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Super Mario Land Review Rewind


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On 03/15/2021 at 12:30 PM by Jamie Alston

As Told by Gunpei
RECOMMENDATION:

A pocket-sized Mario adventure mostly can at least mildly enjoy.

The Game Boy- created by the late Gunpei Yokoi- was Nintendo's first handheld system to mix the portability of the Game & Watch with the seemingly infinite possibilities of interchangeable cartridges.  Although Tetris was the pack-in game with every unit, Nintendo still wanted to have at least one title in the 1989 launch lineup that their consumer base would instantly recognize.

With his established popularity in Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and its sequel, Mario was the perfect character to get his first portable adventure on the Game Boy. Shifting from Shigeru Miyamoto's hands into the capable clutches of Gunpei himself, Super Mario Land was born.  It was time for the world to see Mario through a different designer's interpretation on the small screen.

The game takes place in Sarasaland. Residing there are four kingdoms- Birabuto, Muda, Easton, and Chai- presided over by the benevolent Princess Daisy.  Unfortunately, doom is on the horizon when Tatanga- an alien from outer space- descends from the sky seeking to conquer the four kingdoms.  After successfully doing so, he now wants to marry Princess Daisy and make her his queen.  Mario soon learns of these events and begins his journey to the Chai Kingdom, where Daisy is held captive.

I've always been on the fence regarding my feelings on Super Mario Land.  On the one hand, it was nice to play a Mario adventure in a portable form.  But many of the familiar sights and sounds from the previous games were missing. Besides the standard method of running, jumping, collecting coins, and hitting question boxes, just about everything else in the game is entirely different from what we came to expect at the time.

Gone are the spotted hills and blue-bricked underground themes.  Such visual cues are traded for something closer to real-world scenery- pyramids lining the landscapes and hieroglyphs decorating the inner walls.  Cheep-Cheeps and lava bubbles are replaced with skeleton fish and seahorses that spring from the water.  The Fire Flower is now a "Super Flower."  Even Mario Land's more recognizable enemies, such as Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and Bullet Bills had their names changed to "Chibibo", "Nokobon", and "Gira." It makes for a game that is simultaneously familiar and bizarre in an odd way.

 

Some of the differences aren't so bad.  The Super Flower grants Mario the ability to "superball" shots to fend off enemies and collect coins in its path. A few areas break up the platforming elements by having Mario pilot a vehicle in side-scrolling shooter sections. You have two ways of finishing the other sub-levels by exiting one of two doorways at the top and bottom of the screen.

Stepping through the topmost door is a bit tricky at times but worth the effort since it leads to a bonus round where you can win up to three extra lives or a Super Flower for your troubles. That almost guarantees you'll never walk away empty-handed.  The only time it backfires is if you end up with the Super Flower when you already have that ability. Otherwise, it's a winning situation all around.

Other deviations from the style of the previous Mario games didn't gel quite as well with me. Let's start with the Super Flower; while it's great for collecting coins, it was problematic when using it as an offensive measure- arguably the most important use for it.  Instead of bouncing along in a straight path, each shot ricochets off any surface until it either disappears after a few seconds or bounces off-screen. 

 

Unfortunately, you can only shoot one ball instead of two as you could in Super Mario Bros.  These factors make it troublesome to miss a shot when you've got multiple enemies on-screen.  If you miss-fire in a section with an overhead ceiling, you have to wait for that one shot to dissipate before you can fire another.  As a result, blazing through multiple enemies is rarely possible and makes the superball less valuable than it could have been.

The game's visual style was mainly modeled after the original Super Mario Bros.  The most significant differences are in the objects that decorate the background and the reduction of Mario's size.  There are segments with platforms that feel too small for even little Mario to fit on properly.  Usually, this came in the form of trying to jump to a narrow platform.  You can easily miss your target and fall into a chasm.  It's a problem that is unusual for a 2D Mario game.  But otherwise, the background objects and details look pretty good for a launch Game Boy title.  The boss characters are similarly well detailed and easily dwarf Mario more than he already is.

 

The music is typical of what you'd find in early Mario games. The tunes are upbeat and platformer-friendly.  It's also interesting to note the slight real-world musical flare given to two types of worlds/sub-levels in particular.  World 1-3 takes place in a pyramid and therefore features music often used in cartoons and movies to convey the idea of being in an ancient Egyptian tomb of some sort.  The majority of world 4 uses an Asian motif as its aesthetic muse, and the music reflects as much.  It's hands down my favorite aspect of the game.

Weighing in at a not-so-hefty four levels (three subsections per level), Super Mario Land is a brief trek. One can't argue that the game certainly accomplishes the goal of providing a portable romp that most players could certainly complete in under an hour. If that's what you're looking for, then you won't mind adding this one to your handheld game collection.  But for those expecting more of the familiar trappings of the NES series, consider yourself warned.  You're not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Cary Woodham

03/17/2021 at 08:19 AM

I always felt Super Mario Land was a little off.  Not a bad game, but you could really tell it wasn't made by the original team.  However it was one of the first Mario games I actually beat.  

My favorite part of Super Mario Land is actually the music.  It was done by Hip Tanaka, and you can tell as his bouncy, peppy, stuccato style shows through.  Tanaka also did the music for games like Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario.

One other good thing about Super Mario Land is that the sequels were vastly improved upon, and eventually brought us the Wario Land games!  I think I like the Wario Land games better than most Mario ones!

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/18/2021 at 01:54 AM

Yes, that musical score for this game is great! I can forgive Super Mario Land for not quite being the Mario game I expected back in the day since Super Mario Land 2 came as a result of it and was much better in every way.

SanAndreas

03/17/2021 at 03:19 PM

i got this with my Game Boy for Christmas in 1989. I didn't think anything of the differences between it and the NES games, especially since at that poikt we'd only gotten two Super Mario games on NES and the second one was a huge departure from the first. I just thought it was awesome to have a portable Mario game, and one that played like an actual game instead of the simple Game & Watch/Tiger LCD games.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/18/2021 at 01:56 AM

I think we were all amazed on some level at the notion of being able to play a Mario adventure on the go. I still prefer this over Sonic the Hedgehog on the Game Gear.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

03/18/2021 at 03:08 PM

People give this game a lot of guff, but I played it over and over. I raced myself to see how quickly I could finish it. I tell you, the gameboy was a miracle on long family car rides and boring vacations. 

SanAndreas

03/21/2021 at 08:10 AM

As far as I was concerned, the Game Boy was a technological miracle on the level of the moon landing. My mom was dismayed at how many AA batteries I went through. My birthday present 3 weeks after Christmas when I got the Game Boy was the rechargeable battery back Nintendo made for it. 

Right after Christmas that year, my family flew to Germany by way of Space-A (we actually spent more time at Dover AFB in Delaware than in Germany). My dad was told by the Air Force that the Game Boy would interfere with the navigation of the plane, and I couldn't even bring it with me, so I had to leave it at home. But when we got on the plane, the military flight crew spent the whole flight playing their new Game Boys. I was mad, especially since there wasn't much to do in Dover but hang around the arcade at AAFES, and I didn't have any quarters. My dad actually called the Air Force and was told I could have brought the Game Boy with me, I just couldn't play it on the plane. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/25/2021 at 10:57 PM

@SanAndreas: Good story-- though not for you at the time, I'm sure. That makes total sense that a miscommunication like that would occur. I can imagine how heartbroken you probably were upon finding out that you could have had the Game Boy with you the whole time. I'm sure it didn't help that adult military personnel were having a great time on their Game Boys...you know...for scientific purposes of course.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/25/2021 at 10:56 PM

@Matt Snee: Agreed. I remember not buying into Sega's attacking the Game Boy's lack of color next to the Game Gear. Plus, when my brother finally got the GG, it required more batteries than the GB and drained them super quickly. Definitely needed a power adapter for the GG, which defeated the purpose of it being portable.

The Last Ninja

03/20/2021 at 05:30 PM

This game is so weird (the only Mario game where an ALIEN is the bad guy). I think at the time this game was fine, but going back to it is hard because, ahem, it's not good. The sequel, though, is exceptional. This game was Nintendo, once again, being experimental, and I really love it when they go there. You never know what's gonna happen. 

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

03/25/2021 at 10:59 PM

Oh yes man, Mario Land 2 is my jam! I'm so glad I gave it chance when it was brand new. I felt like I had discovered something truly great on the Game Boy.

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