And its playfulness extends to the way it uses 3D and perspective. The 3D is used with subtlety, yet the effect is all pervasive, allowing Nintendo to mess around with top-down views and vertiginous depths for some classic heart-in-your-mouth moments, or hide collectibles behind the scenery, hinting at their existence while daring you to find a way in. You can get further info using a brilliant binocular gadget, which gives a long-distance view of the level with the binoculars aimed by moving the 3DS itself. There are even some ingenious challenge rooms that use perspective tricks to stop you reaching that secret star coin or handy power-up. You don’t need to have 3D turned on to play the game, but for once it adds an extra dimension to the experience, not just the visuals.
Graphically, Super Mario 3D Land doesn’t quite have the vibrant lighting or texture effects of Super Mario Galaxy, but it’s a surprisingly close facsimile, and Mario, his mates and his foes are modelled and animated with Nintendo’s usual loving care. Combine that with the characteristically bouncy sound and music and the pitch-perfect, responsive controls, and Super Mario 3D Land never feels like a cut-down console experience. In fact, the biggest issue is that your hands will cramp from holding the 3DS hours before you can bear to put it down.
If Mario’s latest threatens to have an achilles heel, it’s length. The game appears to have just eight worlds, and you can topple the first four within a couple of hours. In fact, they’re surprisingly easy, and repeated failure on a level will bring you a special invulnerable raccoon suit to help you push through, or even a feather that gets you to the end. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that merely scraping through isn’t enough. Special star coins need to be collected to open latter sections of the game, and there’s a little backtracking involved to grab the required number. In a lesser game this might be annoying, but here discovering a location – finding one hidden by a cheap trick or a crafty twist of perspective – is part of the pleasure. Some levels contain whole areas that you won’t have noticed on your first play through.
What’s more, collecting the star coins allows you to unlock a world’s hidden levels, each more challenging than the mainstream levels, having more in common with the notorious challenge levels of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Sunshine. Nor does it end when you finally conquer World 8. If you’ve found the going too easy so far, hang on to your hats; you’ll run out of puff before Super Mario 3D Land runs out of challenge or ideas.
The best game on the 3DS and the first original stone-cold classic on the system. Super Mario 3D Land is a wonderful fusion of both 2D and 3D Mario traditions, packed with ideas and boasting a formidable long-term challenge. A game worth buying a 3DS for? Maybe not, but if Nintendo needs to convince the wider audience, this is a damn good start.