"Thank you, Mario, but your coins are in another bank."
It seems weird to say that a Game Boy game has actually aged well. The platform's presentation remains minimalist, and time has only revealed its limitations in the utmost. The system's library as a whole aged poorly, as it became more apparent that developers were using it as a dumping ground for budget titles and licenses. This notion especially rang true with the handheld's successors, highlighted by adaptations of Disney Channel fare and the like, which shouldn't conceivably convert to interactive media in any meaningful way. And yet, you still run across the occasional evergreen (pun somewhat intended) piece that's still a damn joy to check out.
Enter Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins...
At first glance, the game appears to be a bite-sized take on either the third or fourth entry in Mario's console series. However, diving deeper into it, the title turns out to be even more dialed back than you may have first thought. You complete a quick introductory level that serves as little more than a warm-up or low-key tutorial for experimenting with the play control, only to be granted free reign over its world. Six different themed realms, called “zones,” take you through no more than four stages apiece before dropping you into an encounter with a boss. Win that conflict by hopping on the villain three times, and you earn one of the titular coins that allows you to enter Mario's castle.
As it turns out, Wario has deposed the plumber and taken over his digs. Your quest here is a simple one and doesn't revolve around the same old “rescue the maiden” nonsense. Instead, you've got to take back your home, and that means unlocking the door, surviving a gauntlet of traps and hazards within, then battling Wario in a final showdown.
If you've played a Mario game in the past, you know what to expect. You run, bump boxes with your head, collect mushrooms to grow, nab flowers to shoot bouncy fireballs, and take carrots to become “Rabbit Mario,” who slowly floats downward by wiggling his ears with each tap from the “A” button. In other words, this isn't by any stretch a new or original offering to the franchise, and yet it remains such a wonderful entry.
Part of the game's strength deals with how its built. You can zoom through it in a single sitting if you desire, or take your time and explore. Stages aren't merely linear, and offer tons of little nooks and crannies to check out, sometimes taking you to hidden challenges that only serve to give you added diversions to check out. However, there's no need to linger in a level any longer than you need to. You can hold the “B” button, zoom through it, and simply race to the finish line. Granted, you'll still meet plenty of opposition along the way, with various forms of koopas, goombas, and weirder creatures that are easily bumped off blocking our path.
The thing is this game sticks hard to its themes. For instance, the Tree Zone only features critters you'd find in arboreal settings like killer bees and frogs, and ends with a battle against a nesting crow. Each level also sports environments relevant to trees, from a bee hive fortress to high branches to negotiate, also showcasing fixtures unique to the area. You swim through tree sap and hop on leaves, unlike in other zones. Instead, they've all got their own signatures, such as murderous, stationary stars in the Space Zone; LEGO blocks in the Mario Zone (a toy-themed area), a massive house in the Macro Zone; and the innards of a whale in the Turtle Zone (water-themed). Obviously, my favorite is the Pumpkin Zone, which comes with goomba-like creatures donning Jason Voorhees' iconic mask and numerous yokai-inspired spirits.
It's hard not to at least appreciate this game because every segment comes with its own identity. Each stage in the Pumpkin Zone stands on its own while adhering to its motif, as do the two main levels that make up Space Zone. One gauntlet there features low-gravity platforming with lots of ledges to navigate and obstacles to avoid. The second area offers an auto-scrolling challenge where flashing, angry stars threaten to burn you to death. Here, you can perpetually float so long as you hold the jump button down. However, you must find a safe pathway through the collection of astral bodies, or perish. It's tough and entirely different from any of the game's other content, helping it to stand out in its own brutal way.
Granted, Golden Coins may seem meager in comparison to nearly every other Mario outing because of its relatively abbreviated campaign, but the tiny package it comes in makes it great for speedrunning, short plays, or even longish plays. Its provides the same level of mechanics its other 2D brethren sport, and seldom thrusts you into cheap or overly difficult situations. From top to bottom, it's a well-built Mario game, and one of the few Game Boy carts that remains a highly recommended piece.
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 08, 2023)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
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