Another year, another list of beaten games. I have no specific grand total I want to achieve this year, but in December I identified twelve games that I want included on the list. My first game of 2012 isn't one of those twelve, though. It's a 20-year-old Game Boy game that goes by Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins.
I bought this game at MAGFest at a vendor for ten bucks. Why? Well, story time! Around 2002 or 2003 I owned a collection of about 30 to 35 Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, most of which I had beaten over and over. I needed money for a school trip, so I decided to sell all of them except for seven favorites: three Zeldas, two Dragon Warriors, Tetris, and Donkey Kong '94. Fast forward to the present and I'm a videogame pack rat that regrets selling them. Not only did I have a pretty impressive collection that's now a fraction of what it was, there are a few specific games I sold that I definitely miss and wouldn't mind playing again. Super Mario Land 2 is near the top of that list.
So, I bought it on an impulse and beat it in less than two days. It's not a terribly long game, at 28 to 30 short Mario stages, but I don't regret it. There's a lot of positive nostalgia here. But another reason I beat it so quickly is that it's really, really easy. The bosses all die in three head-jumps, and they're each about as challenging as a winged Goomba. There aren't many stages, but on top of that they're all very short; one early level is a totally flat plain with occasional Goombas and question mark blocks (not a joke).
The quality of each stage (flat ones notwithstanding) is actually pretty strong in Super Mario Land 2. The levels exhibit some interesting platforming tricks, particularly for being 20 years old. Several stages play around with gravity, including a full flight-enabled stage in the Space Zone and several stages with suspended goo that acts like a floating anti-grav surface. The variety of different stages is nothing short of phenomenal. Climbing through a giant fireplace in a massive house? Stages made entirely of candy and LEGOs? Underground cavern populated by fish with cow heads? Not bad, Mario.
Oh, I almost forgot: this game has a plot, kind of. While Mario was out saving Daisy in Super Mario Land the first, an opportunistic tyrant named Wario takes over Mario's castle (Mario has a castle? I guess so.). Mario needs to locate the six golden coins that unlock the gate Wario set up and then defeat his evil sorta-doppelganger. Yes, this game is using giant golden coins as macguffins and yes, this is the game that created / introduced Wario.
The stages themselves are scattered around a navigable and re-vistable world map just like in Super Mario World on the SNES, made a year earlier. The interface is easy, elegant, and looks great. In fact, this game looks great in general. The visuals are about as clean and animated as a colorless version of Super Mario Bros. 3, which is high praise indeed for a Game Boy game, let alone one made in 1992. The jump in visual and gameplay quality from the first Super Mario Land to this one is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
Mario runs and jumps as smooth as silk in this game, with levels of speed, air control, and traction comparable to Super Mario Brothers 3. SML2 features Mario classics like one-ups, mushrooms, and fire flowers, but one-ups are hearts and Fire Mario looks normal but with a feather in his cap; the Game Boy's lack of color justifies these small changes. The new power-up in Super Mario Land 2 is a carrot that turns Mario into Bunny Mario, who has improved jumps and can glide distances, not unlike Raccoon Mario who without a running start. Just like every 2D Mario game, Fire Mario and flying Mario are overpowered as fuck but definitely fun to use.
Maybe it has to do with the HAL / EAH / Game Boy game designers in the early 90s, but Super Mario Land 2 is surreal as all get out. Enemies found in this game (and only this game) include ants with shovels throwing boulders, walking skulls with swords sticking out, pigs that shoot cannonballs out of their noses (borrowed from Kirby?), sharks with boxing gloves, and my favorite: big, fat, slow-moving fish with cow faces. This game almost certainly shared staff with The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, which is also notable for a few bizarre themes, plus items and enemies that haven't been seen in a Zelda since. The music and sound effects in SML2 are eerily similar to certain tunes in Link's Awakening, something I never noticed as a kid.
Overall, this is a solid Mario game that suffers from being ridiculously short and easy. Good candidate for Baby's First Mario, but the production values are great by 1992 Game Boy standards and it's still pretty fun, which is saying something. This was not the greatest $10 I've ever spent, but I'm better off than having not bought it and continuing to miss all of my lost Game Boy favorites.
Games Beaten: 2012 Edition
1. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
I'm at the final boss of Radiant Historia, so that game should be next. I have a lot left to do in Mass Effect, but it's commanding most of my computer time so I should finish it by this weekend, maybe sooner. ME is one of my target games so that goal is moving along nicely.