Mario's Best Game Boy Outing
- Another fun, weird Mario game on the Game Boy
- An overworld connects six unique worlds each with crazy new gameplay
- The Rabbit Ears are a fun new Mario powerup to go alongside the fireball
- Music is killer and graphics pop even on the original Game Boy's screen
- Three save slots make this the first handheld Mario game to save
- Enemies and worlds maintain the strangeness of the previous Mario Land game
- ...but aren't quite strange enough to really match it.
- Level difficulty is all over the place and completely random
- Coin system to "gamble" for extra lives is unique but not particularly memorable
- Has the same weird physics non Miyamoto Mario games seem to have
- "Star Zone" is hard to find if you aren't clever, and you have to run a level every time you want to go back
Mario is back and in your pocket again.
It's well known I'm a fan of Super Mario Land. The game was absurdly weird, had really wonky physics, and basically followed the Mario formula in name only, but...that's what made it special. The consoles had their regular running and jumping Mario, and Game Boy Mario drove a submarine. Why not.
Three years later, and after the release of Super Mario World on the fledgling SNES, the original creators of Super Mario Land returned to their handheld game with a new installment: Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. This time, however, they played it a little safer: an overworld (like Mario 3 and Land), traditional powerups (Fireballs aren't "Power Balls" anymore), and Mario looks more like Mario and less like someone sat on the NES Mario 1 sprite. They even introduced Wario (who Miyamoto later said he didn't like at all), who plays the primary villain in this game, instead of Bowser. But was a more traditional feel a good or a bad thing, and did Six Golden Coins lose it's unique flavor because of it?
Well, I don't think so, because this is one of my favorite Game Boy games of all time. But hey, let me explain why.
A much more "normal" Mario experience
Super Mario Land 2 takes place in not the Mushroom Kingdom...I think. My copy doesn't have a manual so I can't dive deep into the intricate backstory and character nuances of this portable game from 1992. But while there's one or two mushroom houses, the places here never appear again in another Mario game, so I'm going to bet this is another one-off adventure.
The goal is simple: there's Six Worlds (Tree Zone, Space Zone, Macro Zone, Mario Zone, Pumpkin Zone, and Turtle Zone), and in these worlds is a boss holding one of Six Golden Coins (hey, like in the title!). In order to bust into the castle and kick Wario's butt, you need these coins to...open the door somehow. Why not, I guess.
Six is the traditional number for Mario worlds, though Land 2 does skimp a bit on the levels, with each having around 4-5, and a few (Tree Zone) even allowing you alternate paths to cut that level count down even further. Despite that, while the game can probably be beaten in two or three hours, for a game made to be played on the go it still works despite not being overcome with content.
Easter Bunny Mario, we hardly knew you.
While the feel of an overworld, somewhat more normal jumping physics, and bigger/more detailed sprites may make this seem like a regular Mario game, it pulls back into the weirdness of the Land franchise with it's worlds. And they're fantastic, totally bananas and all over the place. Mario Zone is you literally on the inside of a giant Mario robot, having to climb up until you get to his brain. Space Zone has low gravity the entire time, making for some crazy jumps (and a level that's a nod back to the space shooter level in Land 1). Macro zone shrinks Mario down to tiny size and tosses him into an...oddly normal house. And my favorite zone, Pumpkin Zone, is an all out halloween themed level, complete with Goombas wearing ski masks with swords sticking out of their heads. Yes, really. It's kind of incredible.
The improved enemy graphics let them go all out with totally nuts enemies aside from the serial killer goombas, like a boxing shark, bull fish cow thing, those one-eyed umbrella things from Japanese folklore, witches, the three little pigs (yes, really), and much more. While I will say the ant enemies show up a little too much for my liking (being the primary guys in Tree, Mario, and Macro Zone), there's still enough weird enemy variety to keep it fresh.
The zoomed in perspective is much different that Land, meaning the levels feel smaller, but really I like it. It does slow the pacing of the game down a bit (since your field of vision is decreased), and makes vertically based levels a challenge because of the limited real estate, but overall I can't complain.
Jumpin' through jello, dodging...whatever that thing is.
The game's two powerups are surprisingly unique and actually work better than most this time around. You have the normal fireball, and a "new" bunny ears. I put "new" in quotes because it's basically the racoon tail from Mario 3 only with a better ability to keep you airborn if you mash jump but unable to let you fly if you run fast enough. I just wanted to say this: kudos to the developers for having fireball and rabbit ears do two distinctly different things to Mario's hat, making it very easy on a monochrome screen to determine which powerup you have.
I think these two powerups are the best balanced powerups (or at least, really well balanced powerups) in the Mario games. Why? Because both have very distinct benefits and the levels are built around them. In most cases, people would just stick with the rabbit ears, as the ability to hover almost indefinitely is a skill you don't want to lose, and the enemies aren't as big a problem in this game as they are in other games (it's built Mario Land style rather than Mario 3, meaning the enemies are much more forgiving and there's less of them per capita) so fireballs are less necessary. But they counter this by making there be specific blocks you can only break if you have fireballs, which often lead to awesome secrets and even a few new areas. So deciding which one to use is actually important, which is something that rarely happens in Mario games (you usually just get one of them and go, like my "use the Cape all the time" strat for Mario World).
Eye blocks are no match for FIRE
That being said, the game feels like a mix between traditional Mario and Land in it's controls. Gravity doesn't suck you down like a black hole now, but you do continue to move after being hit (rather than the game pausing to "downgrade" you, like in other Mario games). Other Land mainstays are here too: there's a "low" exit and a "high" exit for each level, allowing you for a chance at a bonus game for lives and powerups if you get the high one.
A rather big change is how coins work. Rather than every 100 giving you a 1up, you can now hold up to 999, and then you go gamble them on a spinner that accepts payment of varying intervals. The higher you bid (at 500 and 999, for example), the better the reward chance. It's a neat idea but honestly a bit annoying to have to walk back to the gambling...hill (?) to cash out all my coins.
I am really bad at this claw game.
Technically, Super Mario Land 2 is a marvel on the original Game Boy. I already mentioned the large sprites, but you really have to play the game to see how good they look (and the world map too looks phenomenal). And they mange to pull it off while still having enough contrast for everything to be visible on the crappy Game Boy screen (even "dark" levels, like Pumpkin and Space Zones). As a kid, this game's graphics blew my mind.
The music is also phenomenal, though my bias might be in place here. I love it when games take a musical theme and variate on it across the game; it adds a sense of unity to a game that I feel ties it all together through sound (this is one of the reasons I like Banjo-Kazooie to this day, even if the gameplay itself hasn't aged particularly well). Mario Land 2 has a catchy theme that permeates nearly every level, and it sounds good in all of them. It's some of the best Mario music, to be sure.
Lastly, this game has a battery with three save slots (and the batteries last forever, unlike my Pokemon GB carts), and it autosaved constantly in the background so you could stop and go at any time. Great design.
All in all, while Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins might not be as totally insane as it's predecessor, it marks a step forward for the Land series. By mixing the better elements of the console Mario games with the charm and just plain weirdness of the Land game, Land 2 is fun, polished, and an exciting Mario adventure. The varying worlds are great, the graphics and music fantastic, the gameplay tight, and the powerups and enemies a blast. Honestly the only real sucky part is that the final level (Wario's castle) is massive, has no checkpoints, and is absurdly difficult. But hey, the game isn't that hard overall (though it's difficulty is kind of...all over the place), so what's wrong with a tough final boss?
All in all, there's very little to not like about Super Mario Land 2. Even today I find myself shoving it in my Game Boy Pocket, clearing a save, and playing for an hour or two. It's also available on the 3DS eShop, if you aren't crazy enough to go get an actual gameboy and cart.
I may be rose-tinted gogglesing like crazy over here (this was the first Game Boy game I ever loved), but what the hell...it's still great.
Five out of five stars.
Though Puppet Mario still freaks me out.