Super Mario Land 2 on the 3DS Virtual Console: A Retro Review

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The Club Nintendo rewards program is something I’ve finally started to keep up with this past year. Previously, I had never bothered with it, as I had never really bought enough Nintendo products within a single year to really qualify for any rewards. But last year, I picked up a 3DS XL(which was an excellent time to get into the 3DS) and a handful of games, and, consequently, decided to register everything and fill out the multitudinous mimetic surveys in the hope of accruing enough points to finally get some free stuff. And free stuff I did get, although nothing overly exciting. Not managing to reach the highly exclusive, super-elite “platinum” tier, I instead was treated to the reward options of the lowly “gold” tier, which consisted mostly of virtual console games. To be fair, they did choose some cool virtual console games to offer members at this level, but it still felt a little anticlimactic after filling out all those surveys and copy-pasting into the suggestions box my go-to request of “PLZ BRING GBA GAMES TO 3DS LOL!” In the end, I settled on nabbing Super Mario Land 2, a game I had a blast with when I was younger.

As with its predecessor, Super Mario Land 2 feels a little off-beat for a Mario game. This is on account of it being the product of the team that masterminded the Game Boy, Nintendo R&D1, as opposed to the team behind the monumentally significant console titles, R&D4. I’ve heard that internally the Nintendo development teams were fiercely competitive with each other, a behavior which was greatly encouraged by Nintendo’s upper management. It shows in SML2, because R&D1 was clearly not interested in simply trying to make an imitation of the console games but rather venture into creating a Mario title that feels very unique and idiosyncratic. But, on the other hand, they did succeed in creating something that has the feel of a Mario game which cannot be said about Super Mario Land 1. You can definitely tell that they had mastered developing for the portable’s hardware by this point. The game possesses the polish, length, and creative flair of a “real” Mario game. As is classic to Mario, you run, you jump, and you stomp on enemies and ram your head into question blocks for powerups and coins. But there are a few little tell-tale differences that clue you into its origins. You don’t attain a 1-up after collecting 100 coins. Rather, your coin count keeps going up after 100, and you use the coins to gamble for lives and powerups in a minigame available from the overworld map. (Using coins to gamble for prizes would be a major part of the Wario games which R&D1 later developed.) The game also breaks from the standard Mario level themes and allows travel to the moon, a submarine, a haunted cemetery, a giant clockwork Mario robot, and several other original locales. Also, I find the bosses are somewhat “out of left field” for a Mario game. I don’t think Mario games have ever really had notable bosses aside from Bowser and the Koopalings. In Super Mario Land 2, on the other hand, the boss fights get a little strange and include battles against the three little pigs, a witch, a giant rat, and Tatanga (the boss of the original SML) amongst others. The game climaxes with a battle against Wario, who sees his introduction in this game.

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One thing I think gamers who played this game as a kid will notice when picking it up on Virtual Console is that the game is really easy. After replaying this game, I had the same sort of revelation I had after replaying Final Fantasy VII a few years ago. For both of these games, I actually found them very tough when I was much younger, but now as an adult, I find them to be absolute pushovers. I was particularly amazed at the ease of FFVII. I remember grinding for hours in that game as a kid to prepare for difficult bosses like Air Buster, Reno at the top of Sector 7 pillar, and the Materia Keeper. During my replay, I blew through all of those bosses and the rest of the game with incredible speed. I can’t understand how I could ever have been so bad at that game to need grinding, especially considering that it’s turn-based. But that’s how it goes I guess.

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That leads me to wonder how new players to Super Mario Land 2 would receive it today. Despite the ease, I still really enjoyed replaying SML2, as I did with FFVII. But a lot of that has to do with how important the game is to me. The only Nintendo console I owned as a kid was the NES, so the Game Boy provided a valuable link to Mario, one of my favorite gaming series, during the Genesis and PSX years. For new players with perspectives not clouded by such personal attachment, they may find the game simply too easy and too off-beat for a Mario game (especially if they are comparing it to modern titles in the series). But I feel that some may appreciate the off-beat nature of the game because it is the result of there being a fairly large amount of creative levels and enemies on display here. The music is also really great, truly on par with the mainline Mario entries. And while the game may not be particularly challenging, there are a fair few secret exits in the game which open up hidden levels on the overworld map. The secret exits aren’t extremely well hidden, but you won’t stumble upon them unless you’re specifically hunting for them. These secret exits are good at creating an impetus to take time and explore the levels, instead of just blowing through the areas because they are so easy.   Super Mario Land 2 - 6 Golden Coins_26

In the end, I think new players with an interest in exploring retro gaming will probably find a lot to appreciate in this game, but those not so attracted to gaming antiquity likely won’t be as absorbed. As for me, I find that I still rank SML2 among my favorite Game Boy games. The only other game I feel that could possibly compete with it for my number one favorite on the platform would be, of course, Donkey Kong.

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Posted on September 21, 2014, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Hey. Thanks for the like.
    I actually enjoyed the surrealness of the later stages of Land 2.
    And NYers are tough people, so FFVII was always sort of a breeze for me. I enjoy it for other reasons.

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  2. I have played this game. I agree with the statement that these games get easier with age. I remember I had a lot of difficulty with this game when I was much younger. When I was a little older, I was able to complete the game. I have not played it for a while, so I cannot compare my skills to now.
    I am interested in your comments about how this and the previous games are different to the rest of the Mario series. I have little experience of console Mario games before Mario 64, but I found them to be similar, particularly in gameplay, to this game. I noticed this game had slightly different power ups (such as the carrot and hearts giving extra lives instead of green mushrooms), no Princess Toadstool or Bowser and the use of a “world” rather than a series of levels which were fairly unique to this game, but what other changes did you notice?
    I like the mention of the secret levels, I enjoyed exploring the levels to find these additions. Except for the shortcut in Macro Zone, they did seem slightly pointless, with the only effect that they caused the background of the Zone maps to change slightly, but I found them enjoyable anyway. I did not realise the bosses were so strange until you mentioned them. It does seem odd to be fighting an odd collections of creatures in Mario games (animals instead of enemies like Goombas and Thwomps) and defeating them all with blows to the head.

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  3. There are a lot of ideas in this game which haven’t been used in the others. Mario tends to reuse a lot of locations for levels with so many of the games having deserts and underwater levels and ghost houses and so on. But I don’t think anything introduced in this game has carried over into any other Mario. For instance, no other Mario game has taken place inside a whale or a giant house. There’s also a huge number of enemies which were created for this game and none have been seen again.

    I agree that you don’t really gain anything material from finding the secret levels, but it was cool to find them nonetheless.

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    • It is interesting that you mentioned the differences as I can see what you mean. I did not realise some of the levels in this game are unique (I do not think I have played a Mario game with as much tree sap or set inside a huge Mario statue). It is interesting the enemies were never used again and this game has two ghost enemies (the Boos and the ghost Goombas). What is the optional level supposed to be? There is a level that can be directly accessed from the large map, but I have never known what it is for as completing it does not affect the game. I have always thought it was supposed to be a graveyard. Do you know what it is?

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      • If its the level I think you’re talking about, the level is basically a “prize level” that contains a lot of coins. At one point I think they spell out a message like “Super Mario Land 2” or maybe “Thank You Player.” I remember there being a message in the coins, but I forget exactly what it is.

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  4. XD I got this game with the Nintendo Club, too! I miss that service. . .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I always found this game to be one of the most underrated in the entire Mario franchise. I love the visual style this game went for, it’s so surreal (and in a good way).

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