“To me,” says Koichi Hayashida, Director of Super Mario 3D Land, “Super Mario Galaxy 2 is like the Manchu Han Imperial Feast…
“So this time, I wanted to make a compact game that, rather than the Manchu Han Imperial Feast, was lighter, like a hamburger you could just gobble down.”
He’s talking of course, about Super Mario 3D Land, the game that might just change your perception of the 3DS and 3D Mario games in general -- because, make no mistake, Super Mario 3D Land is one tasty burger.
The hamburger analogy, of course, may be lost in translation, or at least confused. Insubstantial, unhealthy, cheap, these are the words we normally associate with hamburgers, but switch your perspective -- convenient, purposeful, quick, delicious. Super Mario 3D Land is like a hamburger in those specific ways.
In fact it’s more like a mini-burger. The levels are short, bite-sized, designed to be consumed during your commute, to the point where quitting mid-level would hardly be an inconvenience. Shrinking 3D Mario down to the bare minimum, the design is economical, but filled with typical flourish. Super Mario 3D Land is clearly designed for a handheld experience, but it’s still substantial. We suspect it will become the cornerstone of any nutritious train journey.
A good reference point would be the 2D sections you might find mid-level in either of the Mario Galaxy games -- those moments where the free flowing 3D mechanics are shoe-horned onto a 2D plane. These moments work partly though novelty, but mostly via sublime design -- it plays with your expectations and transforms your idea of how the dimensions work from a mechanical standpoint.
Super Mario 3D Land is similar -- in a sense it reinvents 3D Mario, removing the open sense of exploration, and replacing it with a linear structure more common in, say, Super Mario Bros. 3. We got a similar feeling from Super Mario Galaxy 2, the idea that the exploration seen in earlier 3D Marios, like Mario 64, was being replaced with something more rigid, based around a single interesting idea or concept. Almost as if 3D games had evolved to the point where more traditional level design could work in the third dimension.
Super Mario 3D Land is like that. Levels feel like levels, not areas to be explored. The path is clearer, the destination more obvious, particularly in the earlier levels.
In addition to the hamburger analogy, Hayashida also mentioned that he wanted Super Mario 3D Land to be the bridge between 2D Mario and 3D Mario, and that’s written all over the game’s design, from the levels themselves to the natural whimsy of the environments. Super Mario 3D Land feels light and breezy, a whole new type of fun.
It’s a true reinvention for Mario as a brand and a video game series, an intelligent reworking. It’s hard to imagine how a handheld 3D Mario could have been designed any other way without feeling needlessly dense and impenetrable.
So, yes, Super Mario 3D Land is a hamburger, but it’s as good as any hamburger I’ve ever eaten. And I could sure go for another.