Nov. 14, 2011 at 10:01 PM ET
Ever since the Nintendo 3DS launched back in March, consumers have been waiting for Nintendo to give them a Mario game that truly showed off the power of the new portable game machine.
They wanted a good reason to drop first $250 and then $170 on this new gadget that displays 3-D images without requiring viewers to wear a pair of redorkulous glasses. Unfortunately, gamers have had to wait a long time ... too long, in fact ... for Mario to arrive.
But "Super Mario 3D Land" is finally here. Of course, the question is: Does it live up to expectations? And does it do for the 3DS what Nintendo needs it to do?
The short answer: Yes.
For the longer answer, read on for five reasons "Super Mario 3D Land" is worthy of your adoration ... and your $40.
It makes owning a Nintendo 3DS worth it
If you own a Nintendo 3DS, this is the game you've been waiting for. In fact, this is the game that Nintendo should have launched when it launched the new handheld back in March.
It's too bad really. Perhaps if "Super Mario 3D Land" had been ready to go earlier, Nintendo wouldn't have struggled to meet initial 3DS sales expectations and wouldn't be in quite the financial hot spot it's currently in.
But it's here now and "Super Mario 3D Land" does just what Nintendo needs it to do: It presents players with a refined package of gameplay elements that really shows off what the 3DS has to offer.
That is, first and foremost "Super Mario 3D Land" presents glasses-free 3-D visuals in a truly delightful and creative way (more on that below). Meanwhile, the game – which finds Mario once again trying to save Princess Peach from that dastardly Bowser – also makes good use of the 3DS's gyroscope.
As you try to make your way through each level – racing against the clock as you bump into blocks, collect coins and hunt for each of the three Star Medals hidden there – you'll be given a chance scope out the world through a pair of binoculars. Simply move the 3DS around as you would a pair of real binoculars to take a gander at the landscape. It's a nice touch. Rather than forcing heavy-handed motion controls on the player, this subtle implementation adds a nifty little bonus to the game.
Meanwhile, "Super Mario 3D Land" also makes use of the 3DS' StreetPass system, which means you'll be able to compare speed scores with other players and exchange Mystery Boxes and the benefits inside them as well.
The 3-D effects are awesome rather than annoying
I've been on the fence about this whole 3-D thing. For starters, playing a game in 3-D on the Nintendo 3DS (as well as on other machines) eventually exhausts my eyeballs and, depending on the game, can make me a feel a bit dizzy at times. (Hello "Pilotwings Resort.")
I've also been on the fence because, too often, 3-D can feel too much like a gimmick rather than like something that deeply enhances a game.
But when it comes to the 3-D in "Super Mario 3D Land," it has been so superbly done that I barely notice the eyeball fatigue and I don't feel my usual desire to turn down (or turn off) the 3-D magic using the device's 3-D slider. Furthermore, it truly feels like it adds something special to this game.
Why does it work so well? For starters, you'll be given the option to view the 3-D effects in either pop-out format (looks like the graphics are coming out of the screen) or pop-in format (looks like they are popping into the screen). Just press the D-pad and you can pick which way suits you and your eyeballs best.
Beyond that, the 3-D has just been so artfully done in each and every level, that it pulls you right into the Mushroom Kingdom like never before. This is already a bright, vibrant place, but now you really feel like you could reach out and touch it.
For those who are adamantly opposed to using 3-D, the good news is the game is still playable without it. However, the 3-D visuals certainly make solving various puzzles and finding various hidden items more intriguing. The way the 3-D tweaks your perspective on the Mushroom Kingdom is simply not to be missed.
The return of the Tanooki suit
Though PETA may be up in arms about Mario' donning a fur suit in this game, one of the fun things about "Super Mario 3D Land" is seeing the return of the Tanooki power-up.
The tail-swinging suit – which gives Mario the ability to float and swat his enemies with a raccoon tail – first appeared in the good ol' NES game "Super Mario Bros. 3." More than 20 years later, it remains a fun and helpful addition to navigating the Mushroom Kingdom and conquering its various baddies.
But the Tanooki Suit is just one of several sweet power-ups that Mario comes across in the game. The Fire Flower power-up also makes a return – allowing Mario to toss balls o' flame at his enemies. And there are some new powers to uncover too – such as the Boomerang Flower, which gives Mario the ability to toss boomerangs at his enemies.
Figuring out when and how to best use these powers is all part of the fun.
A beautiful blend of old and new
The level design in "Super Mario 3D Land" is simply a blast – not to mention a clever blend of old and new Mario gaming.
While the game is something of an old-school side-scroller at heart, Nintendo changes things up from one level to another – mixing in a variety of different perspectives. Sometimes you'll be presented with a level in the 2-D view from days of yore where you move Mario from the left to right through the world. Other times you'll see him from the top down perspective. Sometimes the game has you follow Mario from behind as he moves forward into the level. And sometimes a level will mix and match these different perspectives.
Meanwhile, from grassy, tree-filled landscapes to haunted houses to enemy-filled ships, you're presented with one memorable level to conquer after another. You'll help Mario walk on high wires, make his way across disappearing platforms, and slip past spikey enemies.
While you and Mario will face off against plenty of familiar enemies, there's a delightful array of new baddies to meet too – Goombas with raccoon tails and Piranha Plants that can spit ink seemingly right at you until it covers the screen with black goo.
And each level is just the right length – short enough to squeeze in during your spare moments and yet long enough to hook you and keep you coming back for more. Then, just when you think you're done ... there's more to come.
Mario in fine form
More than anything, this game just looks great. Whether you have the 3-D on or off, the Mushroom Kingdom is bright and gorgeous to behold and certainly gives its counterparts on the Wii a run for their money in the visual appeal department.
And the game doesn't just look good, it sounds good too. The sound design and music are top notch and rarely hit that annoyingly repetitive note, even when you have to replay a tough level.
All in all, if you don't yet own a Nintendo 3DS, "Super Mario 3D Land" should give you plenty of good reasons to bump the gadget to the top of your holiday wish list.
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Winda Benedetti writes about games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things here on Twitter or join her in the stream here on Google+. And be sure to check out the In-Game Facebook page here.