Monday, August 6, 2012

Review - Super Mario Land 2

Super Mario Land 2 continues its predecessor's tradition of taking a traditional Mario game in a weirder than usual direction. While Mario was off saving Princess Daisy in the previous game, a jerk named Wario came to Mario's private island (complete with its own gigantic, motorized statue), unleashed monsters, broke into his house, and took all his bling. There's no princess to save here, no Bowser to fight; this game's all about evicting Wario from your mansion.

Like the original Super Mario Land, Mario Land 2 was conceived and produced by Gunpei Yokoi, rather than Father of Mario Shigeru Miyamoto. There's no discounting Miyamoto's genius, but I really love the strangeness that Yokoi brought to the series. He would produce one final Mario Land game in 1994 (Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3) before his death in 1997. On the music side of things, Kazumi Totaka took over for the first game's composer, Hirokazu Tanaka, producing a catchy soundtrack that varies nicely between stages. I prefer the original's soundtrack, but both are a lot of fun.

As far as gameplay goes, Mario Land 2 feels more like a sequel to Super Mario World than Super Mario Land, with its open map structure for selecting levels, Mario's spinning ability, and a few other visual bits, like the design of the Fire Flowers (unlike Mario Land 1, Mario does not throw rubber balls here). Mario does not have his cape from Mario World, but he does gain a set of bunny ears that he can flap and use to hover. None of the vehicle segments from Mario Land 1 return, to my disappointment. The overall game is far easier and much more forgiving, and Mario Land 1 wasn't substantially difficult to begin with. That said, like Kirby's Dream Land, Nintendo gives us enough variety in enemies and environments to keep things interesting even if they aren't difficult.

There are six main worlds, each with its own theme and unique set of enemies. I'm pretty sure there are more unique monsters per stage here than in any other Mario game, and some are quite strange. You've got Goombas wearing Jason's hockey mask in a Halloween themed world, the return of Space Emperor Tatanga in a fight on the surface of the moon, and half-cow half-fish abominations in the pit of a whale's stomach. For some reason, the Three Little Pigs also have a grudge against Mario. Both the enemies and stages are quite a bit weirder than other Mario games, and that's something I love about the first two Mario Land games. It's a concept that's totally abandoned in Super Mario 3D Land decades later.

A nice touch is that the game allows you to complete the six worlds in any order you please. There are a couple of extra stages accessible through hidden exits, but not to the degree in which they were present in Super Mario World. Once you've completed all six worlds, Mario gathers some magical coins and uses them to unlock a gate on his castle that would look more at home in a Metroid game than a Mario one. Not surprising; the game's director, Hiroji Kiyotake, is a Nintendo artist that worked on Metroid (including designing Samus herself) before going on to create the design for Wario and oversee the production of future Wario-related titles.

The final castle actually has some tough moments, and the final boss fight is the first in the game that's actually challenging. The lack of checkpoints in this final stage is annoying, since it's the longest in the game by far. The overall game is longer than the first Mario Land, but it's still easily completable in under two hours. Since there are a couple of secret stages, there is a little bit more replay value here than in the previous game.

I'm a big fan of this game's style, music, and concept. It still to this day disappoints me that Nintendo revived the Mario Land brand on the 3DS but without any of the things that made the original games so lovably strange, even if Mario 3D Land was still a lot of fun. If you haven't played the originals, they're very much worth your time. Mario Land 2 definitely feels less dated than the first game, but they're both quality titles. Both are available as downloads on the 3DS for less money than you'll pay for used copies of their Game Boy cartridges, so if you've got a way to play them, don't miss out.

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