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Super Mario 3D Land was said to be one of the first truly good, original games to be released for the Nintendo 3DS, and one that validates the purchase of the handheld itself. For most of 2011, the 3DS’ library had contained little more than rehashes of older games and proofs of concept. When 3D Land started getting positive reviews across the gaming community, I decided to take the plunge and try out the little handheld that has made 3D gaming affordable and accessible. There’s one catch: I can’t see 3D.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of the few people who are incapable of seeing 3D images, even going back to those obnoxious Magic Eye stereograms that were popular for a little while in the ‘90s. I know it’s a sailboat, dammit! I can’t relax my eyes any harder than this!

More recently, sitting through James Cameron’s opus about blue cat people trying to save a magic tree not only gave me a headache, it temporarily robbed me of my ability to see depth of field. I had to have a friend drive my car home.

So I went into Super Mario 3D Land with a different set of expectations than most gamers. I had to answer a few important questions up front. First, would I be able to see the Nintendo 3DS correctly? Assuming that I wouldn't, could I still enjoy Mario based on its merit as a game alone? Is 3D just another gimmick Nintendo’s come up with, or is it integral to the experience?

The answer to the first question is definitively, no. When I look at a 3D image on the 3DS, my brain can tell that something is different. I can see where images are supposed to be on different planes from one another, but I'm clueless as to how far apart they are. When fireballs are flying at the screen, I'm left to estimate how far away they are based on their size. It's a bit like trying to catch a ball with one eye closed: it's certainly possible, but there's a good chance you'll get hit in the face before you realize it.

Worse, holding the 3DS even slightly off center causes the image to get blurry. Thankfully, the 3DS has a slider to turn down the 3D effect. Once the 3D was turned off, I didn’t really notice the difference, except that I no longer had to keep my head in a precise area in front of the screen for the game to be in focus. You don't really appreciate being able to move your neck until your head is locked into one place.

Now for the more important question, was the game still enjoyable? Yes, but with a greater degree of challenge.

While I can’t definitively say what normos are seeing compared with me, I can tell that there are parts of the game that are designed with depth in mind. Entering a warp pipe often puts you in a room that requires 3D to be turned on; there's even a little sign that says “3D” in the corner of the screen, just in case it wasn’t obvious. These rooms end up amounting to little more than an optical illusion when 3D is turned off. Blocks are stacked next to other blocks, seeming to be alongside each other, when in fact they are on opposite sides of the room, obscured by the camera angle. For me, these rooms are little more than trial and error segments. Thankfully, they are almost always tangential to the main level.

For the most part, the gameplay does not rely on 3D very much. Even though you have full freedom of movement, the levels are largely linear insofar as you simply have to get from point A to point B. Don't expect the same levels of exploration afforded to you by Super Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine. It's as if the levels from a classic 2D Mario have given you about ten feet of room to wander on the z-axis.

There are parts where being able to see the 3D certainly would be helpful. For example, at one point you see a series of pipes, one of which is real, and the rest which are cardboard cutouts. 3D would enable you to tell immediately which are fake, but it doesn't necessarily break the experience without it. My enjoyment is certainly diminished knowing that I can't see 3D, but even without it, Super Mario 3D Land is excellent. The beginning of the game starts off fairly easy, but later levels offer enough challenge so that pretty much anyone, from casual to hardcore, can enjoy the game. Throwback level design and music from the NES days will draw in longtime fans of Mario as well.

The last question, and the most telling for the future of the platform: is 3D a gimmick, or is it the next evolutionary step in the way we play games? I'm afraid that while it's a neat experiment, the game formula is fundamentally the same; Mario gameplay hasn't innovated significantly since he entered the third dimension. I don't expect the 3DS' technology to provide a leap forward in the way we play games the way we did with the Nintendo DS or some of the more creative Wii games.

To those of us with incompatible brains, you’re probably not going to want to plunk down the cash for the 3DS based on one solid platformer. But if you happen to get the chance, Super Mario 3D Land is something any gamer should be able to appreciate.

The 3DS is no doubt a strong successor to the handheld market, but the 3D, ironically, doesn't add much depth.

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