Game Corner [Bite-Size]: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 7 March 2012
Originally Released: 4 December October 1997
Developer: Konami
Original Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment
Also Available For: Game Boy

A Brief Background:
In the hierarchy of videogame characters, you would be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Goemon, the spiky-haired protagonist of Konami’s Ganbare Goemon series of adventure games. Loosely based on the legendary Robin Hood figure of Ishikawa Goemon, Goemon was first introduced to gamers back in 1986 as “Mr. Goemon” and was best known outside of Japan for his critically acclaimed Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) title, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Konami, 1991). While the world was waiting with baited breath for the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998), 3D adventure fans were treated to Goemon’s bizarre Nintendo 64 jaunt, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka, 1997), my first exposure to the character and the franchise and still one of my favourite N64 games of all time. Mystical Ninja was accompanied by this release for the original Game Boy, a divisive adventure title that was criticised for its high difficulty and for being a poor knock-off of The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo R&D4, 1986). Regardless, Mystical Ninja made its was to the 3DS Virtual Console in 2012 and, based on my enjoyment with the N64 title and desire to play something akin to the SNES game, I snapped it up before the service was shut down.

First Impressions:
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a top-down action/adventure game far more in the style of The Legend of Zelda than its sidescrolling SNES predecessor and third-person N64 jaunt. The game’s story is split into chapters, with story text, dialogue boxes, and map screens depicting the efforts of Goemon, Ebisumaru, and Sasuke to rescue their friend Yae from the malevolent Black Ship Gang. Before each chapter, you can pick from one of the three protagonists, who all essentially control the same way and have the same abilities; each character has a weapon to attack with by pressing B and can jump by pressing A, though each has slightly different attributes. Goemon is an all-rounder, for example, while Ebisumaru’s jump isn’t quite as good as Sasuke’s. Like Link, you character will fire a projectile from their weapon when at full health, though you still have access to a projectile in the form of a limited supply of shurikens, which you can switch to by pressing ‘Select’ and each character has a different range to their shot. The pause screen brings up a rudimentary grid-like map that gives you some idea of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you need to go, though the game is pretty linear and it’s not especially difficult to find your way around. Each chapter starts you out in a town of some sort, one either ruined by enemies or that’s a port for the Black Ship Gang, and you can explore, chat to non-playable characters (NPCs) for some vague hints and lore, and visit shops and inns to replenish your health and ammo. This is the only way to refill your strength gauge outside of collecting Crystal of Life items from chests, which add an extra hit point to your bar and, as you only get one life and the game’s passwords make you start from the beginning of the chapter, this can make for an incredibly difficult gameplay experience.

Limited graphics and gameplay options make this a disappointing Game Boy title.

You’ll wander through the town, taking out enemies (who don’t drop anything useful and respawn when you return, making backtracking a chore), and finding stairs down to underground passages, ant hills, castles, and through the Black Ship Gang’s ship. Exploration generally amounts to finding chests that contain a life or weapon power-up, extra shurikens, and coins to spend, but you’ll occasionally find shops and inns in here too and you’ll pretty much always be tasked with finding an NPC with a story-specific item (bamboo, a bomb, the symbol of the Black Ship Gang) that you need to progress further.  Graphically, the game really isn’t anything to shout about; considering we were seven years into the Game Boy’s life span by this point and we’d seen an incredibly detailed and layered adventure game in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo EAD, 1993) about four years prior, it’s hard to not judge Mystical Ninja, which more resembles Super Mario Land (Nintendo R&D1, 1989) than Link’s Awakening. The sound is pretty good, but the sprites are small, lacking in detail, and the environments all become very samey very quickly. Add in the fact that some locations are veritable mazes and include hazards like pits, water, and lava that take a whole chunk off your health and send you back to the beginning and you have a game that just looks dated and lacks all of the visual charm I associate with the Mystical Ninja franchise. By taking advantage of the 3DS’s save state system, you don’t really need to explore all that much as you can just reload if you make a mistake, but that won’t help you when you come across the various mini games that accompany the game’s bosses!

My Progression:
Mystical Ninja’s enemies aren’t really all the difficult to get past; you’ve got samurais, ghosts, giant ants, bats, and pirates scattered throughout but also some trickier enemies, like teleporting ninjas, ink-spitting squids, and these weird…I dunno…golems? Walking tree-things? Most enemies can be defeated in one hit, but some take more, and it can be tricky lining up your shot or blow because of the game’s rigid grid system and the character’s weapons not having a wide arc like Link’s sword. The hardest thing about the enemies, though, is that they all respawn when you return to where they were meaning that it’s usually easier and faster to just jump around and avoid them, especially as you don’t get any health or coins or anything for beating them. Some areas include mini bosses, like a sumo, a flying queen ant, a hook-handed pirate captain, and a large octopus, but most of these are pretty easy to pummel into defeat from afar. When you explore Skeleton Island, defeating the club-wielding ogre-things opens up a new part of the area to explore and brings you one step closer to the final boss, but it’s actually highly unlikely you’ll even get past the first boss without using the password system. My playthrough was going pretty well; I was disappointed by the graphics, lack of power-ups, and the inability to switch characters on the fly, but the game wasn’t too much of a challenge to figure out. I beat the sumo, got the bamboo, and used it to cross the water to a castle, where I eventually reached this rocket boss…thing.

Sadly, while bosses are easy to beat, the mini games that accompany them are hard as balls!

It was a little sporadic but I managed to defeat it but Baron Skull, leader of the Black Ship Gang, challenges you to a 100-meter race afterwards that is, frankly, impossible. You need to tap A as fast as possible to beat him but, no matter how fast I was, I couldn’t even get close so, technically, my run ended there. I used the password to jump to the next chapter, though, to see what else was on offer; here, you battle this big stone boss in a cave that constantly throws boulders and its extending arms at you and, when you beat it, you have another impossible tapping game to complete, this time a tug of war! I couldn’t beat that either, so I jumped to chapter three; here, you need to answer five out of ten questions right in a timed quiz to board the Black Ship Gang’s ship, which isn’t too hard, and the big octopus has you quickly select which lantern doesn’t match to finish the chapter, so I was actually able to beat this one! Things properly broke down in chapter four, where you cross a bridge to another ship and are challenged to a number of mini games; the first isn’t too bad (especially with save states) and simply has you matching pairs of cards, but the second was, again, impossible as no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get all of the images to match the main picture. I skipped ahead to the final chapter, where you easily defeat Baron Skull’s ogres and rescue Yae, then hop over some lava and battle him to the finish in a first-person mech fight. This sees you summoning the giant robot Impact (though you only see him from inside his cockpit) and punching Baron Skull when he pops up, following the helpful arrows to prepare your attack. Unfortunately, you can’t block or fire projectiles and I couldn’t even see what or when Baron Skull was firing at me, and this is a multi-stage fight, with Baron Skull getting faster and harder to hit, so this was where I officially gave up.

To say I was disappointed by Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon would be a massive understatement. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting it to be anything like the Nintendo 64 game of the same name that’d so massively captured my attention and imagination, but something more akin to the SNES game or even more in line with Link’s Awakening would’ve been fine. I was expecting the game to be hard because it was a long and involved role-playing adventure game that had you going from town to town, exploring dungeons and castles, and acquiring new weapons and items…not because of nigh-impossible button mashing mini games with absolutely no margin for error! The game is stupidly simple 99% of the time, coming across as a kiddified version of the original Legend of Zelda and barely presenting much of a challenge as long as you remember where you’ve gone in the maze-like areas. The bosses are pretty simple to beat as well, but those mini games, while quirky and in keeping with the series’ bizarre sense of humour, are such a brick wall that I honestly have no idea how you’d get past even the first one! Add to that the dated the graphics, the lack of variety between the playable characters, and the disappointingly bland locations and you are basically left with a forgettable Game Boy experience that I can’t say I’ll be motivated to try and finish any time soon. But maybe you think I’m being too harsh? Maybe you’ve beaten this game without issue? If so, I’d love to hear about it, and your thoughts on the Ganbare Goemon series, down in the comments or on my social media.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Nintendo 3DS)


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

The Background:
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.

The Plot:
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.

Gameplay:
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).

Mario now looks and controls much more like his home console counterparts.

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.

Hit a bell for a checkpoint and be sure to take advantage of all those extra lives.

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 much bigger and better than its predecessor.

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.

Gameplay is mixed up with some quirky mechanics sprinkled throughout.

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.

The graphics are much bigger and more detailed, with variety and fun being the order of the day.

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.

Though the game only has one real cutscene, its overworld is big and full of life and quirks.

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.

Super Mario Land 2‘s bosses are big and fun but easily defeated.

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.

Some bosses require a little more strategy to take them down.

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.

Mario has a rematch with Tatanga, now a far easier and less imposing foe.

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.

Wario pulls out all the stops for the game’s final, three phase boss battle.

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.

It’s great to see the Fire Flower back and Bunny Mario is…unique, at least.

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.

Additional Features:
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.

The Summary:
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.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

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.

Game Corner [Mario Month]: Super Mario Land (Nintendo 3DS)


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: 2011
Originally Released: 21 April 1989
Original Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Game Boy

The Background:
In 1989, Nintendo were preparing to release their handheld console, the Game Boy, a machine that would go on to pretty much define portable gaming. To coincide with this release, they needed fun, appealing titles to attract players and Super Mario was the obvious candidate given how well Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 1985) had sold some years prior. The first game in the series not to feature the input of Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, the game was also significantly shorter and smaller than its home console counterpart. While this has been reflected in reviews, Super Mario Land sold over 18 million copies, kickstarting an entire sub-series for Nintendo’s portly plumber that was exclusive to its handheld devices. Naturally, it was eventually ported to the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console with some minor revisions, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.

The Plot:
After conquering the four kingdoms of Sarasaland, the diabolical space tyrant Tatanga kidnaps Princess Daisy in order to consolidate his dictatorship and only Mario has the skills and bravery necessary to travel throughout Sarasaland in a bid to rescue Daisy from Tatanga’s clutches.

Gameplay:
Though functionally the same game as Super Mario Bros., there’s plenty of differences between that game and its handheld counterpart to help Super Mario Land stand out…and not all of them are good, to be honest. Like its bigger brother, Super Mario Land is a 2D sidescrolling platformer in which players control Mario as he runs, jumps, and blasts his way through four distinct Kingdoms. While the game sacrifices a lot in terms of length and graphical quality, Mario actually controls far better in his Game Boy debut than in his more famous title; for one thing, he’s far less slippery, which is a Godsend as it’s much harder to slip and randomly fall off platforms down a bottomless pits and to your death.

Coins, points, and mushrooms are as important as ever in Super Mario Land.

Mario can still jump, bouncing off enemies’ heads and gaining more height and momentum as he does so and from running by holding down the B button, and he feels like he has a bit more weight to him; not enough to make him plummet like a rock like some of his contemporaries but also not so little that he goes flying off the screen. The game is simplicity in itself; you start on the left side of the screen and run and jump to the right, taking out enemies, collecting Coins for points and extra lives, and taking your chances down the game’s various pipes to find hidden areas full of these aforementioned Coins. As in pretty much all Mario games, and most videogames at the time, you’re also racing against a time limit and can protect yourself from death by bashing blocks to randomly unearth a collectable Super Mushroom, which will transform you into Super Mario.

Mario’s new vehicles really help to spice up Mario’s classic platforming action.

While Super Mario Land has only four stages, referred to as “Kingdoms”, it mixes up its gameplay significantly from other Mario games of the time with the inclusion of two autoscrolling shooter stages; one has you piloting the “Marine Pop”, the other the “Sky Pop”, a cute little submarine and bi-plane, respectively. While autoscrolling stages can be a pain in the ass, and it easy to get crushed to death if you don’t blast blocks quickly enough, these are actually quite fun and it’s just a shame that the developers didn’t program a couple more stages like these in there to help keep things interesting.

Extra lives are plentiful, which helps when the game gets trickier and more demanding.

Additionally, rather than jump atop a flagpole at the end of each Kingdom, Mario exits each stage by entering a doorway; if you direct him to the top exit, you’ll be taken to a Bonus Game where you can earn anywhere between one and three extra lives or a power-up by stopping the fast-moving ladders. Extra lives are rather plentiful overall, to be honest, meaning you generally have an abundance of chances to tackle the games more troublesome and difficult sections, which usually involve making a few tricky jumps over an endless void, jumping to moving platforms, and using rolling boulders to safely cross spiked platforms.

Graphics and Sound:
Given that it was a launch title for the Game Boy, a handheld console not exactly known for being the most powerful or graphically interesting amongst its peers despite its immense popularity, it’s important to set your expectations quite low for Super Mario Land. Graphics are painfully simple and monochromatic, with Mario helpfully standing out thanks to his iconic cap and moustache as, without these, he may as well have just been Mr. Game & Watch. The game’s enemies, for all their variety, don’t exactly fare much better but, thankfully, the bosses are much bigger and more indicative of the superior sequel.

Despite its understandable simplicity, the game’s Kingdoms are distinct and varied.

Similarly, while each of the game’s four Kingdoms feels distinct, they’re not exactly teeming with detail; most opt for a plain, empty background with some simple elements (pyramids, mountains, clouds, Easter Island-like heads and the like) and an abundance of blocks, platforms, and pipes. As you progress through each Kingdom, the stages take on more distinctive and detailed environments, such as exploring inside a pyramid, with hieroglyphics etched into the background layer, or traversing the block-and-platform-ample mountaintops of the Chai Kingdom. The game also separates itself from its bigger brother by having a mostly unique soundtrack; some familiar Mario tunes are present but, for the most part, Hirokazu Tanaka’s music is distinctive enough if a little off-brand for what the franchise was known for at the time.

Enemies and Bosses:
Super Mario Land features around thirty different enemies, most of which are distinct to each of the game’s four Kingdoms and many of which return from, or are directly inspired by, enemies encountered in the bigger, better Mario titles. As such, you’ll be stomping on Goomba heads, blasting Piranha Plants as they pop out of pipes, and knocking Bullet Bills out of the air but will run into a devious little trap after smacking a Koopa Trooper as their shells now explode a few seconds after they are defeated!

The game renders its many familiar and unique enemies as best as possible.

As mentioned, each Kingdom features their own distinct enemies: you’ll encounter spear-throwing Bunbuns and fireball-spitting Gaos in the Birabuto Kingdom; a variety of skeletal fish and fireball-spitting aquatic enemies in the Muda Kingdom; spiders and sentiment rocks and Easter Island heads in the Easton Kingdom; and zombie-like Pionpi, deadly chickens, and relentless bi-planes in the Chai Kingdom.

Bosses might look tough but they’re easy to get past if you don’t feel like fighting them.

Each Kingdom concludes in a boss battle that is, in essence, the same as battling Bowser in Super Mario Bros. but much more varied: you’ll encounter a fireball-spitting, jumping sphinx-like lion, a large, fireball-spewing seahorse, and a rock-throwing sentient Easter Island head rock monster. Regardless of the arena or differing environment or the attacks the bosses use, your tactics pretty much stay the same until the final showdown with Tatanga: avoid their projectiles and either blast at them with Superballs or dodge behind them to take them out with a switch at the cost of some bonus points.

Tatanga is easily the game’s toughest boss thanks to his screen-filling projectiles.

You’ll battle Tatanga in the Sky Pop but, before you can fight him, you’ll have to take out Biokinton, a chicken-throwing cloud that bounces around the screen. Afterwards, Tatanga rises into the sky, incessantly firing cannonballs from his Pagosu warship. While easily the toughest boss of the game, Tatanga’s shots are easy to avoid once you spot their pattern and, while he can absorb more shots than his counterparts, he still goes down fairly easily to allow Mario to literally rocket away with the true Princess Daisy.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore and bop blocks through the game’s Kingdoms, you’ll collect a number of Coins; collect one hundred and you’ll be awarded with an extra life, which can also be found sporadically throughout the game (this time in the form of a heart).

Grab a flower to toss bouncy Superballs or a Star for temporary invincibility!

Mario’s chief power-up in this game is the Superball, which allows him to toss a projectile similar to the Fire Flower but with the added bonus of the Superball bouncing around the screen to damage multiple enemies and even collect Coins, though you can only ever throw  one at a time. If you take a hit while holding a Superball, you’ll revert right back to little Mario, but you can also grab Stars for a temporary period of invincibility.

Additional Features:
Unlike other Mario games of the time, you cannot play as Luigi or any character other than Mario; as a result, the primary additional features you’ll find in this game are the aforementioned autoscrolling and bonus stages. However, after you beat the game for the first time, you’ll unlock a “Hard Mode” that adds additional enemies to the game’s Kingdoms and, after clearing that mode, you’ll unlock a stage select feature. Otherwise, the 3DS version also allows you to create one save state to dramatically reduce the game’s difficulty and challenge (I remember owning this game as a kid and never being able to clear the Easton Kingdom but, thanks to the 3DS’s save feature, I beat the game in about an hour without really trying that hard).

The Summary:
It’s easy to forget about Super Mario Land; not only is its sequel worlds better in every way but so is the far more memorable and popular Super Mario Bros. It’s a great little burst of fun and a decent enough distraction for short car journeys but it’s not really got much to it, even for a Game Boy launch title or a product of its time. Still, this was the first Mario title I ever played so I have a decent amount of nostalgia for it and finally beating it after all these years was cathartic, though I’d still rather play the sequel of one of Wario’s many spin-offs on the same console.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your memories of Super Mario Land, if any? How do you feel it holds up compared to Super Mario Bros. or the other Mario Game Boy titles? What was your first ever Game Boy title and which is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Super Mario Land, Mario, and or the Game Boy in general, feel free to leave a comment below.

Game Corner: Wario Land 3 (Nintendo 3DS)

Released: 2 May 2012
Originally Released: 21 March 2000
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Game Boy Color

The Background:
After his debut in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (ibid, 1992) Mario’s dastardly doppelgänger, Wario, quickly usurped Nintendo’s portly plumber as the face of Mario’s handheld sub-series. After the critical and commercial success of Wario Land II (ibid, 1998), Wario’s adventures continued on the Game Boy Color, a long-awaited colour upgrade to Nintendo’s popular handheld console. Wario Land 3 continued the tradition of expanding upon its predecessors, featuring far more emphasis on backtracking, exploration, and experimentation and would be the last in the series to release before Nintendo released the technically-superior Game Boy Advance console. Still, Wario Land 3 was a much-lauded success upon release and was eventually brought to the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console some twelve years after its debut, which is the version I’ll be looking at today.

The Plot:
After Wario’s plane crash lands in a dense forest, he stumbles upon a mysterious cave and is sucked into a magical music box . An enigmatic hidden figure beseeches Wario to find five other music boxes to free him from his imprisonment and, excited at the prospect of finding more rare treasure, Wario dutifully sets out to satiate his lust for riches.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessors, Wario Land 3 is a sidescrolling action/platformer in which players take control of Wario, Mario’s mischievous and greedy lookalike. As in Wario Land II, Wario is functionally immortal; though he takes significant knockback from enemy attacks, he cannot ever be killed and faces no consequences for being attacked except being knocked from a platform or into another hazard. As a result, the player never needs to worry about replenishing Wario’s health or lives or being penalised for being attacked as long as they are patient enough to climb back up to where they were when they were knocked back.

Wario needs to re-learn some of his patented and basic abilities from the last games.

Wario begins the game noticeably less capable than in previous titles; he can still jump (shocking, I know!) and can barge into enemies with a shoulder charge but he can no longer pick up enemies and throw them…at least, not from the start. Instead, Wario must find power-ups in coloured treasure chests hidden throughout the game’s many levels to reacquire many of his usual skills, such as the butt stomp and the ability to pick up and throw enemies. Wario can, however, still roll into a ball when pressing down on a slope or coming off a zip-line to pass through narrow passageways.

Loot treasure from chests and use key items to expand the world map.

The main objective of the game is to visit each of the twenty-five levels found at each compass point on the overworld; each one contains four coloured keys and four chests of the same colour which house treasures, power-ups, and key items. Wario must collect each one to open up new areas of the overworld and progress further; this means that each level must be revisited multiple times with Wario’s new abilities and new areas opened up with the treasures and each compass point will only be fully accessible once all treasures have been collected.

Wario’s mysterious guide will help keep him on track when levels change and open up.

This makes the game much bigger and more confusing than even its predecessor, which featured branching story paths depending on the choices you made during gameplay; here, you constantly have to backtrack to old levels in order to open up new ones and, sometimes, key items will affect multiple levels at once. Thankfully, Wario can return to the mysterious figure in the Temple at any point for a hint on which level to go to, though it’s up to the player to figure out what’s changed in that level or which of Wario’s new abilities needs to be used to progress. The game’s overworld is split between the four compass points (North, South, East, and West) and Wario can quickly travel to each one by pressing the “Select” button on the overworld. From here you can also check on which treasures you have acquired, reactivate key items to remind yourself of where to go, and, eventually, trigger the game’s day and night cycle (which, otherwise, automatically switches to one or the other every time you finish a level, with the time of day also affecting the levels in certain ways).

You’ll need all the Coins you can find to beat the annoying golfing mini games.

Within each level, you can also find a number of Coins, including eight large Musical Coins; unlike previous games, though, the amount of Coins you have doesn’t affect the game’s ending and Wario’s capacity is capped at 999 Coins. Instead, Wario uses Coins to play a number of hidden golf mini games found in each level, which is necessary to open previously blocked paths and find more keys and chests. The golf mini games help to break up the gameplay a bit but is needlessly frustrating when you first play it since you’re not really given any direction on what to do. Basically, by moving the screen to the right, you can see where Wario’s shot will land on the field; you need to press A and then quickly press it again when the slider reaches a power level high enough to avoid getting stuck in water, lava, or the rough grass and then quickly press it again when it hits the blue area of the slider to take your shot. You get four shots at hitting the Para-Goom and, if you fail to sink it in the goal, you’ll have to pay some more Coins to try again. When I first played this, I was frustrated by the finicky controls and vague directions but, once you play it a couple of times, it’s not so hard to get the timing down and the 3DS’s save state feature really helps speed the process up.

Wario’s “Reactions” will allow him to find more treasure and reach new areas.

As in the previous game, Wario can still change forms when hit with certain attacks; these will briefly alter Wario in strange and amusing ways to help him break through previously impassable blocks, reach higher areas, or pass through small spaces and figuring out how to use these different transformations (or “Reactions”, as the game calls them) is key to finding all the keys, chests, and Musical Coins. When in a level, you can also save your progress at any time, see which keys you currently hold, which chests you’ve opened, how many Musical Coins you’ve collected, and even return to the overworld map all with an appreciated ease.

Wario Land 3 is made more difficult by all the backtracking and winding paths.

Compared to the last two Wario Land games, Wario Land 3 is much more difficult and time consuming; thanks to the abundance of backtracking and vague hints, it can be very difficult to know where you need to go and what you need to do. Thus, you are encouraged to experiment; if you see something blocking your path, try using all of Wario’s abilities as some will affect the obstacle or possibly even destroy it. When exploring a level for the first time, try to take note of your surroundings and out of reach areas as you may need to return later with different abilities to access these parts of the level, and be sure to visit the Temple if you ever forget the levels your key items have affected or opened up. For the most part, though, I found Wario Land 3 best played in short bursts of about an hour or so tackling each level in turn as they opened up or changed rather than trying to slog through it in extended sittings, which may have contributed to my more annoying experiences with the game as it never seemed to end.

Graphics and Sound:
Wario Land 3 was easily the best looking entry in the series at that point; thanks to being made exclusively for the Game Boy Color, the game is full of bright, vibrant colours that really pop out at you. While Wario is actually a little more subdued in his colouration, appearing almost monochrome, this actually helps him to stand out against the colourful backgrounds and, as you’d expect, he’s full of life and character, falling asleep if left idle for too long and scratching his butt when left halfway up a ladder.

Levels are more varied, detailed, and colourful than ever and change as you progress.

There is a lot of level variety on offer in Wario Land 3; each compass point of the map is home to at least six different levels and, rather than each compass point having a fixed theme, every level looks different and has different gimmicks contained within. You’ll explore standard platforming levels such as forests, deserts, volcanoes, and ice levels but also explore ruins, swamps, towns, castles, and caves. Each one has at least two different colour palettes thanks to the day/night cycle and, though they start off relatively small and restrictive, each one is quite large, with many different layers and areas to explore as you gain new abilities and affect the overworld.

Story has more emphasis and is told through little cutscenes that even include some dialogue.

Wario Land 3 has a bit more emphasis on story this time around, with short cutscenes playing whenever Wario acquires a new item to show how it has affected the overworld map. When you find new power-ups, a short tutorial will play showing you how to use Wario’s new ability (which can be revisited at any time from the pause menu) and there are a few instances of dialogue, primarily from the hidden figure, to relay the game’s simple plot. As you’d expect from a Mario/Wario title, the soundtrack is suitably chirpy and catchy, though I can’t say that it really made much of a lasting impression on me.

Enemies and Bosses:
Since the game’s plot does not involve the Black Sugar Gang this time around, you’re faced with a whole slew of all-new enemies, many of which behave very similar to those from the last two games. Accordingly, you’ll come across spear-wielding Spearhead’s who will prick you with their sharp weapons, Para-Gooms who descend from the air and shield themselves with spiked umbrellas, puffer fish-like Haridamas which sprout spikes when they get close, and annoying birds that fly across the screen and stun you but can make for a boost to higher areas if you can time your jump correctly.

Wario Land 3 moves away from pirates and doubles down on wacky, annoying enemies.

You’ll also come up against a bunch of enemies that will change Wario’s form with their attacks or abilities; Appleby and Doughnuteers throw delicious apples and doughnuts your way, Fire Robota’s spout flames, Hammer-bots relentlessly try to squash you with their giant hammers, floating jellyfish try to sting you, and Zombies constantly spring out when it’s most inconvenient to hurl their heads at you. For the most part, these enemies are placed in or near areas where you’ll need the accompanying Reaction to progress further but, equally as often, they’re simply placed to be annoying so if you don’t need a specific transformation be sure to avoid them.

Timing is key to getting past the bosses and to avoid being expelled from the boss arenas.

Wario has a tough battle ahead of him this time around as he must battle eleven different bosses in his quest for the five magical boxes; because of the nature of the game, though, it’s entirely possible to battle these bosses out of order depending on what abilities you have and key items you’ve found, which can mix up subsequent playthroughs of the game. With the exception of the final boss, each of Wario Land 3’s bosses requires three hits to defeat and, like in the last game, each one will expel you from the boss arena if you get hit or mess up, changes up their attack patterns as the fight progresses, and requires quite a bit of skill on your part to defeat. The Doll Boy, for example, sits atop a totem pole tossing hammers at you; you must avoid these and destroy his totem pole to bring him down to ground level then frantically avoid his hammer swings to jump on his head and finish him off with a shoulder barge. Similarly, Wormwould pops out of the ground to spit rocks at you that will send you tumbling off the platform if they hit you so you need to use your ground pound on his head before he gets the chance.

Often, the direct approach is insufficient to defeat Wario Land 3‘s bosses.

Each boss is unique and requires different strategies to get around their attacks; Wolfenboss has to be knocked out of the air by ricocheting a Kuri at the right angle, for example, while Mudee is fought while you’re clinging to a net and requires you to time a ground pound onto its body while avoiding its spiked tail. Anonster, meanwhile, can only be brought down to ground level by throwing its own web balls up at it, which can be tricky because it’s hard to judge the angle of your throw.

Pesce and Shoot were two of the game’s more frustrating and and time-consuming bosses.

Some bosses are more unique and frustrating than others, though: Jamano plunges the arena into darkness, forcing you to quickly navigate around the small area hitting four skulls to bring the exorcising light and Wario needs to avoid Helio’s infectious stings and ground pound a pump to inflate and explode the boss. Easily the two most frustrating bosses, for me, though were Pesce and Shoot; Pesce, a weird rat/piranha hybrid, can only be defeated by poisoning it with mouldy cheese but it’s really tricky to time the dropping of the cheese so the damn thing actually eats it. Shoot is similar to Dunk from Wario Land II in that you must beat him at a ball-based game, in this case football. You need to avoid being squashed by Shoot but it’s not made clear exactly how you’re supposed to smash him into the goal; the easiest way I found was to lure him near to the goal (but not too near) and then barge him when he’s bouncing in the air as I could never get him into the goal when the goalie was stunned by a ground pound.

Wario’s final challenge is a gigantic, demonic clown that is actually capable of killing him.

After finding all five musical boxes, Wario returns to the hidden figure, who reveals himself to be a demonic clown entity and the game’s final boss. This is the only time in the game that you can get a game over as Wario will instantly be defeated if the clown grabs a hold of him. You need to jump over, or duck under, his hands and stun his fists with a ground pound and then jump and throw the fist into the clown’s face four times to win. Honestly, the most difficult part of this boss was getting the timing of my attacks and jumps right as his fists swing at you pretty fast and it’s easy to lose your grip on the stunned hand if you’re not fast enough.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As mentioned before, Wario can acquire upgrades for his abilities and relearn classic skills from various treasure boxes. This includes an upgrade to his shoulder attack and ground pound to break through tougher blocks, being able to charge up an enemy before throwing it to throw it higher and further, the ability to swim (and then swim through currents), smashing objects from below, and performing a high jump by pressing up and jump at the same time.

Many of Wario’s Reactions return from Wario Land II and function in the same way.

Wario also assumes a number of different forms upon being hit with certain attacks or encountering certain hazards. Many of these return from Wario Land II, such as Fat Wario (who destroy enemies by touching them and can smash through special blocks), Fire Wario (who, after running around with his butt on fire for a while, eventfully becomes engulfed in flames to break through special blocks), Flat Wario (who is small enough to squeeze through tiny gaps but extremely difficult to control, with the game forcing you to desperately try and float him through gaps in vertical areas), Zombie Wario (who passes through thin platforms when jumping on them), and Puffy Wario (who relentlessly float upwards until he hits a ceiling or block).

A lot of Wario’s new Reactions are more of a hindrance than a benefit.

You can also become Ice Skatin’ Wario when frozen (more of a hindrance than a help), Snowball and Ball o’ String Wario to become an unstoppable ball and break through special blocks, Bouncy Wario (helpful to reach high areas but difficult to control), Bubble Wario (which can let you pass through directional currents to reach goodies but is often just an annoying hazard), Invisible Wario to get past Seeing-eye Doors, and Vampire Wario. This last one is pretty cool as you become a Dracula-type figure and can turn into a vampire bat by pressing B and fly up to new areas but, since this latter mechanic is the only useful thing about this Reaction, I’m not sure why Wario doesn’t just become a bat by default.

Additional Features:
There are one hundred treasures to find in Wario Land 3; you’ll need all of Wario’s abilities and certain key items to find them all as some are not only hidden in previous levels but also in hidden levels on the overworld map. Thankfully, you don’t need to find them all to complete the game and you don’t get a different ending for having them all but collecting all one hundred does unlock a time attack mode. There are also, as mentioned, eight large Musical Coins to be found in each level; collecting all of these opens up a fourth golf mini game if you just can’t get enough of that particular gem. Of course, if you’re playing the 3DS version of the game, you can also make liberate, unapologetic use of the save state system to make the game a little easier on yourself.

The Summary:
Wario Land 3 really surprised me; I kind of expected the series to get a bit simpler as it progressed but, if anything, the Land sub-series just got bigger and more ambitious as it went on. This is easily the biggest of this sub-series both in terms of graphics and its scope which is great for a classic handheld title and I can’t fault the game for being packed full of content but…man, is this a long, convoluted game. Wario Land 3 really kicked my ass as I went into it expecting quick, easy, pick-up-and-play gameplay and was, instead, forced to constantly backtrack and explore all over the game’s vast overworld and numerous levels. This was great for expanding the depth and range of the sub-series and makes for an addictive and engaging handheld experience; I tried to limit my play time to short bursts of a few hours or so but often found myself getting sucked into the game as I tried to track down one more treasure chest or unlock one more level for my next session.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever played Wario Land 3 before? How did you find it compared to the other Wario Land videogames? Were you a fan of how big the game was and its emphasis on backtracking and exploration or did you find it maybe to be a bit too ambitious for its own good? What are your thoughts on Wario as a character and his wacky sub-series? Would you like to see more of him and his unique gameplay mechanics or do you think he’s better suited as a side character relegated to mini games? Whatever thoughts you have on Wario and Wario Land 3, feel free to drop a comment below.

Game Corner: Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (Xbox One)

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Released: May 2019
Originally Released: July 1991
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
So far, since I started working my way through the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, I’ve realised two things: first, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (ibid, 1987) was easily the worst of the Castlevania titles released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and, second, Castlevania: The Adventure (ibid, 1989) was a disappointingly frustrating debut for the series on the Game Boy. Yet, despite this, Konami returned to everyone’s favourite monochrome handheld in 1991, just a few months before the release of the fantastic Super Castlevania IV (ibid, 1991). By this time, the Game Boy had finally made the jump to colour and developers were actually able to put its limited capabilities to good use, even as its lifecycle began to wind down, but does Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge manage to outperform it’s handheld predecessor or is it more of the same, exasperating gameplay?

The Plot:
Fifteen years after defeating Count Dracula in Castlevania: The Adventure, Christopher Belmont, of the renowned Belmont family of vampire hunters, is forced to take up his legendary whip, the Vampire Killer, and confront Dracula once again after the Count’s evil spirit corrupts both Christopher’s son, Soleil, and erects four castles to consolidate his power once more.

Gameplay:
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players once again take control of Trevor and Simon’s ancestor, Christopher Belmont. Luckily, age has actually improved Christopher’s performance rather than slowing him down as, while he still limps along in the trademark Belmont shuffle, his jumping mechanics are vastly improved over those seen in Castlevania: The Adventure. Now, when you jump, you no longer plummet like a stone or feel as though you’re constantly fighting against gravity in a losing battle; he still jumps backwards (often to his death) when hit and platforming can still be a tricky business, but it’s far better than in the last game, finally bringing the controls back on par with…the first Castlevania (ibid, 1986).

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Battle with the whip or the returning sub-weapons!

Christopher once again battles with his whip, the Vampire Killer, which can again be upgraded to be both longer and to shoot fireballs as in the last game. Unfortunately, he can still only attack in the direction he is facing, meaning you’ll have to jump or use ledges to dispose of airborne enemies…or make use of the game’s sub-weapons. Yep, conspicuous by their absence in their last game, sub-weapons return here and, while we only get two of them, they’re the two I’ve used the most in the series thus far (the Holy Water and the axe). As always, you can whip candles to collect hearts, which once again act as the ammo for your sub-weapon due to the debut of meat into the Game Boy series; however, in my playthrough, I never actually found a single piece of health-restoring meat and had to settle for cheesing save states and having my health bar refilled after besting each of the game’s bosses. Like in the last game, you can also grab coins to increase your score and 1Ups to earn extra lives, and this game also features the debut of the traditional door transitions from one area to another, again bringing it more in-line with its NES counterparts.

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Some castles have you travelling left to right, which is always a weird experience.

Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a notable return to form for the Castlevania series in that, of the two Game Boy titles, it is the one that most closely replicates its NES counterparts. Yet, like its predecessor, the game is still short on stages; you’ll visit four castles (Cloud, Rock, Crystal, and Plant), each of which can be selected in any order from the main menu. While it doesn’t really matter which order you take on the castles, each has different enemies and gameplay mechanics to overcome. Take on the Plant and Crystal castles, for example, and you’ll be tasked with travelled from the right-side of the screen to the left, which goes against almost every instinct in my body. I found Rock Castle to be the best one to start with as it has the easiest boss, enemies, and level layout, while Cloud Castle was one of the hardest takes to the inclusion of the Night Stalker enemy. Regardless, once you’ve cleared the four castles, a fifth, Dracula’s Castle, rises up and presents the game’s toughest challenge.

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Belmont’s Revenge is all about the ropes.

Like its predecessor, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is an extremely vertically-orientated videogame; Christopher clambers up and down ropes, rather than taking staircases, to reach higher and lower areas of each castle. Luckily, as he’s often once again faced with walls of spikes looking to impale him, he can now quickly slip down a rope to quickly clear these obstacles, but he’ll also be tasked with jumping from one rope to another, which can be a tricky task. The biggest hindrance to this is that Christopher won’t jump from his rope if he doesn’t have a clear path so you’ll have to make sure to manoeuvre Christopher beyond the edge of the stage or risk taking damage. As part of this, Christopher can now use spider webs to clear gaps; spiders will descend and ascend down a web line and you’ll have to use your weapons to kill them, leaving yourself a series of lines to jump to. As with all Castlevania games, the enemies respawn, so, if you mess up, you can just respawn the spiders by walking a little off-screen so you can try again. The breaking and collapsing platforms of Castlevania: The Adventure also make a return; you’ll again have to contend with Big Eye’s exploding and destroying bridges though, for the most part, you’ll simply drop to a marshy layer below. While this does slow your forward momentum, it’s still preferable to dropping to your immediate death. Rather than hopping from one collapsing platform to another, as in the last game, Christopher is now faced with blocks of crystal; when he lands on them, the block starts to crack; wait too long to make your move and the block will shatter, dropping Christopher to his death, meaning it’s best to plan ahead a bit and hop to safety as soon as possible. Thankfully, the auto-scrolling sections and abundance of instant-death spikes of Castlevania: The Adventure have been ditched; you’re still asked to make some difficult jumps, will have to contend with spiked platforms, and you’ll have to frantically slide away from some spiked walls but it’s nothing like in the last game.

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Each castle features its own traps and hazards.

Instead, you’ll now be faced with massive weighted spikes that must have their central column destroyed in order for you to pass by safely; a similar mechanic was present in Castlevania: The Adventure but its far more prevalent here and you’ll have to risk taking some damage to use the weight’s height to reach a rope before the weight drops too low. Plant Castle also uses a blackout feature at one point; whenever you destroy a candlestick in this section, the entire background and foreground will go pitch-black, meaning it’s usually best to avoid destroying the candlesticks unless you’re confident of where you’re walking and/or jumping. Cloud Castle tweaks the rope-based mechanics of the title by having gears turn the ropes up and down in intervals; since touching the gears is liable to drain your health quite quickly, it’s best to jump from rope to rope as quickly as possible. You’ll also jump to ropes weighed down by spiked balls; as you jump to these, the weights will shift and you’ll also be at risk of taking damage from spikes or the gears unless you jump to safety. All of these gameplay mechanics and obstacles are ramped up to eleven by the time you reach Dracula’s Castle, fitting as this is the game’s most difficult level by far. However, despite some tricky platforming and the presence of some truly annoying enemies, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is far less merciless than its predecessor. Since Christopher no longer drops like a stone every single time he tries to clear even the smallest gap, it’s far easier to navigate through the game’s handful of castles which, while still limited compared to other Castlevania titles, are also much bigger than in the last game.

Graphics and Sound:
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is still a Game Boy title so you can’t expect too much here but, unlike the last game, this title actually features a decent level of detail in each of its environments. Crystal Castle features a Greco-Roman aesthetic in the background and an abundance of semi-transparent crystal platforms and blocks, Rock Castle is dotted with cracks and holes for rats to leap out at you and resembles a cave-like dungeon, Plant Castle seems coated in moss and/or slime and features a quagmire-like swamp beneath its destructible bridges, and Cloud Castle (fittingly) has mountains in the background and is full of gears and pulleys.

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Belmont’s Revenge has some varied and nicely detailed environments.

Dracula’s Castle begins with a fairly elaborate gated courtyard filled with statues, progresses to a rock-like dungeon, and culminates with a stained-glass throne room lined with chandeliers, portraits, and large paned windows. It’s all very elaborate and nicely detailed, giving each area is own unique look and feel, yet not being so detailed that you can’t see the sprites. Speaking of which, both Christopher and his enemies look pretty much the same as in the last game; classic, blocky little 8-bit sprites are the order of the day but, thanks to the game better balancing its limited colour palette and backgrounds, it’s much easier to see where Christopher is at any time…except when you’re forced to travel right to left, which always confuses my line of sight. Similar to Castlevania: The Adventure, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection only offers a black-and-white, monochrome, or colour filter rather than the more detailed gradients offered by the original Game Boy Color version but, despite this, the game is noticeably faster and suffers from less (if any) sprite flickering.

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A few limited cutscenes and dialogue boxes extend the game’s narrative.

Unlike its predecessor, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge also features a few limited cutscenes; after clearing the four castles, Dracula’s abode dramatically rises on the map screen and, each time you visit a castle or an area of Dracula’s Castle, you’ll be treated to an animation of Christopher heading there. Additionally, after defeating later bosses, you’ll actually get some dialogue boxes pop up that give some context to the game’s events, which was a nice (and surprising) touch. Similarly, the game features a fairly decent and catchy soundtrack; not only does each castle have its own theme, when you progress far enough into the castle the music will switch to a more ominous tune to help keep things interesting as you play.

Enemies and Bosses:
Every enemy from Castlevania: The Adventure makes a return in this sequel, meaning you’ll still be going up against giant eyeballs, sloppy Mud Men, annoying crows, and pizza-spitting globby monsters. The Under Mole boss from the last game is recycled as the regular rat enemies, which leap out at you from holes just like that boss did, and the last game’s worst enemy, the Night Stalker, returns more frustrating than ever as it is nigh-impossible to dodge his flying sickles without taking damage. There are some new enemies on offer here as well, though; there’s a giant bat that, when destroyed, results in two smaller, regular bats buzzing around you until you take them out as well; skeletons make their Game Boy debut, here clambering up and down and jumping to and from ropes erratically whilst throwing bones at you, and you’ll also have to contend with jellyfish-like enemies who soak up damage like a sponge and drain your hearts when touched. Perhaps the most interesting new enemy is the Cave Snail; these are dormant until you make the lights go out in Planet Castle, when they’ll unfurl and plod towards you. They’re not the most difficult, exciting, or sexy enemy but it’s an interesting gameplay mechanic, if nothing else. Aside from the Night Stalker, you may also have difficulty whenever you face off with the dagger-throwing Lizard Men but, once you learn their pattern, it’s pretty easy to safely avoid them as they hop around chucking daggers at you.

CV2BRBosses
Belmont’s Revenge has some massive bosses.

Bosses in Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge are a step up from the last game in terms of their size, variety, and threat; while the armoured Iron Doll, statue-like Twin Trident, and teleporting wizard Dark Side aren’t too much of a challenge, you’ll also face the two-headed Angel Mummy, which is a skeletal creature that has fused to a wall, takes up the entire right-side of the screen, and launches both boomerang-like energy waves and fireballs at you, making it perhaps the most difficult of the regular bosses. The Bone Dragon can be a bit of a bastard as well; this is where the auto-scrolling comes back with a vengeance and you’ll be forced to lumber ahead so that you can avoid the dragon’s bony body, spiked tail, and land a few hits to its big ugly head.

CV2BRDracula
Those spheres make this battle with Dracula one of the toughest so far.

Once you reach Dracula’s Castle, you’ll have to battle Christopher’s son, Soleil, who has been possessed by Dracula’s corrupting influence. The toughest boss of the game so far, Soleil not only throws daggers across the screen that can rain down on you, he attacks with his own whip and can absorb a great deal of punishment. Luckily, his pattern is quite easy to predict so you can pre-emptively toss Holy Water at him to damage him when he’s standing still and get a few hits in with your whip at the same time. After freeing Soleil, Christopher goes on to battle Count Dracula once more in an area strikingly similar to the one they fought in in Castlevania: The Adventure (another nice call-back). While Dracula only has the one form this time around, he’s far tougher than before as, this time, he surrounds and protects himself with a series of spheres, blasting them out in a spiral pattern as he teleports around the spiked-lined arena. As always, you can only damage his head and, due to the nature of his teleportation animation and the aforementioned spheres, you have a very limited window to land a hit and get to safety. As a result, the axe is a must-have item for this boss as it allows you to get into a safe position and still hit Dracula without risking the jump to a higher platform but, even then, this was one of the hardest of the 8-bit Dracula boss battles for me.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Everything for the last game makes a return here, meaning the Christopher can still throw fireballs out of his whip once it’s fully powered up. These do feel slightly nerfed than in Castlevania: The Adventure, though, as they’re slower and can’t be thrown successively (this, however, does seem to have improved the game’s sprite flickering and performance). You also get the axe and the Holy Water as sub-weapons, which is a welcome return, and, while you could complain about the lack of other Castlevania sub-weapons, they’re not needed thanks to the versatility of Christopher’s whip.

Additional Features:
Like pretty much every Castlevania videogame, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge features a “Hard Mode” that, as the name suggests, offers a greater challenge. Unlike its predecessors, though, the only way to play the game’s Hard Mode is by inputting a password as beating the game simply leaves you in the “The End” graphic. Passwords can also be used to jump to the game’s various stages and bosses and grant extra lives, but don’t offer any other benefits; there’s no way to play as Soleil, for example, which is a bit of a shame. Furthermore, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection bestows upon you an Achievement after you clear the game, allows you to make liberal use of the save state feature, and apply different frames and display options to customise the game’s appearance to your liking.

CV2BRConclusion

The Summary:
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a dramatic step up from its predecessor; featuring far more detailed and varied environments, the return of classic Castlevania tropes like the doors to new areas and sub-weapons, and proving that the Game Boy is more than capable of producing a worthy counterpart to its NES cousins. Honestly, this is the Castlevania Game Boy title we should have gotten in the first place as, rather than being a frustrating, subpar experience, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is actually relatively decent to play simply due to the fact that you don’t plummet to your death every time you jump. With far larger and layered stages, more visually striking and challenging boss battles, and a difficulty curve that is based on your level of skill and ability rather than simply (literally) weighing you down with slowdown, sprite flickering, and sloppy physics, it’s still far from surpassing its NES equivalents but Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a decent enough Castlevania title, especially for a Game Boy game.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think about Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge? Do you agree that it showed that Castlevania: The Adventure was capable of so much more or do you still rank it low on the totem pole of Castlevania titles? What was your favourite Game Boy title? Whatever your thoughts about Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, or Castlevania, in general, drop a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Castlevania: The Adventure (Xbox One)

CVALogo

Released: May 2019
Originally Released: October 1989
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4

The Background:
Understandably, it seemed like Nintendo had a rule of sorts back in the day: If a title was successful on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) then it was getting a port, or some kind of sister release, on the Game Boy…and Castlevania (Konami, 1986) was no different. Back then, of course, Nintendo’s Game Boy was quite the popular bit of kit; even after SEGA released their technically superior Game Gear in 1990, the Game Boy was still the go-to handheld gaming device. However, Castlevania: The Adventure (not The Castlevania Adventure, as the title seems to suggest) was an early Game Boy title and, as such, is largely subpar even compared to the NES Castlevania but is it still capable of telling a halfway decent Castlevania story or does it crash and burn in all its monochrome glory?

The Plot:
A century before Simon Belmont’s adventures in Castlevania, his ancestor, Christopher Belmont, took up the legendary whip, the Vampire Killer, and went on his own journey to confront the dreaded Count Dracula.

Gameplay:
Castlevania: The Adventure, despite its title, is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players take control of Christopher Belmont. However, just like Trevor and Simon in the series’ NES titles, Christopher is a clunky, heavy lump of meat; he trudges forwards as if walking through soggy mud, has very slow reaction times, jumps backwards upon taking damage, and has some of the most awkward jumping mechanics I’ve ever seen, to say nothing of in the Castlevania series.

CVAWhip
Christopher’s whip can be upgraded to shoot fireballs!

When you press the jump button, Christopher does a pitiful little hop; holding it allows him to jump higher and, when combined with a direction, theoretically allows him to clear gaps…but he has a hell of a hard time doing this. Generally, when you try and clear a gap, Christopher prefers to drop like a stone to his death, meaning you can burn through your limited lives quite easily just trying to jump across a small gap. Like his counterparts, Christopher wields the Vampire Killer, a whip that you can upgrade to first make it longer and then, revolutionarily, spit out a fireball. Each time Christopher takes damage, he loses a portion of health and his whip downgrades one level, meaning you may struggle with later enemies and bosses if you take too much damage.

CVAGaps
Castlevania: The Adventure loves breakable and falling platforms.

Due to the limited power of the Game Boy, Christopher cannot pick up sub-weapons in this game, meaning that you’re heavily reliant upon the whip’s fireball mechanic. This also means that, for the first time in the series, picking up a heart actually replenishes your health! Whipping candles also allows you to pick up coins for extra points (being granted an extra life upon every 10,000 points) and, on the rare occasion, a 1Up that gives you an extra life. And you’ll definitely need to grab these when you see them as Castlevania: The Adventure is one tough cookie, probably the most difficult of the 8-bit Castlevania’s so far. This is primarily due to three prominent gameplay mechanics: the first is the game’s use of breakable and falling platforms. In one particular area, you can destroy Big Eye’s, which explode upon being attacked and take out a section of a bridge. In many other areas, Christopher must jump from one platform to another but, upon landing, the platforms will almost immediately drop, meaning you have to have pitch-perfect timing to even attempt a clumsy jump to the next platform. The second is the game’s use of looping sections; at times, you’ll be faced with the choice of taking a higher or lower path, usually using a rope. Castlevania: The Adventure loves to have you climbing up and down ropes, for some reason, rather than climbing stairs, making for the most vertically-orientated Castlevania title thus far. Sometimes, though, you’ll simply loop around again and again because you’re supposed to take the other route; this isn’t so bad but it’s compounded by the game’s timer, which continually counts down at the top of the screen, and, of course, the fact that the game’s enemies respawn when you leave an area.

CVASpikes
You’ll be outrunning a lot of instant-death spikes!

The third and most annoying element is the game’s use of auto-scrolling sections. The game only has four stages so, to make the third stage more difficult and annoying (and, no doubt, to pad the game out by sapping you of all your lives), the stage sees Christopher being inexorably chased by a wall of spikes. You have to climb up ropes and make tricky jumps across gaps (and on to falling platforms) to escape the rising spikes and then rush to the left past enemies and jumping from rope to rope as the spikes chase you from the right. It’s a tense, frustrating section of the game that pretty much lasts for the entirety of the third stage; the fourth and final stage might be lined with instant death spikes but at least they don’t force you to plod along as fast as Christopher’s heavy ass can take him (which is not very fast at all). Unlike every other 8-bit Castlevania title, Castlevania: The Adventure is a cruel, mercilessly cheap little platformer; no matter how good your skills are, the game’s plodding pace and insistence on having Christopher drop like a stone every time you press the jump button means that you are, more often than not, going to die at least once per stage when playing this game. Perhaps this is the reason why the game doesn’t have many enemies (well, that and the Game Boy’s lack of processing power…) and is quite generous with its health and 1Ups because the moment you try and hop across a gap, you’re probably going to plummet to your doom regardless of your skill level.

Graphics and Sound:
As a Game Boy title (and a very early Game Boy title at that), Castlevania: The Adventure is, understandably, quite bland. Each of the game’s four stages is unique in its presentation, which is honestly surprising as it would have been so much easier for the developers to have the entire game take place inside Dracula’s Castle. Instead, you’ll journey through a gloomy graveyard, a haunted forest, and different areas of the Count’s spike-filled castle, which helps keep the game visually interesting stage by stage.

CVAGraphics
Castlevania: The Adventure looks quite good…in colour…

As for the game’s sprites, Castlevania: The Adventure actually does a pretty decent job of replicating the aesthetics of its 8-bit counterpart; unfortunately, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection only offers the original, black-and-white version of the title, which is a shame as the Game Boy Color version is much easier on the eyes. Even with the Collection’s colour filter, Christopher struggles to stand out from his surroundings and enemies and the game suffers from slowdown and blurriness, which leads to some noticeable sprite flickering, all of which only makes the difficult platforming even more frustrating. Surprisingly, the game has quite a decent little soundtrack; each area has its own catchy themes (with the first stage’s “Battle of the Holy” being a standout track), which, again, is surprising as I would have understood if the developers had just used one or two tracks throughout the game.

Enemies and Bosses:
Castlevania: The Adventure manages to separate itself from its 8-bit counterparts by featuring a few different enemies; sure, you’ll still have to contend with bats and variations of the crows and fireball-spitting bone pillars, but, rather than being faced with waves of skeletons, zombies, and axe-throwing knights, you’re faced with some unique foes. Christopher battles giant eyes that explode on contact, the shuffling Creeper, variations of the mud men (who don’t split into pieces and are more like the old zombie enemies), annoying little worms that can curl into balls to attack you, and perhaps the game’s most annoying enemy, the Night Stalker. Like the axe knights, the Night Stalker tosses a projectile at you (in this case a sickle) either up high or down low; what makes this guy so annoying, though, is that the sickle will circle around and you’ll have to either awkwardly try and jump over it or desperately try to duck under it in time, meaning the fireball whip is highly recommended against these guys.

CVABosses
The game’s bosses aren’t much of a threat, even when they appear as regular enemies.

As the game only features four stages, you’ll only have to battle four bosses, none of which are particularly difficult. The game throws a wrench in the works by having Gobanz, the armour-clad boss of the first stage who can repel your fireballs (they won’t hurt you though) and wields a retractable spear, pop up as a regular enemy in the final stage but, as long as you attack his head from a distance, he’s not much of a threat. The game even cheaps out a bit by having the Under Mole simply be a gauntlet against a near-endless wave of the creatures but it’s pretty simple to stay completely safe from danger and destroy them as their pattern is pitifully predictable.

CVADracula
Though he has two forms, Dracula is a bit of a pushover here.

The game’s most difficult bosses are easily the Death Bat and the two-stage finale against Dracula. After you destroy Dracula’s human form, he’ll transform into a giant bat and send three smaller bats out to damage you; this battle also takes place over a pit of spikes but, for the most part, its pretty simple to camp out on a platform for both bosses and deal some decent damage before dodging or switching your position, meaning their actual threat is minimal, at best.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Whip at candlesticks and you may produce an orb; collect one to make the Vampire Killer longer and another to have it shoot fireballs. You can also grab a Cross to receive a generous invincibility but that’s about it for power-ups. Collect coins for points; you’ll get an extra life for every 10,000 points and, the more enemies you destroy, coins you collect, and faster you beat a stage, the more points you’ll receive as a bonus. Otherwise, that’s pretty much all there is.

Additional Features:
As is a tradition in the Castlevania series, once you defeat Dracula and sit through the game’s credits, you’ll be deposited back into the first stage only, this time, you’ll be playing in “Hard Mode”. Every time you beat the game, you replay it again and again, with the enemy’s dishing out greater and greater damage each time for an added challenge. Unfortunately, there is no password system for this title, though you are given an infinite number of continues if (well, when) you run out of lives. As with all titles in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, you can earn an Achievement for clearing the game, use save states to cheese the game’s difficulty save your progress, and apply different frames and display options (but, sadly, there’s no colour option).

CVAConclusion

The Summary:
Castlevania: The Adventure does a decent enough job of recreating the look and feel of the first Castlevania while doing just enough (literally the bare minimum) to stand out as its own title. However, most of the features that make this game unique are the most frustrating parts of the game; omitting the sub-weapons makes the game so much tougher as you really need the fireball whip but you’ll lose it the moment you take damage and the game’s janky controls and insistence on making jumping as difficult as possible means it’s very difficult to jump and whip and clear a gap while collecting an item that much harder. With only four stages, a handful of bland enemies, and four of the franchise’s easiest boss encounters, Castlevania: The Adventure clearly struggles to get the most out of the Game Boy. As an early release, though, it was clearly hampered by the fact that other developers hadn’t yet found ways to working around the handheld’s limited capabilities and, as we have seen, the Game Boy is perfectly capable of producing decent 2D sidescrolling titles so it stands to reason that Castlevania: The Adventure could have been so much more than a slow, clunky title with a penchant for having you plummet to your death at every press of the jump button.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Did you ever play Castlevania: The Adventure on the Game Boy? Do you give the game a pass (or, at least, some slack) because it was a Game Boy title or did you think Nintendo’s handheld was capable of producing a much better Castlevania title? What was your favourite Game Boy game back in the day? Whatever you think about the game, or Castlevania, in general, leave a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.

Game Corner: Wario Land II (Nintendo 3DS)

GameCorner
WarioLand2Logo

Released: 2012
Originally Released: February 1999
Original Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Game Boy Color

The Background:
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Nintendo R&D1, 1992) didn’t just blow its predecessor out of the water in terms of graphical and gameplay improvements, it also introduced the gaming world to one of my favourite characters of all time Wario, Mario’s evil doppelgänger, for the first time. While it would be some time before Wario made the jump to a main Nintendo console, and before he was relegated to simple mini games and cameo appearances, Mario’s evil twin thrived on Nintendo’s handhelds. First, he usurped the Super Mario Land franchise with Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (ibid, 1994), which led to a slew of sequels on Nintendo’s handheld systems.

The Plot:
After besting Captain Syrup and her Black Sugar Pirates, Wario is rudely awakened one day to find his castle has been flooded and ransacked by Syrup and her goons; enraged, he sets off to recover his loot and get his revenge.

Gameplay:
Wario Land II is a sidescrolling, 2D action/platformer; players control Wario as he journeys across a variety of worlds, collecting Yellow Coins and dispatching enemies with Wario’s patented Dash Attack and Ground Pound.

WarioLand2Attacks
Wario uses brute force to get his way.

Wario controls almost exactly as he did in the last game; he can jump on most enemies to stun them so he can pick them up and throw them, or just barge them with his Dash Attack. However, the knockback from enemy attacks is a considerable frustration; not only do you lose vital Coins, you also bounce back quite a way, which can be extremely annoying and lead you to drop to lower levels.

WarioLand2Forms
Rather than dying, Wario is transformed, allowing access to new areas.

What sets Wario Land II apart from its predecessor, and other Mario videogames, is Wario’s inability to die; when hurt by enemies or traps, Wario will lose some of the Coins he has gathered or be transformed into one of a number of different forms.

WarioLand2Treasure
There’s a lot of loot to find in Wario Land II.

These transformations are essential to navigating the different worlds Wario travels to and uncovering Wario Land II’s numerous secrets; hidden in every world is a piece of treasure, which Wario must earn by matching panels. As with its predecessor, finding the doors to these treasure rooms is no easy feat and Wario must navigate through some tricky puzzles and traps in order to find every piece.

WarioLand2Paths
Wario Land II hides many hidden paths behind a linear veil.

Once a world is completed, the player can also earn a Picture Piece to complete a map to the pirate’s treasure by completing a number-matching game. Wario Land utilised a map hub world similar to Super Mario Land 2 but Wario Land II is far more linear…or so it would seem. In actuality, there are many branching paths the player can take as they play; even inaction at the start of the game will lead Wario to different worlds and treasures. Once you finish the game, you gain access to the Treasure Map, which details all the different paths, allowing you the chance to recover the entirety of Wario’s missing loot and reach the true finale.

Graphics and Sound:
Wario Land II represents a time far removed from the basic, unremarkable presentation of Super Mario Land (ibid, 1989); characters and levels are brought to life through large, charming sprites that are a far cry from the first game’s monochrome offerings.

WarioLand2Graphics
Everything looks and sounds pitch-perfect here.

There are a lot of familiar sounds here that return from Wario Land, all of which add to the quirky, slightly off-kilter nature of Wario and his world. Nintendo walked a fine line between familiar and unique but executed this perfectly so that playing Wario Land II is unlike playing any other Mario title from that era and yet recognisable enough so that anyone who played its predecessor will feel right at home with familiar sights and sounds.

Enemies and Bosses:
Many of Wario Land’s generic enemies return here (such as the boomerang-wielding D.D and the Pirate Gooms) but there’s plenty of new and unique baddies to encounter; there’s a little mole cook who will fatten Wario up, pirate pecans who spit fish at you, zombies, and a fishing penguin who lures you in with fake Coins.

WarioLand2Bosses
Wario Land II has some weird-ass bosses on offer.

As for bosses, Wario Land II doesn’t disappoint and continues the tradition Super Mario Land 2 started with having big, oddball bosses; Wario will face off against the likes of a giant snake, a basketball-throwing rabbit, a giant dinosaur-like bird, and Captain Syrup herself. Though they can usually be defeated with a few well-placed bops to the head, each boss has a specific attack pattern and various phases; many will blast Wario out of the boss room entirely, forcing you to trek back around and start again or require a certain method to injure them (like dunking them through a basketball hoop or blasting lava at them).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
In Wario Land, Wario controlled very similar to Mario; when hit, he reverted to a smaller form and he collected Power Up Pots to can new abilities. As mentioned above, though, Wario Land II ditches the traditional power-ups in favour of some truly weird transformations.

WarioLand2Conditions
Each transformation has its own benefits.

Certain enemy attacks will trigger a transformation in Wario that is necessary to reach other areas of each world and hidden secrets; Wario transforms into a burning ball of fire when set alight, becomes a zombie to drop to lower levels, or swells up to balloon-like proportions to reach higher levels, amongst other transformations.

WarioLand2Extras
Wario Land II includes a few bonus games.

Part of Wario Land II’s gameplay is figuring out which enemies trigger a transformation and how to use that transformation in each area. It’s only by utilising all the tools at Wario’s disposal that players will be able to conquer each world, all the different branching paths, and access the secret final chapter, which is a time attack challenge through Syrup Castle.

Additional Features:
Collecting all the treasures in the game and completing the Picture Piece map doesn’t just allow you access to Syrup Castle, though; it also unlocks Flagman D-D, a remake of the Game & Watch mini game Flagman (Nintendo, 1980). This inclusion, and Wario Land II’s increased use of mini games compared to its predecessor, could be said to foreshadow Wario’s later preference towards mini games rather than fun little action platformers like this.

WarioLand2Conclusion

The Summary:
Wario Land II takes everything you knew from its predecessor and changes it just enough to deliver a unique gaming experience; appearing far more linear, the game hides many secrets and branching paths in a far more subtle way compared to Wario Land, meaning the no two players will have the same gameplay experience. Fittingly, Wario feels heavy and cumbersome; unlike Mario, he’s not build for precision platforming, which may be why Wario Land II substitutes such gameplay for simple puzzles, mazes, and alternative routes accessed by Wario’s transformations. Yet, at the same time, there seems to be a slight lack of polish to Wario Land II that can make some sections and bosses battles needlessly frustrating. However, the unique aspect of being immortal and changing forms to reach new areas, coupled with the chirpy tunes and big, quirky sprites make this a joy to play as no challenge presented by Wario Land II ever feels game-breaking or impossible.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your memories of Wario Land II, if any? Do you like Wario and, like me, wish he would return to a more prominent position? What was your favourite of the Super Mario titles on the original Game Boy? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.