The Game Boy was more than a console: it was a generational phenomenon. One of the biggest revolutions in entertainment history, specially designed to appeal to video game enthusiasts big and small. And logically, the undeniable king of platform games had to champion it. His letter of recommendation: Super Mario Land, a game that is as simple as it is ingenious and that, like the great classics, is still just as much fun three decades later.

Super Mario Land follows the same formula and concepts as the legendary NES Super Mario Bros., but also manages to make everything feel new. Despite its huge visual limitations, it managed to evoke a sense of discovery through well-designed levels and a very distinctive setting, encouraging a new kind of daring among players: the iconic landscapes of the Mushroom Kingdom were transformed through the four exotic kingdoms of replaced Sarasaland, and the threat came not from Bowser but from an enemy from outer space.

A game that, by the way, was developed to be the definitive ambassador of the Game Boy itself and to explore its possibilities as a console. All is said without the participation of Shigeru Miyamoto, but with the vision of bringing the real essence of Nintendo games to the portable format. And despite the fact that Nintendo of America finally argued (very correctly) and managed that the cartridge that accompanied the Game Boy was no less iconic Tetris, we note that Super Mario Land managed to get more copies for sale as the mythical Super Mario Bros. 3 A milestone in any way you look at it.

A commercial success that Nintendo took advantage of to establish a parallel and well-loved saga on the Game Boy, specifically designed to be enjoyed on this portable device. A trilogy that turned the weaknesses of the wonderful monochrome console it had into opportunities to take Mario’s adventures in new directions. It would not be lacking in the playability, but in what relates to the development of the game itself. And that ultimately means the beginning of one of the house’s most brutal platforming sagas: Wario Land.

In contrast to the adventures of Mario, Luigi and Co. on desktop systems, in the end none of the three parts of Super Mario Land had to be revolutionary, but rather preserve everything that made the Super Mario Bros. saga special and entertaining. And best of all, as we’ll see, each of the three installments achieved it in a different way.

Super Mario Land, a great little adventure on land, sea and air

Bringing the legendary Super Mario Bros. into portable format wasn’t impossible. In fact, Nintendo itself released a very successful deluxe version for the Game Boy Color. On the other hand, offering a game that lives up to the NES classic and champions the wonder of a monochrome screen has been a challenge. And Super Mario Land was up to the occasion.

The production of Super Mario Land was sponsored by Gunpei Yokoi, and that in itself was a guarantee. Who better than the genius that Game and Watch dreamed up to shape the first major platform of the new pocket console? Now, Nintendo’s R&D1 department was far from making the most of this console’s capabilities, and it shows in a presentation that’s modest compared to what came later.

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The feel of Super Mario Land is essentially the same as Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels (the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2), although the difficulty level is much more balanced. Its levels are equally iconic, and with just that point of challenge that encourages curiosity and recklessness, but most importantly rewards button dexterity.

What is truly unique about Super Mario Land, however, is that for the first time in the main saga, Mario had access to planes and other vehicles, allowing the game to adopt the mechanics of lifetime shooters in certain levels. A particularly apt term since Tatanga – the great enemy of this adventure – is a being from outer space.

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As said, Super Mario Land inherits the playable identity of the NES classics, but when it comes to its context, everything is perceived as new. Not that our goal is any different, as instead of rescuing Princess Peach from the Mushroom Kingdom, we set out to rescue Princess Daisy from Sarasaland, but there’s a really interesting set of new elements.

  • First off, not only are the Four Kingdoms of Sarasaland obviously inspired by real-world locations (Birabuto, Muda, Easton, and Chai are respectively Ancient Egypt, Bermuda, Easter Island, and Ancient China), but their setting is also reflected in the level design.
  • On the other hand, classic Mario enemies have been replaced with their unique Sarasaland counterparts. For example, turtle shells now explode instead of bouncing. To this must be added a new collection of threats created for the occasion.
  • Another curiosity is that all levels offer two exits: the lower one and one that is only accessible from the highest area of ​​each level. Logically, achieving the latter is rewarded by granting access to a simple bonus stage with power-ups and extra lives.
  • Eventually, the Fire Flower is replaced by the Super Ball, which has a signature bounce and is able to absorb coins and other items in its path.

Super Mario Land’s major weakness wasn’t because of its design, hardware limitations, or content, but because it’s really short as a game, despite being highly replayable. After passing the four worlds, each with three levels, we were challenged to overcome the Reverse World, with more enemies on the screen and greater difficulty. And despite the fact that we didn’t have the option to save the game, after beating the game twice we get access to a handy level selector.

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In many ways, Super Mario Land didn’t squeeze out everything the Game Boy could offer, but it more than lived up to what could be expected of a Super Mario game, which was no small amount. The perfect pocket-sized counterpoint for two titans like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Tapes that far surpass its sequels.

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, the last “Classic Mario” of its time

Four years is a long time when it comes to video games. They were forever in the ’90s, but sometimes that can work in your favor too. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is the definitive proof of that: Mario returned to top the Game Boy catalog with the Nintendo superstar’s last major 2D platform game until New Super Mario Bros. A great game, of course

Because if Super Mario Land drank from the NES classic and its Japanese sequel, SML2: 6 Golden Coins took all the achievements of Super Mario World on SNES as a basis and brought them to its field. Adapting to what the Game Boy could offer as a system, but always generous in content and presentation, with huge sprites, extremely detailed scenarios and a very acclaimed feature: it is possible to save the game.

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The most curious of all? This time the adventure doesn’t take place in the Mushroom Kingdom or exotic Sarasaland, but in Mario Land, a huge map spread over six areas, 32 levels and countless mysteries. And at the end of all, one enemy called to be an icon inside and outside the saga: Wario, Mario’s nemesis and the real person responsible for the events of Super Mario Land.

And this time there is no princess to save in a castle. Rather, we must reclaim our own castle, which was taken over by Wario himself. And it won’t be enough to turn the key and enter: we must recover the six coins that are scattered throughout Mario Land and finally kick the butt of our unexpected tenant. Also, the good thing is that Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins allows us to start almost where we want.

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Although Super Mario Land 2 was the end of an era (Super Mario 64 was the beginning of a new stage for the video game), it must be acknowledged that Nintendo put everything on the grill: in addition to the design and the care taken in the scenarios was the numbers new enemies created for the occasion – many of them exclusive to this title – exceptional.

And be careful, the Mario sprites were not only huge, but also very varied: in addition to the well-known one, we had an astronaut Mario with completely revised mobility or a curious Bubble Mario. There were limitations on the color plane, but they were solved with sheer genius:

  • As in the first Super Mario Land, the extra lives became hearts instead of mushrooms of a different color.
  • The Fire Flower, on the other hand, returned from tabletop deliveries. And since we couldn’t offer a color variant when using it, our hero added a strange feather to the cap.
  • Another great little detail is that Mario was able to take the shells, although instead of carrying them in his hands he put them on his head, meaning we couldn’t break blocks and carry them at the same time.
  • And be careful, like in Super Mario World, by achieving the Super Mario condition we got the ability to jump with a spin.

Very special mention to Mario Conejo, the new ability of…