New Mario games are almost always new landmarks in gaming. Super Mario Bros. changed platforming forever, Super Mario 64 introduced a completely new gameplay experience and the abstract imagination of the Super Mario Galaxy games have arguably made them the most lovingly-crafted games on any system in the past five years. As the first Mario game on 3DS, there's a lot riding on Super Mario 3D Land to provide yet another landmark moment, and we're happy to say that it does.
On first appearance Super Mario 3D Land looks like a handheld version of the Super Mario Galaxy games. Mario can wander around wherever he likes. Yet despite the seemingly free-roaming nature of the game, Mario only ever has one set path. The aim in every level is always to reach the flagpole at the end, ideally while collecting the three Star Coins hidden in each stage.
Most of the levels in Super Mario 3D Land are packed with imaginative gameplay mechanics. Each stage guarantees at least one new object or enemy you've never dealt with before, keeping things fresh without much repetition.
Having said that, some of the gameplay mechanics introduced have been uncharacteristically copied straight over from previous games (Like the cannons that fire Mario across the stage, and platforms that flip over as you jump from Galaxy's FlipSwitch Galaxy) but for the most part there are plenty of imaginative new ideas in each world you encounter.
Super Mario 3D Land has clearly been put together with the same care and attention given to every other triple-A Nintendo title. The camera is rock solid, the little graphical touches also provide a level of detail that wasn't even really seen in the Wii games while the inter-World cutscenes add some fun variety not seen since Super Mario World.
Controlling Mario is a charm and it only takes a few minutes to get used to holding down the sprint button to make Mario dash. He's also got a new standing dash move, where holding down the sprint button before moving starts him running on the spot, allowing you to reach top speed instantly.
There are a couple of moves which don't quite work so well, however - doing a long jump can be awkward since you have to hold the dash and duck buttons before quickly pressing the jump button, and his charging crouch jump (returning from Super Mario Bros. 2) is rarely worth doing in anything other than rare circumstances because the difference in height gained is negligible.
Super Mario 3D Land is the first game truly makes use of the handheld's 3D effect. While 3D in most of the other 3DS games released to date looks great but is ultimately purely aesthetic, this is the first game we've played in which you really do feel at a disadvantage if you don't have the 3D slider turned up. This is instantly obvious in the smaller optical illusion-style bonus rooms which deliberately position blocks in a way that makes it impossible to tell where they're positioned unless you switch from 2D to 3D, but it's also the case for the game as a whole.