Mario is one of the hardest-working men in video games. Whether he's competing in the Olympics or exploring outer space, this gaming icon stays busy. Super Mario 3D Land puts the plumber though his paces with yet another search-and-rescue mission to find a missing princess. Along the way it successfully translates the classic, 2D Mario feel into a 3D setting that feels unique from the series' other 3D releases. Some of the game's other features fall disappointingly short of this creative mark, but you're still left with a fun-filled platformer loaded with content.
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In classic Mario fashion, Super Mario 3D Land starts with a kidnapping. Princess Peach has been captured yet again by Bowser, and Mario is the only one who can save her. Your journey takes you through eight themed worlds ranging from deep seas to dusty deserts. Each is loaded with inventive stages that keep you excited to see what lies beyond. These include the five regular stages, a boss stage, and a few special stages. Some of these are locked initially, requiring you to collect star coins--the game's lone collectable--to access them.
The boss stages almost always have this requirement and take you through the lava-filled castles and high-flying airships of Mario's past. Both of these locations have their own mini-boss encounters waiting at the end: either a battle-on-the-bridge showdown with Bowser or a brawl with some wannabe Koopalings. There are also some familiar special stages, like item-granting mushroom houses and unique mystery boxes. The mystery boxes can reward Mario with additional items--or even star coins--if you can complete the objective before time runs out.
No matter where you are in the game, playing it is a delight, thanks to the tight, simple controls afforded by the 3DS's circle pad. This means reaching the flagpole won't take you long throughout the first half of Super Mario 3D Land. Stages are designed around a specific linear pathway, unlike the more free-form 3D stages of Super Mario Galaxy 2. This shifts your focus from exploration to speed and execution. In many ways the stages are more reminiscent of the classic, 2D Mario games and do an excellent job of translating their platforming challenges into a 3D environment. The game even encourages speedy runthroughs by recording your best time in each one and displaying it against the other player accounts on your cart.
A special variant of the tanooki suit lets Mario transform into a statue for a brief time.