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Super Mario Land (Game Boy) artwork

Super Mario Land (Game Boy) review

"Take Super Mario Bros. Cut the game's 32 levels down to 12. Make two of those levels auto-scrolling shoot-'em-ups. Add in unique (but unremarkable) boss battles at the end of each world. Finally, make the whole game black-and-pea-soup-green. There's Super Mario Land. "

Take Super Mario Bros. Cut the game's 32 levels down to 12. Make two of those levels auto-scrolling shoot-'em-ups. Add in unique (but unremarkable) boss battles at the end of each world. Finally, make the whole game black-and-pea-soup-green. There's Super Mario Land.

The problem with Super Mario Land is that it spends so much time trying to imitate its NES brethren that it has no real innovations of its own. SML's flaws are the only thing that make the game stand out. Take the controls, for instance. In SMB3, Mario moves around beautifully, his nimbleness limited only by the gamer's own thumbs. His leaps are a graceful arc, easily manipulated in midair with a simple tap of the D-pad. Everything feels intuitive: want to fly? Why, you'll have to build up some speed first. It makes sense. Once you're airborne, how do you stay afloat? By wagging that raccoon tail as fast as you can! Frog suit? Increased underwater agility. Hammer suit? Throw hammers. Tanooki suit? Turn into a statue. It all clicks. The player doesn't need to have it explained to them.

Which is more than can be said for Super Mario Land. Precision platforming is a Fat Albert-sized pain in the ass for this outing, primarily due to the Jupiter-like gravity present throughout the entire 35-minute adventure. If Mario slips off an edge, he's on the ground in the blink of an eye. And by "ground", I mean "bottomless pit". Likewise, Mario has only two speeds: standing still and running. There's no acceleration. If you're standing at the edge of a bottomless pit and you decide to make a leap across, Mario's booking it straight into that pit. The platforming in Super Mario Land requires an unusual amount of breathing room due to the overly touchy controls, and as such never feel completely comfortable.

To be fair, many of Super Mario Land's shortcomings are due to the limitations of the Game Boy hardware itself. Sarasaland couldn't look any more bland; much of the Mario series' charm comes from its vibrant, stylized visuals, but all Super Mario Land can offer is black, green, and a whole lot of microscopic character sprites. The enemies seem to be having a competition to see which one can be as tiny and inconspicuous as possible. The problem is compounded by the dreaded Game Boy blur, which is the equivalent of playing Super Mario Bros., wiping vaseline on the screen whenever you move, and wiping it off again whenever you stop.

So where's something in this game that I can call "Super Mario Land", and not just "crappy Super Mario Bros."? Finding one is more difficult than you might think. Nonetheless, SML offers up a feature that's truly unique among its brethren in the form of two scrolling shooter levels, not unlike Gradius or R-Type. Ignoring how out-of-place these stages feel in the context of a Mario game, they're actually the best part of SML. There are no powerups, they're excruciatingly simple, and they're quite easy as well, but as they're free from the control problems of the standard side-scrolling levels, you'll probably be more than happy to hop into an airplane or submarine and shoot up everything in sight like the pudgy little sadist Mario is.

So, as a review: Super Mario Land is like Super Mario Bros., but worse in every way. There are less levels. The controls are worse. The graphics are ugly. The music is forgettable. The level design is generic platforming; aside from the shooter stages, there are absolutely no surprises here. Even the storyline is a blatant copy-and-paste from Super Mario Bros.: replace Peach with Daisy, Bowser with Tatanga, and the Mushroom Kingdom with Sarasaland and you've got Super Mario Land's plot. And there's ninjas in the fourth world. Actual, human ninjas. Try not to raise an eyebrow or two when you first see them.

But does all this make Super Mario Land a bad game? Nah. It's just that SML has an enormous pedigree to live up to; anything short of being one of the best games ever made could be considered a disappointing Mario game. And unfortunately for Super Mario Land, it's a woefully average, completely forgettable platformer. And a short one. And a blurry one. If you want Mario and you want it on Game Boy, play SML's direct sequel, Six Golden Coins--or better yet--the Wario Land series. SML is so generic that each playthrough of it becomes a half-hour gap in your memory later on.

phediuk's avatar
Community review by phediuk (November 02, 2006)

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