I’m scrunched up in the backseat of a loaded minivan on my way to Walt Disney World. It’s hot and uncomfortable, unpredictably bumpy; something’s jabbing into my ankle, a part of the seatbelt clicker, and there’s only so many ways for a little boy to twist and turn to avoid burning exposed skin on lava-hot plastic. The cup holder next to me is full of lollipop sticks and wrappers, most red- or orange-flavored, their savory candy heads long devoured. My mom is driving, excitement keeping her foot pressed to the pedal; there might be others in the car, but most of this is fuzzy because what I really remember most is the GameBoy gripped tightly in my sweaty hands, my time-passing device. See, I’m piloting an airplane and submarine with amazing skill, murdering everything in my path, all for a princess, a taste of freedom. I’m nine or ten years old, and I’m playing Super Mario Land for the very first time.
The second time I’m playing Super Mario Land? It’s twenty years later, and everything is different. I’m married. I’m a corporate zombie. I’ve gone through high school and college and emerged with very few friends. I’ve tried a number of different, creative ventures, failing all more or less equally. I’ve become even more responsible than I ever believed possible, taking care of everything I want to take care of by myself, because I have to. I’m motherless and crazy sad and grasping for happy straws. But some things are the same. It’s still Mario, tiny, jumpy plumber extraordinaire, and it’s a game still being played on a handheld except I’m in a comfy armchair and not on my back, seatbelt clickers stabbing me with glee. The Nintendo 3DS does a decent job of emulating Super Mario Land, and I do welcome that with the new system, one can save their progress any time they want. Back in the day, if you wanted to complete Mario’s quest and rescue the princess, you had to do it in one large gulp. Which I believe I did do.
Like Super Marios Bros 2, Super Mario Landdoes not feature Bowser as a main villain. Instead, we have the alien Tatanga, who has gone ahead and captured Princess Daisy. To save her, Mario will have to travel across the Kingdoms of Sarasaland, which is basically four worlds with their own themes. And they are…drum roll…
- Birabuto Kingdom – Desert theme, taking place inside pyramids and so on.
- Muda Kingdom – Water-themed levels, including an underwater stage where Mario pilots a submarine.
- Easton Kingdom – Easter Island-themed kingdom, with some underground levels.
- Chai Kingdom – Asian-themed kingdom, with the final level taking place in the sky.
The game’s easy. I don’t remember it being quite so easy, but then again, as I’m sure many have discovered over time, a lot of levels from Super Mario Bros 3 felt really long and challenging once, and it was always sad to discover how actually short they are and easy to skip through. Even those dancing ninja enemies in Chai Kingdom (seriously, like chai tea?) that liked to hop about were easy to avoid or take down once their pattern became obvious; I remember them giving me a lot of grief as a young plumber. The only trouble I still had many years later were the bosses, piloting plane Mario or submarine Mario to safety.
Super Mario Land was a nice trip down Memory Lane. Unfortunately, it’s not a very long or challenging game, but at least I can always boot it up again and find myself back in that minivan, back on the road, back elsewhere.