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Super Mario 3D Land Brought Mario Into 3D Better Than Super Mario 64

Mario has starred in all kinds of games over the years, from high-speed racing titles to party-oriented mini-game collections. His bread and butter, however, has long been platformers, with the 1985 title Super Mario Bros. defining generations of video games to come. Eventually, Mario made the leap to the third dimension, but it meant leaving many of his old conventions behind.

It wouldn’t be until 2011 that Mario’s 2D and 3D games would have a true union, with Super Mario 3D Land in many ways being the game that Super Mario 64 should have been. Truly merging the elements that made Mario’s sidescrolling adventures such a hit with a 3D environment, the now somewhat forgotten game deserves much more than the acclaim it’s already received.

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Mario’s Jump Into 3D Wasn’t a Natural Evolution

Super Mario World, which came out in 1990, was the last of its kind for quite a while. This sidescrolling adventure would have Mario and Luigi team up with various-colored Yoshis to defeat the evil Bowser, and it was in many ways an expansion of the elements found in the first three Super Mario Bros. games. The next mainline title in the series would be Super Mario 64, a completely 3D adventure that was wildly different from what had come before. Though fans and critics alike lauded the game, it was inarguably a far cry from the classic titles. Gone were the traditional power-ups, shrinking mechanics and the level completion setup that had defined the 2D Mario formula, and in their place was the birth of the 3D platformer collectathon.

This type of gameplay would be utilized for Super Mario Sunshine, though Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 began to slowly reintroduce elements from the sidescrolling games, including some classic power-ups and more linear mechanics. However, things still weren’t quite like the old-school 2D titles. Those had officially come back in the form of the New Super Mario Bros. games, which were 2D sidescrollers with 3D graphics. Even with the success of those games, however, there had yet to be a true fusion of the 2D and 3D Mario elements.

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Super Mario 3D Land Brought Mario Into 3D Better

In 2011, Nintendo released Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS handheld system. Though its name seemed like a mere gimmick reflecting its hardware, this title was revolutionary in that it was essentially what many gamers expected 15 years beforehand from Super Mario 64. The game has Mario moving in three dimensions, but the other mechanics, such as his shrinking from damage and growing when exposed to Super Mushrooms, not to mention the classic “touch the flagpole” method of ending linear levels, were right in line with the 2D titles. Sure, Mario had moves like the Ground Pound and Wall Jump from Super Mario 64, but the non-linear exploration of those games was gone in favor of bringing the old-school into a new game.

As such, Super Mario 3D Land was much more of a sequel to Super Mario World than Super Mario 64 ever was. If it had been released in 64‘s place, it likely would have still received great reviews, with many hailing it as an impressive transition into a new dimension that kept the core mechanics in place. Currently, however, the game is somewhat forgotten for a variety of reasons. For one, the 3D collectathon-style of Mario games in the vein of Super Mario 64 had become the norm for that subseries, making 3D Land a rather jarring change of pace.

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The game has only been released on the handheld 3DS console, making it somewhat harder to come by for those who didn’t play it when it first came out. Perhaps its biggest hindrance, however, is the fact that many fans regard its successor, Super Mario 3D World, as a more refined improvement. Due to Super Mario 3D World being released on the Wii U home console and now on the Nintendo Switch, it had a much wider audience and push.

Nevertheless, Super Mario 3D Land should still be hailed for successfully doing what Super Mario 64 didn’t: bringing Mario as gamers knew him into the third dimension. Those who have a 3DS and funds on their Nintendo eShop account can still download the game for $20, so for a little while longer, the most underrated and equally important 3D Mario game can still be enjoyed.

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