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Discussion "Oh! Daisy" A Defense of Super Mario Land


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As some of you know I didn't grow up much with games. We only had a NES as a kid, with one cartridge, and I wouldn't get to own my own console again till college when I got a DS Lite (that was stolen not much later). I just don't have the nostalgia that some of you have for the games of the 80s and 90s. But even in my extremely poor hometown, I always managed to find the kid with the GameBoy and convince them to give me a shot. I put whatever time into whatever game they already had in the cart and there was one game in particular that stood out for me.

Super Mario Land 2. Because it sucked.

Now, don't @ me. I've played it as an adult, and I really enjoy it. It's objectively more polished in almost every way than the first Super Mario Land. But as a kid, Super Mario Land 2 was an extremely claustrophobic. The larger sprites were more expressive, but they also made it hard to know if there were enemies off-screen, and moving at speed seemed to be full of cheesy death.

Super Mario Land plays fair. The physics are clunky, sure - Mario doesn't move in the air quite right - but the tiny sprites make it clear what you can and can't get to, and what enemies are around the corner. And the larger field lets Super Mario Land hide all sorts of secrets. There are many times moving through the game when you'll see a object that you can't reach, which clearly indicates that you missed a secret route earlier in the level.

Super Mario Land is also full of gameplay variety. The subworlds aren't just little coin areas, they're often simple puzzles that trap you till you figure out how to escape. With the exception of Goomba-like enemies, all the enemies in Land are unique, with surprises if you're used to the games - turtles that blow up! Skeleton fish that shoot up! Robots I guess!

The first shmup level - and if you've not played the game, it has shmup levels - was such a delight to me as a kid. I really struggled with the underwater sections of SMB, and I found the autoscrollers of SMB3 really scary, with lots of jumps I didn't know how to make and no time to plan. The submarine - along with tight fighting spaces you need to blast through - takes the adrenaline of the autoscroller and the different movement of the water levels and turns it into something I wanted to play again and again.

I like 6 Golden Coins now. It's been fun to revisit these games on NSO, all these games I only got to play 15 minutes of here or there when another kid took pity on me. But despite the jank - and I'm not so blinded by nostalgia I think "jank is part of the charm" - Super Mario Land is still this unassuming banger. So many GB games were "sequels" that were really just demakes or clones of their NES counterparts. But Land does genuinely new things, it genuinely innovates. And GameBoy growing pains, plus the SMB style sprite-work have left it a sort of evolutionary dead end, a vision of what Mario could be, but never again really was. And if you haven't played it, I think it's worth your time.

Also the music fucking SLAPS. Fun fact, it was the first Mario game with stereo sound. Everyone knows the World 1 music (or what Mario Maker has made people call "the superball music") but World 3 is the hidden great.

My memory of Super Mario Land was a classmate of mine trying his absolute best at trying to convince me that SML came out before SMB1. I associate the game with dirty lies on a primal early-childhood-training level. Both because of my friend's treachery and because of the exploding turtles that were so absurd as a kid that had played mostly SMW by that point.

It is a fantastic game that doubtlessly made the brains of kids that played it go overdrive with sheer imagination due to how absurd it is, even for a Mario game it's specifically "Alice in Wonderland"-style madness.
I have to admit, I don't think I've played Super Mario Land before! Or if I had, it has settled into the recesses of my memory as "that Gameboy Mario". At the very least I don't remember any shmup sections.

This is an excellent thread, for you have stoked my interest in trying this out on NSO.
My favorite 2D Mario game. Everything about it hits. The visuals are perfect for what it is (unlike the uncanny and too-big sprites of the sequel), the levels and enemies are great, the soundtrack is perfect. And it has a submarine and an airplane segment! Also the best controlling Super Mario Land game because of the correctly scaled sprites.

Game Boy was a lot like the Switch in staying power, but Mario Land is definitely one of the best games on the system despite being one of the first. It’s not surprising that modern Mario games keep referencing it in one way or another.

You’re absolutely right that the visuals really help preserve the feel of the game and make platforming better on the small screen. It really does feel like a proper sequel to Super Mario Bros. in a lot of ways.

Super Mario Land feels like a Game Boy launch title, and I mean this in both a positive and negative way.

It's weird and experimental! We have lots of new enemies! A new setting based in real world cultures! Scrolling shooter stages where you pilot vehicles! Princess Daisy is here! Preexisting ideas from the NES games weren't a concern, just delivering a fun adventure on Game Boy from a different team at Nintendo. And we have a pretty reasonable facsimile of Super Mario Bros. right at the start of the system's life, that's excellent in its own right.

...but it definitely feels a touch primitive.

The physics are a big one. Mario's movement isn't as smooth as on the NES. You don't really accelerate so much as have two movement speeds, and this has an effect on running and jumping. Sure, you can near instantly get that maximum jumping distance, but it ends up feeling a big awkward, especially when your aerial control is stiffer than usual. Jumps have a particular weight to them in Land, with this floaty start and a rather fast fall speed. And then you walk off of a platform and fall at maximum speed instantly, and it doesn't quite feel right to me.

The level design has its limits as well. Levels do have a decent length to them, but to achieve this, level segments are often copied with tweaks to enemy placement. It feels like a compromise, something to get decent length levels in a launch Game Boy title, like how Super Mario Bros., a game that just barely fit within its cartridge storage, copies levels to get to 32. I also don't love how many levels have segments that are just floating platforms over a big pit, but that's more of a design decision.

Super Mario Land 2 doesn't address all of these. The physics don't feel as good as the console games, for sure. But it feels better, and while we got some big sprites, the charm factor of the first game is still present. It's not my favorite of the games, but I do prefer it over Land. For me, a lot of Land's appeal (a short, kinda rudimentary but still solid platformer) overlaps with Super Mario Bros., but Land 2 doesn't have the same amount of overlap.

I kinda focused more on the negative aspects of Land, but I still think it's a neat game! Especially for the time it came out. It's novel and neat and you are right, that soundtrack absolutely slaps! But for me, it is in that lower half of the Super Mario games.
I agree.

I still don't like Super Mario Land 2 very much. It just feels like a compromised NES mario game.
The sprites are beautiful, yes - but just too big.
And most of the time it is very easy. Too easy.

Super Mario Land feels more unique and fitting to the Gameboy.
It has my favorite music on the Gameboy, I like the more unusual design of enemies etc. and the shmup sequences a lot.
I also liked that it is short and straightforward in its level design. Better fitting to handheld gaming back in those days.
Can't really add much to what's already listed in the OP.
I love the game to this day.
For sure a lot of nostalgia speaking.
I still prefer SML to SML2 and Wario Land. More primitive, shorter, smaller sprites, its own weird thing? Sure. But I love the music (the end sequence/credits music is one of my favourite pieces on Game Boy, but the whole soundtrack is great), and that you can rattle through its 12 stages in under 20 minutes wasn’t a bad thing. World 4 expects you to slow right down and proceed carefully, but the shmup sections are auto-scroll (albeit very easy) and the bosses are varied with a couple of ways to deal with them (in stage 1 and 3) so there’s some pacing there. For 1989 it was still a really good platformer, but even now I’ve returned to it more often than plenty of Mario games since.
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I do rather like the original Super Mario Land. Criticism of it has to be taken in context: it was one of the first games developed for the Game Boy outright, with little existing tooling and documentation to assist in development. Given the primative state of the Mario series at the time, it was actually a more creative follow-up than the actual (Japanese) sequel to the original SMB anyway!

That said, you can tell the game was one of the first developed for the Game Boy; the physics are a tad wonky and the game is very short, with levels often repeating obstacles (as level data is stored as 'chunks'). But the actual level designs are remarkably solid for the time, with some levels following the modern Mario design philosophies to some extent, which is impressive. And, of course, the game is rather creative too.

A short, but sweet game. And look what it led to - SML2 is a top-tier Mario game!
Super Mario Land is a lesson in gameplay from Yokoi. It's experimental, it's different, it doesn't succeed in everything, far from it, but it invents things. I love the idea that this game is Yokoi saying to Miyamoto: "If I'd had to make a Mario game, I'd have done it like this". It's a part of Nintendo's DNA that's slowly disappearing, and it saddens me greatly.

I played it for the first time when I was very, very young, probably 5 or 6. In my mind, it was warmer and friendlier than the NES version. It was to Mario what Link's Awakening is to Zelda, in other words, something a little different, something that spoke to me more, that made me feel better, because of the fantasy and the sweetness of it.
Played this with headphones back in the day and was absolutely blown away by how good the stereo sound was. It's really how you have to play this game, the audio doesn't even have the same feel on modern stereo systems, need headphones.
I'm very much looking forward to going back to it on NSO. Part of my preference for the sequel was actually down to the different, odd zones they chose for that game (Mario climbs a tree and fights wildlife? A hippo shoots him to the moon? Sure!), but Land definitely has its own brand of weirdness. They're both products of a time when the ruleset for Mario was still being decided on. I think SMB Wonder recaptured a little of that spirit, but perhaps we're never going to quite get back to that era where the rules were easier to ignore because they simply weren't as established.
I hated Mario Land 1 as a kid, but that was only because I couldn't save and never managed to beat it without game over. (I wasn't exactly a pro gamer...)

Played the first few levels now, feels weirdly nostalgic for how little I liked it back then. Fantastic music.
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I played SML2 for the first time last year when it came to NSO and I agree with the criticism. The game has interesting ideas and it's very charming, but it ultimately fails at bringing the Mario experience to the GB because the screen is simply too small for the game to be as kinetic as Mario needs to be. The result is a game that should be about action and movement, but ends up being too slow.

I 100% believe that's the reason why they decided to go with Wario for the next game, since Wario Land isn't focused on action, it's focused on exploration, and it works really well with the slower pace.

I haven't played SML1 yet though. It doesn't look too appealing to me at first glance, but I might try it sometime now that it's available.
I love both games dearly but I think if I had to choose I would still go with 2- it could just be nostalgia or I’m a total sucker for its charm, I love the offbeat weirdness about it all (the wandering Jason vorhees hockey mask in the pumpkin zone!)
SML1 definitely feels more like a true portable Mario due to the smaller sprites, and the soundtrack is still an absolute banger. These two covers are still my favourite ever videogame boxarts!

The best thing you can say about Mario Land 1 was even the devs realized the platforming physics were awful which is why they added those shooter stages.
Played through it now and had a blast. First time ever seeing world 4 even though I played the game quite a lot as a kid.
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The best thing you can say about Mario Land 1 was even the devs realized the platforming physics were awful which is why they added those shooter stages.
I disagree with that, it’s really easy to figure out where you need to go thanks to how grid like the visuals are. The physics are better than something like the NSMB games or the Lost Levels.

The shooter stages were just a great early Game Boy trend to keep up variety in a one-sitting game. Kirby Dream Land has them despite Dream Land having basically perfect controls.
yes, it's decent enough. but Nintendo's original plan of bundling it with the Game Boy likely wouldn't have done too well.
per Henk's recollection on the matter....
So i went to Redmond and talked to Mr. Arakawa at Nintendo, and i said "You know, i think i have the perfect pack-in game for Game Boy" and he said "Well how do you know?" i said "Well, you know, what are you thinking of packing in?" "Well, we could pack in Mario."
i said "Well, if you want to sell Game Boy to little boys then pack in Mario. but if you want to sell game boy to everyone, pack in Tetris."
certainly not the exact sequence of events, and Koji Kondo would definitely take issue with him insisting that Mario is just for "little boys". but it was the right move.

while it was certainly technologically impressive for the time. Tetris has far more replay value.
it's rather amusing that the process repeated in some form on NSO. with Tetris managing to dig through any licensing issues to become a launch game again, while Mario Land was shifted off to releasing several months later.
Beat this on GB VC on 3DS. Somehow my freshman year high school self was like "yeah, I'd like to spend $5 on this." I had to call Nintendo to restore my account.

Worth it, fun little game.

... Next time I'll try without save states, I promise. I just purchased a biverted backlight modded original Game Boy, hopefully I can find an original cart too.
yes, it's decent enough. but Nintendo's original plan of bundling it with the Game Boy likely wouldn't have done too well.
per Henk's recollection on the matter....

certainly not the exact sequence of events, and Koji Kondo would definitely take issue with him insisting that Mario is just for "little boys". but it was the right move.

while it was certainly technologically impressive for the time. Tetris has far more replay value.
it's rather amusing that the process repeated in some form on NSO. with Tetris managing to dig through any licensing issues to become a launch game again, while Mario Land was shifted off to releasing several months later.
I wouldn’t read anything into the validity in this story. The NES also had a Mario and a Tetris and it was bundled with the Mario and did fine. It’s called the Game Boy, it’s not like they put a lot of effort into marketing as a game system more for adults or anything like that. This isn’t a situation like with the NES launch where Nintendo had something to prove to retailers either, by 1989 Nintendo was an established brand.

This is a guy tooting his own horn over his biggest success which is to be expected, but that doesn’t mean he’s right.
I have fond memories of playing this (along with DK '94 and Alleyway) on my cousins OG Game Boy and being shocked that the koopas exploded lol. This was also one of the first VC titles I bought for the 3DS when the service began.
It's as basic as it gets, but SML is still charming and fun to this very day. Still surprised it took them this long to put it on NSO.
It's funny, I def played Mario Land when I was younger, but I can't quite remember when I first did. I have tons of memories of Land2 from when I was 10-12 but my first memory of playing Land1 was in high school and I know I played it before that.

I definitely prefer Land2, it's just a genuinely nice halfway point between MarioBros3/World and WarioLand gameplay wise.
But I also kinda love the weird vibe of Land1, it's vehicle sections which are still unusual for a Mario game plus the music is genuinely a bop. People are way too harsh on it. If I'd been alive and playing games in 89 I probably would have found it really cool to get to play something akin to Mario1 on a portable system despite all its weird jank.

Side note, the box art for both game are still some of my favorites in the whole franchise.
As someone who grew up with a DS but still played gameboy and gameboy colour games as a kid due to them being dirt cheap at the time, Mario Land always felt positively primitive, and it never quite felt right to control in ways that even the somewhat clunky Mario 64 DS felt right to control to keep the comparisons within handheld Mario. Obviously can't fault them for experimenting, and it's still a fun game, but to me the real Gameboy platformer of interest is Kirby's Dreamland and that's not just as a kirby fan. Also, the sprites are just too small on Mario Land as someone with bad eyesight
It's a Mario game with bad controls and physics. I get why people have affection for it, and hey, it led to SML2 which I really love! But as a game to actually play, it really doesn't do much for me.
It takes about 30 minutes to play through and has all the OG Gameboy charm you could want from a small, quirky platformer that's just trying its best! Anyone who dislikes Super Mario Land has no heart.
A friend of mine had a Gameboy and SML, by the time I saw this game I had played games like SMW, YI and the Sonic games, so it didn't really impress me at the time. I got a GBC with Pokemon and SML2 later and I loved SMBL2, absolutely fantastic upgrade.
I will fully commit to Super Mario Land always having been way better than the sequel. I feel like it's hard to praise the first Super Mario Land because it's barely anything. The most impactful thing I can say about Super Mario Land is that it succeeded at all, where I think nearly every other Game Boy platformer fails. It's classic Mario, a surprisingly faithful replica of the basic experience of playing the original Super Mario Bros., which also makes it slightly unique since that experience was almost never referred back to again by the series after SMB3. I would rank Land above USA, Lost Levels, 6 Golden Coins, NSMB2, and 3D Land. Still decidedly on the lower end of the series, but it's better than the entries that fail at being Mario games or have next to nothing to offer.

Land 2 is one of those entries. I think of the period between Super Mario Land and Wario Land II as this awkward phase where the series was in the process of trying to become something different, but it hadn't really broken away from Mario rules and mechanics yet, so its output could best be described as just... a kind of crappy Mario game. You can already see that exploratory focus of Wario Land trying to come out in Land 2. The level design doesn't even feel like Mario. It's mildly aggravating, full of weird branching paths and diversions that just have a bag of coins at the end of them or something, and generally a lot less interesting to play than the creative theming of the worlds would imply. And it's a Game Boy platformer, so of course the screen is claustrophobic, the controls are stiff, and it's slow. Somehow the first Land's calculator graphics and approximation of the already stiff Mario 1 physics handled these problems better than most later games! The music is also maddening. This is the worst "same song remixed over and over again" soundtrack I've ever heard, tracks like the haunted house theme burrow right into my brain. Star Maze is one level, it cannot save the whole thing. Meanwhile, Land 1 had Hirokazu Tanaka. They tried to put twists on so many things about how Super Mario Bros. works in this game, like how coins and lives work, and it's almost impressive how none of them paid off at all. They're all just limp novelties and pointless overcomplications of something that always worked before and would continue to work after. I don't gain anything from having to periodically go offload my coins at a gambling minigame to win extra lives instead of just getting a 1-Up and the counter resetting at 100.
Just finished replaying it and although it's certainly very charming and unique with a great soundtrack, I would still put it pretty low on my list of 2D Mario games, probably only above Lost Levels. The controls really lack the finesse of Super Mario Bros. which is absolutely critical when you're making a game like this. It's a very important game and representative of the growing pains of what would be one of the most iconic and influential video game consoles in history, but I don't have much sentimental attachment to it since as a kid I only had Land 2 initially and would play Land 1 years later. Every time I revisit it since then I feel about the same as before, but I'm glad it's finally on NSO now.
There is a romhack of the original Super Mario Land for the Game Boy that turns the game into a Game Boy Color game. It adds color and changes the graphics to give the game a modern look. For me, it is the definitive edition of the game.


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