Super Mario Land

So, what do you play when you’re on the road? Handheld games, of course. The Nintendo Gameboy, and the Gameboy Advance that I later bought to replace it, are the only handheld consoles I’ve ever owned, as well as the only Nintendo consoles. I bought my Gameboy mainly to play The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, considered by some not just to be the best game for that platform, but one of the finest games written for any platform at the time. But if you’re going to buy a Nintendo console, you’re almost required to get at least one Mario title for it. In fact, I think Super Mario Land may have been bundled with the Gameboy I bought.

The fact that I didn’t finish it when I first played it back in the 90’s is mainly due to its complete lack of any way to save your progress. Not even level codes are provided. It compensates for this somewhat by being short. The game consists of four “worlds”, each consisting of three levels with a boss fight at the end of the third (although, interestingly, the bosses allow the player the option of slipping past them instead of fighting them). After a little practice, I find it takes me about 8 minutes to get through the first world, so a skilled player can probably play through the entire game in under half an hour. To someone struggling to get though world 3 for the first time, the first two worlds form a sort of warm-up, where the challenge isn’t to survive but rather to pick up as many extra lives as you can in preparation for the hard part. A lot of games these days have a sort of “survive, then perfect” pattern, where you can go back to earlier levels and try to improve your performance in order to earn special rewards, such as unlockables. Viewed from this perspective, the main difference here is that it’s not a choice. You have to go back to world 1 every so often, when you run out of lives.

The gameplay is based closely on that of Super Mario Brothers for the NES, but with various innovations, such as new monsters, a really distinct boss at the end of each world, and at least one level that’s a scrolling shoot-’em-up rather than a platformer. Still, despite this, it mostly feels like a smaller, simpler version of SMB. Indeed, in some ways it seems like a SMB knockoff, with all of the names changed but the premise kept intact. Princess Daisy, SML‘s damsel in distress, is functionally equivalent to Princess Toadstool/Peach. Only by reading the manual do I know that SML‘s chibibos are not goombas. I wasn’t familiar enough with the Mario mythos to notice this back in the day — possibly it wasn’t as entrenched back then.

I’m under the impression that a lot of early Gameboy titles were reduced versions of NES titles, which is strange, since, as far as I can tell, the Gameboy was actually a more powerful machine than the NES in every respect other than graphics (and possibly sound). But the reduction in graphics is very significant: lower resolution, four-shade greyscale instead of color, and, worst of all, the slow response time of LCD technology circa 1989. It was a rare Gameboy game that actually looked better than the NES game on which it was based — Link’s Awakening being one example. SML has the handicap of continually scrolling, which shows that LCD display at its worst. It’s somewhat better on a GBA than it was on the original Gameboy, but I still find myself occasionally missing crucial jumps because I can’t see what I’m doing well enough.

1 Comment so far

  1. katre on 25 Apr 2007

    Yeah, I remember playing that back in the day. I’d always try a jump too early and miss by a few pixels, mostly because I had terribly misjudged the scroll.

    This wasn’t helped by the fact that I didn’t have my own copy, so I was playing once a month or so on a friend’s.

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