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Games That Time Forgot: Super Mario Land


The Super Mario Bros. movie is coming out soon (or has already come out by the time this goes up, depending on my schedule), you may have heard of it. I'm personally still torn on the movie myself, but there's no denying that it's a big deal for Nintendo and could change how the company looks at movies going forward (fingers crossed for a Metroid movie). But we're not here to look at the future, but the past. And as part of that past, we're going back to the late 80s, early 90s to talk about one of Mario's earliest adventures: Super Mario Land. And folks, this is the kind of game that I look for as Games That Time Forgot fodder for multiple reasons.

It's part of a beloved series (Mario), it played an important part with the series (first handheld Mario game, first introduction to Daisy), it was at one point really popular (specifically the 10th best selling Mario game of all time), and yet despite all of that, no one ever really talks about it, not even Nintendo themselves. Oh sure, they'll make Daisy playable and might even throw in a track from this into Smash Bros., but other than that, there's nothing about the game that is ever brought up; hell, they didn't actually acknowledge it or its sequel until the 35th anninversary. So what's the deal?

Well, that's what we're going to find out. This is Super Mario Land!

What is Super Mario Land?

Before we talk about Super Mario Land, we need to talk about the Game Boy and the pack-in game for it, Tetris. Now, I'm not going to go too in depth on it, since there is a lot to talk about, and I'm on the clock writing this, but I highly recommend watching the Gaming Historian's video on it, because it is a fascinating look into how the game got popular. However, for our purposes, we do need to talk about it, specifically why it became the pack in game for the Game Boy. Now, when the Game Boy was first concieved, the idea behind it was that it was going to be a system that was easier for more people to get into video games, hence why it was cheaper to design and used monochrome screens (hence the old "lateral thinking with withered technology" idea that Nintendo has been using for years). While the idea initally for the Game Boy was to be a glorified Game & Watch, they eventually went with the idea of making it into an actual console, and to bundle a game with it. But the question remained: what game could be bundled with it?

Enter Henk Rogers, who was able to secure not only the handheld and later console rights to Tetris for Nintendo, but was also able to have a pretty good relationship with then Nintendo President, Hiroshi Yamauchi. At the time, Super Mario Land was in development and was planned to be the pack in with the Game Boy, but Rogers was able to convince Nintendo that the Game Boy should be packed in with Tetris instead because "if you pack it in with Mario, the Game Boy will be for little boys. But if you pack with Tetris, the Game Boy will be for everybody". Which, even at the time, was a smart idea due to how easy it was to play and pick up, supported 2 player with the new fangled link cable that came with the Game Boy, basically it would be ridiculous not to. That's not to say that it wouldn't be a success if the Game Boy was bundled with Super Mario Land, but it wouldn't have been as successful either, nor would it have been as widely popular as it ultimately became, even before Pokemon came along. All I'm saying is that there's reason why there's a photo of then First Lady Hillary Clinton playing a Game Boy, and it's not because of Super Mario Land.

Hence, with the decision made of packing in the Game Boy with Tetris, it was then quickly decided to make Super Mario Land a launch title for the Game Boy, which was April 21, 1989 in Japan, July 31st, 1989 in North America, September 28, 1990 in Europe and November 21, 1990 in Australia. One fun fact about the game, besides being one of the first Mario games not developed by Shigeru Miyamoto, was that it was developed by Nintendo R&D 1 and produced by Gunpei Yokoi, the same team that created the Game Boy. In fact, all of the Game Boy's launch games were made by Nintendo R&D 1, which makes sense since the created the Game Boy, so of course they would know how to develop games for it.

Let's see how they did.

How does it play?

Launch games for a system are the appetizers of a video game console, something to keep people filled while they wait for their meal to come in. Sure, you may have a launch game that is generally beloved, like Super Mario World or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or may be the biggest game changer of the generation, like Super Mario 64 or Halo: Combat Evolved, but for the most part these aren't games that are going to end up on a system's Top 10 list when it's all said and done. Super Mario Land is the rule and not the exception here and it's more apparent considering it's for the Game Boy, where much of the library isn't very good in retrospect. But that doesn't mean it's bad, it just means that looking back on it is a little harder than most games. Key word being a little.

So the plot of the game is that Daisy got kidnapped and Mario has to save her. Okay, she technically got kidnapped by an alien who brainwashed her entire kingdom, and the sequel reveals that the whole thing was plot concoted by Wario, but for the most part it's the Safeway version of any Super Mario game. But to give the game some credit, while the plot is basic, it at least gives the game an excuse to be more creative with it's world themes, with each of the four being based on some real life location and having it's own unique set of enemies, and helps with making each one stand out. Granted, the technical reason behind this is because the Game Boy was nowhere near as powerful as the NES, so they couldn't recreate the graphics of that game, but it is a nice change of pace to not have generic grass, ice and lava levels. The music in each area, for how few tracks there are, are also a nice change of pace as well; none of them are even in the top 10 of music tracks, but for a launch game in the early days of the Game Boy, it's fine.

The gameplay is what you would expect in some cases (we'll talk about that in a bit) when it comes to Mario platformers, though things can be a little awkward at first. For some reason, Mario feels a little bit heavier in this game than previous ones and future ones, which I chalk up to the game being a launch title and the team not having enough time to polish things up. One new addition that I do like is the Fire Flower replacement: the Superball Flower. It's basically the same as the Fire Flower, but it can bounce on walls and collect coins, which makes it really interesting for bonus rooms, except when the ball bounces on the screen and can't get the one coin stuck in the corner.

Overall, Super Mario Land is a smaller version of the original Super Mario Bros. It's simple, decently challenged with decent music and level design......and much like the original Super Mario Bros., I find it harder and harder to play it as the years go on.

I may write a C-Blog about this sometime soon (I make no promises), but my opinion on the original Super Mario Bros. is a bit different from others. Specifically, while I apperciate all that it did for video games, Nintendo, and pop culture as a whole, as a game, it's fine, but there are much better games in the series that I'll play before this. It's not a bad game by any means, but not a game that I would play if I was looking to play a Mario platformer (and for those wondering, my ranking is Super Mario World > Super Mario Bros. 3 > Super Mario Bros. 2 > Super Mario Bros. > literally anything else > Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels). Super Mario Land is the same thing, in that I don't see myself coming back to this as often. Again, not because it's bad, but because there are so many games on the Game Boy that are way better to play, like Kirby's Dream Land, both of this game's sequels, etc. And sure, there are some things that do set it apart, like the aformentioned level themes, but it's still just a Mario game on the handheld, which to be fair is totally fine. It just makes it harder to go back to play as time goes on.

I know someone is waiting for me to bring it up, and yes. At two points during the game, at the end of World 2 and 4 specifically, Mario hops into a submarine and a plane and the game turns into a side scrolling shooter. They're overall fine, but they're not exactly something that makes you want to come back to the game. Fun fact, these kind of levels were supposed to be in the original Super Mario Bros., but they couldn't fit it in due to space and the limitations of the NES, so kudos to the devs here for putting it in.

I don't want it to seem like I hate Super Mario Land. On the contrary, I think it's fine, and combined with some interesting ideas and short length, there's nothing wrong with playing it. It's just that there are so many better games to play on the system, and while it's weirdness is enough to make it stand out, I don't really see myself playing it that often, just because there is so much better stuff out there. But let's see what other people thought at the time.

The impact and why it was forgotten

I think my biggest surprise from Super Mario Land was just how much merchandise was made for the game, but let's talk about reviews. At the time, critics lauded Super Mario Land as one of the best games of the Game Boy, with Tony Mott of SuperPlay saying that it proved the Game Boy had "playability to match other systems." Later reviews would comment that while it was cheap on the 3DS Virtual Console (RIP) it also paled in comparison to later games on the system, which is an apt comparison. When it came to merchandising and sales, that's a different story. There was a board game released in Germany, there was manga based on the this game and Super Mario Land 2 & Wario Land, where Daisy is supposedly part of Princess Peach's personality (roll with it), a four part story in Valiant Comics Game Boy comic line, where main villain Tatanga leaves the game through a Game Boy and commits various acts of terrorism (I'm not joking, there's literally a story where he tries to take over an airplane and another where he declares war on the United States, you have to read it), there was an album released based on the music, which is actually pretty good all things considered, and the Ambassadors of Funk even made a song about it, after one of its musicians realized how much the game's soundtrack sounded like house music, so they made a song about it, which was used by Nintendo of Europe to promote the game. Maybe all that merch played a part in the game doing so well and being the tenth best selling Super Mario game of all time, or maybe it's the other way around.

Yes, if anyone of you have heard of this game, it's probably that is still ranks among the best selling Super Mario games, with 18 million copies sold. Granted, that's only including the mainline games (you'll know they're mainline if they start with Super in some way), so if you count games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it drops a few places. However, that does also mean that it outsold its two sequels, both Super Mario Galaxy games, and Super Mario Bros. 3, all of which are vastly superior games. Those numbers were obviously good enough to warrant a sequel, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins, which in turn gave us Wario and the Wario Land series, as well as indirectly giving us Waluigi later in Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64. So with all of that, doing so well on the Game Boy, getting pretty decent reviews, and being responsible for three popular characters, why is Super Mario Land at this most point mostly forgotten?

It took some time, but the more I think it about, the more it makes sense: it's because the Game Boy was for everybody.

I know that seems like a really weird reason, but it's also the only one that makes sense. While Super Mario Land is the best selling Mario game on the Game Boy, it's only the fourth best selling game on the Game Boy overall, with Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal at number three, Tetris (which was a pack-in game for most of its life) at number two, and all the original Gen 1 Pokemon games selling the best. The rest of the top 10 is about what you would expect, like the other two Mario Land games and Kirby's Dream Land, but overall the variety of games that did well on the system is surprising. Seriously, look up the best selling games on the Game Boy, and there are a ton of games on here that did well. All three Game & Watch Gallery games are on the list. Final Fantasy Legend Dragon Quest Monster 2 sold at least a million units. There at least two Mickey Mouse games on there, five from Disney if you include DuckTales, and at least two Bugs Bunny games. Street Fighter II sold a million copies on the Game Boy! I could on and on, but I think you get the point, the Game Boy did really have a lot of games on it, because it sold well. Granted, some of the best selling games also include Game Boy Color games, which some people may be a little hesitant to include on sales lists, but the fact still remains that the Game Boy was a very big deal, and played a huge part in Nintendo's success. While their consoles are usually hit or miss, the handhelds were also shown to keep them going, and that was thanks in large part to the early success of the Game Boy.

Packing Tetris in with the Game Boy was an incredibly smart decision, because the Game Boy was made for everybody, not just boys who liked Mario, and the sales are proof of that. I'm sure the Game Boy would have done well if it was packed with Super Mario Land, but probably not as well, or as long. There's a reason why it was the third best selling device of all time and the second best selling Nintendo device of all time until the Switch took over, and it's not because of this game.

Is it worth playing now? And does it deserve better?

I mean....kind of.....maybe.....? No, not really.

Super Mario Land is a good, but not great game. While it does have some merit when it comes to the series as a whole and it most likely helped the Game Boy do well on some level, there isn't really much to it when you get down to it. Its simplistic and similar gameplay doesn't do it any favors when compared to other games, and doesn't really have the benefit of Super Mario Bros. where it was a major game changer. That doesn't mean that it doesn't have some importance to the Mario series as a whole, it does, or that you won't have a fun time with it, because you will. But Super Mario Land is a game that is harder and harder to go back to as time goes on. You won't have the worse time with it, but there are better games that I would recommend over this, both in the series and on the Game Boy.

I hope to have my next one of these sooner rather than later, though that could be hard due to school. But when I do come back to this, we'll look at a game that is about war. An advance war.

- Dynamite with a laser beam!

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About GoofierBruteone of us since 9:03 PM on 08.22.2010

I'm just a dude in his early thirties who loves video games, movies, anime, and a bunch of other stuff. I don't write on a regular basis, so if you came here expecting that, you'll be disappointed. However, I do hope you enjoy the few things I do write here.

I'm a freelance programmer/web designer, so if you need someone to do a webpage or to make a game with, PM me.

My five favorite games of all time are:

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
2. Super Mario Galaxy
3.The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
4. Metroid Prime
5. Portal
Xbox LIVE:GoofierBrute
Steam ID:GoofierBrute


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