Monday, 16 February 2015

Super Mario Land (GB)

Developer:Nintendo|Release Date:1989|Systems:Game Boy

Today on Super Adventures, Mario Marathon Month drags on even longer with Super Mario Land, for the Game Boy! There's our heroic plumber up there on the top of the sign in fact, shaking his fist at the sky and yelling at strangers to get off his Marioland.

This was the fourth Super Mario game in Japan and Europe, but the third to come out in America. It doesn't count as part of the main Super Mario Bros. series though because Luigi hasn't bothered to turn up this time. Can't give it the Bros. label without Mario's bro around.

Though if it was a Bros. game it would've been the first Mario Bros. produced by Gunpei Yokoi since Mario Bros., and the first created without the involvement of Shigeru Miyamoto. It's also the first developed for a proper cartridge-based handheld system, and if you're wondering where you've heard the name Gunpei Yokoi before, it's possible that you remember him as being the designer of the Game Boy itself. Super Mario Land was a launch title for the system and was originally intended to be the first pack-in title until Nintendo were persuaded that Tetris would more universal appeal... because it's Tetris.

Can't really disagree with that logic, especially as 25 years later I still haven't even really played Super Mario Land yet, but it says that it's "his best adventure yet" on the box, so I'm pretty hyped.

Oh shit, everything's so tiny! Look at the microscopic little 8x8 [?] blocks and the miniature Goombas! I've got my run and jump buttons, and there's tiny coins, tiny pipes, a tiny mushroom that makes Mario grow in height... all the core Super Mario elements are here. At least I think he's growing in height, it's hard to tell.

No authentic Koji Kondo soundtrack though, but this World 1-1 track (youtube link) is still pretty catchy and surprisingly not even remotely Egyptiany. I can see this getting stuck in my head.

Ah, so he does grow in size! He grows a full four pixels taller. The full height Super Mario in this is actually the size of the tiny Mario in Super Mario Bros. 1 and Lost Levels, and it's got me wondering why they didn't just reuse the same sprite.

That's got me curious actually: if everything in this half the scale of the NES games, then how do they compare when Mario Land is scaled up?

Ah, so that's why everything looks so tiny on screen in Super Mario Land, it's got 33% extra screen area and that's not even taking into account TV overscan!

Plus those question mark blocks are now the exact same size and yet the Game Boy ones still look smaller somehow.

C'mon Mario, you've been stomping on things professionally for four years now, you should not be this bad at it, even if you are trying to land on ant. Hang on, is that... is that thing supposed to be a Koopa turtle? He's so tiny!

I think I'm mostly struggling here because Mario steers differently to how I'm used to. He doesn't have the same momentum that he has in the NES games, so when I try to slow him down a little I end up pulling him to a stop instead.

Plus you can see how the monochrome Mario Land version of Mario gets far more distance from a standing start than his two NES cousins here, and he comes straight to a halt afterwards without any persuasion required. This means that it's a lot harder to accidentally throw him down a hole to his death, but it feels less natural

I was just about to say that jumping across moving platforms was a bit advanced for the first stage of a Mario game, but it tuns out they're just here for those players who dare to try for the optional bonus exit. It's been a Super Mario tradition since the start to give players a chance to exit the level with style, but Super Mario Bros.'s flagpole goal basically put the player up against the game's semi-awkward control to see if they could pull off a running jump on a two brick wide wall, while this is more of a test of platforming skill.

Hey, I got a bonus game out of it! Hit the button to stop Mario and the ladder, and then watch him stroll over to collect his prize! I guess he'll automatically go for the ladder it's convenient, but in my case I had an unobstructed path straight to the fire flower power up!

Actually, looking at my options there, the fire flower's kind of crap. Actually, now that I think about it, it's the absolute worst thing I could've collected! I've just missed out on 3 extra lives!

WORLD 1-2.

And there was a bloody fire flower right next to the start of the next stage anyway, so it was entirely pointless.

Though these shots it's given me bounce a whole lot more than the fireballs I'm used to... and I just collected two coins with them as well, that's new. On the down side, I can only have one on screen at a time, so I have to wait a second or two before I can take my next shot.

This wiki I'm reading says that the fire flowers have been replaced with superball flowers as the only power up I can ever get in the game, so I supposed I'd better get used to them.

The 1UPs are heart shaped now? Huh? What was so wrong with leaving them as green mushrooms? Oh right, yeah, I get it now. Funny that they didn't do anything to help me distinguish Super Mario from Superball Mario though, as without colour I can't tell if I'm infused with offensive ball power.

WORLD 1-3.

Okay what the fuck? I'm totally stuck here because of this wall, and I can't figure out how to crawl through this... damn I'm an idiot.

Yeah, the impenetrable wall turned out to be a regular brick wall, made out of the regular bricks I've been jumping up into and smashing with my fist for four games now. To be fair, the brick platform over on the right look more like the blocks I'm used to smashing, and I'm pretty sure it's unbreakable.

Wow, I can't say I expected that guy to explode like that. I guess I've learned an important lesson about not eating C4 and then sitting next to the detonator.

Wait, that was the World 1 boss? I just accidentally killed a boss without realising I was in a boss fight! Actually now that I think about it, this sphinx is basically is a clone of Bowser from Super Mario Bros. right down to his fireball breath. Except they skipped removing the bridge beneath him this time and jumped right to the burning.

And the Princess is in the right castle for once! She just happened to also turn into a fly and bounce away. It's funny how Super Mario Bros 3. ends each world with the king transforming back from being a creature while this ends with a creature transforming back from being the princess. I knew she was a fake though from the second I noticed the beard.

This is the very first appearance of Princess Daisy, replacing Princess Peach Toadstool as our kidnap victim for the day, as we're in Super Mario Land Sarasaland instead of the Mushroom Kingdom this time around. It was also her very last appearance in the platformers, as she turned out to a pretty useless damsel in distress, never getting herself kidnapped. Plus she was busy trying to launch a film career, starring with Bob Hoskins in the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie instead of Peach.

But forget about Daisy... that was an old school Fighterfly she transformed into! These fly enemies made a cameo in Super Mario Bros. 3's battle game, but I haven't seen them show up in gameplay properly since Mario Bros.

WORLD 2-1.

Uh... what? Did Mario hitch a ride from the Egypt zone in a flying saucer? Where did that come from, how did that happen?

Actually I've got a better question: why has the classic invulnerability star music been replaced by the bloody can-can tune? Mario games shouldn't need to borrow music from anyone.

WORLD 2-2.

Yes, I finally stomped a Koopa! Wait, what the fuck? Now their shells turn into bombs? Man I thought Bowser was hardcore, but at least he's always stopped short of rigging his minions to self-destruct! Well except for Bob-ombs obviously.

WORLD 2-3.

Level 6 is an underwater submarine shooter stage! Not only was this the first platformer on the Game Boy, but it was the first shoot 'em up too.

It seems to be fairly decent too for what it is, more competent than competitive with the rest of the genre, though it's a bit early to say. I'll reserve judgement until after I actually manage to hit anything.

Yeah this seems like a pretty adequate basic shoot 'em up level. There's no power ups or weapon pick ups or much in the way of enemy variety, but it gets the job done and it's a nice break from the platforming.

I sometimes whine about games switching genre like this, because it's cruel towards players who hate shoot 'em ups and bought this expecting to be playing a platformer, but this seems harmless enough. I mean seriously, it hasn't harmed me once so far. In fact I've made it through to the mid-point of the game without losing a single life, ever, and it's not because I've gotten better with Mario games through practice, trust me on that.

Sea horse boss fight!

Oh, it's over already? I suppose I'd better be off then. And I thought Super Mario 3's first few bosses were easy.

Thank you Mario! But our princess is an octopus!

And that's the halfway point. The game only has 4 worlds, and I just reached World 3. Super Mario Bros. has more than 30 stages, Super Mario 3 has more like 90 of them, this on the other hand has merely 12. They seem a bit longer than your average 2D Mario level maybe, though that might just because I'm moving slower.

I only meant to take a quick look at the game and then turn it off, but now I've made it this far without losing a single life I'm curious about how far I can get on my first go. Let's see if I can actually finish the thing!

WORLD 3-1.

Oh. Well it turns out that I can get exactly this far, as I've no idea how to get over the spike pit. Well I mean I have an idea, but I don't want to throw away my first life by taking a chance that the bouncing boulders are friendly. Then again I don't want to throw my first life away by letting the timer run down either.

188, 187, 186... oh fine I'll give it a shot.

YES it worked! No, wait, it didn't... fuck! Well there goes my first life. It'll all go downhill from here, trust me.

So the tops of the boulders are good but the corners are bad, okay got it.


See! Now I'm down to just 9 lives and I haven't gotten anywhere!

I was all set to whine about unfair it was that Mario got killed here, but this action replay gif makes it pretty obvious that I accidentally walked right into it. I make dumb mistakes when my concentration's broken. Also the rest of the time as well.

I can't whine about these checkpoints either, as the game restarted me back at the beginning of this boulder section instead of making me play up to it again. I can get frustrated all I want, but I've got no one to blame for that but myself.

WORLD 3-2.

Okay that was harsh. I was so amazed that that I'd actually made it onto that tiny little pillar of rock that the falling stalactites totally blindsided me, and I was worried that if I jumped out of the way too early I'd end up smacking into the side of the turtle.

Oh no, now I'll have to replay the entire last two screens to get back here!

Amazingly this is turning out to be a problem for me.

This is why I get so annoyed at games that give you just three lives and half a continue and expect you to get gud: because I can burn through that in a half-second after having managing two entire worlds without a single death. I will always make dumb mistakes like this eventually, no amount of practice and perseverance will get me through an entire game without slipping up a few times, I do not have the advanced robot mind of a speed runner and I never learn anything!

Super Mario Land on the other hand started me off with three lives and half a continue, and then was was very nice about things afterwards, giving me fair checkpoints and plenty of opportunities to build up my stock of 1UPs. Personally I'd rather have had a world map and saves in place of the excessively low difficulty level, but I can't say I haven't been enjoying it (even when it hasn't been a challenge).

WORLD 3-3.

Here's another good fuck up, just in case you haven't gotten bored of me making stupid mistakes. I assumed the moving platform would change direction when it hit the wall and it turns out that was a bad call. Especially with only three lives left.

Wow, what an original trick, jerk-ass! Maybe next time you can really impress me and transform into a spider with eight legs!

WORLD 4-1.

Oh hey a mushroom... where was that when I needed it two seconds ago?

The game seems to have gotten a little stingy with the power ups as the difficulty has ramped up, but that's fine. I can't even tell when I'm Super Mario anyway! I could do with a few more 1UPs though, seeing as I've only need to survive two more levels after this and then I will have finished the whole thing on my first try.

Aw crap.

I don't mind losing my last life here on World 4-1, I've done far better than I ever expected to on my first try, but it would've been nice to lose it due to something challenging, not me misreading the graphics.

The game has been really good at making it obvious what I can jump on by consistently outlining objects in the foreground in black, but when I saw that fluffy cloud wedged between two floating blocks my brain betrayed me and told me that I could stand on it.

And that's the story of how I failed to finish the easiest Mario platformer.

Oh wait, hang on, I'm not out of it yet! The game's given me a single continue to earn my redemption! Three whole lives, yeah I'm sure that's going to help.


Damn! I really could've done with getting three extra lives from the top door bonus room right about now.

Those bouncing blokes in the coats are a pretty weird enemy for a Mario game aren't they? They don't really fit the pattern at all. I never really realised how Mario enemies don't tend to bunch up like that or follow you until now. Also Mario enemies tend to stay dead when you jump on them, so there's a difference too... though not always I suppose.

WORLD 4-2.

Well that was entirely dumb of me. After getting hit the first time, I figured I could rush through the gauntlet of orbiting balls with my three seconds of invulnerability time and be done with them, but nope! That really is the end this time, no more continues.



Man, Super Mario Land turned out way better than I was expecting it to be. I've always kind of dismissed it as being the one with the microscopic sprites that came out back when they hadn't figured out how to make games for the Game Boy yet (I mean c'mon, it pre-dates Tetris), but no this is a fine little platformer.

That's part of the problem with it though, it is a tiny little game in more ways than one, and someone with more skill than me could likely get through it in just half an hour or so. And then everyone else would likely get through it an hour or so later, as it's really not all that much of a challenge to be honest. It's kind of strange to say a game's too easy when it clearly kicked my ass in the end, but I was haemorrhaging lives for pretty dumb reasons in the second half and I hadn't collected as many as I could have. If I'd put in the effort to collect coins, and made it up into a few more bonus exits, I may have been able to survive to the end.

It's not as good as the NES games in my humble opinion, and the zoomed out view and the lack of momentum makes the original Super Mario Bros. feel like Sonic the Hedgehog by comparison, but this is pretty decent. Easily good enough to get one of my worthless little stars.

That's the 80s done with now, but Mario Marathon Month will return on the 24th with something a bit more colourful as Mario finally goes 16-bit, and I finally play my first SNES game in 8 months!

Before that though I'll finally be taking a look at another one of those non-Mario games people have been asking me to play for months now! Figure out what it is and win a chance to feel smug and knowledgeable.


  1. mmmm it's that alien nightmarish game with H.R.Geigerish imagery...ish.

  2. but this World 1-1 track (youtube link) is still pretty catchy

    Catchy enough to get to #8 in the charts in 1992, sort of.

    Back off my Lisa Stansfield trip.

    Those bouncing blokes in the coats are a pretty weird enemy for a Mario game aren't they? They don't really fit the pattern at all.

    Given the bamboo forest and the distinctive mountains in the background I assume these are jiangshi, or hopping vampires, from Chinese folklore. There's one of them in Darkstalkers. Why they're in a Mario game, I have no idea.

    1. That's amazing. I must have heard this track so many times but I totally forgot about it until now, so thanks for that. Totally deserved that top 10 position.

      Also I really should've remembered about the Jiang Shi, seeing as they turned up in Vice: Project Doom a few weeks back as well.

  3. I think there should be another serial naming between super mario land and super mario world and that is super mario country. But donkey kong steal "country" and use it to name his series. Damn it!
    Speaking of Mario Marathon, is super mario rpg included?

    1. Also Donkey Kong went and stole 'Land' as well for his handheld games around the same time that Wario stole the entire Super Mario Land series! Mario had to go and escalate things after that, first taking the sunshine and then the entire galaxy. Twice.

      No Super Mario RPG this time I'm afraid, but I already played it a couple of years back:

  4. Very good review! Nintendo tough towards the end though and this is one of my favorite Mario games, also Super Mario Land 2, loved the outer space level.

    P.S. Darkseed!


Semi-Random Game Box