Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Based on: Super Mario World meets Bizarro World, and rectifying the sins of the past.
Article by bobservo | June 29, 2009
My first memorable encounter with videogame disappointment came with the release of Super Mario Land in the summer of 1989. Even at the age of seven and in the midst of those wonderful late '80s -- when anything videogame-related was presumed to be inherently awesome -- I couldn’t play more than a few levels of Mario’s first Game Boy outing without feeling distinct pangs of letdown. Being ignorant of the technological limitations of prehistoric portable gaming, I was simply alienated by what felt like a throwback to the original Super Mario Bros. filtered through a fever dream: turtles exploded, fireballs turned to rubber, and Sarasaland’s alien/Egyptian aesthetic inexplicably creeped me out.
In both a literal and philosophical sense, Super Mario Land was a Mario game made for the Game Boy -- meaning that the essential Mario elements were reduced to a manageable state for Nintendo’s portable system. And even though I barely had a second grade education, I didn’t cotton much to the results.
Three short years later, Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins heralded a new era of Nintendo franchises that proved Game Boy games didn’t necessarily have to be shrunken-down versions of their console brethren. Instead of feeling tailor-made for the Game Boy (with all the compromise that entailed), Mario Land 2 felt like a Mario game that just happened to be available on Nintendo’s little portable.
Rather than take the form of an adulterated Super Mario World, Mario Land 2 is a mélange of all the Mario adventures that had been released up until that point in time, with a few unique additions for good measure. It may be hard to believe, but until Super Mario Galaxy came along 15 years later, Mario Land 2 might well have set the record for variety in a Mario game; from the outset, you’re given a (very Mega Mannish) choice of six distinctly-themed worlds that go far beyond the fire/ice/desert tropes we’ve seen in platformers since time immemorial. They might not be the most original of choices -- we’ve seen Mario in haunted houses and underwater caverns before -- but Nintendo’s famous plumber didn’t make his first journey into space until this modest little portable adventure came along.
Even with the limited interface of the original Game Boy, Mario’s moves here come quite close to what he could do in Mario World. You’ve got the running, jumping, and ducking that come standard with any Mario game, but Mario Land 2 also includes some of the extra abilities gained over the franchise’s history: carrying turtle shells instead of just kicking them, and spin-jumping. It’s a bit disappointing that Mario Land 2 didn’t add any new power-ups to the mix -- the carrot, which gives Mario bunny ears, isn’t much more than an upgraded raccoon leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3 -- but the basic standbys of fire, flight, and invincibility are certainly better than alternatives like the first Mario Land’s curiously lousy projectile.
But really, the lack of variety in power-ups is more than excused by the diversity of content seen in the game; even within specifically-themed levels, Mario Land 2 features variations on variations. The game’s water-themed “Turtle Zone,” for instance, presents levels that take place in an abandoned submarine and a sleeping whale, along with the prototypical oceanside stage. And each one of these levels is filled with an almost Yoshi’s Island-sized cast of enemies, many of which make only a few appearances in the game. All of this variety is accentuated by Mario Land 2’s bold, cartoony look, which manages to be far more detailed than any of Nintendo's prior 8-bit output.
Any article on Mario Land 2 would be remiss without mentioning that this game was the debut of a character who went on to have much more personality (and, possibly, popularity) than Mario. Even though he was born of a stupid Japanese pun, Wario’s brief appearance as the antagonist in Mario Land 2 would soon spawn an entire series that would push the portable platformer even further -- not to mention WarioWare, which would redefine portable gaming itself. But it’s important not to forget that Wario’s roots lie in a little game that should be remembered as one of the first Game Boy titles to redefine what the seemingly underpowered system could do.