Super Mario 3D Land (6.5 hours)

On the Retronauts Discord, which I am now no longer a part of, some folks hate on classic games. Specifically Super Mario 64. Their argument is that classic Mario games are really obstacle courses with a finish line, and SM64 does away with that in favor of massive maps and collectibles. Super Mario 3D Land was an attempt to bring the obstacle course design into three dimensions. I’d say they succeeded, but it isn’t perfect. Though 3D Land is highly polished, there’s some fuzziness to the controls, which is the biggest letdown.

Yes, it is polished. The graphics are crisp, bright, and colorful. This is the best use of the “3D” part of the 3DS I have seen. The 3D effect gives some depth to the visuals, and lets you gauge jumps better. At the same time, the controls are poor. Part of the problem is the analog nub, which simply cannot ever feel as good as a home console controller, due to the nature of portable gaming devices. Still, Mario’s max run speed is slow. One time I was chasing a mushroom halfway across an entire stage because Mario was slower than the mushroom. Also, it is hard to guess where a jump is going to land. I frequently missed enemy heads and “powered down” because this game doesn’t have as polished a jump as Mario 64 or Mario Galaxy.

If you’ve ever played a 3D Mario, you will feel right at home. Unfortunately, the coveted triple jump from Mario 64 is gone, meaning getting to higher ground is more difficult. You must scan your surroundings to get up there. Oftentimes, wall kicks will work (if you know, you know). Lives are never an issue. You have them, but you will never run out. If you keep dying, the game will give you a “cheat suit,” which is a Tanooki suit that lets you plow through enemies, and so basically you become invincible. If you are still dying, you can warp to the finish line. Welcome to modern Mario titles, you cannot lose.

Enemies are basically unchanged from all previous Mario games. It’s a sad world where I watch the latest Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom promo, and they’re experimenting with new enemies in Zelda, but they won’t change enemies in a Mario game. My favorite enemy-type, however, is the cardboard cutouts of enemies, which are there just to fool you. There are three Star Coins in every stage, which are sometimes in secret locations. However, you are required to have a minimum number of Star Coins to gain entry to certain stages. These secrets cease to be secret when you are required to seek them out.

Nintendo can polish a game to a high sheen. I get that. But I also spent a little while last night playing a Zelda fan-game, which is a direction I’ve been wanting to take my blog for a while now. The fan game was janky as hell, but it was made by one guy, and he was not asking for your money. I don’t want to sound too dismissive of Super Mario 3D Land. I had a great time. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. I finished the game in about three days. But this isn’t as mind-blowing as the first time you saw Super Mario World, or Super Mario 64. Evolutionary, not revolutionary. Still, where are the major studios that can top Nintendo’s level of polish?



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