Galaxy, or any unique new tunes like those found on Delfino Island, the music isn’t bad by any means. Most of the time the music is fun and fits each stage well. Don’t look for any smooth, more calm melodies like the music found in Dire, Dire Docks in Super Mario 64. Usually all the music is upbeat because all the stages have a time limit.
Yes, there are time limits.
Time limits. I’ve grown to forget about them in 2D Marios and they are non-existent in 3D Marios. There are later stages that require you to reach the flag pole within a small amount of time, and the only way to gain more time is to defeat enemies on your way to the end. These stages are frantic fun, but it does bring up an area that this game fails in.
McRib is back, I mean, Super Mario is back!
Exploration. Nintendo was right when they said Super Mario 3D Land is more “fast-food than feast.” The time limit allows you to do enough exploring so that you can make a decent attempt to find all the star medals in a stage, but there is never a moment where you can relax and take it all in like in 64, Sunshine, Galaxy.
We’ve always known not to expect an active, engaging story from Mario games. The core narrative is always “princess captured, save her coz no one else can dude!” But in Super Mario Galaxy we had the side story of Rosalina and the Luma’s to look to if we wanted some extra narrative, and in Sunshine the residents of Delfino Island were comical and blamed Mario for recent events. Super Mario 3D Land has no side story whatsoever, and it has absolutely no new characters at all.
There isn’t a whole lot wrong with this game overall. It contains some of the best level designs seen in any Mario game, and some of the best power ups. It’s just a lack of identity, lack of a unique hook that makes the game feel without character.
What did we learn about Super Mario 3D Land today?
All of this being said, there must be some reward for doing something done before so well. Even if the game feels more like Super Mario 2.5D Land as it blends 2D and 3D Mario’s together in a neat, unoriginal package. It oozes that ageless Mario charm, and its one of those first party Nintendo offerings that will make you believe their “magic” still exists. Even the most jaded, skeptical gamer can enjoy this game for what it is, because for what it is and for what it tries to do it does so triumphantly and with no equal on any handheld on the market.