Review is for the 3DS Virtual Console re-release.
Super Mario Land is exactly what you expect, and maybe some of what you didn’t. We have (somewhat miraculously) received new 2D iterations of the Mario franchise in recent years, although the results have been slightly disappointing. New Super Mario Bros. for the DS had almost everything but memorable level design — every area was a mishmash of retro ideas and ideals and left barely an impression; coincidentally it is my least favorite Mario main-game. It’s not terrible, but it’s just nothing special, especially in comparison to the other releases.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a lot better but still felt somewhat lazy, with “meh” graphics and weird presentational choices (Arial-like fonts in a Mario game? The Wii-ization of gaming complete). At least most of the levels were fun, and there was some decent challenge.
It’s coming to the point where I’m expecting the lesser experience in the new 2D designs versus the new 3D ones, something a nostalgic twit like me never thought would happen. The 2D Mario of the 90s and before was something always truly magical — every single game was a memorable, genre defining experience.
Super Mario Land just reaffirms this belief over and over again in so many ways. The game came out in 1989 for the original Game Boy, is in black and white, and has only a paltry four worlds with three levels apiece, yet is still so much better than the “New” Mario games.
Memorable music, exciting level design, interesting enemy placement/quirks — this is classic Mario through and through. Better yet, it is one of his rare pre-00s adventures that hasn’t been whored out since the invention of the Game Boy Advance — Super Mario Land was released back in the late eighties, and only just now a second time for the 3DS Virtual Console. There’s a good chance you haven’t seen this game with your own eyes in a long time. Or perhaps ever.
(Well, unless you’re a pirate.)
It’s basically a new Mario game for many of us. And it’s still an interesting Mario game, too — 1UPs are achieved by gathering hearts; stepping on paratroopas somehow leads to them becoming bombs and exploding; Mario’s trademark fireball power also doubles as a pinball that zigzags throughout the stage, bouncing off random obstacles; you’re now rescuing a princess named Daisy (Mario was such a whore); the levels have things like Easter Island statues and caves with hieroglyphics everywhere; etc.
Emulation is spot on with the 3DS. Aside from a lengthy (obviously digital) game manual, you’ll get two resolution options and a quick save feature. The ability to save only makes the game about 100 times easier than it was before, but it’s still nice to have. Sadly, the button placement is a little off — run should be where Y is, not B. This is a minor nitpick and has nothing to do with the game itself, and you do get used to it. But it just doesn’t feel as good as it could have.
If you have a 3DS and even a passing interest in the Mario series, you owe it to yourself to download this game. It’s really short but it’s so fun and charming that it’s easily worth the small amount of time you have with it.