Most modern “Super Mario” games have the mustachioed hero running and jumping around large, open levels — or in the case of intentional throwbacks like “New Super Mario Bros. Wii,” confined the action to an old-style 2-D plane.
This game combines the two—Mario can move in three dimensions in “Super Mario 3D Land,” but the stages he must navigate are mostly laid out in ways that resemble the 2-D Mario games of old, with a linear course and limited exploration. Some past Mario games have taken a similar approach in bonus stages, but never dedicated themselves entirely to the concept.
“Super Mario 3D Land” consists of a Mario adventure’s typical eight worlds, each with multiple levels to conquer, but once you’re finished with these initial worlds a new, more difficult set opens up, which makes sense of the surprising ease of the first run— it’s just training for the big leagues, whose levels have more hazards and less forgiving layouts.
Just as the game’s stages are a mix of new and old elements, so are Mario’s power-up items. Jumping into blocks will release Super Mushrooms to make him double in size, and Fire Flowers to grant him fireball-tossing power and Starmen to make him invincible for a time.
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Returning from a long hiatus is the Super Leaf from 1990’s “Super Mario Bros. 3,” which doesn’t let Mario fly as it did in the earlier game, but grants him a raccoon suit and tail that let him glide and whack objects. New to this game is the Boomerang Flower, which puts Mario in a turtle’s armored shell and lets him throw boomerangs, and the Propeller Box, which lets Mario zip into the air and glide down smoothly.
Aside from the goal at the end, each level contains three golden medals, often in hard-to-reach or easy-to- miss spots. Some levels are locked until you’ve gathered enough medals to open them, so it’s best not to pass too many up. Completed stages can be replayed at any time if you want to pick up some strays, but there’s little reason to play through a level again once all three medals have been collected, other than for the simple fun of it.
The game can be tough in spots, especially in the second set of worlds, but it is designed to let you bypass trouble spots if you wish — die a few times in a level and a special Super Leaf that makes Mario immune to all harm except falling can be used; die a few more and you can skip the level entirely, returning later if you want to play through without a crutch.