Review by Ryan Harrison

Reviewed: 07/16/15

Golden Coins, silver gameplay standard.

I have always been a fan of action platformers, in particular many of Nintendo’s fabled first-party offerings on their older consoles and handheld systems. The Super Mario Land games are some of the earliest games I remember playing for the classic Game Boy handheld system, which always came in handy to burn a few hours away from time to time. These days, with modern systems breathing new life into these retro games, one I recently got back into is another fine Mario game, albeit one of the simpler and easier ones, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins.

I’ve played through the original Super Mario Land game numerous times, and its follow-up is what many would consider to be an improvement. It’s definitely different. Like many other early Mario game, this is your standard run-and-jump side-scrolling platformer, yet unlike the predecessor is a more open-ended adventure that allows Mario to visit one of a number of areas in any particular order in which you wish to play through them. The improved control and cleaner graphics also make SML2’s gameplay feel much more like other home console-based Mario games. With the handheld’s lesser technology and a smaller screen, this game is not quite so intricate and lengthy as the likes of a Super Mario Bros. 3 and is overall considerably less challenging than most other Mario games, yet this game is also an original one that stands out as a great game on its own and does not simply borrow ideas from other titles that came before it, as some Game Boy games were known to do.

Three years after his first outing on the Game Boy in the original Super Mario Land, Mario returns to find his castle invaded and locked down by his evil twin Wario. Even the story is something different this time around; Mario isn’t waging war with a turtle dragon bent on ruling the Mushroom Kingdom or coming to the rescue of a kidnapped princess. Even though I still don’t consider this to be one of the most stellar stories in a video game (which, more often than not for Mario titles, were always kept nice and simple), it is still a noteworthy one in that it introduces us to Mario’s selfish and gluttonous doppelganger, the main antagonist Wario – who proved to be such a popular character, he returned as the star of the next SML game, with the series thereafter being Wario-themed platformers.

The only way Mario can regain access to his humble abode is by collecting the six Golden Coins, which Wario has stashed away throughout the various zones of Mario Land. Apart from the manual depicting the story as taking place shortly after Mario returns home after his escapades of the first Super Mario Land game in which he defeats the alien overlord Tatanga and comes to the rescue of Princess Daisy, you won’t find much else to tie in with the first game. Still, it’s an interesting deviation from the story arc of the main Super Mario series in that there’s no Bowser or Princess Peach, introduces us to a new character who goes on to have his own successful line of games of his own (as well as appearing in a bunch of spinoff Mario games) and is not set in the Mushroom Kingdom.

The graphics of the game are a huge improvement from the first SML game. Since that one was a launch title and the technology was new, it’s perhaps understandable that the developers wouldn’t have gotten the best out of the Game Boy’s graphical abilities, resulting in some blocky character designs and crude backgrounds, which were usually simple outlines with only one or two different shades for detailing. Here, the graphics are bigger and more detailed; Mario’s character model looks almost identical to how it does in the SNES’ Super Mario World, and his movements are very well animated. When you collect a power-up to change form, the effect is both quick and smooth and the action doesn’t momentarily freeze, either. To compensate for the original Game Boy’s lack of colour, Mario’s form can easily be distinguished by his size, if his cap has a feather on top (to denote having Fire Flower power), or if he has huge bunny ears (a new ability in this game when you collect a Carrot power-up, allowing for crossing vast gaps as by holding the jump button, Mario will very slowly glide down, giving you more airtime in a jump).

The music of the game is also quite good, even if not the most memorable I’ve ever listened to. You’ll tend to hear a handful of different mixes of the same standard theme. For fast-paced levels with plenty of platforming, the music gets quicker and more upbeat, while for underwater or ghost-themed levels, the music is generally more lulling, quiet and plain. Even the boss theme is pretty cheerful and jazzed-up; at times the music can be catchy while you’re listening to it, and it suits the game fine. The sound effects have the classic Mario ring to them; the recognisable sounds of jumping, collecting coins and bopping enemies on the head; they sound good, solid and clear.

The gameplay of Super Mario Land 2 is little more than your bread-and-butter side-scrolling action, Mario-style: you start out on an overhead map screen and can press any direction on the D-Pad to make Mario head along the path in that direction to lead to one of six zones – the Tree Zone, Space Zone, Macro Zone, Pumpkin Zone, Mario Zone and Turtle Zone. Within each zone are a number of stages to complete, with a boss encounter at the end. Every zone has its own unique style; for example, the Space Zone takes place, as it suggests, in space – so there is less gravity and Mario has slower movement but can jump much higher. Turtle Zone stages are mostly underwater, so you’ll have to do some swimming. Some stages are mazy, others are straightforward with more obstacles and enemies. There’s a very good mix here, and it does a good job at keeping you interested and stuck to the game the whole way through.

The control of the game is near-perfect; the Game Boy layout is simple and with only a D-Pad and a couple of action buttons, you’re not going to find any problematic or complex controls. Besides moving and using the A and B buttons for jumping, running and swimming, Mario can also perform a few other moves like a spin jump by holding Down on the D-Pad in the middle of a jump to smash blocks when he is in powered-up form, or you can do a high jump by holding Up when you press the jump button. The buttons are very responsive, with my only minor niggle with the control being how slippery the movement sometimes feels, which has let me down once or twice with the platforming, yet otherwise the controls are easy to learn and become comfortable with in little time.

One theme from the original SML game that returns here is that most levels have an exit door at the end, with a bell attached high above it, that if you are able to reach, allows you to play a mini-game to compete for extra lives or power-ups. The mini-games are quite fun if rather simple; all you have to do is hit a button to either activate a claw to try and pick up a bonus from a moving conveyor belt, or throw a switch and run a current along a line, with the item it lands on being your reward. There is also a bonus area on the map screen where you can cash in all the coins you have collected up to that point to compete for prizes. The more coins you cash in, the better the rewards; such as multiple extra lives or winning even more coins.

In most levels, as you bash on through, you’ll have a number of different enemies to deal with; the classic Goomba and Koopa Troopa enemies can be beaten with stomps and fireballs when you collect a Fire Flower, or by bashing a block they stand on. Other such enemies like Ghost Goombas, bomb-shelled Koopas that explode a few seconds after being stomped or spike-covered giant worker ants are a few of the less familiar enemies you’ll run into. Some enemies have certain weaknesses or can only be defeated with a certain means of combat, too. Boss battles are also quite fun, yet also pretty easy. The whole game is actually rather easy; not to say there aren’t a few areas where you might take a few tries to make it through, yet extra lives are quite easy to obtain and some areas can be made very easy to beat if you have the Carrot power-up to fly your way through them.

The replay value is helped some in that you’ve got the choice of the order in which you want to play through each major zone before you take on Wario in the final showdown; and each zone has one or two secret stages to play, if you’re able to find the hidden exits. They’re not difficult to find, yet offers you more incentive to explore everywhere you possibly can. There’s nothing else worth playing through again for after you’ve beaten the game – such as an expert mode with extra enemies or tougher difficulty, though it’s fun enough on its own to warrant another playthrough later on, if you’ve not already moved on to something else. The cartridge has a battery back-up, allowing you to save up to three different game files that are automatically recorded after beating each level, so you’re able to play through the game at your own pace and return later on if you don’t have the time or effort to beat the whole game in one sitting.

This game has its challenge, yet I still found it overall easy up until the last stage. There is even an Easy Mode that can be accessed upon starting the game, yet anyone who has basic platforming game skills will surely not need it. As a Mario game, this is easy, but still fun and along with the other SML titles, would make an ideal choice for gamers less familiar with classic Mario side-scrollers to start out on. It will take a good couple of hours to get through, making for an ideal game to take on the go, especially if you’re a fan of Mario games. It is a definite improvement over the original Super Mario Land, and despite the ease and more straightforward level design, its fun factor, originality and suitability to its system make Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins a recommended addition to your Game Boy collection, or to download to a modern Nintendo system, for the relatively low asking prices it goes for these days. It will be very much worth it.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (EU, 01/28/93)

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