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Critical Consensus: Super Mario 3D Land

A new triumph for gaming's oldest hero

So there's this guy, you've probably heard of him. Plumber, mainly, but also a bit of an odd-job handyman. Does a bit of driving, some sports, even the occasional bit of locum doctoring.

Name's Mario; tubby little fella with a natty line in dungarees, gawky brother, bit of a thing for pretty young royals.

For more than one generation, he was the de facto figurehead of the entire games industry: the Mickey Mouse, the Babe Ruth and the Golden Goose.

So it's no surprise that when Nintendo bring out a core Mario game, a bread and butter platformer as opposed to one his many part-time jobs, they make sure they do it well. Every piece of hardware they've ever made has had a system-selling Mario platformer, with the possible exception of the GameCube's Mario Sunshine, if you're being strict, so what better way to light a fire under the 3DS?

For Eurogamer's Christian Donlan, the newest adventure represents everything that's great about Mario's big games: joy, whimsy and a constant desire to surprise and innovate. Factors which combine to make it worthy of an effusive 9/10 review.

"Mario makes his fun in the here and now, and his games are defined not by set-pieces or unlocks, but by an endless, freewheeling playfulness."

Christian Donlan, Eurogamer

"Mario makes his fun in the here and now, and his games are defined not by set-pieces or unlocks, but by an endless, freewheeling playfulness," he writes, before adding that "Super Mario 3D Land feels like the heir to Super Mario Bros. 3."

This is a game full of secrets, treats and "throwaway" paeans to other Nintendo classics such as Zelda, where the game "uses the console's lenticular screen to recreate the echo-y top-down dungeons of the first Zelda, right through to the stone-clad fire pits and a handful of classic sound effects."

Even standout moments like these are "quickly lost within the endless rush of creativity", however, piling up ever further as more and more experiments and fantastic toys are tossed the player's way.

Alluding to a potential spoiler which extends the game's life well beyond what players may first expect, we're told that "seasoned players, meanwhile, will get through the first half of the game a touch too quickly, finding much to enjoy but little to truly challenge them. It can feel, for a few hours at least, like a very slight disappointment."

However, "some of the game's later stages are gleefully malevolent and filled with the odd standout shocker."

Donlan also marvels at the ability of the game to retain coherence in the face of so much patchwork ingenuity, settling on the incisive conclusion that "Nintendo's plumber doesn't just move through the game's levels: he completes them, providing the crucial element that unifies the design and keeps the entire thing standing."

The piece reads like an ardent love letter to Mario's design document in many places, highlighting the pure fun of the experience, with no needless or cynical filler to dull its shine.

"You could wish for 3D Land to be a little more challenging in places, then," Donlan concludes. "But you couldn't wish for it to be any denser, any more imaginative, or any more daring. Most importantly, you couldn't wish for it to be any more playful."

Other reviewers have been just as generous in their praise.

Audrey Drake's 9.5 score for IGN opens with the claim that, with Mario 3DS, Nintendo has finally fulfilled its promise and "legitimised" 3D gaming, really showcasing exactly what its portable is capable of.

The 3D, previously a gimmick or add-on, is here used to add precision to the jumps and timing of the game, says Drake, especially given that you "can adjust it with a simple touch of the D-pad to either pop out or sink in more, depending on which suits the area best or just which you prefer at the moment," adding that "this game was designed to be played in 3D, and you can't fully experience it otherwise."

The importance and usefulness of the 3D is something which Drake returns to again and again during her piece, pointing out that "every aspect of the game is heightened by the masterful use of an effect that up until now has essentially only been used as an optional visual boost," adding that "3D Land represents the kind of experience the 3DS was always meant for."

The relative ease of the game's first eight worlds is remarked upon here, too, and Chris Donlan's assertion that their ease is remedied by what follows is mirrored, also. That, says Drake, lends the game a fantastic balance which caters for all tastes.

"Every aspect of the game is heightened by the masterful use of an effect that up until now has essentially only been used as an optional visual boost."

Audrey Drake, IGN

"This progressive difficulty climb," she writes, "paired with the at times intense medal challenges, make for an addictive and brilliant handheld experience that provides an impressive balance of easy and hard, long levels and short levels, big areas and small ones."

Drake's closing comments encapsulate just as much enthusiasm for the game as Donlan's.

"Super Mario 3D Land represents the first 3DS title to fully make use of the system's capabilities," she concludes. "With an expertly balanced difficulty progression, dazzling level design and masterful Power-Ups, this is the ideal 3DS experience."

Drake's view that the 3D is an important and hugely effective part of the game's appeal is echoed by Justin Haywald at GamePro in his five star assessment, who calls the system a gimmick, but, importantly, a gimmick which works.

"The reason that the 3D is a gimmick is because the camera rigidly forces you to view the game from specific angles," he says. "Giving you full camera control would work just as well, but if you're trying to sell a game on its 3D effects, Mario 3D Land shows the way to do it."

This forced perspective gives Nintendo authorial control over the way in which the 3D is implemented, says Haywald, promoting it to its fullest effect, although he does point out that "all this rambling about 3D doesn't mean you have to use it, though. If it's not your thing, you can tweak the camera slightly by toying with the directional pad."

A wide ranging and adaptive difficulty level is reason for celebration, too, says Haywald, pleased with the mechanics which mean that repeated failure sees the game offer "extra items, an invincibility suit, or a chance to skip the level entirely."

"Sure, taking those items might feel like cheating, but they're just another choice that you can ignore completely."

A shorter review, Haywald's is less florid in its prose, but is equally enamoured with the game itself, summarising that: "the tired, princess-saving formula never seems to change, but somehow Nintendo makes every visit to the Mushroom Kingdom feel like the first time. "

The bottom end of the review scale for Super Mario 3D Land is still in the upper scoring echelons, with Gamespot's 8/10 the lowest registered mark on Metacritic's 90 per cent average collection.

There, Maxwell McGee again praises the successful iteration of what could be a tired series, but warns that "some of the game's other features fall disappointingly short of this creative mark."

Maxwell is of the opinion that 3D is a garnish rather than a main course, though, calling it "pure eye candy with minimal impact on the gameplay," at best adding a "a neat sense of depth when you're underwater or a touch of vertigo in the air."

Streetpass features are also a disappointment for Gamespot, making the collection of items and coins a little too easy, nonetheless, " Super Mario 3D Land is still a delight. With well-realized stages and responsive controls, it's an easy recommendation for all action-loving 3DS owners."

Dan Pearson avatar

Dan Pearson