Nostalgia Tripping is a column in which Dan Tallarico explores his collection of retro games to see how well they hold up. You can expect heart break, childhood flashbacks and a ton of Capcom games. Want to yell at him about old games? Find him on Twitter.
What I remember
The Game Boy was a coveted item in my home–not that I was allowed to play it. I played 90 percent of my Game Boy vicariously through my older brother. He would lie on the couch and, like a cat, I would balance myself on the upper deck of the couch and look down onto the Game Boy. I wasn’t allowed to breathe loudly, make noises or move, which made every Game Boy session similar to the scene from Mission Impossible where Tom Cruise breaks into that incredibly secure room. Except I didn’t have access to a knife.
I remember watching my brother play Super Mario Land and was astonished that a real Mario experience could exist on the Game Boy. If this was one of the launch games, the future of this system was brighter than the battery indicator light. Sure, Super Mario Land was tiny, but it had the complete package; Mario was able to swallow mushrooms, throw fireballs and jump on Goombas. Pyramids dotted the landscape, and there was even a level where Mario controlled a submarine. To me, this game was 100 percent authentic to the NES counterpart.
Playing it now
After loading up Super Mario Land on my 3DS, I began stomping on Goombas, bouncing on Koopas (who would then explode), and destroying Easter Island artifacts. If that sentence is any indication, this is worlds away from the traditional Mario I remembered.
Before I continue down this path, it’s important to remember that Super Mario Land was made on a less powerful system than the NES, which resulted in some interesting design choices. For instance, instead of fighting a pixel hungry character like Bowser, Mario battles a Sphinx, some sort of goblin and a seahorse. Not sure if there were licensing/ram issue that prevented the inclusion of Bowser, but it’s a nice breath of fresh air. It’s not like I’m playing Mario for the character development or to see how Mario’s character and morality come into play against his arch nemesis anyway.
What I’m playing Mario for is to test my skills as one of the greatest video game players this side of the Mississippi, and in Super Mario Land, there’s no shortage of platforms to hop on.
In my time with Super Mario Land, I traversed the great pyramids of Egypt, plunged into the murky depths of the sea and climbed mountains. I suppose that in a crude attempt to add character and charm to the locales, the developers took the liberty of designing the backgrounds with a graphing calculator. It’s as though someone was bored in class, programmed a parabola onto their calculator, left it behind, and a Super Mario Land developer discovered the calculator and was relieved to have their background problems solved.
What’s striking about this game is how generic the content is. It’s like going to Olive Garden and expecting a traditional, tasty meal, but then receiving a bland plate of spaghetti. Not that an Italian man hopping around on enemies and saving a princess was generic, and at the time I was positively jazzed about the whole situation. I also got jazzed about drinking lemonade back in the day, so I’m not sure me being jazzed counts for much. A majority of the enemies were ripped from a child’s collection of Encyclopedia Britannica (spiders, flies, other boring animals, the previously mentioned Sphinx) and the music when you collect a Starman is the Can-Can, not the traditional Starman tune. You know the Can-Can. It’s the one from the public domain.
It’s a charming game, and its quirks help separate this Mario from the many other Mario titles out on the market. It’s like Mario’s low budget little brother that wants to be just like his hero, but forever remains an inadequate pipsqueak that discovers his true potential was inside him this whole time. I guess that’s why it’s Super Mario Land and not Super Mario World.