Super Mario Land is an odd game. That’s the immediate reaction upon making your way through the first level. I mean yeah, Mario’s here, Goombas and even Koopa Troopers followed him to the Gameboy. But there’s something about it that’s… odd. It’s this sort of oddness that makes it unique and well remembered amongst gamers and actually, a damn fine game.
Released alongside the Game Boy Super Mario Land was the fourth entry in the Super Mario series and the first to be developed without the involvement of series creator Shigeru Miyamoto. If you put these facts together, you begin to understand why this game is so odd.
Free from the watching eye of Miyamoto, coupled with the limitations of the hardware it needed to be designed for, the team behind this game had freedom for creativity.
Super Mario Land follows the same general gameplay of previous Mario entries: Run from left to right, stomp enemies, jump across platforms and then reach the exit. Seem all too familiar? Well it’s not. Super Mario Land takes the series’ tropes and twists them. In previous games (and later games) jumping on a Koopa Trooper usually resulted in disposing of it and leaving an empty shell for your own personal block-massacring machine. Now it just explodes in your face. Charming.
What at first appears to be a fire flower power up is actually something much more peculiar. Superball Mario. Mario throwing balls. Mario’s balls bouncing all over the place. It essentially functions as the fire Mario, but instead of disappearing as soon as it hits something it bounces off the floors and walls and is much more unpredictable.
The physics are certainly not what we’re used to from other games. They’re not bad per-se, but they can take a little adjusting to. Mario jumps almost as though he’s on the moon, while lands like he has a 100 tonne weight attached to his feet. This can be a little disastrous during the moments when certain platforms collapse beneath you.
During his transition to the small screen, Mario also appears almost comically small alongside a few of the more common enemies with Goombas barely a pixel in size. Some enemies unique to this game, however, are decently sized and show up admirably on the screen.
One standout form of gameplay comes in the form of scrolling shoot ‘em up stages that litter the game worlds. Mario will turn in his boots and swap them for either a submarine and aeroplane. They are really simple stages but because of their brevity and spares usage, they break up the game nicely and add to its charm.
But you know what, forget all of that. We need to talk about the only thing you’ll be caring about while playing this game. The music. The first track you hear in the game from World 1-1, will imbed itself in your brain until you die. It’s catchy, funky, far too cheerful and easily one of the best video game compositions in history. Dum de de dum, de de dum dum de de…. It even inspired probably the best-worst rap song ever by the Ambassadors of Funk. You need to have this song in your life.
Super Mario Land is a short but sweet game, perfect for quick bursts on the go. It has a charm and a uniqueness that makes it its own game, not just “Portable Mario”. Fun gameplay mixed with an amazing soundtrack makes this game able to stand alongside its series brethren proudly.