Saturday, August 18, 2012

Game On! Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992, Gameboy)

Nintendo did something right when they released the original Super Mario Land early in the life of the Game Boy.  While they may have faltered at releasing high quality, timeless Mario titles early in the life of all their consoles (Gamecube, anyone?), no one can fault them for what they brought to the Game Boy at launch.  Curiously, however, it took over 3 years to bring the sequel to market.  Nintendo only allowed 2 years between the first NES Super Mario Bros title and it's pseudo-sequel, Super Mario Bros 2 (the full saga of that game can be seen elsewhere on the web), and it's follow-up, the incomparable Super Mario Bros 3.  But the longest wait for a Mario sequel during the 8-bit era was on the Game Boy, with this title.

Now THAT's a title screen.

So was a 3 and a half year wait worth it?  I would say overwhelmingly yes.  This game is not without its flaws, but it's a quality title that plays well and has a lot to offer.  Where the original game played much like the original Super Mario Bros, but in different worlds and slightly different mechanics, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins plays like a scaled down version of Super Mario World for the SNES, mixed with Super Mario Bros 3.  The game has a large map that stretches out over several areas, with several large "landmarks" that contain their own small game maps with several levels to complete.  Each of these landmarks is a separate "zone" that is based around a specific theme.  The "Mario Zone" plays like you would expect, with traditional Super Mario platforming elements and a variety of enemies, some familiar, and some new.  The "Macro Zone" sees Mario platforming through areas where everything is larger than he is - giant Lego type blocks, giant books, coffee tables that are taller than he is, and more.  The "Tree Zone" has Mario jumping around through trees and hanging leaves in the sky, jumping on large ants and ladybugs, and jumping from one small cloud to another.  In all, there are 6 zones to complete, each corresponding to one of the 6 golden coins you need to open the door to the large castle on the tall hill, inhabited by Wario, a now familiar character that was first introduced by this title.  Each zone has roughly 3-4 stages to complete, and some zones have a middle stage that has more than 1 way to exit the level.  If you find the secret level exit, you are taken to another level outside that stage where you can earn extra coins and complete more of the game, though these side stages aren't necessary to beat the game.

Apparently, Sasaraland has Shark Week too!

Graphically, this game is far and away superior to its predecessor.  Much like SMB2 and SMB3 trounced their predecessor in terms of graphic design and bright colors, SML2 takes Mario from a small sprite to the large, detailed and animated Mario we all know and love.  He shares that same smiley look as he had in SMB3, and appears pleased as punch to be taking on the task before him, as always.  Koopas and Goombas are well done, and the other enemies introduced are well animated too, with that typical 8-bit Super Mario look and feel.  Scenery is nice and recalls some of the SMB2, SMB3 and SMW flavor to it, but because each zone has its own theme, also has much of its own nuance as well.  The bosses, being separate from the typical Koopa motif, are also nicely drawn and animated, having a very cartoonish look about them.

Ring that little bell instead of just going through the door, and
you'll get a chance to score power-ups or 1ups in the bonus game.

Musically, the game takes a page from Super Mario World, in that many of the themes are recycled, in slightly different ways throughout each zone.  The music is done well, overall, with typically bouncy, happy themes reminiscent of other Mario adventures.  And these tunes are catchy too.  Fair warning: some of the songs will be stuck in your head hours after you've turned off the Game Boy.  Sound effects are good, having a familiar Mario vibe to them, but done in a way that the Game Boy sound hardware can handle.  The short ditty that plays just before a boss battle is just spooky enough to put you on your toes, and there's even a spot where the "underground" theme from the first Super Mario Land is recalled in sort of a "remixed" fashion, similar to how the original SMB underground theme was remixed for some underground spots in SMB3.  Overall, the Game Boy sound hardware is utilized well.

That's a lot of territory for Mario to cover...

Gameplay is as you would expect from Nintendo and for a Mario game.  Control is pretty good overall, with a fair bit of precision and responsiveness.  You'll find yourself quite at home with this title if you've played any other Super Mario adventure, and the learning curve is pretty low.  There is one new power-up introduced here, which is the bunny ears.  Collect a carrot, and you'll have bunny ears you can flap by repeatedly pressing the jump button.  This will help you to float over large areas of spikes or pits.  Fireballs are powerful as well - some blocks can be destroyed by them.  You also get the spin jump made famous in Super Mario World, which can also destroy some blocks, and which you'll need to use to clear some spots or on certain enemies.  There is a fair bit of upward platforming, and a lot of left-to-right platforming, but the stages don't have the kind of size and scope of their NES and SNES brethren, as can be expected.  There is more depth with the stages than the first SML, however.

Mario's not digging this level.

So how does this all stack up?  Well, I'd love to say this was the 'perfect' Mario adventure in portable form, but I'd be lying.  There are a few minor annoyances that keep this from being a perfect 10.  Namely, once you've collected all 6 golden coins and you can enter the castle, if you die enough times and lose all your lives, you also lose all 6 coins, which means in order to re-enter the castle again, you have to beat all 6 bosses and re-collect all 6 coins.  Now, I understand that in older Mario games you had to play straight through from beginning to end with no saves, but this game's structure is modeled after Super Mario World with the expansive map, multiple zones and automatic game saves.  Making you re-conquer all 6 bosses again because you couldn't complete the last area is a bit excessive, considering this is a portable game.  In addition, Wario's castle is much harder without the bunny ears through the bulk of the level, so if you don't learn how to perfect each spot in the castle, you'll find yourself replaying several stages just to earn coins to play the slot machine where you can win power-ups so you can win bunny ears again to go back to the castle.  This is more a personal gripe, because the castle itself is somewhat unforgiving, but it's worth mentioning.  And even though I felt a deep satisfaction after beating Wario at the end, I didn't feel as though the reward (the credit roll) was as nice or rewarding as that of this game's predecessor.  Your mileage may vary, so keep in mind, these are somewhat personal issues.  More troublesome is that 4 years after the introduction of the hardware, there's a fair bit of slowdown on the screen when even just 2 or 3 enemies are present at once - couldn't Nintendo have found a way to optimize the code a bit to help alleviate such a thing?  There are more fast-action games on the platform that have less slowdown than this title, so it's definitely disappointing.

All in all, however, this is still the premier Mario title for the original monochrome Game Boy, my personal love for Super Mario Land notwithstanding.  It's an absolute must-own for any Game Boy owner's library, and a must-play for anyone interested in the roots of portable gaming's modern era.  If you haven't picked this one up, it can be had relatively inexpensively.  I've seen listings (cart only) from as low as $3 up to around $15.  I'd recommend not paying any more than that unless you're getting the manual, or a complete copy, as this game sold well (upwards of 11 million worldwide) and is not rare by any stretch.  Don't get bamboozled into paying $20 or more for a dirty, cart-only copy!  But no matter how much or little you pay, this game is one you'll want to have in your Game Boy library.  Essential!


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