Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: Super Mario 3D Land

Oh, PETA. I ironically love you guys so much. Not because I agree wholeheartedly with your beliefs. I can only do so much to defend animal rights with a Slim Jim in one hand and a fly-swatter in the other. But your oft-irrational attacks against unknowing targets serve more to assist your victims than harm. The “Tofu Boy” debacle from last year wound up giving the independently produced Super Meat Boy some much-wanted extra sales and an ingenious parody for Steam players. Now you’re accusing innocent little Mario of skinning tanookis and wearing their fur for fashion and superpowers. While Mario has spent some less-than-kosher time jumping on turtles and chasing a tie-spouting gorilla with a hammer, wearing a cute animal costume feels less like animal cruelty than belated Trick-or-Treat material. But alas, they made the Flash game “Mario Kills Tanooki”, which both makes Mario come across as a merciless badass and serves as free publicity for the pretty darn great Super Mario 3D Land.

So the Tanooki suit has come out of retirement in this game, and has weirdly become a driving force of the experience. In this game, Bowser has kidnapped the Princess because his DNA commands him too, but he also stole a lot of Raccoon leaves from Super Mario Bros 3 to help him. So, brace yourself for this… Bowser’s minions have raccoons tails! Goombas have tails. Bullet Bills have tails. Bowser has a tail. How can Mario deflect these weapons of mass destruction?

With leaves and tanooki suits of his own, of course! As well as picking flowers off the ground for fire attacks. You don’t see Poison Ivy getting her panties in a bunch over Mario’s treatment of shrubbery, do you PETA? (Sorry, still on the Arkham City kick.) I appreciate Mario 3D Land’s returning emphasis on power-ups that exist until someone hits you with a boomerang. All this in spite of how desecrating it is that a leaf gives you full blown tanooki outfit and not just the raccoon tail, or how you don’t get a tanooki suit that can transform into a statue until you finish the game, or how this tanooki suit has no flight capabilities, but that’s just me wanting to re-play Mario 3 again.

Mario 3D Land’s gameplay seems to be positioned somewhere between several different Mario games. Your controlled Mario moves around a three-dimensional area with about the same grace as Mario 64 Mario, and the stages have elements taken from the Galaxy games, but the progression of each stage is as linear and pro-jumping as old Mario sidescrollers, and now I’m sounding like I’m too into this shit. The camera angle is generally fixed in an isometric position designed largely to make three dimensions pop in as pompous a way as possible.

And pop they do. The 3D is often very clear and defined, and not exclusively used to make things exploitatively fly in your face. (Though expect an incoming Bullet Bill or two, because why not?) The 3D effects are actually given the tactical use of providing depth to the environment, and subconsciously helping you gauge jump distance in your platforming exploits. The game will even occasionally toss in a puzzle that demands you flex those eye-muscles to judge where certain parts exist in the environment. These are rare but novel, and a quick camera-angle change is all it takes to help players whom can’t use/despise all of this three-dimensional malarkey.

This is also a game of surprising length and content. There are 8 worlds, several stages in between them and a heaping dose of Mario series nostalgia spread throughout. The classic Mario series callbacks are all over the place, both in the level design and in the music. Also, finishing the game yields an entire second sect of levels that remixes all of the earlier stages in more difficult manners. The caveat is that your progression in the game as a whole depends on collecting the hidden “star coins” in each level. I rarely ever ran into a situation where I didn’t have enough star coins to advance to the next stage, but it’s still a buzz-kill when you do get stunted. I couldn’t give you an actual hour count as to the game’s length, but it did take me several full 3DS battery charges, which is more of an indictment of the damn system’s battery.

If this review feels decidedly less winded than my usual lengthy rants, it’s because this game doesn’t stray that far from the Mario MasterMold.

Don’t expect any surprises or groundbreaking innovations. You don’t even get to see Mario skin a tanooki and wear its skin Cruella De Vil-style. But you get a reliable, entertaining Mario handheld game, one whose levels are succinct enough to suit quick playthroughs on a portable device. Also, the game ranks up there with A Harold and Kumar Christmas and Jackass 3D as the most respectable, dignified use of 3D to date. Finally, it makes me yearn for the sequel, where Bowser kidnaps the Princess and powers all of his troops with frog suits.