Throughout the first three worlds of the game, I noticed distinct hints of three different Super Mario titles: the exploration elements of Super Mario 64; the gigantic, floating worlds and shifting perspectives of Super Mario Galaxy; the core classic gameplay refined in the New Super Mario Bros. series. Together, they create a hodgepodge of experiences that change on the fly: One second I'm running down a huge hill, massive in size, with the camera straight behind me and the next I'm sliding down a pipe and the game shifts into classic 2D mode. The variety in level structure was very refreshing.
I consider myself to be a pretty proficient gamer, but Super Mario 3D Land has a pretty interesting feature for those who get stuck. If you lose five lives on any given level, the game will give you an invincible Tanooki suit -- think of it as having constant Star power while wearing the Tanooki suit. You can still fall to your death, so if you die ten times on a level, a special P Wing block emerges, allowing you to zip right to the end.
The game has some big, expansive environments and I immediately fell in love. The game looks great and flinging Mario off a cliff in a Tanooki suit, trying to gently descend from cloud to cloud, was an absolute blast. The scope of these levels, massive in size, on the 3DS was certainly unexpected. Running around, collecting coins, stomping Goombas (some with Tanooki tails themselves) and Koopa Troopas took a back seat to my inner Magellan as I combed every inch of these beautiful, sprawling locales.
I even fought Bowser, though it was less a fight and more an attack of avoidance. As I approached the bridge Bowser stood upon, he spewed fireballs continuously at me in an attempt to thwart me from afar. But once I approached him, it was a classic match of wits and agility, seen in the original Super Mario Bros. game. I deftly dodged his fireballs and ducked past him, hitting a switch that dropped him into the molten lava.
Overall, Super Mario 3D Land felt like a pleasant mixture of old and new.