Super Mario Land
Review written December, 2001
I was still groggy and lying in bed when my much younger brother tried to rouse me by shaking my shoulder. He was holding Super Mario Land, a game I gave to him as a gift some time before, and he wanted to see how well I could play it. There would be better times for this, but I could see he was excited, so I turned on the game, blinked my eyes to try to dispel my lingering sleepiness, and then proceeded to beat the game on my first attempt.
That was a couple of years ago, when my brother was too young to beat games on his own. In preparation for this review, I borrowed Super Mario Land from him again and have finished it just moments ago. After I finished the game the first time it left no lasting impressions on me, and even now I can feel the experience of recently playing it begin to evaporate away.
Super Mario Land looks a lot like Super Mario Bros., and I imagine it was supposed to play similarly, too. The enemies and power-ups are mostly familiar (even when they are given different names in the instruction book) though a few act slightly differently (turtles explode, shortly after being jumped on, rather than leaving a shell to kick).
Super Mario Land is never nearly as much fun as Super Mario Bros., however, and its biggest failings in this regard are its control and pacing. It's obvious the designers were struggling (without success) to capture the classic Mario feel while keeping Mario controllable and visible on a small screen that blurs moving objects (I played the game on a Game Boy Color, which eliminated the blur). Despite that Super Mario Land is an easy game, I still found myself controlling Mario with some caution, as though if I was careless he might slide into an enemy or off a narrow platform. Mario's movements are touchy enough to discourage me from using the run button (which I always have my thumb firmly planted on during SMB) but even with the run button depressed it's never possible to zoom through the levels of SML with the speed possible in SMB. Super Mario Bros. is an incredibly fast and intuitive game, but Super Mario Land is neither.
Mario enters a submarine and an airplane in two stages that approximate a space shooter, and which strongly reminded me of similar stages in Puss N Boots. The other stages are typical for a platform game, with pits to jump over and moving platforms to ride. The level design never approaches the quality of Super Mario Bros., much less The Lost Levels, though: There's nothing as good as the long jump to a narrow platform in 8-1 of SMB, or the devious jump towards the end of SMB's 8-2. Nor does Super Mario Land have any enemies as dangerously unpredictable as the Hammer Bros. There are a few places where you have to ride a bouncing boulder over a row of spikes. Those moments are where SML's quality peaks, and even they are lame and forgettable. I don't believe there are any sections in Super Mario Land that should give anyone who has ever beaten any other Mario game before any trouble. For those who have not played any Mario games before, there may not be a worse game to start with than Super Mario Land.