In the world of video games you may have a whole stable full of superheroes or super-soldiers you like to turn to over and over again. But for Princess Peach there's only one guy to call on when her pinkness is being impugned: Mario. That's the way it's been for, well, ever. And stubby little Mario has never failed to jump to when she calls. In fact, you'd think that turtle-shelled monster Bowser would have gotten tired of the overall-clad plumber foiling his every princess-snatching scheme by now. But here they all are again, this time in Super Mario 3D Land for Nintendo's 3DS.
Bowser has grabbed the pretty object of his obsession and flown her off to a castle that surely Mario will never reach. Because this time the bad guy has come up with eight different multi-level worlds to toss in his heroic foe's path—ranging from haunted houses to high-flying air ships to deep sea journeys to lava-moated castles to dust-swirling desert plains. These worlds generally consist of five standard levels, a big boss level and a few special ones for sheer variety's sake. (Some of these stages are locked initially and can only be opened if Mario collects enough golden coins along his jumping and "whoop"-ing way.)
Twirl, Spin and Tumble
If you've ever played a Mario game before, you know that each new challenge, no matter where it may be, will consist of scores of puzzling and inventive platform obstacles that twirl, spin and tumble around in their environments.
Now add 3-D special effects to that.
Here, Mario must beat the clock and jump his way through each twisting pathway while avoiding hundreds of frowny-faced minions, smashing blocks, sharp-toothed projectiles and fireball/lava pit traps. To help him along his colorful platforming way, the levels are scattered with hidden power-ups that the mustachioed one can reveal and access. Finding a Tanooki leaf, for instance, gives Mario a raccoon suit with an enemy-bashing stripped tail that can spin and slow his midair descent. There's also a turtle-shelled boomerang suit that can shoot out a returning projectile to take down distant meanies. And if Mario climbs into a propeller box he can soar to great heights when a vertical boost is required.
The darkest elements on hand are a few skull flags, lava monsters with sharp-toothed maws, some floating ghost-like entities in the "haunted" house and the roaring fire-breather, Bowser himself. So the hardest thing for young ones to face will ultimately be Mario's obstacle course challenges. The gameplay and 3DS controls are easy to leap into and enjoy. However, reaching that flagpole goal at the end of each level isn't always a cinch.
But fear not, even in that regard, 3D Land offers up a helping white-gloved hand.
Bypassing Levels … and the 3-D Stuff Too
After sending you back to the beginning of a stage with five failed attempts, the game offers up a saving bonus leaf that grants your little plumber hero a white Tanooki suit, making him invincible to any bad guys or fireballs that come his way. And if you keep chugging and fail 10 times, a p-wing bonus pops up that will let you simply fly past the difficult bits and move on to the next level.
The 3-D twists on the same ole same ole fun and games, meanwhile, can be smile-worthy when the camera zooms overhead or dives into the swirling watery depths. But ultimately the effects end up being more of an eye-blinking annoyance than anything else. In fact, Mom and Dad ought to remember, even Nintendo warns that the 3-D elements should be turned off for kids 6 and under to avoid what it labels as "any possible vision damage."
Still, Princess Peach is absolutely right to insist on her dear Goomba-bopping hero when it comes to playing the game right. There's simply no other game out there that's as consistently "heroic" and "helpful" as a Mario game.