Small Game, Small Step Back – Nintendo Gameboy – Super Mario Land – 1989

Game Boy
(c) 1989
Genre: Action Platformer

When you were younger and video games had just found their way into the mainstream, there were a few problems. Now, we’re not talking prices. We’re not talking about trying to find the entrance to the dungeon under the lake or other nonsense. We’re talking about the upset when you had to go to school or church or wherever your parents/significant other wanted you to go and you had to leave your game system behind. Then, the Game Boy came into our lives and added a whole new level of geekdom to our lives. A mobile and portable geekdom. Of the launch titles for this little piece of heaven, Super Mario Land is the first that many remember, despite its slight deviations from the classic Mario conventions. Where does this fall on the scale of Mario games, let along in the line of general retrospect? Let’s discuss, shall we?

In this entry, our heroic plumber finds himself in Sarasaland, another ‘once peaceful’ kingdom which is being terrorized by baddies. One particular baddie, Tatanga, is at the head of them, and this particular alien has abducted Princess Daisy, the ruler of the land. Once again, Mario has taken the challenge of rescuing a princess in trouble in a strange land. Fighting the hypnotized inhabitants of the four worlds in Sarasaland, Mario continues his adventures in monochrome beauty.

As you might imagine, this is not the same Mario you’ve been accustomed to on the NES. There are four worlds instead of the classic eight, each split into three zones. At the end of each, you fight a boss, and after that, you find Daisy. Well, in an interesting twist on the ‘princess in another castle’ bit, you find a monster disguised as Daisy. Some other interesting changes include levels taking place in submarines and airplanes- called ‘Marine Pops’ and ‘Sky Pops’ respectively- as well as a new power-up. Mushrooms and stars act the same, but flowers give you a strange ‘superball’ that collects coins for you when you throw it, as well as harms enemies. On top of that, while you still hop on enemies to kill them, some don’t die when this happens, and the Koopa Troopa type enemies actually explode a second or two after you jump on them. Also, if your expecting Luigi, Princess Peach, or Bowser here, you’re sorrowfully mistaken. An all new locale means all new character roster. There are some other small and somewhat noticeable changes, but the mechanics remain the same. Run, jump, and make it to the end of the levels.
Another fun bit is that at the end of each level, there are two exits. Go through the bottom one, you go to the next level. Reach the harder to get to upper one and you go through a short bonus game to win more lives or a Flower power-up. It’s a nice addition, despite the fact that the game’s not that hard or long. Also, much like the first game, this game offers a second mode which is much harder than the original playthrough. While I didn’t play through it, it does become available when you beat the original game, which again is not terribly hard. The time to clear it was probably about an hour, which is perfect for a portable game. All in all, while the changes are not as drastic as Super Mario Bros. 2, it is a bit of a difference from your original Mario games.

In terms of front end- well, this is a mixed bag. Arguably, this and Tetris are the two earliest games for the system, but the main graphics are relatively ugly. The backgrounds are well done, and some of the newer enemy models are nice, but Mario’s never looked worse, and even the Goombas and Koopas have declined in quality. Good enough for the time, but nostalgia only holds up so well. Due to the lack of levels, though, the backgrounds vary quite a bit through the game, which is a great thing in this case.
The music, on the other hand, is spectacular. Specifically, the theme in the second area. Sound effects have a certain futuristic feel to them, which fits the ‘alien’ feel that Tatanga brings to the rival counter. Of course, the system only offers so much in the way of sound, and the fact that the traditional Can-Can is used for invincibility doesn’t help anything. The original Mario theme only briefly appears in the mix of the Marine Pop level, and even then, it’s a passing resemblance. The soundtrack on the whole, however, is one of my favorites so far as Mario is concerned.

While there’s not much to talk about so far as this game goes, one thing is for sure: those who enjoy the Mario Bros. games will enjoy this game. It’s not as involved as Super Mario Bros 3, it’s not as innovative as Super Mario Bros 2, and it’s not as classic as the original Mario. Super Mario Land is its own game and, for better or for worse, it is the first outing on the portable systems. It’s fallen to the wayside as time has passed, but fond memories are easily found by anyone who owned the game. If you get the chance, check it out for yourself, but if not, you’re missing out on a good game. Not a great game, but certainly on par with at least the original.

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