Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 02/21/06

Pocket platforming

Mario is on another adventure in his search for the elusive six golden coins. Rather than pursuing the vengeful Bowser in this trek, the malicious Wario is the culprit. His relation and association with Mario is still a bit sketchy, as Nintendo-related sources show he can either be Mario’s brother, childhood rival, age-old nemesis, or all of the above. Perhaps he is just a greedy wanderer in search of treasure, and Mario was just the sucker to steal it from?

It seems that, as a reward from saving Pauline from Tatanga in Sarasaland, Mario has been endowed a magnificent castle. The six golden coins decorating the front door have been missing and scattered across several themed worlds, and it is Mario’s task to not only retrieve the coins, but to dispose of the portly squatter, Wario.

As Mario continues in his pocket-sized adventures on the li’l Gameboy, his gameplay and graphical style changes and adapts to something a bit more like his exploits on the bigger boys, the consoles. As such, Mario Land 2 is vastly different from the previous title in the series. Whereas the original Mario Land was probably influenced the most by Super Mario Bros. in terms of graphics, gameplay, and sound, this next in the series, after some advancements and innovations in the Mario games as a whole, plays a lot more like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.

A bit grown up

Many innovations are evident between the first and second trips to Mario Land, and each are equally noticeable. Mario has the convenience of a world map, which can lead our main character to several different paths and levels. The game is, therefore, one of the most open-ended Mario games ever. Additionally, in-game, the screen scrolls in all four directions, and larger levels are sprinkled with larger, recognizable sprites. Mario Land 2 is much more on-par with the other popular Mario titles of the time, such as Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. Another feature new to the series is a convenient save function, which lets players track their progress. Believe it or not, it was not assumed this feature was in a game until around now.

After an introductory stage, Mario is thrust into a large, sprawling region of Mario Land. Environments range from a haunted house, to the insides of a large Koopa, to outer space, to a mechanical “clockwork Mario”, and so on. Not every stage is mandatory, and there are even secret stages hidden via sneaky exits.

Beating a boss awards players with a golden coin whose design is based on the stage type, which attaches itself to its proper spot on the front door of Mario’s castle. Once all six coins are collected, the door to Mario’s castle opens once again, and our portly plumber can re-enter his castle and take on Wario once and for all.

I would say that this is no easy task, but unfortunately, it may be considered too easy for gamers, even on the “Normal” difficulty setting. Because of the game’s open-ended nature, there is virtually no learning curve. All levels had to be designed easily, for the game’s nonlinearity did not allow gamers to gradually hone their platforming skills. It seems the goal was that players would not struggle when entering a world for the first time, because the “first world” could be one of more than six. The last level of one stage is equally as easy as the introductory stage of another area in the game, so very little skill is required in besting Super Mario Land 2. Its open-ended nature is its own curse, but the design innovation is welcomed.

Some nice surprises are in store for players in and outside the levels, though. At the end of each level, players have the opportunity to leave from two different exits, by ringing a bell suspended high up. One is at the bottom of the screen, and the other is at the very top. The bell at the top is usually much harder to get to, and requires some platforming skill to reach. Ringing the bell will then let players do a mini-game, granting the chance for getting lives and power-ups. One of the mini-games is a standard crane game, and the other involves stopping rats from chewing on wire, allowing an electrical current to drop down one of four platforms.

Also, collecting coins allows players to do a series of mini-games, allowing players once again to win new power-ups and extra lives.

So that’s why they call him ‘Super Mario’…

Mario can obtain power-ups, of course, and be granted new abilities. Mario becomes Super with a Mushroom, as always, and can shoot fireballs with his flower. He can glide and jump higher with a “flight” power-up, and can become invincible when he finds a star.

Perhaps changes like this and the enemy designs are because the Gameboy Mario series was not spearheaded by Shigeru Miyamoto, the mind behind every other Mario game previous. On the plus side, though, there are several positive innovations. Level designs are really quite fun, as players explore several different environments. In some levels, a sticky substance flows from the walls and ceilings, and Mario gently floats downward while standing still, like quicksand. In one level, giant hippopotamuses shoot out enormous bubbles, which Mario uses for transportation through the level. Floating about in the forced-scrolling stage set in outer space, featuring Mario in a petite astronaut’s suit, is definitely interesting.

Some minor inconsistencies might be noticed by seasoned Mario players. When Mario obtains a power-up, he stops moving temporarily to “morph”. In this game, he keeps on moving once, say, a mushroom, is obtained, which might throw players for an unwanted surprise. In regards to items, a player can encounter a Fire Flower or some other such power-up without obtaining a Mushroom first. Mario can simply get fire power or “flight” power without becoming Super Mario first, but when the power is lost, Mario reverts back to Super Mario.

Enemies seem to “float” in space before dropping onto solid ground once Mario encounters them on the screen, which is odd. 100 coins do not equal a 1-Up, which is another change from the Mario staple. These coins can be spent later playing mini-games, and 999 can be collected at one time. Mario can not fly, but can jump high and glide, with his “flight” power-up.

… but ‘Super Wario’?

The game might be simple, but the final level is definitely quite hard. Once all six coins are obtained from their respective stages, the door to Mario’s grand castle opens, allowing Mario to take back what’s his. Wario must have been quite aware Mario could come back, because this castle is very well booby-trapped. Dummy blocks force down giant fists which kill instantly, lava flows all over the castle, giant swinging masses sway from side to side, and piranha statues belch out giant fireballs to scorch any trespassers. Confronting Wario himself may not be a walk in the park either.

It is nice to see a new rival in Mario’s universe, and since this game, Wario has gone solo, starring and co-starring in some very successful games. He is the antithesis of what players expect in a game protagonist, and this has led to his success.

Super Mario World lite

Obviously inspired by Super Mario World, the graphics in Mario Land 2 are quite good for their time. Mario is quite detailed and expressive, and the enemy designs are clear and rather innovative. Stage design varies greatly, and the overworld map is a wonderfully convenient way to go from place to place. The game is easy on the eyes.

However, due to such advanced graphics, the framerate can stutter considerably when several enemies are on-screen. This can break up the action, and it seems the only genre where slowdown is convenient is in a shoot-‘em-up or a “twitch” action game.

Some good music and sound accompanies the experience. Mario hops and bops to some rather cheerful, upbeat music with passable sound effects. No major complaints in this department.

It ends as soon as it begins

The replay value may be low, but Mario Land 2 is a good game for a rainy day. Mario’s adventures have always been entertaining, and his quest for his six lost coins might bring a few grins. Stomping on Goombas on the go and searching for treasure can be fun, and as a traditional platformer, Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins does not disappoint. Also, it proved a good introduction to Wario, the bully we love to hate. It's better than beating down Bowser to save the Princess once again.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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