Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
In 1992, Nintendo’s most famous Italian plumber made the jump from home consoles to the Game Boy for some portable adventuring. Super Mario Land marks an odd departure from what fans were used to on the NES. It introduces a new world, Sarasaland, that’s full of new enemies and characters – including series mainstay Princess Daisy. The game was one of the nascent handheld’s first big hits, and helped to cement its place as a serious gaming system.
Great as Super Mario Land is, it doesn’t quite feel like a Mario game. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins introduces Mario’s twisted counterpart Wario, who places the entirety of Mario Land (apparently the plumber is a dictator in this world) under an evil spell while Mario is off saving Sarasaland. Everyone in the land becomes hostile toward our hero, and only by defeating Wario can he break the spell. Six Golden coins lay scattered throughout the world that will allow Mario to return to his stolen castle and fight his chubby doppelganger.
Each level centers around a theme such as a giant tree or even outer space. A boss lies at the end of each level, guarding one of the golden coins. Levels can be accessed via an overworld map similar to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. There are also secret levels accessible by finding alternate routes, which has become a staple of Mario level hubs.
This sequel adopts a style reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3, and it looks so good that it could almost be taken for a portable NES game – minus the color of course. The gameplay is more authentic as well featuring iconic powerups like the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman. There’s even a new item, the Magic Carrot, which gives Mario bunny ears that let him jump higher and hover around in the air. In keeping with previous games, 6 Golden Coins reuses the same sound effects we all know by heart. Goomba stomping and shooting fireballs looks and sounds much better in this sequel than its predecessor.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is one of the most acclaimed titles in the Game Boy library, and it still stands as one of the best portable platformers on the market. It’s certainly worth dusting off your old Game Boy to play it, but if you’d prefer a more modern system there’s a virtual console version on the Nintendo eShop.