Super Mario 3D Land (Can Nintendo save us again?)

Crisis had returned to the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser had kidnapped Princess Peach and once again the plumber Mario was tasked to rescue her. That is the plot of the new Super Mario 3D Land game for the 3DS. Quelle surprise!

Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach... again.

Perhaps the game shouldn’t be judged too harshly on its narrative as that has never been the strong point of the series. Instead the focus was innovative mechanics and strong level design that resulted in games that were a joy to play.

Nintendo spoke prior to the launch of their Wii console, of wanting to “disrupt” the industry with its introduction, and this is what happened in 1985 when they released the original Super Mario Bros for the NES. It defined the platform game genre and spawned countless imitators by competitors.

With every iteration they release of a Mario platform game there has been subtle changes to the formula. However, basically, we’ve been playing the same game ever since and the same could be said about their other flagship title, The Legend of Zelda which is also a series that has been flogged over and over with only minor variations.

Super Mario 3D Land is a fun game though, with clever level design and if the game is fun, it might be said that this lack of innovation does not matter. If you’re happy with your familiar meat and potatoes meal then maybe you don’t need anything more adventurous and exotic. Nintendo haven’t changed the menu but they cook quality food and if you own a 3DS then Super Mario 3D Land is one of the few quality tasting recipes available on that system at the moment. Okay, I’ll stop now with the food analogies.

Mario cupcakes!

To its credit, Super Mario 3D Land does make impressive use of the 3DS’ 3D feature which is used as a game mechanic and not just a gimmick or as it was used in Dead or Alive : Dimensions – to look up the skirts of female characters.

Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto has said that it’s a “3D Mario that plays as a 2D Mario game”. The game’s camera view switches between 3D and 2D perspectives, as suiting the level, and the use of the Tanooki suit harks back to its previous use in Super Mario Bros 3. However, whereas Super Mario Bros 3 was an inspired spiritual successor to the original Super Mario Bros game that greatly improved upon the original game and added many new concepts to the platform game genre, Super Mario 3D Land instead feels like more of a mash up of elements of Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario 64. It takes advantage of the 3DS’ 3D capabilities and adjusts the formula slightly, but never enough to feel fresh and inventive. It’s just retreading the same ground that we’ve already been a plethora of times now.

Tanooki Suit in Super Mario 3D Land

If you have a 3DS and you’ve enjoyed Mario platform games in the past, then you might find something entertaining here to tide you over until more unique content appears on the platform, but note that you’ve played the elements of this game already, over and over for the last twenty five years.

Satoru Iwata, the President of Nintendo, hit out at the industry in his keynote address at the Game Developers Conference last year. He criticized mobile phone and social network game developers for flooding the market with quantity over quality. Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime prior to this, added that the cheap games on these platforms are “disposable”. Nintendo was instrumental in restoring confidence in the industry in the early 80s in America when the market had indeed been flooded by poor quality “disposable” games, thanks largely to Atari and their dominance at the time. Nintendo launched the NES with quality innovative games such as Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda which helped revive the fledgling industry in the States. Does Nintendo truly see itself in the same role now? The glasses-free 3D technology of the 3DS is impressive no doubt, but when their main software is a repeat of the same game they’ve continuously rehashed, one doubts if they’ll be the saviour of the industry this time around.

Mario kicking a green shell at some goombas in Super Mario 3D Land

It’s a Mario… again.

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