Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Super Mario Land - Nintendo Gameboy review

It'sa me!!!
Game: Super Mario Land
Format: Nintendo Gameboy
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Year Released: 1989
Also Released on: Nintendo 3DS (via Virtual Console service)
Now Available on: Nintendo 3DS (via Virtual Console service)

If there's one thing you can be certain of in life, it's that within milliseconds of Nintendo releasing a new console, Mario has somehow got his mug onto some game for it. The Nintendo Gameboy was no exception, with our drainpipe dwelling friend making his miniature presence known in the 1989 game, Super Mario Land, before you had chance to say "Itsa me!" As with Super Mario Bros. on the Gameboy's bigger brother, the NES, Super Mario Land was a platforming affair, with Mario whizzing around levels, bouncing off enemies, headbutting boxes, collecting mushrooms, throwing balls of something or other, defeating enemies and rescuing princesses. But, although the formula remains the same, Super Mario Land does represent a slight departure from the norm.

Does Daisy have a moustache?
As per usual, Mario is on a mission to rescue a Princess. But, this time around it's not the perpetually kidnapped Princess Peach that needs rescuing. Instead, Princess Daisy is the royal one who has got herself into a predicament of the being-held-hostage variety. Holding her prisoner is some evil being from space called Tatanga. Presumably Bowser, who is absent from this game, only has eyes for Peach so is happy for somebody else to kidnap other princesses. Unlike most Mario games, which take place in the Mushroom Kingdom, the action in Super Mario Land takes place in neighbouring Sarasaland, which is apparently a Kingdom made up of four countries. So it's similar to the United Kingdom in a way, only with better weather, fewer pubs and no Tescos. In fact, the whole universe of the Mario games could be some sort of commentary on contemporary geographical politics. The Mushroom Kingdom could be continental Europe. Sarasaland could be the UK. And, um, I don't really know where I'm going here so I'll go no further with my theory.

I really can't think of anything to add here

Princess Daisy is the ruler of Sarasaland (surely she should be Queen Daisy), but as she's got herself kidnapped, it means that Tatanga is able to take control of the kingdom and do whatever the evil things are that evil space beings do. Urgh! That's a horribly written sentence. Maybe I'll rewrite it one day. Threatening to put a stop to Tatanga's evil deeds is good old Mario, on hand to defeat him and rescue Princess Daisy. When does he ever get chance to do any plumbing? He's either got a very understanding boss, or he works for himself. It's no wonder he has to keep appearing in video games. He's got to pay the bills somehow.

That's an impressive nose you have there
The game takes place over four levels, each with three sub levels with a boss at the end of the third. Each level represents one of the four countries of Sarasaland which, according to legend (AKA the internet), are named Birabuto, Muda, Easton and Chai. Birabuto is modelled on ancient Egypt, Muda is inspired by some place called Mu, Easton is based on Easter Island and Chai is influenced by China. Now, you may have heard of Egypt, Easter Island and China, but where in the world is Mu? Let's find out. Ooooh, who'd have thought that a review of Super Mario Land would turn into a geography/history lesson? Not me, that's for sure.

So, Mu. According to the 19th Century explorer Augustus Le Plongeon, whose name translates as Gus the Plunger (perhaps not), Mu is a lost continent. Le Plongeon claimed that, once upon a time, Mu was located in the Atlantic Ocean. Refugees from Mu went to places like Egypt and central and southern America, resulting in the development of the Egyptian and Mayan civilisations in their respective locales, explaining their similarities despite their physical distances. Other "experts" believe that Mu was located in the Pacific Ocean, and was the common origin of civilisations that sprouted up all over the world. Wherever it was located, and whatever influence it had on the rest of the world, for some reason or another, it sank into the sea and has never been seen again. Poor Mu.

My head! I really need to find a better way of opening up these secret boxes!

100 points for pounding an enemy into the ground. Great!
Right, back to Super Mario Land where Princess Daisy is still being held captive and Mario hasn't even begun his adventure yet because I've been going on about made up places. Gameplay in Super Mario Land is mostly very similar to that of Super Mario Bros. for the Gameboy's bigger brother, the NES. Mario must go from left to right to reach the end of each level. He can travel at two speeds, going faster by holding down one of the two controller buttons. The other button makes him jump, with his jumps being higher and longer if the "run" button is being held down too. Mario can bang his head into blocks scattered all around the levels. Blocks marked with question marks contain coins, power ups, extra lives or invincibility stars. The first power up is a mushroom which causes Mario to grow, enabling him to smash up blocks that are made out of bricks, sometimes revealing extra goodies but usually just to satisfy his destructive tendencies. Or to clear a path. Being bigger also gives Mario an extra layer of defence, allowing him to come into contact with an enemy without dying. Instead, he just shrinks down to his tiny self.

As per usual, Mario has two modes of attack. He can jump on enemies or throw things at them. When Mario is at his tiniest, he is only able to defeat enemies by jumping on them. He gains the ability to chuck stuff after gaining the mushroom power-up to make him bigger, and then collecting a flower power-up. Mario can also use his throwing power-up to collect hard to reach coins. This is particularly handy in some bonus areas.

Coins coins coins!

Best bonus level ever!
Oh yes, Super Mario Land includes a number of bonus areas. These are usually found by going down some of the pipes that are a feature of all Mario games. It makes you wonder what the pipes are actually for. Did somebody over order them when they were setting up Mushroom Kingdom and Sarasaland’s drainage network? “’Ere, gaffer. We’ve got a shitload of pipes left over. What do you want me to do with ‘em?” “Oh, just stick them in random places in the ground. Nobody will notice them. And that dickhead plumber who never seems to get any work done will probably fall into them. He’s absolutely useless. I’m still waiting for him to fix the flusher on my shitter, but he’s either chasing after a bit of skirt from the palace who’s got herself kidnapped, go-karting somewhere, playing tennis, or just generally not doing what he should be doing. His brother’s no better. And they call themselves Super. Somebody needs to report them to Rogue Traders. They’re nothing but a pair of fraudsters.”

Ahem. So, yes, there are plenty of pipes all over the place, and Mario can go down some of them to enter bonus areas. They mostly contain coins, sometimes a power up or two, and little else. The only problem is that, to find them, you usually have to try each pipe, until you come to the one that you need. Obviously, multiple plays will result in you memorising which ones contain the bonus areas. Some pipes also contain enemies popping out of them.

Extra Lives! Get yer extra lives here!
There are also various parts of levels containing secret areas, usually at the very top of the screen, above the display itself. These will often contain more coins and power-ups, and sometimes serve as an easier route through the level as they’ll avoid you having to take on enemies. Getting to them isn’t always easy or obvious, but it gives you a bit of something to do if you fancy it. Finally, if you haven’t managed to accrue enough bonus items throughout the levels themselves, you can also enter a bonus room at the end of each level where you have to stop a rapidly flashing Mario (dirty pervert) on one of four platforms. At the end of each platform is a bonus – usually lives, sometimes a flower. Mario will collect whatever lies at the end of each platform, although his route may get altered by the presence of a ladder. It’s a bit like Russian Roulette, only not quite as exciting. Or deadly. As you can probably gather, it’s fairly easy to build up a load of lives, either by collecting enough coins (100 will do it), or 1-ups themselves.

Who need R-Type when you have this?
In fact, the whole game itself is easy. It’s perhaps the easiest Mario game there is, and can be completed in about half an hour. End of level bosses don’t really pose much of a challenge at all. But, although it’s easy, it is fun. Lots of fun. Mario is a delight to control, and whizzes around the levels like a little flea. Breaking up the platforming elements are a couple of levels where Mario takes to the skies in a little plane to shoot down enemies. Again, these aren’t difficult levels, but they are fun. And this is one of the things that keeps bringing you back to the game. It isn’t one of those games that you play, complete, and never return to. You’ll find yourself returning to it time and time again, either to perfect your route, find all of the secrets, get a higher score, achieve a speed record. The game lends itself perfectly for all of these challenges but is also great if all you want is to enjoy a quick half an hour of quality platform gaming in its purest form.

Die Tagana!!! You're no Bowser!
Of course, the game was originally designed for a handheld console. But, it really does feel like a portable fully-fledged console game. The graphics are fairly minimal, but perfectly reflect the land on which each level is based, and the music is great with some fantastic and memorable little tunes. One of the tunes was even turned into a dance track and made it onto the hit parade. I remember watching it on Top of the Pops. Or was that Tetris? Perhaps both. Sound effects are also well-suited to the game. On the original Gameboy, due to the speed that the levels scroll, there was a bit of ghosting and motion blur, but this never really affected gameplay at all, and isn’t a problem when played on modern machines.

If you have a Gameboy, there’s a good chance that you already have this game as it is one of the must-own titles for the console. If you don’t have it, or you own anything that can play Gameboy games, you need to get this game. You need it. Show it your kids and grandkids. Show them this is what we did when games were in black and white. Or black and yellow.

Presentation – 80%
Typical Nintendo polish throughout. Nothing too exciting.
Graphics – 81%
The sprites are quite small and the levels are quite sparce, but they feel just right for the game, even though they feel a little non-Mario-ish.
Sound – 85%
Some fantastic tunes, unique to this game, and accompanied by familiar and suitable sound effects.
Playability – 86%
Playable from the moment you get going, simple and easy to pick up with plenty of variety.
Overall – 85%
The game became a classic from the moment it was released. It isn't the hardest of games, but was the perfect title for Nintendo's then-new handheld.

See the game from start to finish here

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