Story has never been an essential part of Mario lore, though it is worth mentioning that kidnapped princesses play no part in this game, nor is there any sign of a gigantic fire breathing lizard-koopa thing. Instead, Mario returns to his island home after saving Princess Daisy in the first game, only to find that an evil doppelganger has taken over, corrupted Mario’s castle and sealed access to it with six golden coins hidden throughout the land in six unique locations, selectable in any order thanks to an overhead world map. Cue lots of running, jumping, and bruised skulls.
Unlike the zoomed-out view of the older game that likened Mario’s size to that of a gnat, this game is a lot closer to the action, with all the usual Mario staples present: super mushrooms, blocks, enemies to jump on and platforms to leap to; fan paradise in shortened terms. Players will notice that many levels have slightly longer stretches of nothingness between enemy and item-populated segments; this was reportedly to help with the original Game Boy’s screen ghosting problem, which is thankfully not an issue here. Though the game is in pre-colour TV mode, the visuals are bright, clear and concise, more so on 3DS’ screen than anywhere else before it. Mario has more of a floaty feel than his other games in Super Mario Land 2 (a trait that is heightened considerably in the space-themed levels), but this can quickly be adapted to.
Music is also great, providing a unique blend of chiptunes and backing themes, culminating in Wario’s final track, signalling his gaming debut, being a particular highlight. There isn’t a wide array of themes, and some of them that share a certain soundbite quality -- much like the New Super Mario Bros. tunes -- that might annoy after repeated hearings, but they’re enjoyable enough for what they are.
One new item to this game and the franchise in general -- and yet to be used anywhere else -- is the carrot power up that bestows upon Mario a rockin’ pair of bunny ears. Much like the cape of SNES’ Super Mario World, this lets Mario glide for long distances and jump even higher than normal; a useful tool for areas of the game that demand it. The Fire Flower also returns, and regains its former ground-bouncing trajectory minus the coin-grabbing ability.
Super Mario Land 2 stands out from most other franchise entries by the way its levels are utilized. There aren’t many other games where your hero will explore levels structured inside of a giant robot version of himself for example, nor fighting an old foe on the Moon after jumping into a bubble blown by a hippo to get there. Much like the flagpoles of old, the end of level goals stick a bell at the top of the exit gates, and managing to jump and hit it triggers a bonus level for lives and power ups. Similar rewards can also be obtained from a certain dome on the island map, provided you have the necessary currency fee, which provides the incentive for coin collection in the game. If anything though, these rewards are too generous, and this brings to light Super Mario Land 2’s two biggest flaws.
The most obvious one is that the game is too short. Naturally, 2D Mario games are notorious for speed runs and acts of devilish skill in navigating the levels with ease, but even with 32 levels the game is over far too quickly. Not helping this case is the game’s difficulty, or lack thereof; provided you can reach the buttons okay you won’t find much of a challenge in the game. It’s a fun experience no doubt, but save for the very last dungeon -- which features an enormous difficulty spike -- you can finish the game in a couple of hours no problem. As this is only the game’s second release on any format, it is still a must-play for any platforming fan and gamer in general, but most will want to take it slow and savour the experience.