Retro Game of the Day! Super Mario Land
Super Mario Land by Nintendo for GameBoy, released at the system's launch in 1989. My, that was quite an eventful year then, hm? (Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 each launched in the States that same year). Who knew..!
And so, we bring you Mario's first portable outing. Well, other than all of the LCD Game & Watches and such, which I suppose there were many of - but this was the first "big deal" in a way. With a new system to launch, and a new market to initiate (and conquer), Nintendo had a lot of work ahead of them once again. They may have not delivered with a fancy color display on their portable model, but titles with gameplay such as Mario Land and Tetris more than sufficed for the time being.
What we received was basically a very scaled-down version of what had previously worked (quite well) in the home market. Mario Land was not a clone of the original console experience, but it did a good job of aping many of the conventions while expanding upon them ever-so-slightly. The consumer base was quite satisfied with the result - though the game was quite shallow compared to other (larger) console releases appearing at the time, as a launch title on an unproven portable platform Mario Land could do no wrong, and it was very well-received.
As usual, Mario is tasked with rescuing a princess (Daisy) from a new rival (Tatanga the Mysterious Spaceman... errr whatever!) Canon notwithstanding, the run-jump-dodge mechanics of the previous games were here in shrunken-down form. The fireball powerup was replaced with a "Super Ball Mario" (some things just don't translate well!) which could be used for angled attacks, and also to retrieve coins with.
New to this adventure was the inclusion of side-view shooting segments, 1st (and probably last!) in a Mario game. You'd take flight in Sky Pop or submerge with Marine Pop and dispatch with enemies. It felt strange doing this in a Mario game, but the deviance was welcome - Mario Land felt fairly "experimental" like a one-off anyway.
The game looks very sparse and simple now, but at the time it was absolutely a blast to be able to play this without being tethered to a normal TV setup. The game was charming in its diminutive nature, and the always-cute graphics coupled with the happy little soundtrack augmented the time-tested, if predictably average, gameplay. That's not to say the game was not well-designed - though it wasn't taking any chances, it was a solid and enjoyable effort from beginning to end.
Nintendo did a wonderful job with this Mario title, they had to - it marked the birth of the entire portable pillar for them, and so a lot was riding on it. At the same time, though even then Mario was a huge name in videogaming, they took a huge leap of faith by selling it separately - otherwise-unknown Tetris was chosen as the pack-in game for the GameBoy units, and that choice ultimately said a lot about both games and what Nintendo was thinking for the future. Mario did well regardless, and still holds up today as a fun little exercise - but Tetris was bundled with the GB and has (rightly) gone on to inspire a whole genre of video entertainment, while Super Mario Land was essentially a side story in an already-ongoing saga.
You will never look at Super Mario Land the same way again...