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Super Mario 3D Review - 3DS

6.5
Gameplay: 6 stars 6
Graphics: 7 stars 7
Audio: 5 stars 5
Innovation: 6 stars 6
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Introduction

Boy, it’s been a rough first year for the 3DS. Launched early with hardware that perhaps wasn’t ready for prime time, with a line up of uninteresting shovelware and a drastic price cut that burnt early adopters, it’s been a bumpy ride. But finally, Nintendo has produced their first real 3DS game, and who better to see in their latest revolution but the plumber that started it all?

Gameplay

Super Mario 3D Land is a blend of the franchise’s modern successes in the Mario Galaxy games with the classic block-smashing, flagpole-sliding linearity of the series’ roots. As fun as it sounds on paper, and as fun as it is in practice, it can’t help but feel a bit torn between two worlds. While it lacks the sprawling, loony inventiveness of its recent console brothers, it instead presents smaller, microcosmic (and, indeed, micro-cosmic) worlds to traverse.

As a big fan of the Galaxy games – perhaps the best refinement of a fairly consistent gameplay base stretching three decades – whenever Super Mario 3D Land falls back on its old school roots I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Those roots barely need further elaboration, but for completeness I’ll briefly mention the item boxes, coin collecting, block-smashing and shrinking when hit that you all know well. In many ways it feels like the franchise is beyond these humble beginnings; yes, 3D Land lets you move through open space in both senses of 3D but the game is conceptually grounded, literally and figuratively.

So while it is that I can appreciate the cleverness of designing a 2D platformer in a 3D world, and indeed enjoy all eight and a bit worlds they have to offer, I can’t help but wish it was a little less fettered. While you progress through the little capsule lands in a classic world map view, you never forget they’re lands, not worlds. You get a snifter of a gameplay concept, be it bouncy ropes or ghost blocks or teetering rail cars, and then it’s over. It feels like the team was hampered by the need to physically build a location, rather than just think of fun platforming concepts and string them together in space willy-nilly. And while you’d think the former would be the more satisfying game design, it isn’t. In the former, the game design has limitations – in the latter, it doesn’t.

Of course, that game design is also limited by the physical limitations of the hardware. The 3DS is the most powerful handheld Nintendo has ever produced, and is more than capable of handling Nintendo 64 and indeed probably Gamecube games, so I don’t think it’s technically impossible for Nintendo to have attempted a star-collecting console experience. But concessions must still be made for the hardware’s horsepower and the SD cards the games ship on. For the first time ever, I noticed pop-in in a Mario game. It feels weird even typing that sentence, but there you go. The system, or at least the team in producing a first-generation ...

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