Super Mario 3D Land - A flag and castle inspired by Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario 3D Land was released for the 3DS yesterday. After months of lacklustre titles, this one looks to be the first original title for the system worthy of owning. I’ve put in a solid evening of gameplay and progressed through roughly half the game, and I’d like to share my first impressions.

Immediately the game is reminiscent of Nintendo era Super Mario Bros. games. While Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy all had a some of features reminiscent of older games, this game has many more. While other more recent games feel like they take place in their own new worlds, this game at times feels like you’re in a 3D version of Super Mario Bros. 3. The Tanooki suit makes a welcome return, as well the old classics like the fire flower and a new suit, the Boomerang Bro. suit, which while new is itself a throwback to characters from old games.

Keep reading for more thoughts.

One thing that this game doesn’t reference is the Super Mario Land series from which it takes its name. With no incarnations of Super Mario Land since the black and white gameboy, this game comes nearly 20 years since Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. There are no sphynxes, submarines, bunny ears, space suits or other things from the old gameboy games. You rescue Peach, not Princess Daisy, the original black and white damsel in distress.

The game is on the 3DS, so there are some technical limitations. The graphics look good, but with such a low rez system it’s still visible pixelated and jaggy at times. You don’t need to notice or dwell on this any more than you would while playing an N64 game, but it is a reminder of the below par specs of this 2011 released system. With one analog stick for a 3D game, this would present a problem if the camera was something the player could control, but the game works in a unique way that the camera is always where it needs to be, making the game sometimes look like an old style 2D side scroller, while other times it will show a view from the back or top. This makes the look and controls a mix of old school side scroller and the 3D type controls we’ve gotten to know since Super Mario 64.

Super Mario 3D Land - Shiney Tanooki Mario

The game does not appear to be terribly difficult. With a few hours of play under my belt, I’ve already reached the 5th world of 8. This is quite a departure from New Super Mario Bros. Wii which decided to randomly get hard in World 2, but that’s not a good game. It’s not clear to me how much post game content there will be, but I understand you can play through again as another character, and there are some bonus levels to come. Getting extra lives is incredibly easy, as they will likely accrue faster than you lose them. I found a nice trick to get infinite lives as shown in the video below. Other tricks allow you to do so as early as level 1-2. Losing 5 lives in a row in a level gives you a white Tanooki suit as pictured above. Combined with infinite lives, this is an easy enough thing to do if a level is giving you trouble, but this isn’t something you will likely need to do often.

The game makes creative use on 3D, at times trying to trick you. It recommends children under 7 play in 2D mode, so it usually gives ways of playing around it. Some screens will appear to be configured a certain way when looked at in 2D, but with 3D turned on you’ll see that some objects aren’t where they appear to be. Take a look at the image below to see such an optical illusion.

Super Mario 3D Land - Weird perspective tricks you with 3D

There are also random 2D cutouts of enemies or items, but they aren’t very convincing. Surely you can tell which of the following Goombas is real.

Super Mario 3D Land - Fake 2D Goombas

Super Mario 3D Land is great fun, with solid gameplay and a mix of innovative and classic level designs. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally found a game that makes me want to play my 3DS. Is this enough to save the dying system? I haven’t quite decided if I want it to…