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CONSOLE: Game Boy DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): August 1, 1989 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Monochromario just isn't the same.

I'll have to think back to Christmas in the early to mid-90s. I'll have to picture myself as a fresh-faced youngster joyfully opening his gifts at 6:00 in the morning. Yes, that was one of the most interesting Christmas times of them all. It was the Christmas when I received my very first Game Boy. Now for the younger readers, you'll need to realize that this wasn't like the fancy portable systems today. There were no slick 3D graphics, no touch screens, no symphonic suites... heck, this Game Boy didn't even have colour. Okay, maybe puke green counts as a colour, but still, it was monochrome. And I loved it. Many hours were spent enjoying that bulky machine, suckling upon countless AA-batteries in the process. And the very first game I owned for the system was Super Mario Land, one of the launch titles from 1989; it has come to epitomize my pleasant experiences with the Game Boy.

But since that time, I've come to change my views. Now that I have matured in both age and video game quality perception, I notice more flaws with Super Mario Land than ever before. I don't really care whether Super Mario Land sold amazingly well (18 million shoppers can't be wrong, can they?); I have to say that this game does not quite embody the spirit that I would expect from a Mario game. Granted, this game was developed by a completely different team of designers and programmers than the one responsible for most Mario platformers, but that does not excuse this game. As for the excuse of Super Mario Land being a first-generation Game Boy title, that may be more legitimate. Either way, I'd like to state that although this ultimately isn't a terrible game by any definition, it would be better off without the Mario likeness on the box, instead creating a series all of its own. There are just too many instances of Super Mario Land trying to be like its big brothers on the NES, but ultimately falling short of the standards set by them.

First and foremost, I have to mention that while some of the trademarks of the series have remained somewhat intact, many of the Mario Bros. staples are nowhere to be found. There are still the right powerups: mushrooms to make Mario grow taller, Fire Flowers for shooting fireballs (although they messed that up, believe it or not), and pipes to swoosh down for snagging additional loot. I am indeed thankful that the designers kept the Fire Flower intact, but I do NOT approve of this new fireball he has gained. It's made of flubber and bounces only at 45° angles, making it far more difficult to hit enemies in front of you. That's just stupid. Does fire bounce like that? I don't bloody think so. (Okay, fire doesn't really bounce at all, but that's beside the point.) 1-Up mushrooms are here too, at least in spirit: but they were replaced with hearts for some reason. Classic enemies such as Goombas and Koopa Troopas made a triumphant return as well, although they have completely different names. Goombas are now Chibibos and Koopa Troopas become Nokobons. Furthermore, the Nokobons don't retreat into their shells as in other Mario games. Instead, after being stomped, they explode like a bomb. At what stage in the breeding process did they become atomic? I never saw that one coming.


It's the Mario arsenal! Mushroom, flower, star... heart?

But perhaps the most annoying change is what we DON'T see. There is no Luigi. There is no Princess Toadstool. There is no Bowser. There is no Mushroom Kingdom. Instead, Mario has been whisked away to some mysterious out-of-the-way locale called Sarasaland to save the unknown Princess Daisy after she gets kidnapped by some doofus from outer space named Tatanga. I don't know which employment agency Mario uses, but it sure seems to specialize in really really odd jobs. It seems as though nobody in the development team even bothered to check out what is already Mario canon and work from there. The world never saw the unusual Sarasaland in any other game; I guess Mario didn't belong in even more strange regions, like one based in Chinese lore (Chai Kingdom) or one with Moai heads (Easton Kingdom). Leave anything involving Moai heads to Konami, okay? Hmmm... Chai and Easton Kingdoms... sounds a bit too much like China and Easter (the island?) respectably. And Tatanga is only re-used once, as a boss in the sequel, though he isn't formally named there. Princess Daisy had a brighter future, frolicking as a counterpart to Princess Peach in multiplayer games such as Mario Tennis, and even beating out Peach for the female captive role in the Mario movie. It was probably better for Peach's career to stay away from that gig.

But there are indeed new elements that didn't seem to stick around, but certainly could have. Two additions come to mind: vehicles and bonuses. Two levels are autoscrolling adventures that place Mario in the cockpits of both a submarine and an airplane, both of which handle the same. You simply drive around and shoot any obstacles, animate or otherwise, that get in your way. Nothing is too complicated about that. It's just plain fun. Although I do recall Mario flying in other games, it was never quite as easy to pick up as this. Other Mario games could learn from this. The other positive addition comes with the bonus chances. Easier than those of Super Mario Bros. 2, you could access special bonus chances to win extra lives (or at least a Fire Flower power-up) if you reach the upper door at the end of each level (a feat which became progressively more difficult, but never impossible by any means) or if you beat the third level (the boss level) of a world. Hit a button at the right time and Mario will follow a path and win what's at the end. You really can't lose, and it's something simple that other games need more of.


Since when did Mario get beamed down from a flying saucer?

I have a few other gripes about Super Mario Land. Besides the obvious fact that this game feels like it has few connections with any other games in the series, I think the controls took a hit as well. With the same control scheme as a regular NES, you would think that Mario would control the same on both systems, but here, he seems to be far stiffer than ever before. I've suffered too many premature deaths due to the imprecise way he jumps. This could have been tweaked so that it more closely resembles the already impecable control scheme of the NES. However, considering that the game isn't very difficult anyway, I can chalk it up as merely adding to the difficulty (which needs to be done; Super Mario Land can be completed in under a half hour). I can also stand the shrunken graphics here; after all, Super Mario Land served as somewhat of a tech demo for the Game Boy hardware. But the music is a bit unusual, not quite fitting the mould of typical Mario fare. The soundtrack is pretty upbeat, but they don't have that spunk that other classic Mario themes had. These will not be the ones remembered fifty years from now, especially that invincibility music. The Can Can? That's original...

Ultimately, although it's a decent, basic platforming experience, it's just not what I as a Mario fan would have been seeking in a portable edition of the world's favourite Italian plumber. What designer Gunpei Yokoi, named also as the creator of the Game Boy, had likely tried to make was a miniature version of Super Mario Bros. for the NES, and, well, he just forgot to play the NES game prior to developing this title. Super Mario Land was made by a different team than the usual Mario games and it shows. I can only imagine the game we would have received if Mario's usual leader, Shigeru Miyamoto, was on the case! I could recommend this game only under the condition that you don't take it too seriously as a Mario game. Just accept it as an average platformer at best.


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