Super Mario Land review
Sidescrolling 101, on a smaller scale
Alongside Tetris, Super Mario Land managed to make the Game Boy's launch quite a successful one. Kids and adults everywhere wished for some Mario and Tetris on the go, but couldn't, because nothing to let this happen was invented quite yet... until 1989, when the Game Boy was launched, and millions - or even billions - just have to get their grubby hands on these things. Thanks to this, it's possible for gaming on the go without the need to bring a TV, an NES and a few games, which I'd imagine would take up heaps of room in your suitcase. Just bring a Game Boy, a few games, and a few sets of AA batteries... now you're set! Okay, but seriously, let's get on with Super Mario Land before this becomes a review on the Game Boy itself.
Story: Princess Daisy has been kidnapped by an alien known as Tatanga, and using its power of hypnosis, it places the inhabitants of Sarasaland under its control. Mario... must have been on a cross country cruise at this time, or maybe Sarasaland is a large continent of the Mushroom Kingdom... I'm not entirely sure as to why he's here; maybe Daisy is Peach's friend or maybe she owed her debts. Either way, it's nice and simple. Just have to say... why doesn't Tatanga ever appear in the Mario franchise ever again? He could work finely if Nintendo... oh, forget it.
Gameplay: Seeing as it's Mario back in the late 80s, it's fair to expect platforming. If you did, your expectations have been met! Let's give you a medal! Yes, this is platforming 101, stripped down to be a bit more basic, just to try and show what the Game Boy can do.
As you'd expect, you have to leap over chasms onto platforms. A simple concept, and one that worked very well on Super Mario Brothers 1 (keep in mind that Super Mario Brothers 3 wasn't out at the time), but due to a certain jumping quirk, it's made a bit more frustrating, and not in the "oh my god i'm gonna rip you to shreds" way, but more "man, this sucks". And that's a shame, because the levels are actually pretty well designed. Tricky jumps, with traps and enemies pertaining to a theme and there are some split paths here and there to make things more interesting, like going through pipes or up the roof of some levels. As an added bonus, you get to control vehicles for a couple of levels, and they're allowed full movement on the screen, as long as they don't bump into obstacles, though that's no problem, as you have an infinite amount of missiles at your disposal. These will, no doubt, be your favorite levels, as it's different from the usual platforming. I would've appreciated auto-scrolling to give these levels more intensity, but this way is fine, too.
At the end of each level, except for the boss levels, you enter the tower either on the top floor, or the bottom floor. Bottom floor yields no awards, while the top floor allows you to either get a life, 2 lives, 3 lives, or flower power, but you have to stop Mario on a path, and a ladder makes this a bit more challenging, since he can climb down it, and instead of the luscious 3 lives, he just gets flower power. Oh joy. But it's a neat bonus game nonetheless.
The power ups you get to use are brought on over from Super Mario Brothers - a Mushroom to make you bigger, a flower to allow you to shoot fireballs (or I guess just balls), and a Starman to make you invincible. As you'd expect, getting hit when bigger or under the influence of fire shrinks you down to regular Mario, and getting hit as regular Mario costs a life. The balls are operated weirdly. Instead of just bouncing along the ground, they say "*bleep* you" to the laws of physics and just bounce around on 90 degree angles, and this creates some issues in enclosed areas, since you can't have more than one on screen, and since enemies are small for the most part, pray it hits or disappears before Mario gets fried by nearby enemies!
You also get to stomp on enemies, but due to the sizes of their sprites, stomping on them is quite tricky. Bit of a shame, since the enemies are also pretty cool. You have the usual Goombas, Koopas and Piranha Plants, though Goombas are microscopic in size and Koopas have shells you can't kick probably because they're rigged with explosives, since the shells explode when the Koopa dies. There are other enemies that don't seem to appear in later Mario games, which are killed the same way, but still, with one exception - maybe - the enemies are just too small, and when coupled with the awkward jumping, it makes enemies harder to kill than they should be.
While on the topic of enemies, the bosses you fight are different from one another. Instead of fighting Bow-- I mean Tatanga over and over again, you fight different creatures. Most of them are defeated only by firing balls at them, but some allow you to kill them the say way you kill off Bowser in Super Mario Brothers - jump behind them and hit the release switch, sending them into the fiery pits of hell. Much more interesting, at the very least.
Controls: The controls are serviceable, for the most part. The buttons respond immediately and it's easy to get the hang of the controls... except the jumping. The jumping feels a bit awkward, like he doesn't jump right. He only jumps at three angles - 0, 20 and 45 degrees, depending on ground movement speed, and those angles are rigid, so like them quickly, because that's all you're getting. It's pretty awkward to get the hang of at first, though it's nothing game breaking... just expect a few bullshit deaths at first.
Graphics: Okay, I could forgive the visuals somewhat, as this was the first Game Boy game, and they're pretty bold and in your face, but the actual look is almost like that of an Atari game. Ladies and gentlemen, the first Super Mario Brothers game on the NES was a graphical milestone when it was first released, allowing for some more realistic yet still blocky graphics. Here, they're... ugly. They look like what they're meant to be, but they're pretty small and even blockier than Super Mario Brothers, which doesn't impress me too much. By the way, when Castlevania has better animation than your game, you know your animation blows, and that's the case here. Two frames was needed for each sprite here. Fairly basic work... then again, I guess they didn't know of its limits at this point, so I can't be a complete prick in this regard. And besides, the backgrounds are at least nice to look at. They seem drawn pretty well, at the very least, or what's there, anyway.
Audio: The game has some pretty rad tunes. They're pretty simple, but they're pretty memorable nonetheless. It's easy to think of them as the same as what was used in Super Mario Brothers, because they have that familiar energetic vibe - in fact, the overworld tune sounds an awful lot like that what was used in that game, but at different enough timings and pitches to sound different enough to not feel like a remix. On top of that, each of the songs fit the places they're used in, so they never feel at all out of place, and totally awesome because of that.
Replay Value: This game is still pretty fun, and deserves a few playthroughs before hitting the shelves to gather dust. The levels loop after completing the game, meaning you play through the twelve levels again, just at a harder difficulty, though a lack of a saving feature not only makes you think that this is why save states were invented, but also gives less incentive to play through again, though I guess it at least gives a more arcade-y experience... and it's still fun enough to give a few playthroughs while on the move, so long as you're not driving (oh god, imagine the lawsuit).
Overall: I can't say that it aged that well, but Super Mario Land is still a solid game. The levels are pretty well designed, and it's still pretty fun to go through, plus the idea of repeating the game at a higher difficulty upon finishing it was a pretty good one. If the jumping was less awkward, the enemies bigger, and the graphics better looking, I could see this being a really good game... oh well.
Replay Value: 5/10
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- Super Mario Run2016