I'll begin by saying that this game has exceeded my expectations. Upon watching online videos, I figured this would be a watered-down Mario Galaxy title, but boy, was I wrong! The videos DO NOT do the game justice. I didn't think Nintendo would have been able to do it, but this is by far the first Mario game in a long time that has retained the uniqueness and charm of the series as I remember it on the NES. New Super Mario Bros. Wii came really close, but Super Mario 3D Land does it for me.
~ First, the power-ups:
The Tanooki suit's revival in this game is genius. You can hover with Mario's tail for a while and tail-strike enemies just as you can in Super Mario Bros. 3. I'm a little bummed you can't actually fly this time around, but I'm guessing it wouldn't have worked as well in this title anyway. Fire Mario feels great, too. I haven't played far enough into the game to obtain the Boomerang Bros. suit or Statue suit, but I'm sure they will be awesome too based on what I've seen thus far.
~ Second, the levels:
While at first I thought the levels in this game seemed vacuous and dull and too similar to the levels in the Galaxy series based on online videos I've seen, my first hands-on experience with this game proved my initial thoughts to be WAY incorrect. The level designs are brilliant. The designers have packed so many obstacles, enemies, warp pipes, music note blocks, and hidden areas into the levels that the game stays exciting throughout. Also, the levels are not too long since you are timed. Thus, you can get through a level in a few minutes, but if you need more time there are stopwatches you can collect along the way to add valuable seconds to your overall time limit for the level. These come in handy if you want to do some exploring for the three hidden coins in each level. If you're like me and occasionally grow tired of some of the longer levels from Galaxy, then you'll be happy with the quickness yet depth of the levels in 3D Land. The levels look AND feel like actual Mario levels in their design. To top it all off, you'll recognize remakes of some classic Super Mario Bros. 3 tunes, as well!
~ Third, the controls:
Mario's signature moves are back: crouch, backflip, long jump, side somersault, wall jump, and ground pound. There is also a new move - the roll - in which Mario can roll forward from the crouching position. The only move that hasn't been brought back is the triple jump, but I don't feel as though it would've been useful in this style of Mario game anyway. The moves are easy to execute with the layout of the 3DS's thumbstick and buttons. Furthermore, controlling Mario feels completely natural. For instance, running with Y and tail-striking enemies along the way is both easy and fun to do! As I mentioned earlier, the Tanooki suit's signature moves are back, too, such as hovering and tail-striking, both of which feel great.
~ Fourth, the graphics and the 3D:
The graphics in this game are on par with, if not better than, the graphics in the Galaxy series. Mario, the enemies, and the levels all look stunning. The 3D effect in the game looks stunning, too, and it's awesome to see Mario in full 3D for the first time. The 3D also helps with depth perception, and, as anyone can guess, the ability to see in 3D certainly comes in handy for a platforming title such as Mario in which you have to make perfectly executed jumps. Also, in addition to the 3D slider bar, you can also control the 3D effect by choosing from two 3D options while playing that will provide either a shallower or deeper depth of field, so the 3D is more customizable in this 3DS game than in any other.
If you don't own a 3DS yet but want one, then this is the time to get it. Super Mario 3D Land, maybe aside from Zelda: OoT or Star Fox 64 (both of which are remakes, anyway), is the best original game on the 3DS, hands-down, and it combines everything gamers adore from Super Mario Bros 1 and 3, and Super Mario 64. From the controls to the level design, every aspect of this game retains the fun and charm of the original NES Mario titles that I remember so fondly but have not seen in any Mario title in recent years.