Review by SethBlizzard
"Oh boxing shark, where art thou?"
On the cover for the second Super Mario Land installment (unless Nintendo's Seal of Quality is blocking him), there is a shark with boxing gloves. Oh, goody! I begin my frantic search to find (and hopefully fight) the guy. This might seem an odd reason to play the game when you don't know that I have already played it, and beaten it, several times. I always wonder why I took it up again and played it, but then, there is something very playable about Super Mario Land 2. It's very accessible and user-friendly. That, oddly, is precisely the problem.
It's quite amazing to think that this title belongs on the same machine as SML. It belongs to a whole other graphical universe. You can actually tell what each enemy is now. Now the goombas and koopa troopas can actually be identified as such. Not to mention does Mario actually look like himself, and there are some background elements to speak of. So far, things are looking good. As I go further through the game, I can't help but be reminded that the graphics are the game's strongest point. The Game Boy developers have learned an uncanny deal about how to make good-looking games since the previous instalment. The controls... they're okay, but man! Mario just got slow.
I don't suspect to find the shark there but I nonetheless go to the Tree Zone. There is one song in this game which I can say that I love; the Graveyard/Tree Interior tune, simple and atmospheric but first and foremost brilliantly catchy. However, this is almost completely deceptive. The music is bright and bouncy, almost without any exceptions, to the point when it becomes downright irritating. It's not badly composed, as it often is quite catchy indeed; it's just that it often feels very innocent and friendly. The boss battle music is similarly deceptive. Upon facing each boss, the music starts by growling at you viciously. Then it turns into a tune that feels more like you're doing some dance, and feeling embarrassed about it, than fighting a worthy foe.
Still on the lookout for that blasted shark, I come to a beautiful statue of a giant hippo. Riding on a bubble from his mouth, Mario flies to the moon. There, semi-zero gravity kicks in and Mario can jump very high, but at the cost of his speed. This interesting zone only has two levels, the other being an irritating auto-scrolling level through a tunnel of stars, climaxing in a boss who could be Tatanga in a spotlight-craving cameo. I'm beginning to see a pattern in the atmosphere of the game. Each level has a bell that you can ring, and thus access either of two mini-games. One is a conveyor belt where you must press the A button on time to get a prize, be it power-ups (or downs, depending on how you're equipped) or extra lives. The other is a weird grid-like game where a bunch of cute elephants direct a bomb's fuse to a particular item. You can go into the overworld and play a game for all the coins you earn to try to win some extra lives. If you're unlucky, you'll land on a picture of a witch who laughs at you. My thoughts take definite form, however, when I enter the has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed Mario Zone. What do you know, I never thought Mario's brain was composed of N&B toy blocks.
It's clear to me that SML2 abandons not only the Mushroom Kingdom but also the universal appeal of the Mario games. I am almost positive that it was a game specifically directed towards children. Think about it. One level has a mouse for a boss, while Mario Zone has (believe it or not) the Three Little Pigs. They emerge from their houses (hanging from the ceiling) before proceeding to roll, bounce and skip along the screen, before a background of aeroplanes and suns. I could mention a witch and a bird (as well as an octopus, now that I've mentioned almost all of them), but I think you get the idea. This, along with the general innocence of the music and gameplay, quite infallibly supports my theory I should say.
As for the shark? I finally find him, in Turtle Zone. Personally, I think the hippo was more impressive. Having come this far (by choice, because you can play the zones in any order), Turtle Zone does have this interesting level with a sunken submarine. Pumpkin Zone features the Boo Didleys of Bowser's army in suitably dark levels, featuring the other strong tune from the game. The Boo Didleys will greet you on the Pumpkin Zone map should you find a well-hidden secret exit. Yes, this game has some secret exits for you to find, leading to collect-a-thon hidden levels. Not much of an incentive apart from completing everything, but hey, you would want that anyway now that you're playing the game.
I realise now that I haven't mentioned that Mario's job is to collect all the six golden coins from the bosses in Mario Land to open the gate to his castle (Mario now apparently is king of his namesake land as well). Then he can storm it and take it back from Wario's clutches. Most Wario fans might be surprised to hear that this is where Mario's greedy and treasure-loving antithesis came to being, and I myself didn't even know before entering the castle. The castle is definitely the game's most challenging level, and Wario himself is no pushover, forcing Mario through three separate play rounds before finally admitting defeat. This might be the only time the game gets some of its daring Mario spirit back, but I say it's too little, too late.
I think there can be little doubt that Super Mario Land 2 is a considerable improvement over its predecessor. In terms of spirit, though, it falls more than a little short. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins has its ideas, but I wish it didn't have this kiddie atmosphere plastered all over it. As it is, it remains one of those games that may have captured my interest when I was younger, only for it to evaporate over time (thankfully, most games I like haven't had the same fate). You do grow up to know better. After all, I was part of this game's target audience, so I gulped it up. Not the tastiest of dishes, nor the most satisfying. It's not for no reason, though, that this game is never mentioned when one talks about the canon Mario universe. Most self-respecting Mario fans probably don't want this memory there, and I give them absolute right. SML2 is nice and playable, and by no means poorly constructed. The standard of the series, however, is higher than it can get away with, and it remains as little more than an entertaining little diversion. Those warming up to the series ought to find worthier titles for that job, and a serious fan like me feels he's spent more time on it than it deserved. I will say this; for a game that has a boxing shark on the cover, I was expecting better.
I have arrived at the end. And there I find not the shark. Nor Mario, Wario or even the Three Little Pigs. But Bowser. "Stick with me, Mario, and you'll remain great." Mario seems to have learned that lesson now, and Super Mario Land (in both games) is thankfully forgotten. Mario and Bowser are a team.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 12/08/09, Updated 11/27/12
Game Release: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (EU, 01/28/93)
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