In this series of articles we'll write about one or more Mario games per day, each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
Before we talk a little about the game, the context of its release is important. Within a few months of the 3DS launching in Spring 2011 Nintendo was forced to react to a dramatic decline in sales, with one measure being a Fall 2011 price cut relatively unprecedented in terms of how quickly it was implemented. While the price cut is credited as providing a major kickstart in boosting the 3DS in the marketplace, late 2011 delivered key blockbusters. Monster Hunter 3 G in Japan, with Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land providing a boost worldwise. It was an impressive Holiday line-up that helped salvage the portable's market position.
Moving on to the game itself, it includes nods and references to retro classics - such as the Super Leaf - and some new items such as the Boomerang Flower. In addition there's an equivalent to the Super Guide, with the Invincibility Leaf and P-Wing helping players if they lose too many levels in the game.
The key distinguishing feature of this release is in its design approach, however, blending mechanics and principles from both 2D and 3D Mario games together. Below is a summary given by the late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata in an Iwata Asks interview on the game.
The same people made the original 2D and the original 3D Super Mario games, so it's not like their roots are different. However, as they each grew and developed, they grew apart. You made Super Mario 3D Land to connect them again.
Stereoscopic 3D came along and you were able to create a bridge between 2D Super Mario and 3D Super Mario.
These unifying features include the objective of beating a level by reaching the goal pole, while also exploring to find collectibles. A number of levels switch between 3D and 2D perspectives, and even 3D stages are more linear and structured in nature than in home console predecessors.
The 3D in the name also points to the use of the autostereoscopic effect of the 3DS. Though this title can - naturally - be played in 2D, it's a prominent example of a game that tries to utilise the effect in unique ways and to improve gameplay. Puzzle rooms are far easier to perceive with the effect turned on, some levels are designed to emphasize aerial perspectives - such as long descents through the air - and the visuals can enable an easier perception of depth for attacking enemies or jumping on platforms. It's one of the most effective uses of the technology.
The hybrid approach of 2D and 3D sensibilities, meanwhile, have proved a commercial success. Super Mario 3D Land is - at the time of writing - the fourth highest selling 3DS game on 10.10 million units, and though it's had an extra nine months on the market is notably ahead of 2D title New Super Mario Bros. 2, which has shifted 9.3 million units. This success and its role in reviving the 3DS in late 2011 no doubt helped prompt the decision to push ahead with Super Mario 3D World for Wii U.
Super Mario 3D Land was critically acclaimed at release and certainly captured an audience. Though opinions of it among some in the dedicated Nintendo community seem to have cooled a little in subsequent years, its role in the history of the 3DS and as a pioneer of 'hybrid' Mario gaming will endure.