I’d venture a guess that most people’s exposure to Super Mario Bros. on the NES was thanks to its inclusion with most of the hardware sold to date. The most popular configuration by far has been the Action Set, which includes the popular plumbers as well as Duck Hunt and the Zapper. That’s why it was a bit surprising to see the Game Boy launch with Tetris bundled in instead of Super Mario Land. Now, don’t get me wrong, I totally think it’s the right choice by Nintendo to include a somewhat obscure puzzle game as it will no doubt appeal to a wider range of players, plus the Mario fans will no doubt easily shell over the extra $20 to play Mario’s latest adventure. If you’ve been itching to stomp on Goombas while on the go, this portable Game Pak fulfills that wish.
Last year saw the release of Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES, which looks and plays completely different from the first game. For its portable debut, Super Mario Land looks back to the classic original game for inspiration. You can only play as Mario and the game features the same side scrolling action that its big brother NES version does. Of course the levels are completely new and the story is slightly changed. It turns out that you’re no longer in the Mushroom Kingdom, but instead in a world called Sarasaland. You’ll explore the four different kingdoms of Birabuto, Muda, Easton, and Chai. A space monster named Tatanga has kidnapped Princess Daisy and Mario must rescue her. So, although the setting is different the basic story and gameplay is very familiar.
It’s sort of back to basics with Super Mario Land’s gameplay. You’ll move through stages from left to right and come across familiar enemies (as well as some new ones) that are usually defeated by jumping on top of them. Once again pipes are scattered about that you can try and go down to see if there are any secret rooms to collect coins or 1-Ups. The game does slightly alter some of the items you can collect, most likely due to the limited color capabilities of the Game Boy. Since it would no doubt be difficult to discern the difference between a Super Mushroom (to make Mario grow in size) and a 1-Up mushroom, the game has taken out the latter and replaced it with a 1-Up Heart. The Flower has been changed from a Fire Flower to one that allows Mario to throw Superballs. These are sort of like fireballs, except they bounce about the screen and can now collect coins as well! The Invincibility Star returns, but the music that plays has been changed for some unknown reason.
New to the game are auto scrolling levels that see Mario in a vehicle. In one stage he’s piloting a submarine and in another he’s in a plane. The game basically shifts into a sort of shoot’em up, not too different from the classic NES game Gradius. Granted there aren’t any power-ups and the stages are somewhat short, but it’s a nice change of pace from the standard Mario fare we’ve become accustomed to from the past two games.
This being a portable game, Nintendo has saw fit to cut the game in half when it comes to the number of stages you play through. While this makes sense on paper, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed by the lack of content and in fact I beat the game the first day I played it! Perhaps its my hand-eye coordination from playing so many NES games, but Super Mario Land is definitely on the easy side and it won’t take most players too long to see the end credits. That being said, the game is still a joy to play and a great time killer if you’re waiting for an appointment or whatnot.
This being a launch title for the Game Boy makes it somewhat difficult to grade in the graphics department. That’s because our sample size is so small and we really don’t know what the system is capable of yet. If you look at the early NES games and compare them to what we’re playing now it’s night and day. We expect we might see a similar progression with Nintendo’s portable, but there is no denying that Super Mario Land doesn’t look nearly as good or detailed as the NES Mario games. Perhaps its due to the size of the screen, but Mario is rather small and when you get a brisk run going the backgrounds and enemies start to blur, making it difficult to make certain jumps sometimes. It’s far and away better looking than what other portable LCD gaming machines have to offer and if we’re being fair those are what we should really be comparing these games to. It’s a definite jump in the right direction technology wise, but don’t expect to be wowed when compared to console graphics.
The music and sound effects are great, especially when you listen with stereo headphones. The separation of the left and right channels really adds a lot to the tracks and gives the game a positive distinction from NES gaming, which is stuck in the mono world. The music is also very catchy and has a high chance of getting stuck in your head for years to come!
All told, Super Mario Land offers up familiar gameplay mechanics in a strange new world filled with enemies and hazards trying to block your path to victory. It works well as a launch game, but I can’t help but feel it is on the short side. I can see myself playing it over and over again, which is a sign of a great game, but I hope not all Game Boy games will end up being shortened versions of their NES predecessors. This is easily the best game to pick up alongside your Game Boy.
Super Mario Land Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 8.5/108.5/10
- Gameplay - 8/108/10
- Lasting Appeal - 5/105/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Super Mario Land isn’t quite the genre defining breakthrough hit that the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES was. However, it still packs in a ton of fun into a small cartridge and is a must-own for new Game Boy owners. The dream of playing Super Mario on the go has finally been realized and it’s as fun as you’d expect!