Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Super Mario Land 3D: Not Your Father’s Mario

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While I’m perfectly capable of giving a review of this title, its merits and setbacks hold more value to me in a comparison to the series as a whole instead of a single title of the generation.  This is not a retrospective either, I’m more than happy to compare the timeline of the series if my content slims to that point. 

We’re Sorry, but Your Princess is in Another Castle

As a gamer who has been conquering Bowser Koopa – back then we called him “King Koopa” – in 1987 when I unboxed my first NES, the Super Mario franchise is as dear to me as gaming.  Needless to say that for better or worse, I have at one time or another owned every Nintendo console and thoroughly completed any part of the Super Mario platforming series.  As the years carried on I grew older and more mature, as did the Super Mario series.  One thing always remained consistent: each new release on a Nintendo platform played to the strengths of the hardware.  Super Mario Land 3D is no exception; it thwarts bold statements that the 3D hardware doesn’t enhance a game just like Super Mario Galaxy did for motion controls on the Wii.  It is not, however, Super Mario Bros. 3 meets Super Mario Galaxy, not in the least.

Photo courtesy of invaderkurosaki11 at Deviant Art

Super Mario’s series is really only about two characters: Mario and Bowser.  Sure there’s a brother, a princess, Toad (who wasn’t annoying as a silent protagonist) and even Koopa kids, but these characters merely support our main stars.  This dynamic relationship keeps getting wiggled around as Nintendo tries to figure out what modern and retro audiences alike want in one cohesive game.  When they just try to do something unique like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario 64 it nets amazing results, but as an older gamer when I see attempts to bring back the classics I can’t help but get that “Sonic” vibe.  Oh you don’t think Sonic and Mario are all that alike?  Mario may have more popularity, but little things like re-integrating old costumes, levels and characters are poor attempts at saying, “remember that?”  These are aspects about Super Mario Land 3D that make me cringe, especially when all of the suits are basically toned down versions of the ones in Super Mario Bros. 3.  On the other hand, when left to its own devices and enjoyed as the next step of evolution in the Mario series, it’s a thankful breath of fresh air.  To be clear, saying this title is a hybrid between SMB 3 and Galaxy is a marketing ticker for all gamers because in my opinion it’s really more Super Paper Mario‘s 2D/3D shift mixed with New Super Mario Bros.

Where’s Wario?

Super Mario Land, if you haven’t noticed, is the different name handed down to the Gameboy entries of the Mario series.  The first game was weird, outside the box and didn’t even pretend to have anything to do with the Koopa tribe.  It still needed a lead antagonist, though, so Wario was brought in with Super Mario Land 2: Six Gold Coins and the series was definitely better for it.  It was such a good fit that by the 3rd title the subtitle Wario Land became the surrogate name and eventually paved the way for Mario’s bizarro form to get his own series.  This is why Super Mario Land 3D is an interesting name because it suggests either an alternative reality where this is the third installment for Mario, which is somewhat true, or that this will be a new side story for the Mario Land series.  In either case, this game deserves its unique but oddly similar title because that’s exactly what the game feels like.

Complex Simplicity

Early Mario games were brutally difficult and could take up to a half an hour to complete certain levels, especially starting with Super Mario World when the game wasn’t designed to be conquered in one session.  Despite this fact, the level design was usually simple and short.  Think of how brutal level 8-1 in Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first time you played it, but the level is literally small enough to fit on a landscape sheet of paper.  I appreciate the fact that Mario Land 3D hasn’t forgotten those roots.  From the first level it’s possible to spend five minutes roaming the casual golf course but if you’re in a hurry it can easily be completed in less than 90 seconds.  This remains consistent throughout the entire game, even leading into the special levels.  Speaking of special levels, it was impressive to see an alternative version of the entire game brought to life after collecting all 160 gold coins.  Not only that but as both a completionist and someone looking for a more difficult game, I was handsomely rewarded.

Newer is not Necessarily Better

Unfortunately with this new direction for Mario comes a handful of setbacks, some having to do with this generation and some just simple missteps.  First of all, the game is too easy.  I mean way too easy.  I managed to rack up more than 150 lives playing through the first 7 worlds and never lost more than a handful of lives in all of World 8.  Not only that, the collectible gold coins were way too easy to find.  In the previous New Super Mario Bros. games, there was always a gold coin or two that I had a problem finding in each world, some that even resulted in incomplete guides online.  Not the case in this one, no sir, I could write the FAQ right now having only spent about five hours with the game.  For all the good that the special world provides after dispelling of Bowser, the levels themselves are basically the same as the ones you’ve already played.  It makes for a pretty repetitive second ride, especially when this time around you want a challenge.  I think the harder version should be an option from the beginning to give old school gamers a decent challenge.  I also hated that most of the challenge in World 8 was purely artificial.  You died because of a trick or gimmick that you couldn’t see coming and didn’t react fast enough for.  Twitch reflexes are always a necessary evil in a Mario game, but never before has it been the goal of the camera to hide your obstacle until the last second.  It takes the freedom of Mario 64 and spits in its face, using the camera as a setback rather than a feature.  Certain aspects of the final Bowser battle felt like they had nothing to do with skill and everything to do with cheating the camera or having enough power-ups to endure the collateral damage.

Closing Thoughts

Super Mario Land 3D is a great platformer and has breathed new life into my nearly forgotten portable.  Unfortunately, much like the console itself, it’s really just a matter of desperation.  Mario Land 3D does not do what Nintendo marketing promises and can’t deliver the goods that we’ve come to expect out of a Mario game.  I expected more levels, better unlocks or at least more of a challenge, but I got none of it.  It was a hell of a ride and a solid experience, but when I compare to even some of the free ambassador games like Yoshi’s Island, Mario Land 3D falls short.  I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t the staple series that defines quality for Nintendo.  If they begin to get lax with Mario, then what’s to become of the series and future Nintendo properties as a whole?  Nintendo leads by example and frankly with each new property on the 3DS there’s still a sense that even Nintendo is tired of trying to create quality titles for its gimmicky platform.  

Don’t take this laying down, if you agree or disagree please let us know in the comments below. 

Written by Fred Rojas

January 11, 2012 at 8:30 am

Posted in Blog

Tagged with , , , , , ,

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