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Super Mario Land 2 & Super Mario 3D Land – pure Mario fun

Content of the article: "Super Mario Land 2 & Super Mario 3D Land – pure Mario fun"

These two titles I feel tend to be overlooked or at least not talked about as much as other Mario titles, which is a shame since they do a great job capturing that quintessential, cheery Mario-fun, while also feeling unique, and they’ve become two of my personal favourites in the series.

I think they’re similar in terms of pure fun-factor and the playful approach to level design and general look and feel, with lots of little details to put a smile on the player’s face, and rewarding exploration. Super Mario Land 2 has lots of little goodies hidden in nooks and crannies, and some levels have secret exits that give the player access to bonus levels. 3D Land’s levels often have quite a bit of space to run around and explore in, and each level has three star medals to find. Getting at least a select number of them is mandatory to open up castles/airships to get to the next world as one goes, but I find it’s a good thing as it’s a big incentive for the player to make an effort to get them, which in turn adds a lot to the levels.

Both titles are on the easier side but I personally didn’t find them too easy, and as they’re generally very non-frustrating, it makes for chill play-sessions. This doesn’t mean there’s no challenge at all to be found – Wario’s castle in Super Mario Land 2 is a long and tough experience, and Super Mario 3D Land has eight Special Worlds, basically an entire new game mode after beating the main worlds, with many new, more difficult levels or remixes of previous ones with extra challenges.

One thing I really like about both games is their largely unique level themes. SML2 has fun, new themes for its zones such as space, horror and toys, and often levels are connected into a narrative of sorts, such as making one’s way from a tree’s roots to its sap-filled trunk and finally up to the treetop. SM3DL more or less does away with world-themes and has each level as a stand-alone thing, which allows for some cool new environments, like a sky full of biscuits and cookies, a clock tower, or mountains with bridges and waterfalls, which I personally liked a lot. In the special worlds elements from previous levels are sometimes mixed and matched, resulting in interesting environments, a snowy, haunted mountain, for example. Both titles also manage to make their respective water levels enjoyable.

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They both also look great. SML2’s lack of colours doesn’t stop it from being very charming and fun to look at, and some of 3D Land’s environments look really nice, and overall the design feels fun and colourful.

Some additional thoughts on each: Super Mario Land 2: I only have two problems with this game: first of all, that if you get a game over you lose the coins and need to go back and beat previously beaten bosses. Just annoying and unnecessary. Second, while I didn’t find the zones too easy or the final castle too difficult in a vacuum, the difference in difficulty between them felt jarring, especially with the lack of checkpoints in the castle. At least getting the game from the 3DS eshop, where one can make savestates, can take care of both of these issues if one’s so inclined.

The bunny ears were a fun new power-up, and I also liked how having the fire flower is visualized by Mario getting a feather in his hat. The main theme and its variations are fun and catchy, and I liked how there’s one level that has the coin room-theme from Super Mario Land for its sheer randomness.

Super Mario 3D Land: The airship-bosses were boring and samey and made me miss the Koopalings for at least some variation. The Bowser fights were a neat update to the original Super Mario Bros. fights/”fights” though, which worked really well, and the final fight was quite epic.

Overall, while the game does have its own distinct flavour, it borrows so many elements from other Mario games that it feels like a tribute to the series’ past, but it’s not so dependant on nostalgia that it gets in the way of this experience. Most notably, there are many Super Mario Bros. 3 callbacks, but also as mentioned from the first Super Mario and Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, as well as smaller references or elements from various other Mario games. The special worlds, with their re-used level elements but added challenge, feels a bit like Lost Levels in relation to the first Super Mario, although that might be a stretch (although the special worlds are where poison mushrooms and getting to choose between playing as Mario or Luigi is introduced, so perhaps not).

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There’s even a Zelda reference with a torch-puzzle that when solved plays the iconic jingle from the Zelda games, which I adored as it was so instantly recognizable for people who catch the reference, but isn’t confusing or out of place for people who are not familiar with those games.

Overall the game is very player-friendly, and handheld-friendly. Some of the special worlds levels could get really frustrating though, disregarding their intentional difficulty, that is, as they were often more 2D-platformy challenges which at times led to annoying deaths due to a confusing perspective or tilting the circle-pad just a tiny bit wrong. Most of the levels were really fun, but I wish they had kept more of the explorative, playground-y feel of the main world’s levels, in which, for that reason, collecting the star medals also felt more fun and rewarding, at least to me.

I liked how many levels take place insanely high up in the air. Also, while I’m not prone to vertigo or motion sickness from playing videogames, there was one level with swinging platforms where for a while after playing it I felt like I myself was swinging on them every time I closed my eyes, so that was new.

Super Mario/Luigi, rather than small Mario/Luigi is the default in this game, which was neat, and made getting small really feel like a punishment for sloppy playing, and automatically starting out as big after a death can be a big help if one has trouble with some area/level. On the other hand, it made for some odd dynamics where in many cases dying and coming back big could be a better option than not dying but becoming small. On that note, the sound effects when shrinking/losing a power-up genuinely pissed me off. Instead of just having the usual shrinking sound, here it plays the shrinking sound and a loud crash-noise and Mario/Luigi screaming. It’s unpleasant to the ears and it makes me way more annoyed than taking a hit does in other Mario games just because the game itself makes it sound like such a big deal. Then again, if that’s the worst I can say about this game, that’s in itself a pretty damn good score.

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