Liam’s Game Room #8 (Super Mario Land, Game Boy)

Introduction

Super Mario Land is a platformer game developed and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy in 1989. It was a launch title for the Game Boy alongside Tetris, which both really helped with selling the first shipment of Game Boys. The Game Boy sold so well during this time period, that there was a shortage of consoles for sale and there was also delays as long as  The game is not a direct sequel to main console releases of the Mario series, but it is a spin-off made especially for the Game Boy. Also, in comparison to the mainline Nintendo series, the Mario Land series has a evolving story throughout the series rather than be about saving the Princess.

Story

The story of Super Mario Land is that Mario visit Sarasaland to stop Tatanaga, who is an evil spaceman who abducted Princess Daisy. There are two elements of the story, which is standout much more compared to the other Mario games. The first thing is that the game isn’t set in the Mushroom Kingdom, which all mainline Mario games are set in. What this means is that the player is somewhere other than the Mushroom Kingdom, which sadly doesn’t happen in other Mario games and makes the game somewhat unique. I definitely think if a couple more games were set in Sarasaland rather than just this one, then those games could have referenced this game somewhat.

The other element of the story is that instead of saving Princess Peach, which is the main Princess that Mario saves, he instead is saving Princess Daisy. This game was the first game in the Mario franchise that Daisy appeared in and it makes a welcome change to saving Peach, which even after this, the mainline games continue to have the player save Peach more than Daisy. Then again, later on in the chronology of the series, it more noticeable that Daisy is in fact the love interest of Luigi and Peach is the love interest of Mario.

Gameplay

This is where sadly Super Mario Land suffers in comparison to the other games in the Super Mario series. The physics of the game are very weird because if Mario walks of a platform, there is almost a sense of instant gravity, which drags Mario down to the next platform. This can be quite a problem in later sections of the game where platforming becomes a lot more complex and difficult to master. Another problem that arises from this is that if there is a enemy on the lower platform, the player might end up falling short of the enemy and could lose a life.

The jumping mechanics of the game are also very unusual. The main quirk with the jumping is that Mario needs to be sprinting to reach maximum jump distance and there some jumps even in the first stage that Mario can reach without sprinting.  The arc of Mario’s jump also seem to be somewhat narrower, which means that his overall jump height seems to be much lower than other Mario games. What this means is that the jumping mechanics will take some time to master, but once the players masters them they feel relatively good. I personally think the issue with the jumping and the gravity might be something related to the console hardware and the fact that the screen is much smaller compared to a TV Screen. So what this meant was that the controls and mechanics had to be adapted to work on a smaller, portable screen and of course when making a game in a franchise for another system, the developer would of course have to make sacrifices and changes to the original formula. However, whilst the changes between Super Mario Bros 2, which was the latest game in the main series out in America and the United States (not in Japan however as Super Mario Bros 3 was out at the time of Super Mario Land’s release) meant that the jumping wasn’t as controllable, once the player is used to the jump physics, they end up feeling somewhat natural.

World By World Breakdown

So the first world that the player starts the game in called the Birabuto Kingdom and this world is a welcome introduction to the game. This Kingdom is very much set in Egypt and the enemies represent this world well.  This world isn’t super difficult, but it will require the player to fully understand the mechanics, as well as how high and far Mario can jump. The enemies are in this world aren’t too difficult, apart from in the final stage of this world 1-3. In World 1-3, the difficult ramps up quite drastically and requires players to be able to platform in sometimes quite tight places, but not so tight that the game feels unfair. It feels like World 1-3 is an evolution of what the player has done throughout the first world, but it is almost like a examination of the player’s skill to see if they have learnt everything required to continue to progress. The first world boss is almost identical to the Bowser fights that are seen in Super Mario Bros 1, which I feel is a good thing as it has a sense of familiarity without feeling that it was copy and pasted over. Overall, I think World 1 is a fair world with enough opportunity for the player to learn the mechanics and then be tested on them.

World 2 is called the Muda Kingdom and in terms of difficulty curve, the difficulty does rise somewhat, but not to the point where it is unfair. There are quite a few different enemies that the player will need to be careful of like the Honen, which are boneless fish that jump up out of the water and can damage the player if it hits the player on the side rather than underneath the player. The enemies represent the water nature of the world very well as there is a wide array of aquatic animals throughout. There are a few sections in this world where the player needs to decide whether to jump on these enemies or run part them and hope the player don’t get it. There are also some more complicated jumps, which requires full length jumps for the player to reach and can be quite daunting to do, as some of the jumps are blind. The World 2 boss level is something rather unique, as it is an autoscroller with Mario in a small plane. The player will need to shoot blocks and enemies out of the way to progress through, as there are some spaces that Mario wouldn’t otherwise be able to fit through. This stage is unusual, but fascinating as it bridges the gap between genres because this stage feels like a scrolling shooter and it really changes up the gameplay from the platforming nature of the game. However, this sort of level where Mario is in a plane shooting at enemies I believe hasn’t been in any other Mario game, which is a shame as it is such an awesome concept and adds nice variety to the game. Overall, World 2 does a good job of expanding on the skills of the player, whilst offering them enough challenge to not feel like the difficulty is unfair.

World 3 is the Easton Kingdom and in terms of the world itself, it is a very unique world with things that look like statues from Easter Island in the background. This world is where the difficulty definitely ramps up quite a lot because are rocks that the player will need to jump onto and these jumps can be very difficult to make as these rocks bounce. On some occasions, if the player misses this jumps, then they will either fall down a pit and die or fall into spikes, which makes some stages extremely difficult. I personally think that this world would have been a good final world because of the sharp increase in difficulty, but the final world is pretty difficult. Overall, this world has a sharp difficulty spike, which can make this world tough to progress through.

The final world is the Chai Kingdom, which in terms of aesthetic is very much an Oriental themed world. It seems to be that each individual world represents a different place on Earth, which really gives the game a unique appeal. The Chai Kingdom is extremely difficult for players who have reached this world for the first time because the amount of enemies have increased significantly. I feel that this world is difficult enough for a final world for new players, but also players who are revisiting the game will still find the world challenging enough. The platforming is at it toughest here with some full length jumps a must to reach certain points of the levels. Overall, this world is the perfect way to end the game and isn’t for the feint of heart. The game’s difficulty curve is steep between world 2 and 3, but world 4 levels off that difficulty effectively, making the game really fair on difficulty.

Music

The music in this game is quite simple in terms of composition style and are quite short in terms of length, but the themes across all 4 worlds are extremely memorable. The Birabuto Kingdom theme is extremely catchy and really has a Egyptian feel to it, which represents the world nicely and the location great considering the technology.. The Muda Kingdom theme has a very nice beach vibe to it and is very laid back. It has almost a Caribbean swing feel to it, which considering the technology used at the time was very impressive and also how early it was in the Game Boy lifespan. The Easton Kingdom theme is perhaps one of the strongest theme in the game as it really shows off a sense of mystery, which is how the Kingdom is depicted. It also have a synth flute, which plays the main melody, which ascends and descends. However, the Chai Kingdom theme is the best theme in the entire game hands down. All the instrumentation used really represents the Asian culture depicted in this world gorgeously. The orchestration is also great with some call and response between instruments in the short bridge section a quarter of the way through the piece. The final theme of note is the autoscroller music, which is extremely upbeat and evokes a really positive vibe. I think the soundtrack is pretty good at depicting the worlds effectively, and a fantastic job considering the era that this game was released.

Conclusion

Overall, I think this game has stood the test of time quite well, even though the jumping mechanics are unusual and the fact the game is also quite short. A new player who hasn’t played the game could complete the game in about 3 hours at the most and players who are very familiar with the game can beat the game in as short as 15 minutes. But for the first Game Boy Mario game it did a great job showing off the power of the system and also setting the bar very high for Game Boy games.

8/10

Liam Piper

Copyright ©2016 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use

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