Friday, May 10, 2013

Super Mario Land for Game Boy

On the day the Game Boy and Super Mario Land was announced, a cry of "Holy crap, there's gonna be a portable Mario game? I WAAAAAANT!" echoed from coast to coast. Soon, Mario would lead us all into an golden age where portable gaming was as limitless as its TV-tethered counterpart. Right?

Well, yes and no. Super Mario Land is a good game in its own right, but it's painfully short, and it feels like an also-ran to the NES series. A lot of interesting new ideas found their way in to Super Mario Land, but it ends before any are fully-explored. Developed by Game Boy creator, Gunpei Yokoi, Super Mario Land is set in Sarasaland, a tiny little suburb of the Mushroom Kingdom. Princess Daisy, of "Hi, I'm Daisy" fame, has been kidnapped by space aliens, and Mario sets out to rescue her. Because he was freelancing or something. Anyway, Sarasaland is divided into four worlds with three levels each. At the end of each world, Mario faces off against a unique boss character. Most of the Super Mario mainstays are present in Super Mario Land, such as coins, bricks and item boxes. Super mushrooms still make Mario grow, but the flowers now give Mario the ability to launch dodge balls which ricochet around the screen until they hit an enemy or fly off. They collect coins as they bounce around too, which is quite handy. Mario spends most of the game on foot, but occasionally he will take to the skies in an airplane or dive underwater in a submarine. In these levels, Super Mario Land actually becomes a side-scrolling shooter, as Mario blasts his way through blocks, enemies and anything else that stands in his way. It's an odd choice to turn a Mario game into Gradius for just a couple of levels, but the shooting sequences are a fun diversion from the standard run & jump fare.

Running and jumping is still at the core of Super Mario Land, though, and it's here that I find the game's other major fault. Super Mario Land is plagued with sluggish and imprecise controls. Mario changes directions like he's running on ball bearings, and he has a floaty jump arc that makes landing tricky jumps extremely frustrating. Mario's movements here are very similar to his in the original Mario Brothers, which makes sense given Yokoi designed that game as well. In a sense, Mario has returned to his roots in terms of how he moves. Unfortunately, it was a poor choice to make for this game.

Graphics in Super Mario Land are a mixed bag. Each world has a unique theme, like Ancient Egypt or Easter Island, and the backgrounds reflect the theme well. The levels contain much more detail and variety than the repetitious red brick constructs of Super Mario Bros. The enemies are almost completely original too, and most of them are unique to the world they inhabit; only the Goombahs make a return appearance in Super Mario Land. However, Mario's own appearance is carried over nearly unchanged from Super Mario Bros, as is the game's camera distance. As a result, Mario is nearly microscopic when viewed on the original Game Boy's screen, and he becomes a smear of pixels when he's in motion. I generally prefer to play these games on their original hardware, but Super Mario Land is an exception. It's nearly unplayable on an original Game Boy.

 Super Mario Land is a short, fun, but flawed little oddball. It's also a pretty daring reinterpretation of the series. made at a time when Nintendo was more willing to take risks with its flagship franchises. Give it a shot; if nothing else, it won't ask for much of your time.

1 comment:

  1. I played this game when I was a kid and it was hard as hell, probably for the reasons you state. It was clearly an inferior experience and I hated it, but I had a Game Boy and no NES and hey, it was Mario! Even though they were pretty hard, the submarine and airplane levels were a breath of fresh air, since the platforming was so inadequate. I was pretty fucking elated when I actually beat it. I had long assumed it was impossible. One of those games that you beat and then never play again. When Super Mario Land 2 came around, it blew my mind with how much fun it was to play (and how much it could stand up to its Nintendo equivalents).