Can Super Mario 3D Land save the 3DS?

Can everyone's favorite mustached plumber save Nintendo's fragile 3D portable gaming system?

Now playing: Watch this: Game trailer: Super Mario 3D Land

It's no secret that the Nintendo 3DS has suffered from a dearth of compelling software to play on its unique 3D glasses-less screen. While we were shocked to see the system debut without the company's leading plumber, Nintendo calmed gamers' fears with the announcement of Super Mario 3D Land at this past summer's E3 2011 expo.

Just in time for the holiday season, Mario is back in his first-ever portable 3D adventure. He's got an enormous gaming void to fill, so how does the latest game stack up?

Super Mario 3D Land is the first great original Nintendo 3DS game. Unfortunately, it's taken me more than seven months since the portable console was released to say that. Just like the challenges the Wii faced, the disparity between quality first and third-party software is plaguing the 3DS. No other title has yet to embrace the 3D effect at the prestigious level to which Super Mario 3D Land accomplishes.

In short, Super Mario 3D Land plays like a mash-up of New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy. The game is divided into the familiar eight worlds format and other content that will surprise players.

3D Land's controls might be simple, but they are an absolute pleasure to use. The circle pad is perfect for a 3D platforming game like this. I was also really impressed with how well the 3D effect translates. It's the first 3DS game I've played where the illusion didn't come off as gimmicky or unnecessary. Where before I'd almost always recommend turning the 3D slider off, in 3D Land I think everyone should at the very least give it a try.


Gameplay does feel a bit on the easy side, especially through the first half of the game. Most of the usual Mario universe characters, enemies, power-ups, and world themes are accounted for, and a few fan-favorite power ups do return (like the Tanooki suit). The experience is a total homage to Mario's illustrious past, laying on the nostalgia pretty thick, which Nintendo loyalists will eat right up.

Gamers who have trouble in a given area will also notice that a number of successive deaths will result in the option to use help in the form of special power-ups that make progressing through a level much easier.

Super Mario 3D Land benefits from the all of the core elements that the 3DS was designed around. If a Nintendo 3DS should land on your shopping list, it is the game to buy in tandem. Expert level design, tight controls, and its overall accessibility deliver the complete portable gaming package--perfect for short bursts of satisfaction.


The Nintendo 3DS has, largely, been a system update in search of a purpose. As handheld game systems have drifted into obsolescence, the 3DS has offered only a faint shadow of the promise that the Nintendo DS usually was dripping in. Released in March, it's been lacking a killer app for months.

Until now, that is. Super Mario 3D Land, made by the same team behind Super Mario Galaxy, is a perfect fusion of Galaxy's 3D worlds and the old-school eight-world-and-sublevel Mario platformers from the NES days. The levels unfold like tidy little dioramas, showing off 3D in often clever ways and doing it, like Ocarina of Time 3D, in a nonannoying fashion. The depth of field isn't necessary, but it sure looks nice.

Super Mario 3D Land also shows off the graphics powers of the 3DS: its subtle mastery of 3D terrain reminded me how much more powerful the 3DS is compared with the DS: this is stuff the DS would have had an extremely hard time doing (Zelda: Phantom Hourglass pulled it off, but you could see the seams).


Alas, while there are secrets and goodies to discover, each level goes by fast. I blew through the first five worlds all too easily. What there is is awfully good, and addictive as candy; I simply wanted more. Considering the scarcity of good 3DS games, I'd gladly take a sequel right now.

Yes, this is the 3DS game you've been waiting for. Is it a system seller, though? Not really. The 3DS needs Mario 3D Land and a lot more...but this is certainly a good start.