Reviewed on Nintendo Gameboy
Super Mario Land is, among a few other games, one of the launch titles created specifically for the Nintendo Gameboy in 1989/1990. Unsurprisingly, it was also one of my first games that I’ve played on the handheld, and as a result I have fond memories of the game. Recently I felt like playing it again and make a review for the website and it was a pleasant return.
As the first handheld Mario game, it was expected for the game to not take too many risks and play it safe. That is mostly the case but more on that later. The biggest difference however, was that the game was not developed by the father of the franchise Shigeru Miyamoto, but instead the creator of the Gameboy amongst many famous other devices, Gunpei Yokoi. Fortunately that was not a bad thing, as Super Mario Land went on to become the third best-selling Gameboy game and spawned a small side series of two more games, with the last one creating an entire franchise for itself: the Wario Land series. And while I do not want to spoil future reviews yet.. thank the lord that this series of games led to the Wario Land franchise.
While I did say that the game did not take too many risks well, that was only partially true. The gameplay remains mostly like what we know Mario for—don’t worry, I’ll come back to that later—, but the theming is the most out there we’ve seen a Mario game do so far, and one that only the Mario RPGs can rival. There is still a princess to save, but it’s not Princess Peach from the Mushroom Kingdom—it’s Princess Daisy from Sarasaland. We do not save her from the evil King Koopa—we save her from the evil alien Tatanga. The manual goes even further than that, mentioning that he has hypnotized all inhabitants of Sarasaland and wants to marry Princess Daisy.
Because the game does not take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, the stages and enemies that we got are rather unique. We go through various worlds, ranging from oriental-designed levels to Easter Island of all places. Yes I’m not kidding, you’re running through fields and temples filled with Moai statues, and the enemies are Moai statues as well. The inspiration for a Mario world is farfetched but greatly appreciated. I enjoy it very much when we get levels with an unique design instead of your generic elemental world we see more often than not. And it’s not just Easter Island—or Easton Kingdom as it is called in the game—that has enemies designed after their real world inspiration, but all of the four worlds. Specifically the Pionpi, which are designed after the mythological Chinese zombie-like creature Jiangshi. You see, I’m a huge nerd when it comes to mythologies and history, so this is my drug essentially. There are also regular Mario enemies which my mind couldn’t handle. Bowser isn’t in this game, why are there Goomba’s A.K.A. Bowser’s minions? But the game was prepared for that question before I was even born and ready to ask that question. See, they’re ‘’Goombos’’, not ‘’Goombas’’, and said Goombos are residents of Sarasaland! Clever right?! ..You win this round Nintendo, but I’m keeping my eye on you.
You might have noticed that I said the game has four worlds before. Yes, the game only has twelve levels, spread over four worlds. Because of that the game is very short and should take you around half an hour to one hour max to finish depending on your skill. I say that because after losing all your lives, you get a game over and you have to start again from the beginning unless you have 100.000 points. The level designs themselves are very similar to what we got in the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES; straight forward, horizontal levels with occasionally pipes to jump into for bonus rooms filled to the brim with coins. There are breakable blocks all over the place for when you are Super Mario, and blocks that contain either coins or power-ups. Whenever you finish a stage that does not contain a boss, there are two exits: One regular exit, and one which requires some platforming. The latter results in you playing a small luck-based minigame where you can score 1 to 3 lives, or a power-up. It’s a reward just for doing a little more effort and I love it. Also similar to the original Super Mario Brothers is that there’s only one power-up, the ‘’Not Fire Flower’’ Superball Flower. It functions very similarly to the Fire Flower, except that it bounces off the ground and goes upwards diagonally. It can bounce between objects for an unlimited amount of time. The only drawback is that—since this is the original Gameboy we’re talking about—the game could not handle more than one Superball on the screen, so if it bounces between objects you’ll have to wait for it to disappear off-screen to use it again. Think of it similarly to the Gemini Laser from Megaman 3, but better since it’s not your only attack as you can still jump on enemies without a sweat. You’ll also lose the Superball and Super state when hit. The 1-up Mushrooms have been replaced with a heart icon, and other than that there is the Star power-up which also functions similar to its original counterpart but for whatever reason it plays a short loop of Infernal Galop..? This game I swear.
Every world ends with a boss, but two of them are practically reskinned Bowser fights with little variation; jump over the enemy to hit a switch, or kill them by firing your superball bazooka. It’s your usual stuff, nothing out of the ordinary. The other bosses however are very different. Two out of the twelve levels are horizontal shoot-m-up levels, where Mario is in charge of a submarine or plane and well.. shoots enemies. Yeah it’s not the first thing I would think of either when I hear the name Super Mario, but it works and it’s fun. The bosses are better because of the new gameplay style as well, though you can still cheese one of them and hit the destruct button for an insta-kill.
After roughly half an hour—mostly depending on your skill—the game is over. Congratulations, you are winner! What is your prize? After beating the game, you automatically unlock Hard Mode. You probably won’t notice it straight away since the only thing that has changed to the title screen is the cursor next to start game, which changed from a mushroom to Mario’s head. Hard Mode is the same game, just with more enemies in the stages. Regardless, I do appreciate that there is something beyond the main game due to it’s length. Beat Hard Mode and you unlock a level select, allowing you to play any level you wish at any point. Again, a little bonus for playing the game more than its original length. However, there is a quite significant drawback to this. Because this is one of the first Gameboy games there is no battery backup available meaning that every time you reset the game, all progress is lost. This means that every time you start up the game again, you start from the very beginning. Even if you have unlocked level select, that bonus is now gone. I’m not sure if it’s fair to judge the game on this, though I do think cheat codes could have fixed this issue, especially considering how popular they were back in the 80’s and 90’s.
Presentation-wise, the game isn’t necessarily looking spectacular. However, graphics is for me of least importance in retro games, especially because this is one of the first Gameboy games. The theme is shown well enough throughout the games with good backgrounds, and the music is fine as well. Special mention to the first level theme—or Overworld Theme as it’s called. Personally it’s one of my more favourite first level themes in a Super Mario game, and it’s usually the first element that comes to mind whenever I think about Super Mario Land. Here, give it a listen!
It is very clear whenever you look at the game or play it that this is one of the first Gameboy games. There is little replayability, and it is a bummer that extra modes are not available unless you beat the game again every time you reset the game. The length isn’t exactly in its favour, but the time that I have spent on it was very much worth it. It is a simple Super Mario game with an interesting theme and solid gameplay. My recommendation is to play and finish it at least once, and depending on if you like it you can decide to play it again. And with that, here is my final verdict for Super Mario Land:
There are two Handheld consoles to play this game on, namely the Nintendo Gameboy and the Nintendo 3ds eShop. There is no difference between either, except that the latter has save states if you do not want to play the game again constantly to play the extra modes. While I do not support piracy, if you are planning to emulate this game you might want to try out some Rom Hacks over at Romhacking.net . Some of the hacks included add colour to make it look like a Gameboy Colour game, others change the graphics and even changes the playable character into Pikachu!