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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Not So Fresh" Review: Super Mario 3D Land

Let's play Tanooki Suit: The Game!
Okay, so as I mentioned before, my expectations for this title were extremely low. I didn't quite understand what the goal was for this game- to show people how 3D gaming really changes things, or to show how 2D Mario benefits from 3D gameplay... anyway, I picked up this title and I gave it a try, figuring "Hey, it's Mario. If there's going to be a good game for a Nintendo console it's going to be a Mario game."

So what did I get? Well, a very boring, underwhelming platformer. Whoopee.

I guess that's a pretty bad way to start an article like this, but hear me out. I enjoy Super Mario Bros. The "Bros." subtitle usually implies some quality gameplay. Super Mario World? Meh. It's okay. Especially since it ties in to the Bros. gameplay mechanics and builds on them. Now, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine are fantastic games that allow very open platforming and a goal that can be approached in many ways. BUT lately there's been a problem with Mario games, and that's the idea that most levels are designed for very linear gameplay. Super Mario Galaxy, Galaxy 2, and this game are the worst offenders of this. Segments of the level are roped off for certain approaches and missions- you can only tackle them when you are in a certain mission and they only focus on one gameplay element. Now, in Super Mario Galaxy and Galaxy 2, there are some levels that have open-world aspects to them, but it seems that you can only get to certain stars when you have certain missions selected. That's not to say that Super Mario Sunshine didn't have mission-specific stars, but they were based around the same overall world- things may have been slightly changed, but the environment stayed the same and was easier to maneuver and more recognizable for it. Also, each world had a theme. With Super Mario Galaxy, "space" was the theme too often. Sometimes there were true themes, but planetoids get boring after a while.

So what's the problem with Super Mario Land 3D, then? Nothing about it is unified. Sure, there are "worlds" and they have backgrounds and background music, but the levels rarely fit the theme of the world- it seems as if worlds only exist so you have a goal to reach. I mean, is it jarring when the second level in world 8 is a relatively sunny place with cheery music? There is no world that focuses on specifically water- or sand-themed levels. It just seems like a jumbled mess. Some elements only feature themselves in certain levels, which would be fine if there wasn't already some fantastic, ever-connecting theme that runs through the entire freaking game- the Tanooki Suit.

Everybody's got a Tanooki tail. Goombas, Bowser, Mario, Whomps... WHY. Why does everybody have to have a damn Tanooki tail? Is it because it's some sort of godsend to mankind? Apparently. Most flags can only have their highest point reached if you use a Tanooki Suit, most levels have Special Coins that can only be reached with a Tanooki Suit. Most levels are fifty times easier with the Tanooki suit equipped- and don't worry, they'll give you one every three levels. I mean, who wouldn't want one, anyway? It has an offensive ability, it slows your descent, and it's a powerup, which means it will add one more hit to your lifespan. I guess it really is amazing, isn't it?

But then there's the WHITE Tanooki suit, which grants the user invincibility, too. Sweet jebas, why don't you take out all the fun, Nintendo? That's essentially saying "Hey, you know the star? Yeah, that shit's old news. THIS ONE MAKES YOU FLOAT. And it doesn't run out until you beat the level! AND IT GIVES YOU A NORMAL TANOOKI SUIT WHEN YOU'RE DONE." Which pretty much defeats the purpose of the star in the game, anyway. Sure, there are secret portions of levels that utilize stars, but the powerup shows up so few and far between that you're better off just dying five times to get your White Tanooki suit. If you're stuck in a certain part of any level, trust me- once you get that White Tanooki Suit, you'll be perfectly fine. I mean, sure, you could just use your own skills to beat the level, but what's the point? If you've died five times already, why waste your time? You'll get this really cool suit, anyway! I don't really consider myself to be a bad gamer, and I generally attempted to use the Tanooki suit and it's AWESOME WHITE VERSION as little as possible. But too many times, I felt that the deaths I was experiencing were way too cheap, partially because of level design, partially because of control issues.

And that's another problem with this game- rather than reward you for your successes, it rewards you for your mistakes. Die five times? Get a powerup. It's no big deal, really- I was never on the verge of running out of lives at any time while I was playing the game. Now, I understand this mechanic when, you know, games had no text and had to rely purely on the instruction manual and the actual gameplay to get their point across, but it just comes off as lazy in this iteration. If things are too hard for you, you can just whip out a Tanooki suit and your problems are solved. I mean, for goodness sake, the end titles are just Mario and Toads floating around in them. Also, you don't even have to really work for your win- I didn't get all three coins in a handful of levels, and yet there was only one point where I had to go back and collect more- halfway through the game. I know that getting 100 percent in a Nintendo game is the real challenge, but give me more of a challenge on the way, too.

It's a shame, really, because there are some levels with genuinely good mechanics and design to them- but it's squandered by the inclusion of this "winning" solution. Also, camera angles. When you can only rotate the camera a little to the left and right, you wind up losing a lot of the freedom you normally feel in a Mario game. But some of the camera angles are absolutely atrocious, especially when you're able to travel on a 3D axis. Note to Nintendo- levels with a fixed camera that moves along a certain path SUCK when you can't just go left and right. But overhead camera views and camera views that make it look like you're viewing a diorama create perspective problems. 2.5D camera views? Just fine! Also, the Legend of Zelda- themed level had an awesome camera position that was criminally underused.

The freedom of 3D Mario is so severely limited by the structure of so many of the levels. Boss battles are boring and feature little innovation- but you do get to fight Bowser while he wears a TANOOKI SUIT, so that's AWESOME, I guess. There are powerups that see the light of day only in the second half of the game, like the Poison Mushroom and Boomarang suit. The Boomarang suit controls pretty poorly, with Mario throwing a boomarang only in the direction he's facing, and if you miss your target, you need to wait for it to return to you before tossing another. The Propeller box is actually pretty cool and has a lot of good levels that use it- It essentially works like the propeller suit in NSMBWii. Only problem is, you know... Tanooki. Also, there's this random box that eats you up and keeps giving you coins, which doesn't make sense to me... with the lack of a score and your success really only being measured by the amount of lives you have, there's not much reason to collect every coin in the game. Atop all of this, half of the levels can be beat in under ninety seconds, so you end up with a pretty short game. It's very underwhelming.

But, for all of its flaws, it does have some smart choices. There are the "special" levels that are copies of the normal worlds with different obstacles, powerups, and the inclusion of new gameplay elements. They are unlocked after completing all 8 worlds, which gives you a nice opportunity to go where ever you want rather than have a linear experience. Some levels have glorious design and incorporate cool elements from past games. The levels that open up for a bigger experience are very rewarding and fun. Even some of the more linear levels have some cool elements, too. The final boss "battle" is pretty cool, too. But where the hell are Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings?

Oh, and the ACTUAL 3D is pretty bland. There are some cool effects, but it adds very little to the whole experience. It can be a little shifty on you at times, too. If this was an experiment to see how 2D mission structure works in a 3D environment, I must say I'm a little disappointed. It's a little too confusing at times, and I would have rather had a more exploratory, difficult game.

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