Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Platforms: GB, 3DS VC, NSO
Version Played: NSO
Nintendo finally announced Game Boy games for Switch last week, but they didn't launch the service with Super Mario Land. How do you launch a GB service without its Mario launch game? Anyway, I played Super Mario Land 2 to check things out instead. It's kind of weird thinking back on this now, but this was the last new 2D Mario game for the 14 years between 1992 and the release of New Super Mario Bros on DS in 2006. This was also the first appearance of Wario and the beginning of the Wario Land series.
Super Mario Land 2 is a very un-Mario-like Mario game. I think the developers (R&D1) really just wanted to make a game with Wario, who was their original character. Not only does everything about this game make Mario look like an egomaniacal bully, but it also plays like it's just a shoulder bash move away from Wario Land. This game barely even carries anything over from the first Mario Land, which R&D1 also made. I think the only Mario game that feels even less like a Mario game is Super Mario Bros 2 USA.
The first thing that stood out to me about this game is how Mario moves. It doesn't feel like Super Mario Land, and while the Super Mario World influence is clear, it doesn’t feel like SMW either. Mario’s running and jumping feel very slow and floaty compared to console Marios. I feel like Mario’s huge sprite should make the game feel faster, but maybe it’s doing the opposite. I guess everything was made bigger and slower to make it easier to see and play on a GB screen, which was very small and had no backlight. Mario can pick up Koopa shells, but he doesn’t carry them in front of him, so he can’t ram them into enemies. Instead, he just puts them on his head, like a hat. He doesn’t even hold them up with his hands. He can then use the Koopa shells to break blocks or attack enemies from underneath, which doesn’t come in handy very often at all. The spin jump from SMW is back, but you can’t do it as small Mario. You couldn't break blocks with it as small Mario in SMW anyway, but it’s just something I noticed.
The Super Mushroom and Fire Flower are both here, and they do the same thing as in other Mario games. The Superball from the first Super Mario Land isn’t here at all, though. I found that kind of weird since that was the coolest thing the first game introduced. The Star is also back, but it works a little differently. It doesn’t bounce around after popping out of a block. You also get a 1-Up if you kill 5 enemies with it, and according to the Wiki, you get another Star if you kill 100 enemies with it. The only real new powerup is the carrot, which gives Mario bunny ears. All they do is let Mario flutter jump to slow fall like Raccoon Mario. That's a bit disappointing after being able to fly in SMB3 and SMW. You can’t even attack enemies with them.
Super Mario Land 2 is also the most open and non-linear 2D Mario game ever. The game has a very Super Mario World-like overworld map, but you don’t have to beat the zones in any specific order. You’re free to go to any zone after you beat the opening level. Each zone's levels have to be completed in order to get to the boss’ level, though. The only zone that’s locked away is Wario’s castle, and that's just one level. You can only go in there after collecting all 6 Golden Coins, which you get after beating each zone's boss. Yeah, there’s only 6 zones, and they only have a handful of levels each, so it’s not a very big game.
The 6 Golden Coins themselves are another very un-Mario-like thing. You see, if you get a Game Over, you lose all the Golden Coins you’ve collected and have to beat all those bosses again. Thankfully, it’s not hard to stock up on lives. It’s also not hard to use save states on NSO! The game has a few other trollish things, like hidden blocks right where you’re probably going to jump and little witches that fly away with 1-Ups, but it’s not exactly Lost Levels levels of trolling.
Super Mario Odyssey has surpassed the level of weirdness in SML2 by now, but back then, this game looked completely different from every other Mario game. This definitely isn't Sarasaland or the Mushroom Kingdom, this is Mario Land. Apparently, while Mario was off in Sarasaland rescuing Daisy, Wario took over Mario's castle and threw away the keys, which are the 6 Golden Coins. So Mario already had this island before the first game. But why does Mario have an island with a castle and a giant statue of himself? I didn't know Mario was so materialistic. This island has a tree zone full of giant bugs, a halloween zone full of Boos and Yokai, and a giant zone seemingly inspired by Jack and the Beanstalk, among others. These zones are weird because all this stuff is kind of generic for Mario, who had a very well defined universe by then, but they're done well enough, and it looks like R&D1 had fun throwing in references to Nintendo's pre-video game toys, like N&B Blocks and the Ultra Hand. Both of which the head of R&D1 and creator of the Game Boy, Gunpey Yokoi, worked on.
For a pre-Game Boy Color game, this game looks pretty nice. It's certainly much better looking than SML1, which looked more like a Game & Watch game than an NES game. SML2 looks closer to SMW than SMB3. The line art definitely looks more like SMW than the NES games. The colors definitely do not, of course. If you use the GBC mode on the NSO version, it uses the GBC palette, which used 6 colors instead of the default 4 shades of green, so that's pretty nice. The game does have a bit of slowdown here and there, but nothing major.
I don't think the music in SML2 is bad, I think it's pretty good for a GB game, but it is also very un-Mario-like. It sounds more like it's inspired by Classical and music from cartoons rather than anything Koji Kondo did. The composer for this game was Kazumi Totaka, and this was his second game at Nintendo. You might have heard Totaka's music in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and every Luigi's Mansion and Animal Crossing game. He is the real K.K. Slider. He's kind of a big deal.
I had fun playing this game. I think it's definitely worth checking out if you've never played it, especially if you do some research on the developers while you're at it. R&D1 is incredibly fascinating to me since their lineage goes back to the days before Nintendo even made video games. The experience on NSO is pretty good. I like having save states and rewind, and the color options are better than what we had on 3DS, which was jack squat. I would love to be able to use all the GBC color palettes, but I guess I should be thankful they gave us any color options at all. Now, when does Wario Land 1 come out? I don't want to go straight to Wario Land 3.