“Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and you’re O.K.
Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team”
What Super Mario World is to Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Land 2 is to Super Mario Land. Released for the Game Boy in 1992, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins improved upon its predecessor in nearly every way. Better graphics, better gameplay, better sound, better level design, overall a better game. However, it’s an unusual game so far as the Mario franchise goes. This is because Shigeru Miyamoto was not at the helm for this project. The result is something like Super Mario Bros. 2, though a little less jarring.
Super Mario Land 2 introduces several new enemies alongside the recurring ones. There are even variations on old foes, like Goomba-ghosts. Mind blown, right there. There’s even a level with Japanese Yokai, straight outta folklore. But while there are plenty of new enemies for Mario to stomp on, the most significant is Wario. This game marks the first appearance of Mario’s evil twin: from the Japanese “warui” meaning bad and “mario” referring to our overalled hero. “Warui Mario”. “Wario”. Bad Mario. Wario would go on to be immensely popular and he would later headline his own series of games, as well as take part in Mario’s racing, sports and party outings. Super Mario Land 2 may not have been Miyamoto’s but its contribution to the franchise is enduring.
It seems that during the events of Super Mario Land, while Mario was away, the mustached villain has brainwashed the friendly inhabitants of Mario Land, which is I guess where Mario lives? The effect of his mind control has turned Mario’s friends against him (explaining the unusual enemies Mario must face). A jealous Wario has holed himself up in Mario’s castle, forcing our hero to plumb (heh) the depths of Mario Land for 6 golden coins, the keys to unlocking the castle’s doors and opening the path to the villainous brute.
Like the previous games in the series, Super Mario Land 2 has an overworld map with paths that lead to each level. But instead of a variety of “Worlds”, Super Mario Land 2 features “Zones”. There are six of them, one for each coin. They’re pretty brief (32 levels in the entire game), with only a handful of levels and secret areas in each zone. Awaiting Mario are six deadly bosses, each holding one of the six coins.
What’s unusual again about Super Mario Land 2 is that players can choose to face any of these six bosses and enter any of their six zones in any order. Unlike Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3 where you had to follow the path to complete an area or “World” before progressing to the next, here there’s none of that. The Tree Zone, Pumpkin Zone, Mario Zone, Turtle Zone, Macro Zone, and Space Zone are all accessible right from the start. But it’s only until you clear each zone that you’ll be able to enter the castle for the face-off with that imposter, Wario.
The 8-Bit Review
Super Mario Land 2 on the right in comparison with its predecessor.
Not the best looking game on the original Game Boy but it’s up there with Mega Man V, Donkey Kong Land, Gradius: The Interstellar Assault, and X as far as what it was able to accomplish. Being eight times larger than its predecessor at 4 megabits pays off. It looks a heckuva lot better than Super Mario Land. It takes a lot of its visual cues from World, albeit with the limitations of the tiny monochrome screen. In fact, big Mario is just a black and white version of the sprite used in Super Mario World. The backgrounds aren’t the most detailed but the characters and enemies are expressive and cartoonish rather than being simply flat. Also, there are a few cool things the developers did to make use of the black and white nature of the Game Boy, such as blocks that would slowly turn visible and invisible simply by changing from black to white and then back again.
In another departure from the series’ norm, Super Mario Land 2 carries a host of unique sounds and songs. Gone are the classic Invincibility theme and the familiar 1up jangle, replaced by Kazumi Totaka’s score over the original composer’s, Koji Kondo. The departure wasn’t a bad thing. There’s a perfect recurring musical theme running throughout.
The music from this game fits right in with the rest of the series, even if the general feel and presentation of the game does not. It’s as lighthearted, flashy, exciting, energetic and adventurous as any Super Mario soundtrack has ever been. It captures the sense of what a Mario game is like. And Totaka is also the voice of Yoshi, so brownie points for him.
SML 2 sees the return of the Super Mushroom, the Fire Flower (which marks Mario with a feather in his cap), and the Super Star. The Fire Flower can now break certain blocks and the Spin Jump is back from Super Mario World. These power-ups can each be found by hitting blocks like in other games, and invincibility Stars can be found additionally every time that the hundredth enemy is killed. Green 1up Mushrooms have been replaced with 1up, 2up and 3up Hearts. SML 2’s single unique power-up is the Carrot, which transforms Mario into Bunny Mario. In this new form, Mario can jump higher than before and hover or slow his descent, the ears functioning like wings. This is pretty similar to the Super Leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3, the only difference being (besides for the visual) that Bunny Mario cannot fly up into the air.
Another innovation to gameplay comes in the different use of coins, the regular ones not to be confused with the 6 Golden Coins required to regain access to the castle. You no longer get an extra life for collecting 100 coins. Instead, Mario can now hold up to 999 and save them to spend on mini-games with tremendous prizes like 20 extra lives.
The level design is also fairly standard. It’s smaller in fact than the much taller levels that facilitated flight in SMB 3 and World. Upon reaching the end of the stage, there are sometimes two exits, one which leads to a secret area. Touching a bell hung high above the end goal allows Mario to enter a quick mini-game for power-ups or extra lives.
It’s not Shakespeare, but the inclusion of Wario and his introduction to the series cannot be overlooked. He’s now a staple character, thanks to Super Mario Land 2. Also, there’s an element of uniqueness to the story of this game, however simplistic it is, seeing as how there’s no princess being rescued and Mario is in fact fighting off his own friends under a spell and breaking back into his own castle to battle his doppleganger.
With less buttons than the SNES controller, SML 2 is highly accessible. Probably the most difficult maneuvers available are the Spin Jump (press down and then jump when big) or the Bunny Mario hover (tap the jump button). That’s it. It’s more accessible, in fact, than Super Mario Bros. 3, which had way more power-ups and secret items. This perfectly fits the handheld Game Boy, since you’d expect to be able to pick it up and play it anywhere with very little forethought. The game itself is short and most of it is pretty easy, too, leading us to our next spot.
The levels are brief and there aren’t many in each zone. Further, the game gives you plenty of time to complete them. Dispensing the bosses like the bird and the witch ain’t no thing. Not much is too difficult and extra lives are everywhere, whether you choose to spend your coins on mini-games or earn them as rewards for tagging that bell above the end goal. The game doesn’t get too hard at all until you reach Mario’s/”Wario’s” castle. It’s at that point that you’ll need to prepare to use some of those extra lives you’ve accumulated, as the smart level design puts you in danger constantly and forces you to take some quick action. Wario himself throws everything he’s got at you and he has with three fighting forms but still, all of the NES Mario games are harder than this one. But be warned: losing all your lives in SML 2 means losing all your collected Golden Coins and having to fight the bosses for them again…
The Mario franchise is one which woefully struggles with uniqueness with each new entry, however, the Super Mario Land series already stood out from the main franchise for the reasons named above: different direction and design, different setting and power-ups, different gameplay, the lack of Bowser and Peach, etc. Being a sequel, SML 2 hasn’t got a whole lot of distinctiveness going for it, but it does have that scraggly-mustached rapscallion Wario that everybody loves.
My Personal Grade: 8/10
I regard Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins as a Game Boy classic. It’s the one game that I remembered the look of the most from those old black and white days. Replaying through it in a single-sitting reminded me of the simple fun of an era when games didn’t need Wifi connectivity, DLC, complicated combos, massive multiplayer or the best graphics. They just had to be fun, and that’s what this game still is.
Aggregated Score: 6.9