Let’s begin this spinoff series with the first handheld Mario adventure!
To Beat: Reach the end credits
To Complete: Beat both difficulty loops
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
Take On The NES Library is bringing Game Boy games into the fold! This is the first of many games I will be covering that fall outside my overall goal for the site. Now there are plenty of NES games to choose outside of just the US licensed set, and I have many unlicensed, homebrew, PAL exclusives, and Famicom games to pick from. Game Boy games may seem like an odd choice at first blush, but they are true 8-bit games that often run alongside NES counterparts. They are also much easier for me to pick up and play in between other games. Lately, I have been working on my Game Boy cart collection and so I have some momentum to try out and play through some of my recently acquired finds.
My plan for secondary content such as this runs similar to my posts on NES licensed games in content, though the aim is to make these shorter entries. (Though I tend to ramble on when I get writing, so maybe not!) I will still be beating the games before writing about them. The big difference here is instead of going off of a preset, random list, I am picking whatever I want to play! I will however play game series in order and I will hold off on selecting games that have NES versions until after I cover the NES game. For instance, I won’t be playing through the Famicom exclusive Gradius II until after I write about Gradius on NES. There are plenty of exclusive games that aren’t bound by that restriction so I won’t be short of options.
For playing Game Boy games, my handheld of choice is the Game Boy Advance SP. In particular, I have the later version model AGS-101 that has a backlit screen instead of the early version front light model. The screen is very bright and clear and I find it hard to play Game Boy games on any other model after using it. From the Game Boy Color system on up, you can select a color palette to use for older Game Boy games by way of a button combination on system startup. There are 12 pre-defined palettes. My preference is the grayscale palette and that is selected by holding Left and B before the game starts. These are the same colors that the Game Boy Pocket screen displays and I find it to be the most natural look.
I think that covers what my plan is. With all that out of the way, it’s time to dive into Super Mario Land!
Super Mario Land was a launch title for the Game Boy worldwide. It was released in April 1989 in Japan, August 1989 in North America, and September 1990 in Europe. The game was developed by Nintendo’s R&D1 department and was the first Mario game not developed by its creator Shigeru Miyamoto. The game was originally slated to be the pack-in game with the original Game Boy system, but Nintendo changed direction and included Tetris instead. Super Mario Land sold incredibly well with over 18 million copies purchased in spite of the fact that Tetris seems to be the main reason for moving Game Boy hardware.
Super Mario Land is set in the world of Sarasaland where Mario sets off to save Princess Daisy from the evil Tatanga. The game plays very much like Super Mario Bros but quite literally on a smaller scale. Several early Game Boy games used very tiny character sprites to maximize the miniscule Game Boy screen’s real estate, and that is the case in Super Mario Land. There’s plenty of room to see what’s ahead and you never feel crowded. There are many familiar mechanics here that fall in line with the NES games. Pipes will occasionally hide coin rooms. There are mushrooms to make Mario big and fire flowers to provide additional attack power. Invincibility stars are here and they work the same as in the NES games. It looks and feels just like a console Mario game.
Nintendo’s R&D1 team implemented a number of tweaks to the core gameplay that differentiate Super Mario Land from the other Mario platformers. For instance, there are Koopa Troopas in the game but when you jump on them you cannot kick the shell. Instead, it explodes like a bomb causing damage to Mario. His bouncing fireball attack is replaced with a Super Ball. It reflects off surfaces at a 45-degree angle and flies around without being affected by gravity. It also collects coins on contact which is useful for grabbing coins far out of Mario’s reach. The end-of-level flagpole is replaced with a pair of exits. The top exit is harder to reach but the reward is a bonus game where you can collect extra lives or a fire flower upgrade.
There are 12 levels in the game with three levels in each of the four worlds. Just about every level is in a unique location which keeps the game fresh. There is an Egyptian themed tomb level, a Moai-head level, a spider-infested cave, and even a Japanese themed level. The most unique levels are the final levels in Worlds 2 and 4 where the game switches from a platformer to a side-scrolling shooter. In 2-3 Mario guides a submarine underwater and in 4-3 Mario takes to the skies in an airplane. They play quite well and the levels are an interesting change of pace from the typical action.
The last level of each world contains a boss battle at the end. Each of the bosses are unique, however the four of them fall into two basic types. The World 1 and World 3 bosses are the Bowser-style fights where you just have to get behind them and hit a switch. The World 2 and World 4 bosses are in the shooter stages and there you get to gun them down and dodge shots. There is a final boss fight with Tatanga as well.
Super Mario Bros may be the quintessential Game Boy game but it was one that I did not own for quite a long time after getting a Game Boy. I was able to borrow it from friends often enough that I got very familiar with the game without owning it. With so many copies out there it is one of the easiest Game Boy games to find so I did eventually get one of my own.
I haven’t played Super Mario Land in many years, but as the old adage goes it is just like riding a bike. The game isn’t all that challenging and I was able to clear the game in 20-30 minutes. I did make a lot of mistakes leading to deaths which probably shouldn’t have happened, but even then I ended the game with double-digit lives remaining. Once the game is beaten, you can restart the game and play it at a higher difficulty. The level layout is the same but the enemy placements have changed with more monsters to deal with overall. I think some of the moving platforms were shrunk down too but I’m not completely sure. The second playthrough is only just a bit harder than the first in my opinion. After the second time through the game, there is a stage select option on the title screen. I’m not sure why you would want to play the stage of your choice after playing through the game twice in one sitting, but the option is there! I always used it to play the airplane stage over and over.
One notable quality of Super Mario Land is the music. Each song is just great and even more impressive coming from one of the earliest games on the Game Boy. Here is a video that covers the entire soundtrack and it’s worth a listen for sure.
Super Mario Land is an excellent Game Boy game and one of the essentials to any Game Boy collection. The game is a lot of fun to play and it holds up very well all while maintaining its own identity with mechanics and such not seen in many other Mario games. It’s too bad the game is on the short side and fairly easy to beat, but that makes it a great choice for a game to pick and up play once in awhile.