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Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Game Boy) artwork

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Game Boy) review

"Wario is probably more clever and original than the series from which he derived."

Something always felt weird about Super Mario Land 2. It has a vibe that I don't get from other Mario games. It was one of only two Gameboy games that I owned as a kid. I didn't have an inkling about the politics of Nintendo's software development lifecycle back then--all I could tell you was that this game had the same mustachioed plumber on the cover from the NES game I had, but he didn't seem quite right.

21 years have passed since this game was released. There are a few things I know now that reshaped how I look at Super Mario Land 2. Namely:

  • “Wario” is a actually a clever pun on the Japanese 悪い (warui)--literally “bad Mario”

  • The developer of Super Mario Land 2 didn't want to make it

As a 2X-year old Technical Writer, I can now appreciate being handed the work of a predecessor and being expected to turn it into something profitable. Such was the plight of Nintendo R&D2, forced by Nintendo to make a game in a style and for a character that they didn't care about because it had already proven successful on another platform.

Mario is the creation of Shigeru Miyamoto, a name nearly synonymous with God among those who grew up during the 8 and 16-bit eras. Mario turned out to be an ATM card in red overhauls for the company, which caused a dramatic shift in development--namely emulate Miyamoto's success. Though Nintendo originally intended for its development branches to compete against each other, Super Mario Bros and simple economics meant that Miyamoto's creation would guide the path of another genuis, Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of the Gameboy.

Nintendo R&D1, the development arm in charge of Gameboy made the original Super Mario Land out of business necessity and it shows. The game is a wild tangent to the series created by Miyamoto, adding airplanes, Sphinxes, and aliens. If Mario's sprite were replace with a fat penguin, the Mario connection would be all but gone.

Enter Super Mario Land 2--a game that it's own creators didn't seem to want to make. I don't mean that in the sense that it is lazy (far from it) but in the deviations that it takes from the series proper. Miyamoto's Mario is a colorful, happy, altruistic hero dedicated to saving some princess who is always held in a different castle; Yokoi's Mario is monochrome (by nature of the platform) and possibly a jerk trying to reclaim a castle an some money. At some point, he stopped being a hero and started collecting money; he's the Walter White of the 8-bit era. The difference between Mario and Wario is almost semantic--a matter of which sprite you control.

It's so easy to look at portable games and wonder if they are just riding the success of popular name. Mega Man Xtreme, for example, is everything that is bad about Mega Man X5 ported to Mega Man X and slapped onto a Gameboy cartridge. This is the quintessential portable game, a title derived from a more successful console game as a way to squeeze out a few extra coins.

Super Mario Land 2 is far from a lazy cash-in. Ignoring Mario's name, it is a wholly original and engaging experience. Gameplay-wise, it takes Mario in directions completely unexpected, and one wonders if it is executed better than Miyamoto himself could have done.

After completing the introductory stage, with its catchy music, you are free to explore one of 6 words (plus a few extra levels for good measure). Each world takes a theme and really runs with it. Super Mario Bros 3 had such original themes as “the water world”-- Super Mario Land 2 has a world that takes place inside a turtle's stomach. The variety between worlds is absolutely wonderful, and makes every level feel like its own, unique set-piece.

Between each world, the unifying theme might not be Mario but the soundtrack. The catchy motif that opens the introductory level can be heard in variations throughout the game. Sometimes these variations are quiet and unsettling, such as screechy theme heard in the Pumpkin world. Other's are energetic and lively--no more so than when I'm taking a ride on a bubble hippopotamus to the moon.

I think my favourite aspect of Super Mario Land 2, however, has always its otherworldliness. In one world I am climbing a mechanical version of Mario, who has three pigs in his head (unsubtle symbolism: pigs are greedy; Mario hordes coins). In another level, I'm inside a tree and swimming around in tree sap. Even after playing the game a few times, each level still somehow felt fresh and original. Up until I entered Wario's throne room, I felt as though the game would throw the wildest things at me, and at no moment was I disappointed.

Over 2 decades later, I think all of us that grew up in the late 80's and early 90's look to games like Super Mario World as having somehow shaped our tastes and standards as adult. For us, Shigeru Miyamoto is a household name--possibly a short, Asian incarnate version of Jesus. I can't help but looking at a game like Super Mario Land 2though and being thoroughly impressed in a way that makes sense to me only as an adult.

I will never be Miyamoto--I'll never have the influence on an industry that he had. Super Mario Land 2 didn't have that kind of influence either. Just looking at the cover art, it feels like a farce of Miyamoto's creation. It takes Mario in directions he was never intended to go and pokes fun at him in the process. It does something that is very difficult to do, and is arguably more impressive than anything in the Mario series proper: it makes Mario new without new technology. That's something that Miyamoto never managed to do.

It isn't a surprise that the next Mario Land game was subtitled “Wario Land”. Like an employee who gets away with a clever public jibe at his boss during a business meeting, Wario somehow feels superior to the series from which he was derived.

Wario--the true Every Man.


dagoss's avatar
Featured community review by dagoss (September 25, 2013)

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overdrive posted September 26, 2013:

Very interesting review. Makes this game look pretty intriguing. Like a Mario game with the bizarre randomness you get with, say, Kirby's Adventure on the NES, maybe.

I'll have to play it sometime. Been a while since I've done anything with a Mario game.
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dagoss posted September 27, 2013:

Certainly worth the time (and it's fairly short). One thing that I really love about it is that you can play the worlds in any order, sort of like Mega Man. I think this is the only Mario game that follows that format.

I recently played Super Mario Land 2, then Super Mario Land 3 (a.k.a. Warioland). Now I'm in the middle of Warioland 2. It's pretty cool to see how the series evolved into an actual anti-Mario series.
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Linkamoto posted November 03, 2013:

I have some fond memories of this game. And you're right--it had an otherworldly feel to it. It hasn't been replicated since, in my opinion. Great review, incredibly entertaining to read.

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