'Super Mario 3D Land' for Nintendo 3DS

PHOTO: A general view of atmosphere at Nintendos celebration of the launch of Super Mario 3D Land at Siren Studios, Nov. 3, 2011 in Hollywood, California.PlayJason Merritt/Getty Images
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"Super Mario 3D Land" for the Nintendo 3DS proves that the system's 3-D technology has worth beyond a mere novelty.

After playing "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" for 3DS, the other big 3DS release, I had to force myself to turn the 3-D off. Adding depth just didn't add to the game, and the extra dimension didn't seem perfected yet, giving me sore eyes after lengthy plays.

You won't believe how much better the 3-D is in Super Mario Land; it proved for me that the whole system has legs and can still offer an experience far beyond that which an iPhone can provide.

The biggest accomplishment SM3DL makes is turning the 3-D effect into an active part of the game play. The game strives to fake the player out, replacing warp pipes and enemies with flat, 2-D facades that only stand out if the system's 3-D slider is switched on. Some of the game's best puzzles depend on 3-D to create a forced perspective, forcing you to either crank up the 3-D or change the camera angle to understand how best to move forward.

SM3DL is all about perspective. The 3-D looks stunning as the camera moves overhead as you drop down huge distances and flips in front of you as you run from boulders. I might be wrong, but the 3-D also seemed to help me hone my jump accuracy. With depth perception finally added to my leaps, I felt like I had been playing previous Mario installations with one eye closed.

It's easy to get deeply discouraged in the first hours of game play. I tore through the eight main worlds faster than I would have liked, finding the star coin collection challenges much easier than they were in the "New Super Mario Bros" games. Mario games typically love to tease secrets, leaving pipes and islands inaccessible on the world map until late in the game. But not here, as you pass World 8, there no hints of additional levels. Super Mario 3D Land leaves zero allusion to the dozens of additional, challenging levels the game provides after initial completion. Keep that in mind while playing and you'll enjoy the entire experience a bit more.

The story here is as barebones as it gets. Character dialogue is nonexistent, the stages lack the fun level names we've come to expect with "Galaxy" and, worst of all, each world lacks a theme. In world 8 -- a land depicted as a stormy, volcanic battleground -- you'll find yourself playing through multiple levels that feature bright green grass and sunny skies. This is not entirely unprecedented: Mario Galaxy would group different "planets" into one galaxy and it allows the developers to build the difficultly of the game up based on design rather than trying to shoe horn themed levels together. Still, I miss the maps with the all-desert-worlds and the all-ice-worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Boss fights, save for the final one that is as good as any Nintendo has ever offered, lack a little creativity as well. You'll fight the same bosses again and again, thanks to the inclusion of the long lost "Boom Boom," that Koopa Kid-like creature that you would butt heads with in mid-level Mario Bros 3 castles. He was easy to beat then and he is easy to beat now.

We meet Boom Boomer and his sister Pm Pom again and again, under only slightly tweaked circumstances. At one point you'll even face them both, but this fight is even easier than the one before it. I wanted to interact with environments, use powerups and be generally surprised by the bosses. More often than not, they fell through to the expectations I had built after NSMB and "Super Mario Galaxy".

This game strives to play off of the most classic Mario elements, more like New Super Mario Brothers Wii than anything else, only with the ability to explore 3-D space. We are in a very familiar Mushroom Kingdom without aliens, bees or islanders, populated by only the most popular Mario characters. This, along with the sorely missed Tanooki suit, are cause for much happy nostalgia, even if they got the tail-wiffle sound effect wrong.

As much as I can nitpick, once the "Super Mario 3D Land" finds its footing, the gameplay is second to none, taking the best actions and power-ups from the series and melding them into one must-have Mario game, even if that means buying a 3DS first.