why Super Mario Land is pretty rad
I've had a strange history with this game. I only ever encountered it on
multi-carts for many years and had no particular interest for it, most likely
due to how my gaming skills were insufficient enough to get past the third
world. I eventually beat it, and the mystery was gone. No longer a bizarre,
quirky game with erratic jump physics and an unseen goal, I thought I was done
But I still went back to it. I've tried to review it and analyse it, figure out
why I enjoy it so much. Is it the short length? Is it the niche factor? One day
I hope to figure out for certain why it is so endearing to me, and these twelve
reasons are my first steps towards that goal.
Nah, just kidding. The game's as mad as a barrel of beans (and beans in barrels
are a very rowdy bunch let me tell you) and I just thought some of things
were worth waxing stupidity on.
#1 - THE
KOOPAS FRIGGIN' EXPLODE
Let's start off with an obvious one. One of the reasons Super
Mario Land is still remembered is because how, despite being relatively
close to the original Super Mario Bros. in terms of enemies, traps and gimmicks,
it's got plenty of weird and wacky deviations. The very first enemies you
encounter are Goombas, shortly followed by Koopas. The Goombas still squish, the
Koopas still retreat into their shells, and you'd think you can still kick them
to earn massive points. Well THINK AGAIN
YOU PUSHED THIS KOOPA TOO FAR
And they'll keep exploding for the rest of the game. After the initial
surprise it's not much of a threat, but the imagery is always hilarious. Also,
if you want to be pedantic, they're not actually Koopas, no. They're Nokobons.
They're entirely different! And that leads us to...
THE ENEMIES ARE PRETTY WEIRD
No foolin'. Mind you, we're talking about a series where "regular"
enemies are particularly barmy if you view them through the eyes of a rational
human being rather than the crusty, acidic, segmented eyes of a gamer, so
they're not that weird, only in comparison. I mean, the series is crawling with
sentient plants, flying squid and vegetation with eyebrows, but despite that,
it's suddenly more bizarre to see Easter Island heads jogging around and Chinese
ghosts hopping like goons. It's like the game decided to reel itself back into
reality just a little bit, and only made the world more barmy. I think
the octopi who house lethal fluorescent guts fit that bill quite nicely.
Also for one level only the Piranha Plants are replaced with giant fucking
fists. They should have just called the game Super Mario's Flying Circus.
We all love the Fire Flower. It's got the pleasant looks and colourful fashion
sense of a flower, but the all-destroying rampaging capabilities of... I don't
know, some kind of portable volcano or something.
The Superball is not so cool. It bounces, but not with the same arc and gravity
as the Fire Flower, but instead propels into space. One can assume somewhere out
there Vic Viper is getting shot in the ass and wondering why the world hates
The good thing about the Superball is that it's reasonably more useful indoors
(if a little imprecise with the hit detection), and it can pick up coins! Twenty
years later and the Fire Flower still can't do that, instead opting for causing
enemies to drop coins. Nice try, buster, but IT'S NOT ENOUGH. Come back when a
single fireball can make me filthy stinking rich.
THE STARMAN THEME
The Mario series is full of dinky little tunes that, in the name of bias, are
pretty darn catchy. Super Mario Land's tunes are decent, but only a few reach
the same level of quality as the original NES trilogy's soundtrack. The 2-1
theme is pretty neat and I'm almost certain it was heavily remixed to make the
song for the Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 episode "Oh, Brother!", but I can't verify that
because I forgot how bad that song is (there's a reason I stopped
covering shows with awkward song times on Random Action Hour). But what's amusing is the Starman, rather
than reusing its traditional theme music, plays the friggin' Can-Can!
Public domain songs in video games are always a recipe for amusement. It also
helps that when I hear the Can-Can, I automatically think of the Bad Manners
version, which then also brings to mind the Bad Manners official website.
- THE BAD MANNERS
Seriously, though, you should check it out.
MARIO DRIVES A SUBMARINE
For reals! Don't forget this was before he ever set foot in a kart, so his
choice of starting vehicle was a good one. Submarines are sorely underrated. The
two shooting levels are one of those bizarre additions that, frankly, don't add
a whole lot, but their mere existence adds a little more intrigue to the game.
They're not remarkably inventive or difficult, nor are they really that
interesting, but if anything they're probably better coded than the main game.
Plus how can I say no to destroying the entire aquatic ecosystem?
RESCUING DAISY IS HILARIOUS
Super Mario Bros. gave us "Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another
castle!" Super Mario Land doesn't have anything quite as quotable, but it does
have the strangely amusing visage of Mario staring blank as the princess
transmogrifies into a horrifying beast and nonchalantly hops slowly off-screen.
The only thing it's missing is some unfitting music.
7: THE BONUS GAME
It seems customary for Mario games to offer some chance of getting
points, lives, items or other fun rewards after completing a level - Super Mario
Bros. 2 had the slot machine, SMB3 with its item cards, and so on. The first
Super Mario Bros. didn't really offer anything for hitting the top of the flag
pole besides some points (apparently there's a chance of an extra life for
landing on the very top but good luck doing that without a pact with the devil,
son), and that's a small field where Land clearly outshines it. Rather than a
flag, you just get a big ol' wall with two doors. The bottom door can just be
walked straight into and takes you to the next level - a no-frills affair, your
common or garden everyday doorway. But the top door... ooh, the top door!
a magical land of bonuses, treats and frenetic music! There's no risk of losing
it at all, as either you gain an extra life or you acquire a Superball; the
latter isn't too desirable in comparison, but given how the NES game would just
throw 8000 meaningless points your way for demonstrating your leaping skills,
it's a fair trade. The sequel would drop the lives in favour of power-ups, what
with how it actually had more than one upgrade to offer Mario this time, but
without lives, why bother? WHERE'S THE FUN IN THAT
8: THE PAUSE GRAPHIC HAS HEARTS NEXT TO IT
I like them. I think it's a cute touch, like the game genuinely cares that
sometimes in life you just have to pause and take five. It's like the game is rubbing
your hair and softly crooning in your ear, "don't worry, baby; take all the time
you need" in Barry White's soothing voice.
9: THAT UFO IN WORLD 2-1 AND 2-2
So, Mario travels through some sandy plains in the first world before
entering a pyramid, and defeats a fire-breathing lion. In what appears to be a
vague attempt at continuity, it's implied he reaches the second world...
... by being dropped off from a UFO.
Seriously, what the hell? Where did it come from? What is it doing there? Where
in the world is an explanation for this?
In 2-3 the UFO reappears in the background, apparently as a sunken wreck
(it's not actually shown to be damaged, but who's going to park
on a bloody sea bed?) and is never seen again. Did Mario hijack the
lion's UFO and then ditch it once it outlasted its usefulness? Are pyramids good
places for hitching rides with extraterrestrials? Who knows, and who cares?
10: MULTIPLE BOSSES
The first Super Mario Bros. had a fair roster of enemies, but Bowser
was the only boss you encountered in each castle. Yes, it turned out to be an
enemy in disguise if you defeated them with a Fire Flower, but it was still
Bowser each and every time, and the only real change was how many axes he threw.
Mind you, he was still a reasonably challenging boss because of how the arena
was made to your disadvantage, but still.
Super Mario Land will not stand for such blatant recycling! Every world now has
a unique boss with a totally unique way of fighting! ... okay, that's blatant
lies. Yes, they do fight slightly differently, but at the end of the day it
basically revolves around moving up and down and shooting something at you
periodically (with the sole deviation being the boss of world 3-4, who tosses
boulders in your face). Super Mario Bros. 2 had a better offering than that.
Still, have to give it credit for something.
11: THE MARIO SPRITE IS KINDA CUTE
Now we're just entering complete bias territory.
I don't know why I like it. I've a strange fondness for particular kinds of
graphics, most notably Virtua Fighter's blocky blocky graphics, and I guess lo-res
itty-bitty sprites are also among those interests. I mean, it's not that
incredible a sprite. The original Super Mario Bros. graphics are probably more endearing
and better drawn, but... I have a vaguely defined fondness for it, I guess.
It might be the death sprite. His limbs are splayed out in a representation of
8-bit death, but he's still got a very inexpressive face, as if he's just
nonchalantly muttering to himself, "oh
no, not again" as he falls off the edge of the earth.
12: THE ENDING
The NES trilogy were all fine games, but personally, I thought they
were a little lacking in the ending department. The original merely has a screen
of text, looping music and an offer to play again on a harder difficulty, which
is all fine and well back in the days when banging rocks together was seen as a
valid art medium, but not so much after we invented fire.
Mario Land's ending is barely any more detailed than any of the NES
endings, yet there's something about it that just strikes me as magical and
whimsical. Maybe it's the fact Mario and Daisy ride into the sunset on a friggin'
space shuttle (where on earth does a plumber get such wonderful tools?), but I
think it's all because of the music. It's probably
not presented in the best manner due to the limited sound capabilities of the
Game Boy, but it's a serene song with a vaguely defined hint of nostalgia about
it. After a rather chaotic final fight where Mario blows up the sky, it comes as
a fitting contrast and works beautifully with the imagery. It's not a very
involved ending, but it's worth the twenty minutes it takes to beat the game
just for that song.
And there we are. Let's be honest, the game
is not as wickedly insane as it could be, nor is it difficult or challenging as
it could set out to be, but for those reasons that's why I like it. For whatever
reasons runners-up are always appealing to me, and Super Mario Land is
just one of many. A runner-up with exploding lethal octopus guts.