Once upon a time, there existed an era where Mario games didn’t all look and play pretty much the exact same way. Instead of releasing New Super Mario Bros. XVI: Now With Minor Gameplay Tweaks! every year, Nintendo released carefully-crafted masterpieces that differed from each other pretty substantially while still maintaining the same core features of gameplay. That is to say, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario 64 all involve a jumping mustachio, but anyone who’s played them can tell you that these 4 games are VASTLY different from each other, and certainly not cheap resells of the same game with one or two extra features thrown in for a quick buck.
In the same sense, Super Mario Land 2, released in the US for the original Gameboy on November 2, 1992, while technically a sequel to 1989’s Super Mario Land, is NOTHING like the first game. And trust me, that’s a good thing in virtually every sense. While the first game is incredibly bizarre (even by Mario standards) and looks and plays like a shoddy Super Mario Bros. 1 prototype, 6 Golden Coins more closely resembles the then-new Super Mario World, complete with the block-shattering spin jump.
The graphics, while confined to the “four shades of gray” limitations of the original Gameboy, are pretty spectacular and, again, closely resemble those of Super Mario World. In addition, the character sprites are big and easy to see. Compare the screenshots above (Mario Land 2 is on the left and Mario Land 1 is on the right). Isn’t the left image much easier on the eyes? The enemy characters are very detailed, and aside from the classic Goombas and Koopas, new and charming foes fill every level. Mario himself is about the same as always, although the grayscale necessitates some wardrobe changes. Obtaining a Fire Flower, for example, results in Mario making like Yankee Doodle and putting a feather in his cap, since the traditional palette swap to Fire Mario wouldn’t work quite so well.
The sound is superb, as to be expected of a typical Mario game. The music, while mostly different arrangements of the same main theme, is catchy and not repetitive in the least. There’s the upbeat and fast-paced overworld themes, the slower and more rhythmic cave themes, and the zingy space themes. The sound effects are the standard Mario fare, and that’s certainly not a complaint. Coins bling and Koopa shells bloop just as they always have. The power-up/power-down and 1-up sound effects actually more closely resemble those featured in Super Mario Land 1, which is okay because sound is one aspect the original did really well.
Speaking of powering up, let’s slide on into the gameplay aspect of this title. Possibly the biggest change to classic Mario gameplay that 6 Golden Coins implements is the fact that, upon gaining a power-up item, Mario will not pause and flash as he does in most every other game. Instead, he keeps right on chugging along, which leads to some unfortunate accidents if you’re not prepared. Happily, the other changes provide a refreshing twist on Mario formula. These include being able to collect up to 999 coins and spend them at a highly-rewarding slot machine, a counter that keeps track of all the enemies you stomp and rewards you with a 1-up for every 100 defeated foes, and a new power-up in the form of the Bunny Ears.
The controls are tight, but Mario’s jump is a little weird. Not in a bad way necessarily, but like the lack of a pause while powering up, it takes some time to get used to. I suppose the best way to describe it is that it’s a little more floaty than normal. The level designs are immaculate, and no two levels look identical, even when they’re contained within the same “Zone.” These Zones are contained within a free-roaming Super Mario World-style map that allows you to replay most levels whenever you choose. 6 Golden Coins is also the first in the series to introduce non-linearity without the aid of secret exits, meaning that you can defeat each Zone in whatever order you desire before tackling Wario’s Castle. Yes, this is the game that introduced Wario, and as a villain, no less.
The classic winning formula of large and detailed graphics, excellent sound, fresh takes on old gameplay, tight controls, and sharp level design results in a Mario game that you’d be loathe to miss out on. It’s easily one of my top 3 favorite 2D Mario platformers. Don’t be deceived by its age, grayscale graphics, or even its rather easygoing difficulty level…it remains as great a game today as it was almost 22 years ago.
Even if you don’t own a system old enough to play this game in its original cartridge form, you can download it onto a 3DS (or 2DS) from Nintendo’s eShop for about $4.