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Super Mario Land – Game Boy

Super Mario Land – Game Boy

Super Mario LandPlatform: Game Boy

Release Date:  August 1989

Developer:  Nintendo

Publisher:  Nintendo

Genre:  Platformer

Nerd Rating:  5 out of 10

I’ve had my neat little pile of Super Mario Land games lying around for quite awhile now: the first, second, and third (which is also the first Wario Land), followed by 2, 3, and 4 of the latter series.  Having had a great deal of fun playing my Castlevania Game Boy games on my TV via the Game Boy Player and GameCube, I decided it was time to experience what I never had as a kid.  FrozenMallet’s excellent review of the same game was enough to push me over the edge.

Super Mario LandThis adventure takes Mario to Sarasaland.  It would seem that at the time, Sarasaland was envisioned as an entirely new “world” or realm, though nowadays it’s typically referred to as part of the Mushroom Kingdom.  With 4 kingdoms of its own, I’m convinced its inclusion in the Mushroom Kingdom is pure retcon.  Instead of good ol’ Bowser attempting to claim Peach for his wife (or whatever the hell it is he wants her for), an alien named Tatanga has invaded the land and taken Princess Daisy captive.  I’m not quite sure how Mario gets involved; perhaps he’s built up a reputation for Princess-rescuing.

Super Mario Land

Notice the eerie Easter Island statues?

At any rate, Mario sets off once again, this time through the 4 kingdoms of Sarasaland, each one of which boasts a particular theme.  If you played this back in ’89, you really didn’t have much to compare it to, but nowadays it’s a little jarring to see such a stylistic departure from what we generally know as a “Mario game.”  It’s still a platformer through and through, but the settings feel totally unfamiliar.  The first kingdom, Birabuto, is based on Ancient Egypt.  The second is called Muda Kingdom, and it includes the game’s water levels, while the third, Easton Kingdom, is modeled after Easter Island and the recognizable Moai statues.  The final kingdom, known as Chai, is reminiscent of the stereotypical concept of an ancient/mythical version of the Orient.

Each kingdom possesses its own set of enemies, scenery, and music, making the most of the Game Boy’s limited hardware.  Much of the music is done well and stands out as particularly memorable considering other Game Boy games.  Most of the enemies are rendered with a decent level of detail, and it’s refreshing to see such a diverse cast of characters from level to level.  Several scenic backgrounds are included as well, though the foreground elements lean just shy of creative.  The sizes of blocks and powerups relative to Mario is very small and can lead to some less-than-desirable situations when precision is needed.  Overall, Super Mario Land isn’t a bad looking game, but it hasn’t aged very well all the same.

Super Mario Land

Super Mario LandFundamentally, the gameplay resembles that of the original Super Mario Bros. Parts of it are dressed up differently, but anyone familiar with the former will latch on immediately.  The three basic powerups are included (mushroom, fire flower, and Starman) along with 1-ups.  In Mario’s handheld debut, however, 1-ups come in the shape of hearts, and “fire” flowers have nothing to do with fireballs at all.  In fact, they’re actually called “super balls” and behave a great deal differently than standard fireballs.  After hitting the ground immediately in front of Mario, they quickly bounce at 45°.  This doesn’t help with enemies nearly as much as the fireball; foes must either be on the verge of touching Mario or somewhere in the air along the ball’s upper trajectory.  A couple of interesting functions of the ball are that it will stay bouncing around quite awhile and becomes very useful in closed areas, and it can also be used to pick up coins that lie in its path.  Most of Mario’s offense will be best spent jumping.

Then again, Super Mario Land has to contain some of the worst jumping I’ve yet encountered in the history of Mario.  I can’t quite tell what the problem is, though the best answer I’ve been able to come up with is that pressing left or right on the D-pad forces Mario to walk a step or two further than most players are used to.  This leads to all sorts of missed jumps and running straight off of platforms because it’s tough to nail down exactly where Mario will land when these “long strides” are taken into account.  Coupled with tiny blocks and a few areas of rather tight jumps, it can leave any seasoned Mario veteran feeling like an imbecile for jumping so poorly.

Super Mario LandBesides the standard platforming stages, Super Mario Land also includes 2 levels functioning very much like a typical shoot ’em up.  Before Super Mario is often stated that Nintendo intended for Mario to become a shooter franchise, and I can’t help but wonder if back in ’89 they still hadn’t shook the idea completely.  The 2 stages, 1 of them being the final, Mario enters a vehicle while the screen moves forward.  With no need for powerups, Mario can automatically shoot enemies and obstacles in his path, and even gets to face off against 2 bosses in this fashion.  I can’t say that there’s anything all that remarkable about these 2 levels (other than being thrown smack-dab in the middle of a Mario game!) but it is a simple and pleasant change of pace.

Super Mario Land

Tatanga, Super Mario Land’s Supervillain

Super Mario LandYou may now be thinking something along the lines of “2 levels?  That’s not much!” but Super Mario Land is an exceedingly short entry in the series.  Coming in at a total of 4 worlds and 3 stages in each, one must only traverse 12 levels – less than half of those in the first SMB.  In addition, a quick bonus level can be accessed after each and every level if Mario takes the “top exit.”  Immediately my thoughts go to Super Mario World where alternate and secret exits would take hold in the franchise and persist to this very day.  Although this may lean a little closer to a variation on the flagpole, it’s still an interesting thought.  Once the end of the level is reached, Mario can either go to the door at the bottom of the screen, or leap up platforms / elevators / falling bricks in increasingly complicated arrangements to reach the top door.  The top door gives the player a chance to earn a few extra lives or the “flower” to start off the next level with.

Super Mario Land

Super Mario LandIt’s tough for me to view this game as anything other than a strange, early aberration of the Mario franchise, but FrozenMallet does make an interesting point about the lack of style in these games, so it is a little easier to accept it for what it was.  Marking Mario’s first handheld appearance, the first sighting of Daisy, the one and only occurrence of the “Super Ball,” and an impressive set of unique enemies, it does beget some charm in its own way.  Like most of my experiences with Game Boy games as of late, I played this on the big screen with the help of my Game Boy Player.  For such an early game, there’s a wonderful amount of color imposed. Instead of the usual blues, greens, and reds, we’re treated to reds, yellows, and a sort of orangish-brown color that somehow befits the early days of Mario.

Super Mario Land

Although not my cup of tea, Super Mario Land will always deserve a modicum of attention.  What I’m sure was a valiant effort for the times is just a little too outdated to hold its ground today, or maybe a certain ideal of Mario is too heavily ingrained in my head.

Check out my review of the sequel, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins!

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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