A Pocket-Sized Mario World
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
When the first Super Mario Land came out, the goal of the game, clearly, was just to show that the Game Boy -- Nintendo's new, black-and-white, portable gaming device -- could provide an experience anywhere near what the NES was giving gamers on their TV. That was a tall order, mind you, as the Game Boy had a limited color palette (four shades of black against a pea-green screen), with a tiny screen that couldn't present anywhere near the amount of pixels as the NES on a TV. Despite these limitations, Super Mario Land succeeded, presenting a credible Super Mario SeriesHe's the world's most famous plumber and the biggest face in Nintendo's stable, a character so ubiquitous you already knew we were talking about Mario even before we said his name. experience on the tiny handheld.
Sure, it wasn't one-to-one (heck, even when the Game Boy Color did produce a one-to-one conversion of the original Super Mario Bros., in Super Mario Deluxe, it was with some compromises), but it was close enough in style and tone to the original SMB to stand up to comparison while still having enough creative flourishes to make fans happy. However, the Mario experience was evolving, with games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World pushing the bounds of what fans expected from the series. The next Land couldn't just be a cut-and-dried repeat of the first Game Boy game.
Thankfully, the designers at NintendoSince 1983 (with the release of the Famicom gaming system in Japan), Nintendo has proven to be a gaming company dedicated to finding what gamers want, even when the gamers don't know it themselves. From dual-screen systems, to motion controls, to convertible home console/portable consoles, Nintendo regularly proves that the weirdest innovation is exactly what the gaming community needs. stepped up, taking what worked from the NES and SNES Mario games to craft a a handheld title that could stand tall with the recent entries. In fact, this little game showed that, with a bit of creativity and fine tuning, the Game By could crank out SNES-quality experiences, even if it was only in four shades of green. This was one of the best examples of just how fan the Game Boy could be pushed and prodded, and in the process one of the best Mario games was released.
In the title, Mario, having been away in Sarasaland, comes home to his private island (I bet you didn't know he has his own island) only to discover that the entire place has been taken over by an old childhood friend: Wario. Mad at Mario (for years of apparent abuse?), Wario has brainwashed the denizens of the island to follow him as their leader. Mario has to go around the island, Mario Land, and find the six Golden Coins that will grant him access to his castle so he can take on Wario for control of the island.
The Land games have largely sat outside of the main continuity of the Mario series (a trend that would continue with this games sequels, the Wario Land series), which is part of why this game feels disconnected from the main adventures. There's no Princess Peach to save, no Bowser to fight, and nary a mention of the Mushroom Kingdom. Everything here stands apart, which does mean that the game has its own tone and style that makes it seem a little off from the main series.
That said, the fact that the game sits just far enough outside the main continuity means that the title is able to do things the main series won't. Instead of just a simple, staid adventure against Bowser (and maybe his kids), we get a new villain alongside a new world to explore with its own rules that don't necessarily have to conform to the standards of the main series. This allows for different enemies, different environs, and a playful feel to the game as its able to break conventions from the main series to forge its own path.
I say that, but do bear in mind that this game still manages to pack a Super Mario World-style adventure into this little title. After clearing an opening stage, the whole of Mario Land opens up to our intrepid hero. He can venture to any of the six zones of the world, each themed in their own style, and clear the areas out to find the coin he needs. Each area amounts to a selection of stages arranged on their own mini-map, not unlike each of the areas in SMW. If you've played World, the basic construction of this game will feel familiar.
And yet, at the same time, the game does enough to differntiate itself in fun and weird ways. Mario's big special power this time is the Bunny hat, a power-up that lets him float (a la the Raccoon tail in SMB3, which is just doofy and fun. It's not a groundbreaking power-up, sure, but at the same time its delightful to see Mario floating over enemies, his bunny ears waggling. The fire flower is also included in this game, but this time with a feather in Mario's cap to indicate he has a power-up (since the limited colors can't do that here).
The worlds, too, add in some weird ideas that haven't been seen since. There was the haunted land with ghostly slime that could slow Mario down, but he could also swim through it. There was also the space zone that actually let Mario experience low gravity for the first time in the series, and even sent him on a little adventure up into space. And there's the Mario zone, where Mario literally scales a tower of himself, a strangely amusing situation for a game that just seemed to love winking at fans as they played through their adventure.
Probably the biggest contribution this game makes, though, is in Wario, the fat and ugly villain of the game. Wario would go on to have not only his own series of Wario Land games (literally stealing this series out from under Mario in the process), but he'd also get his own additional spin-offs, letting the villain become one of the most prolific side characters in the Mario series.
Super Mario Land 2 isn't a perfect game, mind you. While it does a pretty solid job of putting a SMW adventure into the Game Boy, it does have to pare things back to an extent. There are only 32 levels in the game, short enough to not overstay its welcome, but not a truly substantial adventure. And in the process of packing all this in, the game does have a number of moments of noticable slow-down as the Game Boy chugs to try and present a credible, SNES-style experience.
And yet, at the same time, Nintendo should be proud of this title because, despite all the Game Boy's limitations, this game does feel very much like a proper sequel not only to Super Mario Land, but Super Mario World as well. It's everything the SNES adventure had just done, but packed into a tiny cart. Whatever flaws the game has can be forgiven for just how impressive this achievement is. And, it helps that the game is really fun. Another solid Mario adventure from Big N. If you haven't played this game before you really should as its a gem for the Game Boy collection.
Although an official re-release, this game did have one "revisit". Titled Super Mario Land 2 DX: 6 Golden Coins, this romhack added color to the game while also removing slowdown and flicker. The biggest new feature, though, was the addition of Luigi as a playable character (operating, as he does in The Lost Levels by having a higher jump as the expense of worse traction). This hack is good enough you'll wish Nintendo had made it an official game back in the days of the Game Boy Color.