Somehow, I never managed to beat the first installment of the Mario Land series when I was younger. My sister got the game bundled with her Game Boy, while I got the traditional Tetris and later on bought myself straight into Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins—which was and still is awesome on all accounts. The cover art boasts a compelling message:
Mario’s back for his best adventure yet!
While this was 1989, the launch year of Nintendo’s Gray Brick, Mario already adventured quite a bit on the NES. Super Mario Bros. 3 debuted in 1988 in Japan. Is Mario Land better than Mario Bros. 3? Even thinking about comparing those two is insulting to the greatness the NES platformer is. But this was mobile Mario. Mario on the go. Chuck-it-in-your-backpack-Mario!
Revisiting Super Mario Land in 2021 will inevitably result in disappointment. We are simply used to better 2D platform games—even from the same 8-bit old system. The sprites are teensy tiny: Nintendo R&D was still figuring out how to program for the Z80 CPU. No big surprises then, that the GB hardware natively supports
8x8 sprites, and that not even bosses look that much bigger. In perspective, though, the technological leap that was made in-between Mario Land 1 and 2 is astonishing. 2 is bigger (literally), longer, bolder, and yes, much better.
There is little reason to replay Super Mario Land on the Game Boy—except, of course, for nostalgia. I wanted to see what was beyond world 2! Forty-five minutes later, I was flabbergasted. The game showed its the end message. What the? How did I not finish this when I was a kid? Later levels aren’t particularly harder. If any, my attention span for gaming now is much shorter than it was back then! The lack of a savegame or password feature might be one reason. Parents declaring That’s enough son, now come and eat your soup meant switching the GB off: there goes your progress.
There is one thing I do love about this game, besides that it was a kick-start to a grand series. And that is the scenery. Yes, there are many world 2 Mario designs that are sandy, but none take place inside a pyramid with sphinxes shooting fireballs at you. I have yet to encounter a Mario game where I can jump into a submarine. Or how about Mario’s travels to Japan? Lush bamboo forests and ninja’s are refreshing to look at, even if the limited sprite capacities impede more variety. I wish more Mario games would experiment with original and varied world design instead of the obligatory greenery-desert-ice-mountain-etc.
There’s little time to wonder what those things in the background or foreground are. Before you know it, you’re facing the boss and it’s off to the next world—of which there are only four.
The game is still very affordable: it’s one of the cheapest GB cartridges in the second hand market. It’s still worth to play but remember to go in for the scenery and Mario history. Leave your solid platforming expectations at home. If that is what you’re after, skip this one and hunt down Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (or even better, the Wario Land games) instead.
Screenshots courtesy of Moby Games.