Super Mario 3D Land is a Vastly Different Experience When Played in 3D

Promo image for SM3DL showing off Mario and a whole host of characters

My 3DS, despite being relatively new, is a relic. It’s a discontinued model. Matter of fact, the only 3DS model that isn’t discontinued on the market is the “New”, XL, 2DS. So basically, the 3DS was the DS2, and the 2DS is like the DS3.  My bigger point is that back when the 3DS made games with 3D in the title, the supposed draw was that you could play games in the third dimension without wearing paper glasses or staring into a red abyss filled with virtual tennis balls coming at you. Yet, I can probably name on one hand the games that actually used the technology effectively. This is one of those games.

[Law and Order sound effect]

Bowser has Peach is his clutches.
Postcards from the Edge. The plot is relegated to a single postcard image between worlds. It’s glorious.

Super Mario 3D Land released in the last quarter of the 3DS’s launch year, and was the immersive “tech-demo” style game the system needed at launch. The sense of distance, scope, and depth that was achieved using the new technology is noticeable as early as the second and third levels of the game.

The story for this game is pretty simple. You see, all the leaves blew off the Tanooki Tree, and Bowser has kidnapped the Princess. You know this because he sends you a 3D postcard of him in the act of kidnapping her. You run off screen to the right and into the level select screen. That’s it. Start World 1-1.

No interplanetary mischief; no Toads freaking out; no Princess crying out your name because she’s got all this cake and it’s gonna go to waste. None of it. Just a brand new 3D Mario in actual 3D.

Put 3D Glasses On Now

So everyone knows the 3DS has a slider on the side that you can use to turn on the third dimension, and most everyone that has played a 3DS for long enough knows that the novelty wears off pretty quick. Outside of a few exceptions, the 3D doesn’t enhance the gameplay or environment all that much. It is used mostly to give backgrounds and foregrounds some depth.

In this game, the 3D is essential to the game-playing experience. Breaking bricks cause the shattered bits to pop up every so slightly. Lava and fire take on a new dimension, as do the levels themselves. While they remain 3D in nature, the camera is often fixed, and finding secrets involves thinking like a level designer, much like you would while trying to find hidden chests in the early God of War games. Think to yourself, ‘If the camera and the action is leading me this way…what’s the other way?’

I don’t want to say the 3D gimmick never worked on the handheld, but it was often superficial in nature. Games like Star Fox 64 DS and Kid Icarus Uprising are other prime examples of 3DS games done right. Much like those games, Mario uses the technology to show depth, scope, and scale. An early level has Mario dropping down through clouds winding up cascading down the side of a waterfall, the tranquil sound of mist rising up slowly until it envelopes your earbuds. You get a sense, if only briefly, of slowly drifting down from the sky. Few games incorporated the 3D in an organic way, and none did it in a more creative or visually arresting way than Mario.

2D Meets 3D

Super Mario 3D Land is a merging of the identity split the Mario series was in the midst of. While New Super Mario Bros. was seemingly churning out indistinguishable “new” 2D adventures, Mario had last been seen traversing galaxies in his 3D adventures on the Wii.

This game has a very strong Mario Galaxy vibe, and that comes from the game’s director, Koichi Hayashida, who directed Super Mario Galaxy 2. Even the previous game’s simplistic level selection screen returns, this time improved via touch screen integration.

The 3D technology adds to the game visually, but it is not without it’s flaws. The 3DS needs to be held away from you at a specific distance, and they don’t recommend looking away from the screen as the immersive 3D suddenly turns the level into “teary-eyed” mode, where everything is just a blur. I admit to getting a few headaches, a bout of motion sickness playing the game at first, but now I’m fine playing it for hours on end.

To play the game without the 3D is jarring. You truly get a better sense of where to jump, and where platforms are in 3D mode. When you flatten it out, you’re left with following your shadow to make sure you land where you intended.

I recall when Super Mario 3D World was announced for the WiiU, I remember wondering if it was going to somehow be in 3D. I felt like the end result would otherwise feel flat compared to the 3DS game. The only actual end result was that Super Mario 3D World ended up being one of my favorite Mario games.

Fun Factory

Nintendo is formulaic. I’m not a wide-eyed naif. I love them despite their clear and present flaws. Nothing in this game is all that groundbreaking. It basically Taco Bell-ed all the usual Mario ingredients and integrated their latest gimmick.

Like many other Mario games, the entire first run through the campaign is relatively easy. It’s only when the Special Worlds unlock that the game gets a bit more sinister. It’s then when your hundred or so lives will come in handy.

There were many levels where I died so many times, the assistance boxes started cropping up. If you die 5 times in a level, the Invincibility Leaf pops up, turning Mario into an Invincible Tanooki Mario. Die 10 times in a row and the P-Wing box appears, which if used, will send you directly to the end level flagpole. As a video game player who does not use such things I always just ignore them, but for the kiddos, it’s a good feature to have.

Super Mario 3D Land is not a game changer, but it did sell a lot of Nintendo 3DS systems. Sadly, most people will never get the experience the game in 3D anymore. Hopefully my 3DS hangs in there a bit longer, as I still have Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and Kid Icarus Uprising to finish before I turn the 3D slider down for good.

Leftover Coins

  • Can you play as any other characters? Yes, you can play as you little bro Luigi once you unlock him at the end of the first Special World.
  • Raccoon Luigi looks very similar to the Cat Suit (from the follow up Super Mario 3D World) in both design and color.
  • There’s not a lot to unlock for completionists. You get one to five stars over your profile for meeting certain criteria, and a new postcard image. There’s a reason Nintendo doesn’t really do the whole trophy/achievement thing too much; they favor fun over busy work.

Luigi trapped in jail with enemies
Classic Luigi. This is why the Everyman brother is so beloved.

Written by Johnny Malloy

Johnny Malloy has written for 25YL since 2019. A lifelong gamer who considers The Binding of Isaac to be a subversive masterpiece. He has written an extensive series of articles about Castlevania, Super Mario Bros, Final Fantasy, and Resident Evil.

He enjoys writing fiction when he's not watching RedLetterMedia videos on YouTube. He has one of those faces. Sorry about my face. It can't be helped.

He's @mistercecil on the Twitter. Follow him if you like wild tangents and non sequiturs.

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