Iain wrote this one.
It’s an interesting time to be looking at a Nintendo portable game, in 2017 and less than a week before they Switch off the separation between portable and home console and try to consolidate the best of both. With Super Mario Land, we looked at a simulacrum of Mario whose appeal was in being at least that, on the go. At some point well in the future we’ll see the New Super Mario Bros. series elide the differences to be the same reliable nostalgia trip whatever you’re playing it on. But here is a is a game which is not port, not knock-off, but adaptation.
See, this Mario is recognisably the same Mario as of Super Mario Bros. 3, even if he still doesn’t have the right invincibility star music. The importance of the fact that he looks right is second only to the importance of the fact that he moves right, rather than with the awkwardly weighted plummeting of the first game. It even manages a decent stab at a Super Mario World style world map, with greater freedom of choice still.
The sacrifice to achieve the right Mario is that he takes up a comparatively huge proportion of the screen. That has a limiting effect on the kind of platforming on offer. Sometimes the very fact that you can’t see spikes a short way ahead of you is an essential part of the level design, but the biggest change is that it results in a distinct slowing down out of necessity to keep things from being too difficult (like Super Mario Land it is mostly an easy game, though has its challenges).
In slowing down and being less thrilling, the sights become even more important, and that’s where Nintendo have some tricks up their sleeve. There’s a zone called Macro Zone, where the hook is that Mario is shrunk down to a size where he’s dwarfed by books and the same size as ants. It tickled me, because I played this just after a level in a different zone where there he deals with bees the same size as him. It’s actually the secret of Super Mario Land 2 that it’s a game where Mario goes inside a tree, inside a turtle and, in a lovely meta moment, inside a Mario. It’s a game with bitesize levels built for bitesize play sessions, and being tiny is built into its design from the beginning.
Super Mario Land 2 is a tightly contained look into worlds fitted into a small space, and that feels like the strongest justification for it as its own successful thing. It makes the Game Boy and its screen in your hands feel like a magnifying glass. It’s inseparable from its portable form, and hints at what might be lost without it.
NEXT: STAR WARS: X-WING