Mario is Nintendo’s mascot and most recognizable character. Mario and friends appear in a lot of games of varying genres and quality, but the “true” Mario series is a platforming series. For nearly every Nintendo system Mario platformers have been considered genre highlights and console essentials. It’s a lot of expectations to live up to, but somehow Nintendo almost always delivers, and with Super Mario 3D Land they do again.
The game set up is the same as always. The evil Bowser, King of the Koopas, has kidnapped Princess Peach, and the heroic plumber Mario must rescue her. Nintendo seems to have recognized that this plot is not only well-worn but a bit ridiculous. The cut scenes that propel the story along are brief and not self-important.
Mario has been successful in both 2D and 3D platforming before. This is Mario’s first foray into 3D on a handheld. However, the levels are much more linear than the console 3D platformers. In each level you have to get Mario to the flagpole at the end and the path to follow is spelled out plainly. For each stage there are three Star Coins that can be found. In the early worlds just finishing the levels is enough, but in later worlds Star Coins are needed to buy new stages.
There have been so many iterations of Mario. It would have been easy for Nintendo to overload the game with mechanics, enemies, and power-ups. Nintendo has streamlined those concepts nicely here and only chosen the ones appropriate for this game. For example there are only a handful of power-ups but each one is perfectly suited for the enemies and levels.
In terms of gameplay, 3D Land is a great mix of the classic 2D games and the more recent 3D forays. More specifically the game feels like a mix of Super Mario Bros. 3 and the Super Mario Galaxy games. Those are highlights in the series and mashed together they create something that feels familiar but almost completely new.