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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Problem With Super Mario 3D Land

I'm pretty much done with Super Mario 3D Land. I have 297 Star Coins, I've gold-flagged most of the courses and have three stars by my save file. All in all, a pretty good effort.

So where does Super Mario 3D Land sit in comparison to other Mario games? Well, 3D Land is a combination of two things: Some of the best pure mechanics in a Mario game and some of the worst flow in a Mario game.

Each level by itself is a discrete accomplishment. Every level is incredibly fun, with depth and charm out the wazoo, along with great mechanics and tons of fun. The 3D effect makes it one of the best platformers ever from a pure gameplay standpoint.

However, the difference is that previous games had levels that felt like parts of a whole, as if all the levels in the game occupied the same universe. Even Super Mario Galaxy 1 & 2, with their wild, out-there locations felt like they all inhabited the same general areas, as if there was a common theme tying the levels together.

Super Mario 3D Land, by comparison, feels like a collection of levels with the only uniting factor being that they happen to be in 3D. It's almost like a Nintendo "best-of" compilation.

There's very little flow from level to level, especially in the Special Worlds. A snow world sits alongside one of Bowser's castles, alongside a desert level, alongside a level of blocks floating in midair. There's no feel that these levels are part of a larger world, since they really aren't. They're just levels without a theme.

I want to stress that this is not to be viewed as a harsh criticism by any means. Super Mario 3D Land is still one of the best handheld games ever made, perfect for playing in short bursts and yet deep enough to play for marathons. It's the best demonstration yet that the 3DS can provide something completely new and unique, and that gaming shouldn't be relegated to the 99-cent App Store bin.

Still, that lack of cohesiveness prevents Super Mario 3D Land from reaching some of the lofty heights of previous entries in the Mario universe, like Super Mario Galaxy. It's still pretty great, though.