Just about every time someone brings up the classic Super Mario series Super Mario Bros 2 (US) is always talked about as the black sheep. Ignoring the probably needed discussion of why the handheld series is usually ignored overall I think it is time to talk about a Super Mario game that is just as odd as Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Land for the original Game Boy.
Super Mario Land came out for the Game Boy in 1989 (one year after SMB2) and was a launch title for the system in Japan and came out shortly after the system in America and Europe. This Mario game was developed without Shigeru Miyamoto and instead was produced by Gunpei Yokoi, the man behind the Game Boy; his Nintendo Research & Development team programmed the game with his vision.
A Mario game under the production of Gunpei Yokoi is something very different from the classic Super Mario Bros. While the base game play is essentially the same; the setting, story, power ups, a lot of the control, music, and much more take a drastic left turn from the original game. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying with this, these differences aren’t necessarily bad; we’ll get there in a minute.
The story still revolves around saving a captured princess but this time you aren’t saving Peach of the Mushroom Kingdom and Bowser is not the kidnapper. You set out across Sarassaland which is split into four different kingdoms to Rescue the princess Daisy from an evil alien. Yep you are going up against Aliens in this Super Mario game, you’ll chase the alien Tartanga and his minons until the final showdown with his space craft. I told you this one was odd; not that aliens are so much weirder than a plumber in another universe fighting turtles.
Mario still has a very similar if not exactly the same run, jump and walking mechanics so if you’re some Mario purist you’ll probably be ok there. But his power ups have changed and the game does feel a little different overall. The mushroom does the same thing it always has, makes Mario larger and gives you an extra hit. But now when you pick it up the game does not pause for the animation and the same goes for when you get hit. What was once a fire flower no longer gives you the power to shoot fire balls; you now get to throw some super bouncy balls! You can fire off one at a time and it will bounce all across the screen for a moment or until it hits an enemy. It is much slower and not nearly as useful as the fire balls, but it does allow you to pick up out of reach coins; this adds a slight puzzle mechanic here and there as you try and get that ball to bounce just right. Not that you really have the ability to mess with that too much since levels are still timed. The star makes you invincible so you can at least count on that to be the same thing.
But while the mechanics I mentioned are all the same the platforming does feel a little different and it is set up very differently. Mario seems to have more of a slide when he lands which makes tight platforming that much more difficult and there is a lot more tight platforming compared to the original. Running at full speed and jumping around like mad seems just a little tougher this time around, you’ll need to be careful. This is helped by more moving and falling platforms.
Oh and did I forget to mention the two levels that turns the game into a side scrolling shooter for a moment? You’ll get to command Mario in a submarine and then later a plane as you shoot your way through the level. You can still get the mushroom and star power ups through these levels but obviously no flower since that would have no purpose. You’ll actually fight the final boss flying the plane, an odd departure from the original. Most of the other bosses are like the original Bowser fights, jump over them on a bridge.
Like I mentioned before you travel through four different kingdoms. Each one of these has a different theme which includes Egypt, China, and one populated with the Easter Island heads; odd choices. But, who needs the Mushroom Kingdom when you have such awesome places to travel through like these? Of course the music themes for these levels fit the locations very well; some typical Egyptian themes, some eastern music ideas and some very stereotypical “Chinese” music. Most of the enemies in these levels try and match the theme as well, smaller Easter Island Heads will actually attack you. But Goombas and Koopas will be in every level; another change here is Koopas become bombs when jumped on.
Now, even with some of these real odd changes for the Super Mario series, Super Mario Land is still a solid game and a fun platformer on the original Game Boy. It has it’s own quirky charm as well which helps it stand apart, and if you are looking for a little platforming challenge on the Game Boy it is not a bad purchase at all. It is a little short with only 4 worlds to jump through but that also makes it a great portable experience and that is just how retro portables were, short and easy to pick up and put back down. If you’re in a longer car ride it does offer a hard mode if you restart the game as soon as you beat it and then after you beat that you can pick what level you want to play through again from the title screen. As far as Mario games go it is one of the cheaper to get, easily found for $5 and it was recently released on the 3DS virtual console (fun fact, on the 3DS port you can switch between the green screen of the original Game Boy or gray screen of the Pocket appearance). For those prices it is a worthwhile purchase for any Mario fan!