Why Super Mario 3D Land has the perfect difficulty scale


My girlfriend recently started playing Super Mario Advance 4, and as I watched her play I noticed something – she was having a much harder time playing Super Mario Bros. 3 (which is what Super Mario Advance 4 contains) than Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL), a game I had suggested to her a while back. I began to wonder to myself why she was having such a hard time with Super Mario Bros. 3, when a thought came to me – Super Mario Bros. 3 has a high learning curve.

To the gamers out there who played the Super Mario Bros. franchise, this may seem a little off. I myself remember Super Mario Bros. 3 to be extremely easy – maybe a little long for my younger self, but definitely not difficult, and when I played it as Super Mario Advance 4 it was even easier. So why, I thought to myself, did Super Mario Bros. 3 have a high learning curve?

I thought back to Super Mario 3D Land (SM3DL). She had almost no experience playing, yet has been able to make it to World 5, and I realized why she’s been doing well: SM3DL has the perfect difficulty scale.

Let me explain. If you die 5 times on a single level in SM3DL, you are given a Tanooki Suit with infinite invincibility. This is for those who are having trouble dealing with the enemies and natural hazards in the game. Now, if you die 10 times on a single level, then you’re given a P Wing (I didn’t know this existed until she played the game), which takes you to the end of the level, no questions asked. This includes boss levels, and this can help alleviate a level that requires platforming that is too great for the player.

The Invincible Tanooki Suit

Mario in the invincible tanooki suit.

This may seem like a cop-out, but keep reading. At a certain point, levels start becoming blocked off unless you have a certain number of special coins. You can collect 3 special coins per level, and you must collect them without dying to obtain them.

When I was playing, I thought to myself, “this is stupid. Why would they impose these limits on players? It’s busy work.” But as I watched my girlfriend play, it dawned on me – they’re to stop the really bad players from breezing through the game with the super-powerful items. They’re forced to go through those levels that they may have used the P Wing for and get those coins, otherwise they won’t be able to progress at all, and hopefully, by the time they’re forced to collect those coins, they’ve improved to the point where they use those items a little less. It forces improvement while still allowing them to progress slowly so they don’t stop playing in frustration.

And for players like myself, the coins serve as a way to increase the difficulty. The game was easy, but collecting the coins in every level was difficult, and doing the same thing in the Special Worlds made it that much more difficult, so the game gave a satisfying sense of challenge, so besides catering to the casuals, it caters to the hardcore, creating the perfect difficulty scale. It can be as difficult as you, the player, make it to be.

Just sayin’.

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One thought on “Why Super Mario 3D Land has the perfect difficulty scale

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