Friday, October 3, 2014

Super Mario Land (GB) Review

Written: October 2nd-3rd, 2014
(As played on Game Boy Player)
Year: 1989 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo
 
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit... which this game is not.  Crap.  >_>
 
It begins
It's been awhile since I covered a Mario game last March, so I figured that the next one I would discuss would be none other than Mario's first mainstream handheld release Super Mario Land for the Game Boy.  After the release of Super Mario Bros. on the NES in 1985, it not only saved video games from being an endangered species due to the video game crash, but it also proved to be a great success plus it was the start of a brand new series which is still going strong almost thirty years later.  When Nintendo released their Game Boy handheld in 1989, some people in the developing cycle figured it would be a good time to make a new Mario title; the only difference is that this game was not involved by the staff that worked on the NES game.  At the time of release it was successful, but does it hold up a quarter of a century later?
 
Discover new places and
secrets
In the land of Sarasaland everything was going well until an evil alien named Tatanga had arrived and began hypnotizing every creature of the land into doing his bidding.  In the process he has also kidnapped Sarasaland's Princess Daisy to ask her hand in marriage.  Luckily our portly plumber Mario is just in time to begin his new adventure and find her.  You'll notice that the game does not take place in the Mushroom Kingdom like the other games of the series, and you'd be right.  When Gunpei Yokoi and team were making the game they wanted to focus on a different world than the series is known for, and honestly it's actually a bit refreshing.  Sarasaland is comprised of places clearly inspired by Egypt, Easter Island, China, .... errrr, I have no idea where the second world is based from.
 
What to talk about next?  How about starting with the first thing you'll notice about playing this game: Mario's sprite is tiny!  Now, I understand why the game looks the way it does, but I'm not 100% on board with it.
If you remember Super Mario Bros. you would know that the game looked like this, with Mario and enemies being a respectable size, at least 1/8th or 1/10th of the screen tall with lots of screen space to see what's ahead or around you.
Super Mario Land falls in the same mold as its elder brother as far as size consistency is concerned, and Yokoi and team were mindful of keeping the gameplay style faithful to the game that started it all.  Which is nice... except that while the NES game was being viewed on a big TV screen, this game was released on a monochromatic handheld machine that had a small screen.  I can't imagine how it would've been possible for the game to have been played like that, so thank God for the Super Game Boy and Game Boy Player where eyes do not have to be squinted in order to play it or make out Mario's shape.
 
Spiders!
All things considering though, aside from that, the visuals are fairly adequate for 1989, and they showcased what visuals the handheld were capable of at the time.  Each area of Sarasaland has got a different look and feel to it, with differing foregrounds and backdrops as you go around.  Maybe not the most impressive of all of them, but it amazes me how effective some areas can look with simple designs in the background like clouds, mountains, bamboo, Easter Island heads, hills, waterfalls, and even hieroglyphics to name a few.  Personally I think it's much better than having just a blank background with nothing on it; the underground areas may have them, but I don't mind that so much as they're very minor and optional spots.  As simple as the backgrounds are they do their job well (even considering that it's a monochromatic game).  Another thing: animated water in a few areas!  Not even Super Mario Bros. had its water animate.
 
Eh, think of it as this game's
own "Our Princess is in another
castle"
Character and enemy-wise, excepting the bosses themselves, they are tiny as I mentioned before.  Despite how tiny Mario's sprite is it is very faithfully based on the 1985 NES game design despite the downsizing, and his animation is still solid.  The enemies, on the other hand, are a different matter, and some actually have differing art styles (some have outlines while others don't).  Now there are turtles with exploding shells once you jump on them, spiders, sphinxes, snakes, spiders, seahorses, skinny fish, octopi, fly enemies from the Mario Bros. arcade game, and Chinese vampires to name several.  Not exactly enemies you face in the Mario universe from time to time, but they serve their purpose well.  Even still, not a bad roster; the way they go out can sometimes be gruesome (in particular when they're squished and magically fall to the bottom).
 
In Easter Island things
escalate
The music in Super Mario Land may not be Koji Kondo quality (or even as memorable), but Hirokazu Tanaka fills the role quite nicely.  The brooding pyramid theme is atmospheric in its own way, the China theme sounds appropriately Chinese, and the regular theme is okay.  The boss theme is rather meh, but the ending music is good.  What's rather curious is how anytime you catch the invincibility star, until the effect wears off the music will be replaced by the "Can Can".  I don't know exactly what made Tanaka choose this for the theme, but I will say this much: it's absurd and funny.  XD  Only Mario for that to occur.  The sound effects are well chosen for each moment, like when Mario grows or shrinks, when he shoots his flower power-up, and for when enemies either explode or are being squished.
 
Chinese vampires!  ...  You
think they saw the Vampire
Academy movie?  o_-
I said before that Yokoi wanted to keep the gameplay style of Super Mario Bros. intact when it came to making this game, and for the most part he succeeded (and if you've played the NES classic you would know exactly how it's like).  That, and he managed to incorporate some new gameplay elements as well.  Mario can walk left and right, jump, run (holding down the B button), and duck (if he's grown).  Scattered about are "?" blocks which may include coins or power-ups; there are also some blocks that can only be broken if Mario is grown.  The first power-up you get is the mushroom, while the second and most powerful is the Superball Flower.  Unlike the fire flower power-up in the previous and subsequent ventures they shoot downward and ricochet off the floor and the walls; not only that but they collect the coins they come into contact too.  Should you get damaged by an enemy regardless of your state Mario will shrink down, leaving you at your most vulnerable point.  There are also invincibility stars that render you impervious to all threat for a temporary time, and some pipes lead you to the underground; and in the end of each world you'll fight a boss.
 
Monochromatic Submarine
In the end of the first two levels of each world there are two doors: one at the top and the other at the bottom.  Should you reach the top one you'll land yourself in a bonus game.  In it you'll have a chance to either score one, two, or three lives, or a Superball Flower power-up.  The catch: it's random selection as you have to choose when to press the button (especially since there's a ladder that will be used if it ends up being on the row you walk on).  Fascinating to note is that a couple areas are a great departure from the normal gameplay, as Mario partakes himself in scenarios equivalent to that of a shoot'em up.  I've played plenty of Kirby platformers that had their own personal shoot'em up segments, but this is truly unique in the series.  Also of note is that Mario keeps going whenever he grows or shrinks as opposed to stopping for a second; aside from the handheld sequel, it almost makes me wish more Mario games did that.
 
[Insert "Walk Like an Egyptian"
joke here]
The difficulty is fairly lightweight in Super Mario Land, though I guess that's to be expected with most Generation One games for the Game Boy.  I suppose the developers didn't want to be overtly challenging for the first Game Boy venue, so they decided to opt for a game that is very, very easy.  As much of a disadvantage it is that the character models are tiny, you could make the argument that the wide space around them really gives off an advantage.  It plays about the same as Super Mario Bros. (about), but there is one minor difference: the feel for the controls.
 
Super Mario Bros. laid the foundation for the series through enjoyable gameplay and solid controls.
Conversely the controls in Super Mario Land are very loose.  Loose controls, bear in mind, don't necessarily mean a bad thing so long as they work to the game's advantage.  On one hand, it does as there are moments when you must make precise jumps on tiny platforms as well as when you jump from moving platform to moving platform.  On the other hand, the looseness can be keenly felt if you misstep, and if you try to jump from the very edge of the platform when running, chances are you're going to fall.  It is possible to gain a bit of traction in height if you jump while running, and in the shoot'em up sections it's possible to move around at your free will.  Ultimately the loose controls are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to jumps.
 
Press on when ready
Most gamers and Mario fans will know full well that Super Mario Land was a rush job, but rush job or no it still made a profit when it was released and at the time it was a success.  But to be perfectly honest I don't think this iteration is all that great; that's not to say that it's bad......ish.  {=/  The main problem is that I don't think the game has aged very well like the 1985 NES hit did; and I think that after the 1992 Game Boy sequel Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins gamers and fans started to reevaluate this game (much like the first Streets of Rage was reevaluated after the release of Streets of Rage 2), with pretty much everyone agreeing that the sequel was one hundred times better.  I know it doesn't exactly sound fair, but when the sequel blows the predecessor out of the water like that sometimes it's hard to look at said predecessor the same way again.
 
We interrupt this game to
bring you Sky Kid
One thing that this game has over Super Mario Bros. is that if you lose all your lives there is a proper continue system.  In the NES game you had to hold down the button in order to continue from the world that you lost all your lives in, but in here you have limited continues.  I suppose it's something of a blessing if you don't at all feel confident that you'll beat the game without sacrificing one continue (but then, Super Mario Bros. 2 also had continues, so never mind).  Since Super Mario Land is essentially a downsized version of the original it also means that it's shorter.  While the NES game had eight worlds each comprising of four levels, this game consists of four worlds with three levels each.  It takes about a half hour to beat depending on how you play.  When it comes to the boss fights you can either shoot at them until they bite the dust or you can take the easy way out and reach the axe(?) sitting behind them making them blow up in the process.  If you manage to beat the game the first time, the mushroom icon in the title will change to Mario's head; only then can you begin the second quest, and once you beat that there is a small surprise.
 
In a way this game is a little like Pocky & Rocky with Becky for the Game Boy Advance.  I covered it recently, and while it got the gameplay layout down pat from the SNES games and the fact that it was essentially a downsized version of said two games it ultimately was a failure because Altron did not understand what made Natsume's games worthwhile.
But unlike Altron's massive disappointment, Nintendo's Super Mario Land at least succeeds because even though Shigeru Miyamoto was not involved the team led by Gunpei Yokoi that worked on it had a fair grasp at what made Super Mario Bros. fun.  It's a bit of a mixed bag in the long run, but at least this game is more fun while it lasts despite the nonexistent difficulty and brief length and it is not a pointless exercise in frustration like the handheld Pocky & Rocky was.
 
Not too shabby an adventure
The 1989 Game Boy hit is not the near-perfect platformer that the 1985 NES classic was, not by a long shot.  To me it's an average entry in what is otherwise an impressive series, but that doesn't mean that it's without its merits.  The new worlds and enemies make it unique, and the introduction of Princess Daisy is decent (even though she's not truly seen until the end); plus it's rather likable and fun to play in short bursts (despite the fact that it doesn't have quite as much replay value as the NES hit).  Sadly the small character models and loose controls prevent it from being great--and the subsequent sequel made it look dated by comparison--but I truly appreciate the effort that was put into Super Mario Land=)  It could've been better but it could've been a whole lot worse, and for that I'm glad.  If you're curious to play Mario's first handheld adventure, go right ahead; if you're expecting perfection, then you won't end up liking it much.  If you just want to play a Mario game, this is fine for what it is.  All in all, not bad.
5.5/10

<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>
 
P.S. So at one point I wanted to review Super Mario Bros. 2, but for awhile I thought that Super Mario Land would be a good candidate for my next Mario review.  Considering that the two Mario games I reviewed were the first platformers for each system, don't be surprised if my next Mario video game review turns out to be Super Mario World; 'cause knowing myself it probably will be.
 
P.S. 2 Speaking of Vampire Academy, the novel series by Richelle Mead are fun reads, in my opinion.  The movie that came out this February?  I liked it for what it was, against all odds, but that may have been because I read the first book beforehand.  But I do agree that it's a huge mess filled with endless exposition (not to mention alterations to the book), but I don't regret watching it.
 
P.S. 3 I wanted to play it on the Super Game Boy, but since my copy wasn't working on there anymore I had no choice but to play it on the Game Boy Player.  The things I do to get screenshots for my reviews.  -_-
 
P.S. 4 Initially I also wanted to poke fun of how the cover boasted that it was Mario's "Best Adventure Yet", but I decided not to (even though I really wanted to since it's such a ridiculous claim, even at the time).  What I will say is that the cover does do a good job of showing practically every world and aspect from the game.  Spoilers!  =D
 
P.S. 5 So, the Annabelle spinoff to The Conjuring is out now.  After I publish this review I'll go watch it and hope that it doesn't turn out to be another Insidious: Chapter 2 like last year.  The only difference is that James Wan is producing this one since he stopped directing horror films for good after the aforementioned sequel to Insidious.
 
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Take care!  =)

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