I want to play Super Mario World, but the latter half of that game is really hard, and I am out of practice. To work up to it, I downloaded Super Mario Land and Super Mario Land 2 onto my 3DS.
Considering the limitations of the early Game Boy technology, Super Mario Land is a brilliant piece of work. Unless you’ve never encountered a platformer before, the game takes about twenty minutes to play from start to finish. There are a variety of enemies, challenges, and secrets across its twelve levels, and the difficulty is perfectly scaled. The interplay between each level’s theme and design is striking in its simplicity. The scenery is cute, and the music is catchy.
Like Kirby’s Dream Land (which can also be finished in half an hour), Super Mario Land is the product of a very talented team of people putting an enormous amount of effort into a very small game. I love games like this, and I wish they were still high profile releases.
Anyway, I’m reading Blake J. Harris’s book Console Wars…
(And it is terrible. Harris is a screenwriter, and Console Wars reads like it wants to be a dramatized biopic. It’s almost like bad fanfiction, with real people described as raising eyebrows and – I swear to Cthulhu – chuckling.)
…and a major focus of the first third of the book involves the people at Sega of America gloating about how “slow” Super Mario World is.
I don’t think Super Mario World is slow. I started replaying it last night, and I’ve found that its level design encourages and rewards running, high-speed flying, and quick decisive jumps.
Super Mario Land 2 is legitimately slow, though. Not only are there frequent framerate slowdowns, but both Mario and his enemies move sluggishly through space. Since there aren’t a lot of environmental hazards, and since the rabbit ears power-up allows the player to bypass most of those that do exist, Super Mario Land 2 is nothing if not easy.
The game makes up for its lack of any real challenge by offering a ton of variety.
Almost every single level has its own special gimmick that appears nowhere else in the game. For example, in Area 2 of the Tree Zone, Mario can swim through sticky sap that functions like water with a higher viscosity. In the Hippo level that leads to the Space Zone, Mario can float through the air in a bubble that will pop if he touches an enemy. In Area 2 of the Mario Zone (a giant clockwork version of Mario), tiny vicious bears roll beach balls that Mario must appropriate if he wishes to cross the spiked floor. Area 2 of the Turtle Zone features an extended underwater pipe maze.
The game also has a lot of levels with one-off enemies. Area 1 of the Tree Zone has hopping frogs that occasionally stick out their tongues, for instance, and Area 4 of the Macro Zone has witches that will pop out of item blocks and run off with the power-up inside. My favorite level is Area 2 of the Pumpkin Zone, which has all sorts of Japanese yōkai creatures like tsukumogami (haunted daily-use objects like umbrellas and lanterns), one-eyed oni demons, and invincible kitsunebi balls of foxfire.
Like Super Princess Peach, Mario Land 2 is a platformer that I would describe as “low stress,” making it a good gateway for kids just learning to play video games. I was actually one such kid; Super Mario Land 2 is the first game I ever owned. I’m not too terribly interested in retro gaming for the sake of nostalgia, but I remember this game being surprisingly fun and creative, and it still feels that way more than twenty years later.
( header image by blueamnesiac on DeviantArt )