Killing Mario for coins in Super Mario 3D Land
I have a problem, an addiction really, and I hear admitting it is the first step to recovery. It wasn’t always a problem; back before Yoshi’s Island I was a hale and healthy chap without this crippling hunger. The real damage was when Mario 64 came around and gave me my first star. It was delicious, easy to get, and oh so satisfying. The more stars I got, the more levels I could open, but I soon realized I was only opening them so I could get more stars. I was hooked.
The games have changed over time. Sometimes I was after stars, other times coins that were larger then the other ones; basically whatever the games were pushing I was after. Now we have Super Mario 3D Land and its three coins per level. I won’t leave a level without them. I can’t leave a level without them. If I miss one and can’t go back I will immediately hurl Mario to his death. This has caused a bit of a delay for this review.
That introduction is brought to you by my need for a support group and a sponsor, but also to lend some perspective to how I approach the Mario franchise. I also lied earlier, my problem started when they introduced secret exits and hidden levels. That will play into this as well.
The long awaited Mario entry for the 3DS is everything I like about a Mario game rolled into one tight package. It has the controls without the camera issues of Mario 64, the power-ups of Super Mario Bros. 3; the goal is to jump on a flag at the end and defeating Bowser involves a bridge and a button à la Super Mario Brothers, and it has gold coins. Delicious. Sweet. Gold coins. If you don’t have a driving need to hunt down and acrobatically navigate your way to coins, you will have a much easier experience then I. The levels will be shorter, the difficulty lessened, and your number of lives astronomically higher.
That’s my way of suggesting you go after the coins. You will be required to have some of them, like stars that unlock worlds in aforementioned entries, but getting them all just ups the experience. The level design is like a miniature version of 64’s, and hidden inside each are the coins. Some require precision timing and jumping, others need exploration and a willingness to push past the perceived edges of the levels, and the rest need certain power-ups to access. My personal favorite is one that requires you to use the fire flower to light four torches to open a door, complete with the Zelda puzzle solving chime. This caused a bit of a happy shout, which made people look at me funny.
That happy shout at a surprise is really the core of the experience. Each time I thought I had the game figured out it threw another curve ball at me. I was sad that the game lacked hidden exits for almost five worlds, convinced they just weren’t included. I found myself glaring at a knee high brick block, but with no Tanooki suit to break it. Being a reasonable person, I casually toss Mario off a cliff, exit to the map, and head to an earlier level to grab a suit. Once I find one I begin to speed-run my way to the end of this old level, but in my haste I overshoot the flag and smack into a wall. In that moment I notice that above that wall the level seems to continue, and after some poking and prodding I find myself a warp pipe. That moment of discovery is what makes Mario games great in my eyes.
Sure, the Mario experience hasn’t changed all that much for a long time. Each entry adds a bit of new stuff and remixes a lot of old, but those moments are all that matter to me. As for this game’s new additions, the primary one is of course the 3D. Just like with the Wii and DS before it, it’s the big N who produces the software that really makes the hardware shine. The 3D really does enhance platforming, with depth perception allowing for accurate jumps and some Escher inspired level design. That said, I have played almost half the game with it off to compare and its just as playable as any other Mario game, so those of you who can’t perceive 3D can have an enjoyable experience as well.
The other additions to the game come in the power-up flavor. The Tanooki suit is nothing new, minus flying and statue form, and is everywhere in the first few worlds. It’s basically the story of the game as well, as the leaves blow everywhere and all sorts of unlikely fellows get tails. Also Peach is kidnapped at some point. Possibly because of it? It’s a Mario game, so don’t dwell on the hows, the bottom line is some Goombas and such get raccoon tails. Along for the ride are Boomerang Bro suits, propeller blocks, and my favorite, the coin block suit. You literally become a coin block with legs, as you run about you produce coins. This also earned me some funny looks as I manically giggled and shouted, “YOU JUST GOT CRUSHED BY CAPITALISM!”
I am torn between thinking it’s poorly paced, the rate at which you find and play with these toys, and thinking it adds to the experience. As I said, the Tanooki suit is basically as prevalent as AOL discs in the 90’s, they are everywhere and everyone has one. Several worlds later and you find the good old Fire Flower, always fun and reliable. The propeller hats are peppered around starting mid-game while Boomerang and Coin Block are at the tail end. As I played I wanted more variety, but at the same time finally stumbling onto these new toys after so much game play was actually exciting. The Tanooki suit became ubiquitous, but allowed everything else to feel like a rare discovery.
This is a bit awkward, but I have been lying to you about some things in this game, but I have been doing so for your own good. Some of you will get to know these truths, and the rest of you will avoid them. If you really enjoy those moments of surprise, then you should look away until you see the safe word. Today’s safe word shall be pineapple, so just start scrolling until you see that word at the beginning of a paragraph. I’m about to get all end game surprise up in here.
As I played the game, my one primary complaint was that the game was going to be short. Sure it took me awhile to play the game, as needing all the coins extended levels considerably, but it was still a straight shot to the end of the game. The power-up pacing added to this, I felt like my time with these powers was just too brief, and we were cheated out of what could have been a beautiful relationship. Then I started to get suspicious. This had to be intentional, I had only done battle with two of the Koopa Kids, the items were spaced in too odd a manner, it had to be a ruse.
So I waged battle with Bowser at the end of World 8, defeated him, and ran for my princess with a heavy heart. I was wrong. This was the end. Until I realized it was a cardboard cut-out of Peach all along, and watched as the real one was whisked away. “I knew it!” I shouted. I was convinced that it was only the first half of the game I just played. I ran after Bowser eager to start the second half. Only to find another couple of levels and the final Castle, it was just a continuation of World 8. A surprise for sure, but a sad one. So I made my way to the real Bowser fight, and let me just say it’s a really damn good final battle, to finish the game as a sad man.
I save Peach, credits roll with the obligatory, “look, Bowser isn’t really dead guys, he’s just goofily balancing on a Goomba stack trying to grab you,” and I resign myself to obsessively trying to get golden flags in every level. Then the game gives a hearty laugh and a knowing look and reveals the other half of the game. The clever bastard fooled me something fierce and confirmed my deepest desires. Eight more worlds, the REAL Tanooki suit with statue powers, poison mushrooms that chase you down, and more then 100 gold coins to find. Not even Santa could contain the jolly I felt at that moment.
To be honest, I haven’t finished the second half yet, but I can confirm it is a glorious frontier full of surprises. If Yoshi shows up in this half I may actually die from not expecting it. I love moments like this in a game, the big reveal of additional content, and I mean real content not challenge maps or time trials. The game appears to swell before your eyes and you ready your hands for the cramps of joy to follow. Unless you hate the game, then you throw it out the window in a fit of rage, but that is a story about another game for another time.
PINEAPPLE. Hey guys, sorry about those four paragraphs, just try not to think about the incredible secrets I revealed in them. Don’t dwell on the intimate moments I spent with all the other readers. I swear it didn’t mean anything. We can still be friends at the very least.
I think I say this in most of the reviews I write, but the mark of a good game is the stories you can tell later. The moments that make even a flawed game feel uniquely yours. I came away from this game with countless moments I will yammer on to my friends about. How I spent half an hour trying to throw Mario at a gold coin with lethal results, only to discover an invisible block that granted access while jumping around out of frustration. The time I did a sideways somersault over a fireball, wall jumped off a platform just a hair’s breadth from lava, and somehow managed to hit the gold coin that started all of this. A glorious accident that brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. Mostly because I walked off the platform to my death moments later in a less glorious accident.
It’s been a long time coming, but most of you expected this line sooner or later. If you like Mario, of course you will like this game. That’s just a given, as a matter of fact if you are a Mario fan and you read this far, then you are a bit weird. You already own the game, don’t you? That’s what I thought, go read a review about a game you don’t already own! For the rest of you, the poor masses who got a 3DS and don’t know what to play on it, this is the real deal. It’s top notch platforming with clever level design and the good natured humor of the Mario franchise. Unless you are morally opposed to platformers or Mario, then go out and start killing Mario in an obsessive need for shiny shit.