Live the life of a raccoon, this time in fuzzy 3D

Super Mario 3D Land (2011)

I think we’re all prone to those most dastardly bursts of motivation that strike every so often. You’ll just be sat there, another completely listless, fruitless, pointless day, when you suddenly realise that you are wasting your life and you won’t get another. This could frighten even the most inert sloth into action, and these moments can be triggered by all kinds of menacing sources. These days, you usually get jolted by social media, but that’s something I avoid as much as possible these days so as not to have it rubbed in my face by the Joneses – I suggest you do likewise.

It’s our pesky brains that are to blame, I’m sure of it, secreting some miserable hormone that makes us hate ourselves for not having achieved anything that day. We shouldn’t worry though; I imagine by the time we all hit 40, we’ll realise that, whatever we wanted out of life, it’s not gonna happen for us and we can just become a husk until we’re gracefully told to retire, and go off and die like an old dog.

Retirement can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned – arguably, myself and many others achieved this when working from home became the norm. But unlike many others, I’m not cursed with that constant need to keep busy. I don’t always have to be doing something, nor do I need to be involved with or be leader of any groups.

There aren’t as many hours in the day as you might think, you know. For every person you hear about who lost the will to live not long after they retired, you hear of another person who worked themselves to death. Crikey, I reckon I’m better off not running the risk. I’ll skip those steps and be like The Beegees, stayin’ alive, as an inactive blob of tofu that never goes off – or out.

You’ll be familiar with this trendy new profession called life coaching. You see, it’s no longer enough to sit on the long black sofa and spill your mommy or daddy issues to a therapist – that’s too low energy. Now you need to pay some grifter a fortune to tell you to rise at 5.30 AM every morning, eat celery and almonds, run a marathon before a twelve-hour workday, and if ever you should start to question this or falter, they’ll try to get you back in the game by saying “you got this, bro!”

I never had this, bro, and paying through the nose to be tortured is definitely nothing new, otherwise we high-powered executives wouldn’t bother going on business trips. But you’re not allowed any of what they call “zero days” anymore, where nothing productive gets done, otherwise you’re a fat sad sack potato and everyone you love hates you. I’m sorry, call me an underachiever, but this mentality is simply not acceptable to me.

Haven’t these life coaches and hustlers ever had a bed day? What about a day where it’s not a day at all, because you slept at 6AM and left your pit at 5PM? What about us night owls, where’s our place? Actually owls are great hunters, which is still a little too active for me. I’d rather base my life on another cute and cuddly creature, the raccoon. The raccoon has no need to impress anybody, you know. You won’t catch them doing any poncy mating displays like peacocks, or spiders, or humans I suppose.

They have no interest in watching their weight or moderating diet either, which is the right idea – if you’re lucky enough to be in a life situation where food is abundant, then for God’s sake eat as much of it as you can, while you can. You hate seeing food going to waste, right? Well, so does the raccoon, which is why you’ll see them eating out of rubbish bins all the time. Resourceful or what?

They’re generally friendly enough creatures as well, which isn’t to say that they’ll curl up on your lap like cats or give you a big goofy smile like dogs. But they won’t hiss or growl at you either. They’re also well able to fight you if you really provoke them, which is good since it means they’re not total softies. They tend to get a nice eight-hour sleep every day. And the cherry on top, they even walk funny, like me.

There you go then, raccoons really are my spirit animal. It’s true, I’ve always wanted to be a raccoon, and I finally got that chance in Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS, although for complicated Japanese honorific reasons, they’re actually referred to as tanookis here. Of course, tanookis didn’t originate in this game, but in another 3 of Mario’s, Super Mario Bros. 3 for NES. And this game tends to be fairly obvious in how many cues it takes from Mario 3.

Truth be told, I was a little bit disappointed with the direction SM3DL took, when we learned that it was going to be an A-to-B, get-to-the-end-of-every-stage type thing. I had hoped it could be some sort of handheld Mario Galaxy-Lite, or even something as open as Super Mario 64, but linearity is the order of the day here. But then, haven’t I just been advocating a perfectly linear, raccoon-esque life? From bed to food to bed again, with complete tunnel vision, giving no regard to any other activities, motivations, or – God forbid – callings and vocations around you?

Entirely on your own terms, that’s the kind of life you want. Or the hundreds of lives you’ll have, really, by the time you’re finished with 3D Land. The game does get harder, though – just when you think the initial eight worlds are a bit short and the game doesn’t have much to offer after all, more worlds get unlocked after the credits. Still, while more levels is never a bad thing, repetition does become a problem, because many of the unlocked worlds are mere variations of the initial set of levels.

You’ll also have to beat all of the levels twice to get to the true ending, and that’s only if you’ve collected everything, otherwise you might be on for a third or fourth trip. You need to touch the very top of the flagpole at the end of every stage to turn it gold for unlocking purposes, and of course you only get one attempt per level – and there’s nothing worse than just barely missing your mark and having to go through it all again.

This game also continues that terrible trend of popping some patronising help into existence for you, something that any gamer with a hint of self-respect won’t ever have requested. It’s called the Super Guide, but get this – if you even so much as trigger it, never mind use it, then the stars that adorn your file in the File Select screen (five in all) will never be shiny, which will be a continuing and guaranteed cause of humiliation for you, trust me.

You only need to die five times on one level before this unfortunate fate befalls you. And it will, because this game, like all Mario games, gets pretty damn tricky when you go deep into it. Though I should point out that it’s rarely unfair. There are a couple of occasions when the small screen, the 3Dness and the cramped surroundings sometimes seem to want you to see around corners, or make almost-blind jumps, I would have to say that.

Generally, though, the difficulty curve is quite well-judged, and those sections that invite you to go into full 3D are really very nice – especially the pictures with that classic Mario 3-era art you unlock between worlds. That’ll all be lost on 2DS peasants of course, but you and I are better than that, aren’t we? As if I’d be caught dead playing in 3D.

Still, despite this being a perfectly good Mario game for the console, there’s just something highly forgettable about the whole title. Tough to say what it is – perhaps it’s the same old derivative story, or the fact that none of the levels have proper names, but are just 1-1, 2-Castle etc. This game is a bit like a Chinese takeaway: wonderful when you get your hands on it, and you’ll devour it in very short order, but then thirty minutes later, you’re hungry again. So what can you do, except channel your inner raccoon and go hunting for snacks? Anything to help quieten down your insatiable gut, you cute furry little hunger monster, you.

23 September 2022

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