So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, March is once again “Mario Month” and I am spending every Thursday of this month celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber.
Released: 29 September 2011
Originally Released: 21 October 1992
Original Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Game Boy
After Super Mario Land (ibid, 1989), a launch title for Nintendo’s influential Game Boy handheld console, sold over 18 million copies, and given the rising success of the Super Mario franchise, a sequel was all-but-inevitable. Spearheaded once again by Gunpei Yokoi, the man behind the Game Boy, development of the sequel began in November 1991 and was eventually geared towards capturing the same feel and tone as Super Mario World (Nintendo EAD, 1990). Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins continued the trend of the Mario Land sub-series of introducing new antagonists into the franchise with the creation of my favourite Mario character, Wario. Mario’s evil doppelgänger was created by director Hiroji Kiyotake and born out of the development team’s disdain for working on a franchise they didn’t help create; nevertheless, Wario not only subsequently took over the Mario Land series and became a popular character in his own right but Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins was released to rave reviews, sold over 11 million copies, is largely considered one of the best Game Boy titles, and was eventually released on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.
After returning from his adventures in Super Mario Land, Mario finds his castle and the land surrounding it has been usurped by his diabolical doppelgänger, Wario! In order to restore the land, Mario must travel to six different worlds (referred to as “Zones”) and collect the titular Golden Coins to enter Wario’s fortress and topple his nefarious lookalike.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer; rather than the linear format of the previous title, the sequel incorporates a world map similar to the ones seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 (ibid, 1988) and Super Mario World and allows players to pick and choose the stages they challenge once they get past the opening tutorial level. While Super Mario Land was an extremely basic and simplistic title, Super Mario Land 2 looks and feels much more like its later 8- and 16-bit counterparts thanks to much bigger, far more detailed graphics, an overworld map, and has far more to do and see throughout the game (the game is so much bigger than its predecessor that it includes a battery back-up save feature, allowing you to have three different save files at once).
Functionally, though, Mario controls exactly the same; players can run by holding B, jump with A, and perform a spinning jump by holding down on the directional pad (D-pad) while jumping, which allows Mario to smash or pop goodies out of blocks when standing on top of them. Mario is a little more slippery this time around but it’s nowhere near as bad as in Super Mario Bros. (ibid, 1983) and he has just enough weight to him to make him crisp and responsive. Sadly, there are no vehicles to pilot this time around so players must rapidly tap A to swim when under water rather than piloting a submarine.
As always, Mario can only take one hit before dying so you’ll need to grab a Super Mushroom or other power-up to defend yourself from attack. You won’t have to try too hard to find and accumulate extra lives, though, as you can earn them by collecting Hearts (found in blocks and/or won in bonus stages), defeating 100 enemies (helpfully tracked in the game’s heads-up display (HUD)), or defeating five enemies in a row while invincible. Of course, you’ll have to contend with a time limit and many bottomless pits along the way but you can hit bells part-way through stages to create a checkpoint in case the worst happens.
Super Mario Land 2 is divided into six stages, now called “Zones”, each of which has at least one “Special Area” that can be accessed by finding a hidden exit within one of the Zone’s stages. You’ll also be able to visit a couple of different courses and areas from the overworld to grab a healthy supply of Coins, stock up on power-ups or extra lives, and access other Zones. Zones can be tackled in any order but, since some have more stages and are more difficult than others, you might want to plan out your gameplay accordingly and tackle some of the shorter, easier stages first. After clearing each of the six Zones, you’ll acquire one of the titular Golden Coins; get all six and you can enter the game’s final area, which is devoid of enemies but full of traps and tricky obstacles and leads directly to the final confrontation with Wario.
For the most part, the game controls and plays like a traditional Mario title; this means you’ll be doing a lot of jumping, travelling through pipes, and hopping on enemy’s heads. Gameplay is mixed up a bit, though, by frequent instances of water (though mostly in the Turtle Zone), forcing you to jump across platforms above an endless void (particularly seen in Tree Zone, which also has you using sticky sap to avoid spikes and pits), or navigate disappearing/reappearing blocks in Pumpkin Zone. You’ll also ride on a fair amount of moving platforms or cross vast chasms in bubbles but probably the most unique Zone is Space Zone, which features both an autoscrolling section, a unique sprite for Mario, and much lighter gravity that allows you to jump far higher and stay in the air indefinitely by holding down A.
Graphics and Sound:
Compared to its predecessor, Super Mario Land 2 is a quantum leap forward in terms of graphics and presentation; it’s still a basic title (it is a Game Boy game, after all) but sprites and backgrounds are so much bigger, far more detailed, and world’s beyond the simplistic aesthetic of the first game. It’s actually mind boggling to me how much of an improvement the game is in such a short space of time; the first game was like a super scaled down version of Super Mario Bros. and it worked for what it was but this is like a small-scale version of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, featuring far more stages, much more variety, and is far bigger, allowing players to pick and choose the order of the Zones and how they play, with many of the mechanics and features of this game bleeding over into Wario’s spin-offs.
Of course, bigger sprites means bigger hit boxes, which can be an issue, and the game does noticeably slow down when there are a lot of sprites onscreen at once (which isn’t something I can say for the first game) but I can forgive that for the sheer amount of detail and variety on offer. In Super Mario Land, background details were sparse and limited but, here, each Zone feels big, unique, and full of quirky little gimmicks and elements. Turtle Zone sees you exploring a submarine before venturing into the belly of a giant whale, for example, while Macro Zone has you travelling through a house from the garden to the inside and up to the bedroom/library all while shrunk down to a size that makes everyday household objects seem far bigger. Pumpkin Zone also stands out, being the now-traditional haunted house/Boo stage of the game and featuring a lot of clever lighting and graphical details.
Even the overworld is bustling with life; you see a dark, ominous storm cloud over Wario’s Castle (and Wario himself pacing along the rooftop), the water surrounding the land constantly shifts, and Mario can even get literally sucked into some of the Zones. The game’s music is also much improved, featuring a catchy main theme, unique tunes for the Zones and boss battles, and just being much more memorable and lively compared to its predecessor.
Enemies and Bosses:
Super Mario Land 2 also features a wide assortment of enemies, including (as you might expect) the return of several series staples such as Goombas (who also come in a winged variant), Boos, Koopa Troopas (whose shells you can now use to smash blocks and defeat enemies like in the main games), Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, and Cheep Cheeps. You’ll also encounter some new enemies, some more interesting than others: Antotto is literally just an ant, for example, but Bomubomu is a pig that fires cannonballs at you! Some of the game’s most unique enemies appear in Mario Zone and Pumpkin Zone, including J-son (whose oddly familiar hockey mask has a knife sticking out of it!), a clown-faced Jack-in-the-Box, and Kurokyura the Vampire (who throws bats (or “Minikyura” at you). You’ll also encounter a weird cow/fish hybrid in Tree Zone, an indestructible, boxing-glove-wearing shark in Turtle Zone, and giant, fireball-spewing piranha status in Wario’s Castle.
Six Zones means, of course, that Mario has to defeat six bosses to retrieve the six Golden Coins and confront Wario. While there is no “instant kill” switch as seen in the previous game, none of these bosses really pose that much of a threat as long as you are packing the Fire Flower, which makes most of them an absolute joke. The first boss I fought was Turtle Zone’s Pako, a giant octopus that spits its smaller, invulnerable offspring (“Poko”) out at you as it swims across the arena. Despite taking place underwater, which limits your mobility, you can simply spam fireballs at it or bounce on its bulbous head three times without too much difficulty. Next, I took on Tree Zone’s Big Bird, which you battle in its nest at the top of the tree. As its sole method of attack is to swoop down at you, this one is also easily cheesed with the Fire Flower but it’s equally pretty simple to just jump on its head.
I then fought the Witch in the final area of the Pumpkin Zone; this boss can actually be quite tricky as the Witch teleports about the screen throwing fireballs at you, which can ignite under her cauldrons and send you up into the spikes in the ceiling. I found the best strategy was to stay in the middle of the screen and spam fireballs but you can easily anticipate where she’s going to teleport in so you can jump on her head. In Mario Zone, you’ll battle the Three Little Pigs, who come at you one at a time using rolling and bouncing attacks. I can’t say too much about this one as I just tossed fireballs at them relentlessly and bounced on their heads to beat them in seconds but I can’t imagine them causing you too much trouble.
Macro Zone has you battling a Sewer Rat that darts in and out from pipes and clambers all over the walls and ceilings of the arena to drop down on you; this one can be tricky because of how fast the boss is but, again, the Fire Flower will make short work of it. Finally, in Space Zone, I took on a familiar face as Tatanga, the final boss of the first game, returns for a rematch. As this battle takes place in the low gravity of the Moon, it can be tricky to dodge between Tatanga’s two energy bolts, each of which has a different attack pattern, and his tendency to stay on the top corners of the screen makes using your fireballs much more difficult. Thankfully, he also tries to dive bomb you, leaving him wide open for attack, and he’s far weaker than in the last game, going down in just three hits like every other boss in the game.
Similarly, the final battle against Wario is a much grander and elaborate fair than the final boss of Super Mario Land; as if running the gauntlet of Wario’s many traps and hazards and battling multiple floating Wario faces wasn’t enough, Wario (here a much bigger, monstrous figure than usually depicted) has three phases to his boss battle. In the first, he charges and stomps around the throne room trying to squash you and causing crystal balls to fall from the ceiling. Next, he grabs a Carrot to become Bunny Wario and takes refuge at the top of the screen before dropping down onto you and, finally, he becomes Fire Wario and launches fireballs at you while also jumping at you. While you have to take on all three phases one after the other, you can grab power-ups between each one and, again, Wario is defeated in three hits each time so, while this is easily the longest and most involved boss battle in the game, it’s no mean feat.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned before, and as you should expect from a Mario title, Mario can grab a Super Mushroom to become Super Mario; this allows him to take a hit without dying, destroy certain blocks, and perform the spin jump. You can also grab an “M” bag to earn more Coins and a Star to become invincible; while you can still die from bottomless pits and certain hazards, defeating five enemies in a row (and every one thereafter) will also award you with an extra life in this form.
While he no longer has his cool little vehicles from the last game, Mario does get some cool power-ups this time around: the bouncy Superball is gone, replaced with the traditional Fire Flower (which, honestly, is the power-up you should favour at every opportunity) and Mario can now grab a Carrot to become Bunny Mario. This gives him bunny ears and allows you to float through the air by rapidly tapping A, though Mario descends slowly over time so it’s best to get a good run up or jump from a high ledge.
While Super Mario Land 2 doesn’t really feature a scoring system, Coins still serve a purpose in that Mario can use them in certain areas of the overworld to buy extra lives and power-ups. If you exit each stage using the upper exit, you’ll get to play either a claw machine or a circuit mini game that can also net you these same rewards, allowing you to earn many extra lives very quickly. Unlike the previous game, though, there’s no harder game mode to be unlocked; once you’ve beaten the game, all that’s left to do is reload your save file to find any hidden exists and areas you’ve missed or start the game over from the beginning again. When playing the 3DS version of the game, you can, of course, make liberal use of the save state feature to make the game an absolute breeze, which is always a helpful and appreciated feature.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is a fantastic little game; it never fails to impress me how much bigger and better it is compared to its predecessor, which looks like a Game & Watch title in comparison. Super Mario Land 2 is much more like the later 8-bit Mario titles in its detail, variety, and scope, making for a game that takes up much more of your time and is thus far more enjoyable on those long car journeys. Everything from the sprites, backgrounds, and music has been brought up a notch and the game is really showing the power and potential of the Game Boy to emulate its bigger, home console counterparts. Add to that the fact that Super Mario Land 2 was one of the first Game Boy titles I owned and that it introduced my favourite Mario character, Wario, and you have a game that not only holds up really well as a solid Mario/Game Boy title but also a game that is very close to my heart. I’ve always had more affinity and appreciation from Mario’s handheld adventures and Super Mario Land 2 is largely to thank for that.
Did you ever play Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on the old Game Boy brick? How do you feel it compares to the original and other Mario titles from the time? Are you a fan of Wario and would you like to see him return to prominence in the franchise? What are some of your memories/experiences with the Game Boy? Whatever your thoughts on the Game Boy and Mario’s handheld adventures, feel free to leave a comment below.