Made by the Super Mario Galaxy team, EAD Tokyo, Super Mario 3D Land is, without a doubt, the greatest Mario ever found on handheld consoles, and more importantly, is one of my favorite Nintendo games in years.
A fusion of the 3D Mario the studio has had experience with and the 2D Mario present on handhelds and early consoles, the game takes Mario into a realm he’s never been to before. Yes, you can explore the obviously well designed levels to your heart’s content in full 3D using the circle pad, but the levels are now designed as if they were in a 2D game. For instance, rather than various goals in an area, there are now goal flags, checkpoints, power-ups (now featuring the return of the awesome Tanooki suit!) lasting until you get hit, world maps, and most of all, linearity. There are the same diversions present in a traditionally 2D Mario game and the same secrets, but the control is vastly different. Not only would I argue that this works well, but I would say that this is preferred. The new perspective makes Mario much more fun to play than I thought it would be, and the added freedom of movement it offers really shines in the creativity of the level design.
Don’t get me wrong — the level design is entirely Mario. You have your underwater levels, you have your grim Bowser-centric castle levels, you have your high-in-the-sky levels, and there are the classic green meadow stages. Like I said before, the freedom with 3D movement is excellent, and more than playing a platformer, it felt more like an adventure was actually being experienced, despite the classic disjoint between levels. As in, what seems to be a theme in any given world is really just a collection of levels with no similar setting or personality for the most part. This disconnect is fine, and doesn’t hinder too much, but when it comes time for a boss, there are really only three that are used over and over again, one of the few shoddy design choices in the experience.
But the 3D Land doesn’t just refer to 3D movement, it also encompasses the 3D viewing angle present on the 3DS, and for the first time (in my opinion), it actually works with the game rather than feeling like an addition to or (occasionally) against it. Jumps become much easier to gauge with the 3D on, and there are even some puzzles that are nearly impossible to solve without 3D on, though these are almost entirely (if not entirely) on hidden level stuff. Of course, this is only assisted by the fact (Read: Opinion) that this is the best looking 3DS game at the time of its release. The music can be forgettable at times, unfortunately, but this is the only negative remark I can say about the game technically in any way.
The game doesn’t skimp out on the content either. Between eight worlds of five or six levels apiece, tons of hidden secrets, and an amount of bonus levels that is absolutely jaw-dropping, Super Mario 3D Land is a proper Mario game that is just a blast to play. Yes, the StreetPass stuff (sharing items and bonus rooms with people you pass) is useless, and yes, there are a few detractors in sound and the limited boss count. However, this is negligible in relation to the sheer amount of creativity, content, and quality to be found in this game. If you get a 3DS, you’re going to want your Zelda and you’re going to want Mario Kart 7, but before all of that, buy this. Super Mario 3D Land is the first must-have title on 3DS.