Super Mario Land might be my nostalgic first in terms of Mario games, but the sequel is where I spent far more of my time when it came to Game Boy platforming. While Super Mario Land was tasked with bringing Mario to Nintendo’s handheld in whatever form it could, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins had perhaps a trickier remit: to take what its predecessor had managed, and use that as a springboard for a proper, more recognizable Mario experience. If the first game was the experimental groundwork, the sequel was a grander, more franchise-aligned expansion.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (3DS, GB [reviewed])
Released Oct 1992 | Developed / Published: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer | HLTB: 3 hours
Basically all that was an overblown and pompous way of saying that Super Mario Land 2 actually looks, feels, and plays much more like a “proper” Mario game than the first game. I suppose I should try and unpack that a little bit. Well, for a start, it definitely (not to mention immediately) looks a lot more like it belongs in the franchise than Super Mario Land; a smart decision as made to use bigger and chunkier sprites, which, in contrast to the diminutive and sometimes barely recognizable things onscreen in the first game, actually look far more like already-extant Super Mario elements. That means we not only get a much more clear sprite for our hero, but that clarity extends to many of the game’s enemies that return from other entries in the franchise; for example, the goombas now resemble their Super Mario Bros. counterparts instead of being angry triangles, and the team made an effort to get the koopa shell physics right, as opposed to the static exploding bomb-shells of the previous game.
Super Mario Land 2 also marks a glorious return to a (very slightly) wider range of powerups. Once again, super mushrooms and fire flowers more closely resemble the sprites from the console games. New to the franchise, however, is the “bunny ears” powerup, which feels similarly to the tanuki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3 as a means to give Mario a very limited form of gliding flight. Both fire flower and bunny ears Mario are obviously useful powers and mastering them is key to maneuvering your way through the various hazards that Super Mario Land 2 throws at you. It is, as always, an exercise in simplicity; it’s hard to think of Super Mario games as anything other than being absolute masters of the craft of balancing fiendish addiction and elegantly simple platforming, and despite being on a more limited system, Super Mario Land 2 remains a fine example of the franchise tradition.
In contrast to Super Mario Land’s linear level-to-level progression, 2 more closely resembles Super Mario Bros. 3, lifting the world map idea out of that game. It’s actually surprisingly freeform in its structure; the game world is divided into smaller individual zones, each containing a sequence of themed levels – think a much condensed version of the “worlds” thing that many of the franchise’s games use. On top of that, you can take on these zones in any order you please; a risk with this is making every zone a bit bland in terms of challenge in order to make any of them a reasonable starting point, but the team behind this game knew very well what they were doing, with a nice smooth level of difficulty all round. The theming is certainly eccentric, to say the least; you can go from the relatively tame Tree Zone, where each level takes you sequentially up a giant tree, from the roots up to the treetop rest of the local boss monster, to places like the Macro Zone, where a shrunken Mario must explore a massive house, or the Mario Zone, in which Mario ascends through the innards of a mechanical facsimile of himself. If nothing else it’s very imaginative, but what helps elevate the experience is the general quality of the levels themselves. Each one is filled with well-designed and suitably thematic hazards and enemies, so aside from being fun to play, it’s also a joy just to explore and see what wild and kooky ideas the developers came up with.
Of course, it’s impossible to mention Super Mario Land 2 without talking about its most important addition to global culture: Wario. This game marks the debut of Mario’s evil counterpart as the plot revolves around him stealing Mario’s castle while the latter was away rescuing Princess Daisy in the first game. Burning economic and lifestyle questions aside (how on earth has Mario got a castle in the first place? What kind of prices per hour is this plumber to what can only be the Mushroom Kingdom billionaire class charging? Is the game world Mario’s estate? Is he actually the worst kind of person in existence: a *shudders* landlord?!) there’s not a whole lot to the story. As is often the case for Mario characters, and especially franchise villains, Wario doesn’t get much in the way of character development beyond being evil. In fact, he barely even gets any screentime, being relegated to a shadowed silhouette taunting Mario from the ramparts of his castle, and a final boss fight. Still, that’s more than can be said for the rest of the baddies; the stage bosses are actually some of the weakest portions of the game. I know Mario doesn’t have much going for him as a combatant so every fight has to be solvable via the age-old secret fighting technique of jumping on your assailant’s head, but I’m left surprised at the sheer lack of creativity in the game when it comes to its bosses. While they might be fun in terms of visual design, when you finally face each one they simply dive back-and-forth in a “U” shape, requiring little thought or effort to defeat.
Still, dodgy boss fights notwithstanding, Mario’s second Game Boy outing was an absolute success. It’s one of those perfect sequels in that it improves on every single aspect of its predecessor. Although the subseries would spin off into new (and for me, actually unplayed titles that I have been patiently waiting to get to for many years) directions with the beginning of the Wario Land games, Super Mario Land 2 remains one of the Game Boy’s strongest entries, as well as a favourite Mario title of mine. If you’re at all interested in exploring some of the Game Boy’s best, you can’t do much better than this game.
6/7 – EXCELLENT.
Games with a touch of brilliance. It might only just miss out on being an absolute favourite, but you should definitely play this.