The Super Mario Land games for Gameboy mark a lot of firsts - the first portable Mario games (not counting Game & Watch stuff), the first appearances of Daisy and Wario, and the first time it was possible to run out of batteries before you ran out of lives. While the Land games don't usually top any "best Mario game" lists, they're still fondly remembered and played to this day, whether via the 3DS' Virtual Console or an actual Gameboy. But while there are a lot of things to be said about the Land games, both good and bad, one thing everyone who's played the games can agree on is this: They are weird.
Nothing out of the ordinary here.
Particularly the first Land game, but they both have their oddities. We'll start with the original: at first, you'll notice it's got all the Mario basics covered: he runs, he jumps, he steps on things, he picks up Mushrooms and flowers, collects coins, and he runs under bosses when they jump to get past them and beat the level. Or shoots them to death from his mini-submarine. Wait, what? Yeah, it's like someone on the Mario team wanted him to cameo in Gradius or something and was told no, and so they developed their own Super Mario shoot-em-up and spliced it in with the traditional platforming gameplay for no adequately explored reason. But hey, at least when you finish a boss, no matter how you do it, you'll still get the wonderful sensation of finding out the princess isn't actually in that castle/underwater tunnel. Except instead of being helpfully informed of this by a Toad (or whatever Daisy's personal security force is), Daisy will simply transform into a regular enemy and run away, which makes you wonder why Mario didn't assume Daisy was actually a shapeshifter and just leave after the first boss.
Oh! Daisy...sorry, I thought you were Peach at first.
But, ok, Mario's in Sarasaland in that game, so maybe things just work differently there. That's why Koopas explode on impact and flowers cause Mario to fling Superballs around like a spastic 5 year old suffering from ADD and parental neglect. Maybe Sarasaland's water supply isn't breathable for whatever reason, or maybe it isn't even water. Fine. We'll cut it some slack since it was done by a different team too, so maybe they had some ideas they didn't get to voice during the production of the console Mario games. For all intents and purposes, it's still a pretty good Mario game, and, weirdness aside, still holds up to this day. The same can also be said about Mario Land 2, but there are places where it ups the weirdness even without side-scrolling shooter levels or Superballs. For starters, instead of it being about Mario rescuing a princess, this time around he's rescuing his castle and WHEN DID MARIO GET A CASTLE.
And furthermore, what happened to the first one?
Yep, Mario's out to get his castle back from now-series mainstay Wario, and in order to do that Mario must gather the six Golden Coins to open his convoluted but undoubtedly pretty secure lock system and take the boot to Wario. So...how long has Mario had a castle? I mean, I get it, sometimes when you're knee deep in praise and princesses you need a place to get away from it all, so I guess this is like his summer home or whatever, but it's just weird that he suddenly has one and then it's never mentioned again. It's also never explicitly stated that this is the Mushroom Kingdom (and really, it would probably be stranger if it was) so you kinda have to wonder where exactly Mario built the thing, and why he chooses to vacation in places like Dinosaur Land over his own flippin' castle. But that's just scratching the surface of the oddities in the game. First there's the powerups - sure, there's the good old Fire Flower reminding you that this is definitely not that weird game they did before because it actually shoots fire, but then there's...whatever this thing is.
The Super Radish/Carrot/Super Mario Bros. 2 leftover grants Mario tiny wings on his cap which allow him to flutter downward safely like the Raccoon tail in Mario 3, unless you're a pretty good button masher, because pressing the button fast enough will allow Mario to just fly forward in a perfectly straight line until you get to the end of the level or run into something. And speaking of levels, these run the gamut between a fairly normal forest level to outer-freakin'-space, which is par for the course these days, but back then was a pretty big diversion from the castles and brick road strolls of the console games. Then there's the enemies, which range from the standard Goomba and Koopas (which don't explode this time, thankfully) to giant insects and some kind of cross between a horse and a fish.
Also, they apparently make their home in Jell-O lakes.
Speaking of enemies, this game also does something that no other non-RPG Mario game (to my knowledge) does, and keeps track of how many you've killed. That Goomba x 19 in the screenshot up there isn't how many enemies are patrolling the level, it's how many aren't patrolling it anymore. Because you killed them. You monster.
Anyway, the point of all this is, while the Land games have plenty of Mario trademarks, they also have some new, sometimes intriguing and sometimes insane ideas that, for better or for worse, didn't really pan out and become part of the series from then on. Except for Wario of course, since he hijacked the entire third Land game and made it the first of his own series instead. And while the games may be weird, that's what makes them stand the test of time - the fact that, unlike some other Mario games, there's just not really anything else like them. So, whether you're a Mario fan who's always been wondering when the series' experimental phase was or just someone who needed a good incentive to play the Land games again, take some time one day to play the Land series. You may feel lost, sometimes confused, or just plain weirded out, but I guarantee you'll love every second of it.