Thursday, 8 December 2011

Super Mario 3D Land: Observations

This post is a list of observations I made while playing through Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. It's part opinion, part design analysis, and all waffle.

  • It is short and easy, but with reasons to come back. Completing the 8 worlds is not particularly difficult if you're vaguely familiar with Mario games. There is an abundance of 1-Ups if you take the time to search the nooks and crannies as well as a generous, widespread distribution of coins which seem to reward a vast array of actions in a way that is reminiscent of certain online FPSes. By the end of the game I had over 130 lives. But then you have the Star Coins to find (three giant coins hidden in each level, which usually require extra poking around) and completing the game unlocks a large number of 'special' levels. I have only played a couple of these so far, but they seem to mix up the standard formula with special twists to the usual rules like a 'Dark Mario' who chases you round and prevents you standing still.
  • It shows off the 3DS' capabilities. There are few cases where stereoscopic 3D actually brings something worthwhile to the table (mainly depth perception which greatly helps with judging your position mid-jump). But beyond this, SM3DL is packed full of little moments that would simply not look/feel as cool in 2D. Some memorable highlights were the giant screws on the airship levels that come hurtling towards the camera in synchronised aggression, seeing Mario bounce up into your face in the top-down perspective levels, and the Piranha Plants that spit inky goo on to the screen.
  • Mario loses his hat when he's small. Did this happen in other 3D (not stereoscopic) Mario games? I suspect it is because you no longer have the consistent sense of scale that you get in 2D ones, so this change was probably made to provide additional visual feedback.
  • The Tanooki suit makes jumping easier. You just need to hold the jump button after lift-off and Mario will slowly glide back to the ground. This makes long-distance or precise jumps much easier to execute. I suspect this may be a response to both the inherent flaws of distance-gauging in 3D (although the 3DS should alleviate this) and an attempt to make the game 'more accessible'.
  • The boss battles were repetitive. There were only 3 types of boss battle in the game, although each one changed the arena layout and added threats like fire pits in the floor. Figuring out and exploiting the attack patterns of the bosses is one of the things that makes them so rewarding to beat, so it was a shame to diminish this by making you fight the same boss with the same patterns several times (although the game pretty much redeems itself with the exhilarating final boss battle).
  • The contraptions make you look before you leap. There are these platforms that flip between red and blue every time you jump, leaving a drop into oblivion wherever the other side of the platform was. It's very easy to jump about wildly when you play Mario games, but these really make you stop and think one step ahead to anticipate where the platforms will move to. They can, however, be somewhat undermined by the Tanooki suit as seen in the linked video.
Next stop on the 3DS Express: the special worlds, then Mario Kart 7!

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