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Super Mario Land (Game Boy) artwork

Super Mario Land (Game Boy) review


"Two levels amongst the dozen total stand out; the conclusion of the second world forces Mario into a missile-armed submarine for some side-scrolling shmup action while in the finale he becomes a red baron and takes to the skies to battle bird menace Biokinton and final boss Tatanga in a similar manner. Never before, and never since, has Mario strayed into this genre, and though relatively easy forays, the best reason to play Super Mario Land is for these novelties. The simple departures from the formulaic platforming are endearing; there's an unuttered joy in bursting blocks and collecting coins far from the established series manner. And if you'd rather be bopping enemies on the head, these levels hardly overstay their welcome. More likely you'll be wanting more."



Notable as one of the first popular GameBoy titles, with much of that success attributing to the best-selling franchise it extends, Super Mario Land is merely a scaled-down, alternate universe take on the NES classic Super Mario Bros. The faraway kingdom of Sarasaland is in distress after their beloved Princess Daisy was kidnapped by an evil space alien, Tatanga, and now Mario finds himself tossed into this bizarre new land of ancient ruins and wacky enemies. His hopes include saving the day and perhaps taking a mistress; Nintendo largely left his relationship with this newfound damsel ambiguous so not to tarnish their good man's image.

Regardless, the only part the player has a role in is saving the day. Before towering distant pyramids in the first stage one notices just how squat the situation is; the foremost problem with Super Mario Land is its poor use of screen space, with sprites needlessly small while the upper-half of the screen goes to waste. Beneath an off-colored layer of atmosphere is a mostly clear sky with the occasional cloud breaking the barrenness. Nothing will happen here. On the almost perpetually flat grounds of 1-1 the problem is most evident, though in nearly every level large portions of the screen go to absolute waste, cluttered with bricks and blocks or diversions of no particular purpose.

But the pyramids are a nice change of pace and the settings unique despite their minimalist, monochrome depictions. After crossing desert sands you'll hop along treetops before entering the pyramid temple of the first boss, King Totomesu. Dislodged stones fall from the ceiling while stationary sphinx statues come to life to spit fire. Bizarre hieroglyphics decorating otherwise unmarked walls and coarse speckled textures lend to the atmosphere. Later levels showcase a seaside alien kingdom where fish skeletons spring from the water, another ancient set piece where Moai heads forerun the entrance to subterranean caverns and an Asian themed stretch that caps off with a battle in the clouds. Amusing, region-themed tracks add to the cultural flavor without being overly repetitive.

Two levels amongst the dozen total stand out; the conclusion of the second world forces Mario into a missile-armed submarine for some side-scrolling shmup action while in the finale he becomes a red baron and takes to the skies to battle bird menace Biokinton and final boss Tatanga in a similar manner. Never before, and never since, has Mario strayed into this genre, and though relatively easy forays, the best reason to play Super Mario Land is for these novelties. The simple departures from the formulaic platforming are endearing; there's an unuttered joy in bursting blocks and collecting coins far from the established series manner. And if you'd rather be bopping enemies on the head, these levels hardly overstay their welcome. More likely you'll be wanting more.

With a scant twelve levels to traverse that feeling is inevitable however; Sarasaland disappointingly takes about as long to cross as a drive through Rhode Island. Moreover, there are some noteworthy oddities as well. Power-ups (mushrooms, fire flowers and stars) work mostly the same, even if Super Mario hardly looks taller than regular Mario and his overalls don't don new colors. Fireballs, dubbed "superballs" here, behave slightly differently though. Rather than rolling along the ground, they ricochet off surfaces unbound by gravity and can now be used to collect coins as well as eliminate foes. Hop on the head of your run-of-the-mill Koopa Troopa and watch as his shell can no longer be flung, instead turning into a bomb on the verge of detonating. While this is an annoyance, a variety of new enemies steal the show, such as bounding totem pole pieces, flame-spitting seahorses and undead ghouls. Still, the poor use of screen space leaves much of the charisma of these encounters feeling short, just like the sprites on screen.

Ultimately Super Mario Land is an adequate platformer with some fun themes and novelty levels, but nothing that stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries. It's a fun deviation from the classic series yet unfortunately one that fails to capture the magic of more heralded romps in the Mushroom Kingdom; the bizarreness is worth the experience, but not something you'll have to come back to. This is just not a world where every secret begs to be found, as the mysteries you do find lack magic (there are plenty of pipes to take you to several similar-looking undergrounds, but no beanstalks into the clouds). Check it out for its amiss Twilight Zone feel, if nothing else, but Super Mario Land was only impressive from a technical standpoint -- not a quality standpoint -- upon its release, and though solid, the years haven't revealed anything besides a clearer look at what mediocre platforming really is.

Rating: 6/10

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Staff review by Jackie Curtis (December 14, 2008)

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