Here’s another game from my childhood that I never beat as a kid. Game Boy was the first gaming device I ever owned, and because of this, Super Mario Land was one of the first games I ever owned. I had friends with NES and SNES, so I played the console Mario games. Even as a kid, Super Mario Land often felt like a cheap imitation of its console counterparts, and still to this day that feels true.
Right off the bat, when you start to play the game you’ll notice that the sprites are minuscule. Goombas, for instance, are a tiny cluster of dots. Having such small sprites on an already very low resolution screen makes the game look bad. There is a part in the game where you’re underwater, and a part where you’re on what appears to be Easter Island, and the potential for great looking levels is ruined by how few pixels every piece of art actually is.
Once you start playing, you’ll notice there’s a real imprecision to how the game plays. Mario doesn’t stop on a dime, but rather slows gradually to a stop. There are times when it feels like you should have hit a question mark block, but you don’t. There are times it feels like you should hit an enemy and don’t, resulting in the enemy hitting you and you losing a power-up or a life. Finally, there are times when it feels like you should have landed on a platform but you don’t, resulting in cheap deaths. If the QA department was a little more diligent, these are all mistakes that could have been corrected.
These two rather large complaints aside, the game isn’t a half-bad platformer. Super Mario Land follows the same formula as Super Mario Bros, where, after completing a set number of stages, you learn the princess isn’t in the final stages in that world. Only instead of Toad telling you this, it’s an enemy disguised as the princess, who says “Thank you Mario.” only then to reveal himself.
The platforming elements can be challenging, and the difficulty level ramps up as you keep playing. I really dislike when a game’s first level is about as challenging as it’s last, so I’m glad there’s a difficulty curve. There are only four worlds in Super Mario Land, as compared to Super Mario Bros’ eight, but that seems to go along with Nintendo’s mentality in the early days of Game Boy. Back then, Game Boy’s games frequently were lesser in quality and length then their console counterparts.
This game is interesting from a historical perspective. It’s Gunpei Yokoi and crew at Nintendo R&D1 taking a crack at the Super Mario Bros. formula. Despite fuzzy controls and poor sprite work, there is a good platforming game in here, albeit somewhat short. What makes it really interesting is looking at how much better Nintendo R&D1 got at making a Mario game with the sequel, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, which I rank as one of the best 2D platformers ever made. Give Super Mario Land a try if you’re curious to play one of Mario’s weaker platforming entries.