Super Mario 3D Land is a hybrid sort of affair that has beautifully merged the gameplay style of a 3D Mario game into the style of an old school Mario-like adventure. The levels are open, open enough to make it seem like you'll be exploring a lot, but are pretty self contained for quick on the go fun.
This time, Bowser has somehow unleashed Tanooki leafs all over the Mushroom Kingdom. Now everything has a Tanooki tail, everything from trees to Goombas. Oh, and Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach. Again.
Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
Levels are setup to be a hybrid of 2D and 3D. What I mean is that the levels are spacious, but at the same time they're linear so you're always moving towards your end goal. That openness also applies to the sidescrolling sections, so you can move up and down as you go left or right in a level. Each stage is pretty small in length, perhaps the smallest of recent Mario games.
The levels that I played on reminded me a lot of other Mario stages from past games. There was the desert stage that felt like the Super Mario 64 desert area (there's even a cannon in this level that you have to launch yourself from). Then, there's the stage that was filled with nothing but those blocks that will fall down after you've walked over them, like in Super Mario Bros 3. One stage that sticks out in my mind the most was a retro throwback level where each of the main grounds you would walk on were made to look like 8-bit Mario and Peach.
There was a water level, too (of course there was), but for once, it wasn't all that annoying. Swimming seems to be really easy now, and best of all, there's no oxygen managing system for Mario when he's submerged in water.
The end of every stage will remind you of the original Super Mario Bros. as there's a flagpole you have to jump on. If you hit the top of the flagpole, you'll get an extra life. Hit anywhere else and you'll just get coins. As a really cool easter egg, the flagpole section of that retro throwback stage features the original game's backdrop. You even get fireworks for beating the stage!
In case you just suck and can't get to the end of the stage, Super Mario 3D Land features a "Help Mode" much like the Super Guide from Super Mario Galaxy. If you lose your life multiple times on the same level, an Assist Block appears to give you a special item. If you die more than five times without clearing a level, you'll get an Invincible Leaf power-up. So it's like a cross between the power star and Tanooki suit; it'll last only for the duration of the level and you can't die, unless you fall into a pit. Lastly, if you die more than ten times you'll get the P Wing which flies you to the end of the level.
As far as visuals are concerned, I just loved it. Everything comes out so crisp on the 3DS screen and there's a lot of detail to take in. The 3D effects are pretty good, too, and some levels look a lot better with the 3D effects on. While not required, some of the puzzles can be solved easier with the 3D on, too.
As for gameplay, Mario can run, ground pound, do flips, wall jump and long jump. Triple jumping is out and in its place is now a charge jump or roll move. To perform these, you hold the L or R button to make Mario crouch and then press A to jump or X to do the roll. It wasn't obvious what the charge jump's purpose was and the height of the jump seemed to be pretty much the same as a regular jump. As for the roll attack, it won't harm enemies unless you're wearing the Tanooki suit. I should also note, as someone who would abuse this move in Mario 64, the long jump isn't all that great anymore and is kind of hard to abuse now due to the control layout on the 3DS.
Mario, of course, gets power-ups, and in 3D Land Mario has the Tanooki suit on top of the Super Mushroom, Propeller block (kind of like the Propeller hat from New Super Mario Bros), Fire flower and power star. You'll be able to store one power-up item on the bottom screen (Super Mario World style) so you'll always have a backup in case of damage, or if you just want to change powers. If you have no backup, you'll turn into tiny Mario who can run faster and jump farther.
One bit I think I always took for granted were the enemies in Mario games. Thinking back, Super Mario 64 didn't really have that a variety of enemies. 3D Land has a ton of old school enemies: Dry Bones, Thwumps, Koopas, Piranha Plants and more. Mixed in are a variety of new enemies, such as a desert shark-like creature, a Thwomp that tries to block your path like a football defensive linemen and these really cool looking flying beetles. Of course, let's not forget the Goombas with Tanooki tails now.
Speaking of enemies with Tanooki tails, Bowser has a Tanooki tail too! We have no idea why or if he can even use it against you. As for the first boss stage, it's a lot like Super Mario 64's Bowser stages mixed with some spinning fire traps like in Super Mario Bros. Once you get near the end of the stage, Bowser appears and starts blasting you with fire balls. Once you get near Bowser, you realize he's on a bridge and the only way to kill him is by jumping on the switch on the other side. Once you hit the switch, Bowser falls into the lava and it's revealed it was a Goomba in disguise the whole time. After this, you go into the castle and discover a Toad, excited to see you. Thankfully he doesn't say "the line." You know what I'm talking about.
Lastly, I want to point out the music. On top of the original stuff are new versions of classic Mario songs. Notable songs include the autoscrolling level tune from Super Mario Bros. 3 (It still makes me tense after all these years) and a 8-bit remix of the classic Super Mario Bros. song.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Super Mario 3D Land. I really like the references, but I'd be way excited for more Super Mario World love. Where's my Charging Chuck? More importantly, where's the best Mario power-up of all time: The feather cape?