Lately Nintendo has held onto its crown as King of Platformers largely by default. Though Sony made a bid for it in the PS2 era, there has been nothing in the genre to compare to Nintendo’s excellent Wii games. (Kudos, though, to Indie game makers for mastering techniques Nintendo pioneered two decades ago.) Super Mario 3D Land further secures Nintendo’s as the best. Mario’s first 3DS outing captures much of the joyous perfection of Mario Bros. 3, World and Galaxy. While it does execute the usual Mario formula to near perfection, it lacks the imagination and invention that sets the outstanding Mario games apart from the merely great ones.
Other than some gimmicky tricks with the 3D capabilities of the 3DS, there is nothing in Super Mario 3D Land that players haven’t seen before. There are power-ups, like the trusty Fire Flower and the less familiar Hammer Bro suit, to go along with the Tanooki suit, which was used by Nintendo as a selling point. That is despite it lacking much of the functionality that it had in SMB3. (after beating the game you do get a more complete one) Still, it functions perfectly in the context of this game. All of this, though, is familiar territory. Nintendo does nothing clever with the story, which is far from unexpected and not a flaw at all. Some games, even some Mario games, benefit from clever, well-written stories, but there is no shame in ignoring it for straight, pure gameplay. Especially gameplay that is as amazing as it is in a Mario game.
Super Mario 3D Land flawlessly executes the Mario formula. It is a formula, though. One gets the feeling that Nintendo could churn out near classics like this regularly. Mario games thrive on their level design, and Mario 3D Land has some excellent levels. There are minimal water levels, the one place Mario games struggle, some clever uses of power-ups and one of the most epic boss battles in the series. Only one, though, because the only other place where 3D Land struggles, apart from originality, is in its repeating dull bosses. It controls flawlessly. Nearly every other platformer feels awkward unless it controls like Mario. And the slight problem with the camera that has been present since Mario 64 is eliminated with the more focused view. The game really feels like the perfect blend of the 2D and 3D Mario, despite being definitely a 3D game.
Like so many other Mario games, Super Mario 3D Land is a proof of system. A Nintendo console isn’t usually worth owning until there is a Mario game. Anyone with a 3DS should own Mario 3D Land.