Super Mario Land (1)

Genre: Platformer
Year: 1989
Developed by: Nintendo R&D1
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Game Boy
Feeling Like: I (don’t) remember!

Super Mario Land is one of the most egregious offenders when it comes to the box art improperly reflecting how the game actually looks. On the cover, you have Mario looking quite Super indeed; dodging a giant sphinx’s fiery blast, while being chased by an alien, while avoiding a rock being tossed by a resident of Easter Island AND looking mildly annoyed that it’s even happening. How he’s also in the air chasing a Lakitu, while simultaneously charging by a red octopus in the sea below is anybody’s guess.

This type of trans-dimensional existence is not present in the actual game, nor is any kind of colour. After all, this was a launch game for Nintendo’s Game Boy and was Mario’s first ever handheld adventure. I could play it anywhere and anytime that my duties as a seven year old allowed me to. I was only held back by battery availability, which suddenly become more valuable to me than any kind of currency.

It’s a strange one. Much like Super Mario Bros. 2, many new enemies are introduced that don’t have any connection to existing Mario lore. Keep in mind, Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros. 2 were only a few years old at this point, so there was a lot of room for creativity and new friends/baddies.

It’s easy to see why Mario would become more recognizable than Disney. Even on a screen that’s not even 3 inches big, this is a grand adventure. You’ve got Gradius style shooting levels, traditional Nintendo platforming, coins to collect, catchy music to listen to, bonus games at the end of each level, the introduction of Princess Daisy a very fair risk/reward system when it comes to death defying jumps.

There’s a lot of weird in here too. I don’t think they’ve ever re-used Sarasaland as a location in any future Mario games. Koopas explode when you jump on them. Goombas are barely recognizable. There’s a hard mode after completing the game. Shigeru Miyamoto had nothing to do with the development. Mario is only 12 pixels high, much smaller than previous adventures.

Super Mario Land (2)
Even *I* could draw those backgrounds (by tracing)

But it all works. Along with Tetris, the system started out with a bang and went on to sell nearly 120 million units, largely on the strength of exclusive spin offs of existing franchises, like Mario. Compromises to fit the style of game were relatively few and didn’t sacrifice enjoyment.  Although the game can be completed in an hour, the extra modes and ease of play led me to play it through more than a few times.

Out of all memories of Super Mario Land, one has staked its claim and won’t let go. In the first world, there’s a series of ? blocks. Below them is an even longer row of blocks that can’t be hit. They’re just blocks. But I swear on everything that is true, the first time I played through the game, those were hittable ? blocks. On every subsequent playthrough (and on every clip I can find) they aren’t. Reality confirms that I was delusional.

So which blocks did I hit? Was I just so thrilled and full of optimism that every rock/block seemed like it could aid me in my quest? Or am I just relying on my 1989 memory far more than it deserves? My initial annoyance at not being given 10 free coins early on in the game was soon replaced by internal embarrassment; I must have imagined it. You could hardly blame a video game obsessed kid with having his head in the clouds.

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