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Super Mario 3D Land is to Super Mario Galaxy as New Super Mario Bros. was to Mario's classic NES and SNES outings, and it's as good as it sounds; this is a condensed version of the iconic mascot's celebrated and creative 3D platforming efforts, something which previously could only breathe life on a console, and thanks to some clever compromises and uses of 3D, it comes out as a must-have 3DS title.
It apes Galaxy in all kinds of ways, which isn't a surprise since Super Mario 3D Land shares the same development team as the smash Wii series. Instead of busy hubs or vast open stages to explore, it simply plonks you in a linear stage with only one direction to run off toward, prioritising Koopa bouncing, coin collecting and sharp platforming over fussy navigation.
While it's not quite as stupendously inventive as the Galaxy games, each stage's bitesize nature - each lasting a few minutes in length - allow them to exercise new ideas in very quick succession. While it borrows from Galaxy's school of thought, such as a lot of challenging revolving platform sections, it has a number of very neat surprises of its own which are best left unspoilt.
Its linear nature also benefits the 3D screen, which Super Mario 3D Land takes advantage of spectacularly. It makes the series' signature strong art style jump out quite like never before, and thanks to come clever camera angles that adjust themselves as levels play out, ensures that coins, blocks and enemies are exposed for maximum effect.
While it doesn't really benefit platforming in any way, the game makes clever use of depth for its secrets, tucking away Star Coins in hidden alcoves at various distances, while secret diorama rooms are constructed to layer blocks in a deceptive manner. It offers some of the most impressive use of 3D we've encountered to date, and you wouldn't want to dare play without it.
As for Mario himself, he controls superbly with the 3DS's analogue stick, a factor that encumbered previous 3D handheld entry Super Mario 64 DS. His suite of moves also make it fully intact, from the butt stomp to the lifesaving long jump. Only his backward somersault feels awkward, now requiring both shoulder buttons to initiate and a slow charge time, and can occasionally leave you in a tight spot on some time-intensive stages. Elsewhere, Mario's default running speed can be best described as a gentle stroll, requiring you to hold Y to spring him into action (not unlike Mario's original 2D adventures) but is a requirement you'll soon forget about with time.
Mario can also make use of various suits on his travels. A propeller box sees Mario thrust into the air for some dazzling skyward stages, while a Boomerang suit makes late-game areas a little easier with its ability to take out distant enemies with returning projectiles.
The fan-favourite Tanooki Suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 also makes a grand return, allowing you to safely navigate jumps with a slow glide, or using the tail to smash open wall bricks or on special wheels to explore new areas. And like New Super Mario Bros., you can stock up suits and carry them to other stages to access previously-inaccessible places.
Despite taking after Mario's 3D adventures in the platforming stages, the adventure makes all kinds of throwbacks to Mario's sidescrolling past. World maps feature the return of Item Houses that give you a free power-up before each boss, Koopa Kids and their fleet of airships make regular appearances, and cutscenes feature gorgeous slides using Super Mario Bros. 3's signature cartoon look. Even Browser battles reinvent the classic bridge face-offs, with prolonged, twisting and turning journeys to that all-important button at the end that drops him into the lava.
Elsewhere, there's the addition of StreetPass functionality that sees basic challenge rooms - ten-second scenarios that see you take out a handful of enemies to earn a Star Coin - that can be shared with other players. It's a basic feature that adds some replayability to a deceptively long game; while the main quest and its hundred or so Star Coins can be clocked in around five hours, its Special Worlds offers just as much content, a heap of clever new ideas and a much harder challenge along with it.
Super Mario 3D Land takes the celebrated template of the Super Mario Galaxy games to create Mario's best handheld game in years, and even when put up against his acclaimed console offerings, is yet another sublime adventure crammed with surprises and smiles every few minutes. It's also perhaps the first 3DS title that makes the screen an integral part of the game rather than an eye-catching afterthought. An essential purchase for any 3DS owner, it should also be the nudge those on the fence need to invest in the system.
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