Thursday, 24 July 2014

Whiskey Retro Reviews: Super Mario Land 2 - A Fistful Of Dollars

Platform: Gameboy
Release Date: 28 January 1993
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Where to get it: ebay
Price: Around £5 unboxed, £20+ boxed

Today we delve back into the murky peasoup and pixels world of the Gameboy for a look at one of, if not the finest title on the invincible handheld. So lets jump back in time to the early 90's and leave the rose tinted glasses at home.

Super Mario Land 2 is a direct sequel to Mario Land 1, also on the Gameboy. The plot is pretty simple; while Mario was busy having a grand old time in Sarasaland his new rival Wario has snuck into the titular Mario Land and stolen Mario's palace and brainwashed all the residents to think Mario is the bad guy. Which he just might be since he's just got back from a holiday in which he went to a foreign land and killed a bunch of the natives. Good, bad and definitely ugly, it's Mario's job to stomp, fireball and spin jump on anything and everything on his way to claim the six golden coins that will allow access to his castle.

Those coins are scattered around through six worlds, ranging from your obligatory underwater world (where a whale appears to have raped a submarine to death) to a giant tree and even the freakin' moon where you meet an old foe from Mario Land 1. Beating the stage bosses causes them to drop one of the coins each and aside from some wibbly hit detection on some (moon alien I'm looking at you) they're by and large very simple patterns and far too slow, predictable or both to be any real danger to Mario.

Just like the bosses the platforming itself is also pretty simple with only a handful of genuinely challenging stages but these are always a fair challenge that can be overcome with a moderate amount of skill and some patience. The final stage of the game however is a prime example of the kind of game design that was already wearing thin even in 1993; hidden floor switches that activate fists, moving platforms that are tiny and difficult to get on with the Gameboy's low framerate and crumbling ledges that aren't seen anywhere else in the entire game are the main offenders here, making sure that you'll probably burn through at least a dozen, likely far more, lives trying to get up to Wario - who is by far the most threatening boss, with three stages to the battle where he utilizes the same power ups as Mario in a three-stage fight.

Musically the game is limited by the Gameboy's humble sound chip that wasn't really used to its full potential until far later on with the Pokemon games. Similarly the sound effects are little more than the occasional bleep or bloop that, to me at least, harkens back to the Atari era more than anything. There's simply not much to say about this aspect of the game because there's just not that much there.

Now comes the main gripe; gameplay wise it's a Mario platformer of the era. It feels like Mario and even has the fire flower power up and jumping a bit higher from a running start but for some reason it just feels a little bit off. At one instance I lost 4 lives trying to jump on a single damn Goomba because for whatever reason Mario just didn't feel like he was moving right. It was a Goomba in an old timey divers helmet though, so that made it hilarious.

Speaking of enemies, there's a few nice flavour enemies like the aforementioned Goomba and each world has themed opponents like ants in the Macro World or fish and sharks underwater. By and large the enemies aren't traditional Mario fare but the series staples do make plenty of appearances, with Koopa turtles, Goombas and Boos all dotted throughout the levels as appropriate.

All in all it's one of the best games on the system but it's not without flaws; the extended enemy roster is both nice and a bit of an unwanted surprise and the slightly off-feeling way Mario handles will no doubt trip up both new and veteran Mario players from time to time. The overworld is a nice addition, allowing you to tackle levels and find secret levels in whatever order you like but feels a little superfluous considering that there's only 6 worlds with a handful of missions each.
The game is well worth playing as it's a fantastic platformer and it's short enough that you're not going to even run through a single set of batteries in your Gameboy to do so but satisfying enough that you'll feel like you've enjoyed the previous few hours despite, or perhaps because of the last level's platforming frustration.

Score: 8 out of 10 Mario villains have boned the princess (who isn't in this game at all!)

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