Loved from my childhood, but how did it age?
If I were to tell you of a game featuring a mustached main character in overalls and a hat jumping on foes and collecting coins, you would probably think I was referring to another Mario game. And you would be right, for this is indeed a Mario game, but in title alone. No the character who takes center stage in this platformer is Mario’s evil brother (?) Wario in Warioland: Super Mario Land 3. Aside from a quick character change, this game plays and feels like a Mario game, but it also proves that Nintendo can pretty much do anything with their formula and it will still equal a satisfying gameplay experience.
So how does Wario do on one of his first trips in the limelight? Well that is debatable, but what is not is the fact that this is a solid game and if you like your typical Mario games, you will find something in this offering as well. It’s the same power-up getting, block busting, jump attack system that you would expect. Though you won’t find any real Goombas, there are equivalents. Think of this as really a bizarre world version of that tried and true system. Along with many hidden exits to find and secret treasures to collect, this game also features a surprisingly well realized power-up system.
Though you won’t find a mushroom or fire flower anywhere, you will find garlic, which has the same effect as a mushroom, and different hats. Wario collects these hats and gains different powers until he is hit by an enemy. There is a dragon hat which allows Wario to shoot fire a small distance in front of him. This is also one of the only 2 hats that work under water. The other is the bird hat which allows Wario to jet through the air and through water for a short period. To finish up the trio, you have the bull hat. You can get this directly with the hat pick-up or by collecting garlic while being big. This mode gives Wario a bit of extra strength to make breaking blocks easier. This hat also allows you to stick to the horns into the ceiling and hang there for as long as you feel like holding the up arrow. This is really a useless feature though because there is only about 2 instances where that is really helpful, so the dragon hat and the bird hat are really the only two hats you will be using.
Along with this surprisingly fun hat system, you will find 40 diverse levels of play in this game. Now a days that might not seem like a lot but remember this is an original Game Boy game! Considering the first Super Mario Land had like 10, that is impressive. Put about 20 treasures scattered through those 40 and about 7 hidden levels only available through secret exits, and you can see that this game boasts more than just a onetime playthrough. Plus there is even a kind of splintered ending depending on who you do in the game and how many treasures you find. That is crazy for a Game Boy game!
So with all this going for it, how is the story you may wonder. The honest answer is a solid, not bad. The opening sequence shows Wario, after recently being exiled from the castle he stole from Mario in Super Mario Land 2, is on a ship seeking a place he can call home. He comes across an island that is seemingly devoid of a hero to protect it and Wario sees a chance to take it over. You know he is getting older and there comes a time when you just need to settle down and maybe have a family. In order to claim this land as his own, he much first defeat the prince who rules the land with the help of his magic lamp. After traveling across the island you will have a climactic 6 hit boss battle with the prince’s powerful genie and if successful you will win the tower castle. But the castle is destroyed in the grand finale revealing a solid gold statue of what appears to be Princess Peach. Finally thinking he has won, Wario is rudely interrupted from his victory dance when who should appear but Mario in a helicopter to snatch the statue away. Feeling deflated, and exhausted from all he has been through Wario is about to move on his way when he discovers that the magic lamp is sitting next to him. The genie asks him for one wish to grant. Wario wishes for a castle of his own. The genie tells him that he will need the money Wario has collected from his adventure to make the castle. Here is where the ending splinters. Depending on how well you have done in the game and how much money you have accumulated, you can have anything from a tree house, to a log cabin, to a proper castle, to an entire planet.
Having a more modern critical eye, you can start to see the cracks in this aged title. Though it has a lot going for it its age is most felt in its difficulty. Provided at the time I played it, I thought it was incredibly challenging, now 20 years later, I can see how easy of a game it is. You could beat it in about 2 or 3 hours and that’s getting the best ending possible. Another blemish is though it plays like a Mario game and feels like a Mario game, you just can’t enjoy it like a Mario game because at the end of the day, it isn’t a Mario game. Who cares about Wario? No one. He has never been anything more than a blemish on an otherwise excellent Nintendo character wheelhouse. I know Nintendo likes to think they have blossomed Wario into something more with his attitude and greed, but no one cares about him. How many avid Wario players do you see when you play Smash Bros? Or Mario Kart? Or Mario Party? Exactly.
Even with the lack of Mario in Super Mario Land 3, you could still do worse. At least it isn’t like playing Donkey Kong Country 3. At the end of the day this game is a fun bit of time killer and if you have the opportunity to play it, then I don’t think you could find anyone to argue against it. It may be shallow, and easy, but it is a fun bit of platforming that has some neat gameplay mechanics and is at the very least a different spin on that age old Mario formula. It has a good deal to offer and if you ask me, it is far better than whipping out a cell phone and playing something like Hanging with Friends.