Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins

Every now and again I like to dust off (read: blow in the ports and stuff a cartridge in) my old Game Boy and see if I still remember how to play a game.  A while ago I took a look at one of my favorites, Nintendo World Cup, but while that was a fun way to blow off steam, when I think to my Game Boy days, there's one game that tends to rise up above the others as one I'd play over, and over, and over again, finding every hidden secret and memorizing every stage until I could probably talk my way through it like some twisted version of Lifeline.

But man, putting it in now and playing through it...this is one messed up game.

Let's start by looking at that game box.

First, we have Mario, sporting a large pair of rabbit ears as one of his power-ups.  We have a weird shelled creature that almost looks like a turtle except it has no head, a shark wearing boxing gloves a bird that can't possibly be flying with its wings doing gang signs, and what looks like a turtle statue, a castle, a giant statue to Mario, a pumpkin, and the moon in the background.

Clearly, this game has some big ideas.

What initially drew me to this game was the advertisement I saw in Nintendo Power Magazine way back in the day.  You have to remember, this was before the Internet was dishing out trailers and announcements, and it was even before magazines would put CDs packed with trailers and demos into magazines.  It was these four pages that had me excited about trying this game.

That's right, this was the first ever appearance of Wario in a game, the one and only (as far as I know) appearance of the bunny ears power-up, and I'm 99% sure it's the only time we've ever seen the "Fireman" feather or the astronaut suit.

Obviously, each "zone" has its own theme.  The tree zone has you scaling a giant tree, fighting giant bugs and birds.  The macro zone has you shrunk down so everyday objects loom over you.  Turtle zone takes place almost entirely underwater.  Space zone is self-explanatory.

What those don't show you are some of the creatures you fight, and there are some messed up monsters.  Take Pumpkin Zone, where you fight little crawling hockey masks with knives shoved into their faces.  Or trees that launch up into the air and expand out like umbrellas before floating down to get you.  Or one-eyed monsters that would lurch around the stage and you know what?  I'm pretty sure I could just stop at hockey masks with knives shoved in their faces.

D'aww, look at it waddle with those widdle feet.  What an adorable embodiment of nightmares.
Turtle zone has its final stage take place inside of a giant whale, where you jump around its tonsils, dodge rising and falling teeth, maneuver up and down weird mucus areas, and eventually battle a giant octopus living deep within it.

And fight what I can only describe as "cow fish."
Aside from its bizarre stages and monsters, Mario is as true to form as ever.  The fireman ability (which strangely lets him throw fire from his hands instead of fight fires) is your standard fire flower, the rabbit ears give Mario the ability to slow his descent and crudely "fly" (akin to the raccoon tail) to reach normally inaccessible areas, and the astronaut suit lets him breathe in space.  This last one is something that was completely dropped when it came time for Super Mario Galaxy because at a certain point Nintendo just stopped caring about any semblance of logic in their games.

Pictured: Logic
Then there's Wario, and this game really did a good job cementing him as a credible threat to Mario.  First off, when you face him, he's HUGE.

Second, after you jump on him three times, he runs to another room and does something that I'm amazed that Mario villains don't do more often: he grabs hold of the same power-ups you've been using through the game, and uses them against you.

Remember those bunny ears?

Yeah, he dons those and then attempts to drive bomb you butt-first.  He even grabs hold of a fire flower and attempts to roast you with fireballs.

He even manages to get away in the end (which lets him show up later in his own series of Game Boy games which we'll discuss later), but I was always much more impressed with Wario as a villain than I was Bowser for a long, long time.

Plus, the game completely tosses out the idea that Mario's doing the whole thing to save a Princess.  Apparently, in this alternate dimension, once Mario rescued Daisy, she just didn't need saving again and Mario was able to put all those coins he collected into building himself an island retreat.

Does the game hold up?  Absolutely, it was just as fun to play it now as it was back when I would be squinting at my Game Boy during long road trips.  The music is memorable, the controls are crisp, and the secret areas might be a lot easier to find now that I'm an adult, but as a child they had me searching everywhere and jumping everywhere I could to find every hidden block in the game.

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