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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (386)

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Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5

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Super Mario Land   Game Boy / Color 

Pint Sized Plumber    2.5/5 stars

After recently replaying – and being wholly disappointed, both by my bad memory of it and the game itself – “Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins,” I decided to give the original “Super Mario Land” (“SML”) another crack after 30 years. My memories of THE Game Boy Brick launch title (alongside “Tetris”) were not flattering, so I didn’t expect much. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised not only by how faithfully this portable take on the “Super Mario Bros.” (no number) formula managed to capture the feel of THE Nintendo Entertainment System launch title, but by how much better Nintendo’s developers did with the limited Game Boy assets than in the game’s sequel.

Presentation
Coming off of Tiger Handhelds – single-game “toys” with primitive LCD screens featuring mostly static sprites and frequently bizarre control inputs – the original Game Boy Brick was something awesome, with its 2”, 4-shades-of-green, unlit dot matrix screen, which would actually display pixels anywhere it wanted. However, “better than awful” doesn’t necessarily imply “good,” as the entire platform was just one big technical limitation.

That said, “SML” is one of the few Brick games I actually played on the Brick itself instead of the Super Game Boy adapter for the SNES. My memories of it are of a cramped, tiny world in which Mario and his enemies were hardly more than 2-4 pixels. Much like my vaguely pleasant memories of “Super Mario Land 2,” which turned out to be wholly unreliable, my old impressions of “SML” didn’t withstand the test of time either… especially once the Super Game Boy got involved. While the limited color palette in “Super Mario Land 2” tended to make everything look washed-out and ugly, and the narrow aspect ratio made it feel claustrophobic, playing “SML” on the same platform proved largely the opposite. Mario and his foes are just the right size for such a low-resolution screen, but manage to pack plenty of detail. With Super Game Boy enhancements turned on, Mario is actually RED (though he, sadly, doesn’t change colors or shapes when picking up a Super Flower), and environmental objects are reliably colored throughout the entire game so as to make them recognizable at a glance. Most importantly, though, is that the smaller-scale sprites and environments allow a lot more of everything to appear on-screen at once, preventing the feeling of claustrophobia and nearsightedness that plagued the sequel.

There’s also a lot of bizarre creativity displayed in the game’s settings, which are not the now-rut-worn Grass World, Desert World, Ice World, Lava World, etc., but regionally-themed things like Egypt Land, Easter Island Land, and Japan Land. There are a number of recurring enemies from Mario’s past, including Goombas, Koopa Troopas (who now explode when stomped), and the Flies from “Mario Bros.” (no ‘Super’), plus a number of bizarre one-offs (Japan Land has… Maids, I think, who get back up after they’re stomped). Bosses are also unique, but suited for their stage themes.

Audio, though, is where “SML” really stands out in a good way. Not only are all of the chiptunes in the soundtrack really good, the overall use of sound effects in such a primitive game is really well-done. The horrible bleating goat sound bosses make when damaged is the one memory I had of this game that was faithful. Though, I must note the oversight of the fact that the final boss doesn’t make any noises when damaged or give any indication of being damaged at all.

Technically, “SML” is a Game Boy Brick game, so it comes with all the baggage and caveats of the platform. On top of that, it was an EARLY Brick game, so it didn’t include the niceties of later games such as battery backup progress saving (which is pretty important for a handheld game that can lose power at a moment’s notice). On the plus side, being a Brick game means you can emulate the hell out of it and play it on anything with a CPU.

Story
There’s no real story, here. Mario is whisked away on another adventure, this time to rescue a very jowly woman named Daisy (I always wondered why she has a fat head in her modern, 3D incarnations, and seeing her original sprite all blown up on an HD screen with Super Game Boy enhancements really makes it obvious) who has been kidnapped by aliens. Or something. At the end of each of the game’s first three worlds, a Daisy doppelganger shouts “THANK YOU MARIO,” as Mario replies, “OH! DAISY” with an erotic groan. She then transforms into a monster and hops away.

Game length is horrendously short, clocking in at about an hour for a good playthrough with minimal mistakes. I suppose that was necessary because that’s as long as a set of 4 awful ‘80s AA batteries would power the Brick.

Gameplay
“SML” is basically the original “Super Mario Bros.” cut down to pocket size and remixed a bit. For the most part, it’s a basic 2D Platformer with sidescrolling action going from left to right (and ONLY right, with no turning back) and some questionable physics that take some getting used to. There are also a few sections with what I’m going to call ‘cloud platforms,’ which frequently move in such a way that they get out-of-sync, making the jump between them actually impossible.

In lieu of his traditional arsenal of power-ups, Mario has access to a standard Super Mushroom and a Super Flower (and a Star Man, which plays “The Can Can” instead of the traditional ‘Mario’ invincibility tune). The Super Mushroom, as is series tradition, just makes Mario bigger and capable of both breaking bricks with his head and surviving a fatal blow from an enemy. The Super Flower, unfortunately, does not allow Mario to take three hits, but it does allow him to throw a bouncy Super Ball that can damage enemies and collect coins as it ricochets off the environment.

At the end of each non-boss stage await two doors. The bottom door just completes the stage, while the top door, which requires some extra platforming to reach each time, grants access to a bonus game, where the player can earn some extra lives or a Super Flower.

Intermixed with the as-expected platforming are a few SHMUP-inspired stages where Mario pilots a submarine and a spaceship, respectively. The final boss battle is actually the culmination of the spaceship SHMUP stage, which was incredibly rough for me as a kid, but actually proved easier than the platforming today. I never like it when a game abruptly switches its gameplay to an entirely different genre for the final battle, and I’m not going to make an exception for this one.

Unlike most ‘Mario’ games, which are comprised of 8 worlds with a varying amount of stages, “SML” contains only 4 worlds, with 3 stages each. Thus it is incredibly, incredibly short. However, because of the lack of a continue system and a lack of save support, it’s the type of game that must be played in one sitting, success or failure: Yet another game design choice I strongly disapprove of. But, hey, at least the super-short length makes a single sitting playthrough seem more reasonable without the use of warp zones and speedrunning tricks.

Overall
“Super Mario Land” is one Game Boy Brick title that’s better than I remember it. It’s a cut-down, but faithful remix of the original “Super Mario Bros.” title that made Nintendo a household name. The bad news is, that still makes it a pretty average game, with a sparse amount of content and a couple of dubious design choices.

Presentation: 3/5
Story: N/A
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5

 

 


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