I've been playing through the Super Mario Land/Wario Land games lately for the first time. As a huge fan of the console Mario games, playing these titles is such a trip. My constant thought while playing these games is "This feels like a Mario game made by someone who's never seen a Mario game before and was only given a vague description". Granted, it was during a time when Nintendo was still figuring out what exactly the Mario series should be, and Shigeru Miyamoto didn't even touch the development of these games so it does make sense.
In Super Mario Land 1, the physics are really off, and dare I say it– kinda bad. The amount of times I died because I could barely control my movement in the air was countless. Thankfully once you get used to the fact that you need to premeditate the arc of Mario's jump, it becomes manageable. At least since the game is literally half the length of Super Mario Bros., the frustration never gets too much. I also enjoy how bizarre the enemies were and how
SML2 was a lot better in the regard of physics, but it still feels quite off if you're used to the physics of the console Mario games. There's a lot more air control, but it a lot of it has this glidey-ness that still feels in contrast to how snappy the console Mario games control. It also was clear here with the limitations of the black and white screen, why so much of the visuals feel so bizarre and detached from the rest of the series. I'd imagine
this version of Fire Mario would be pretty controversial if Nintendo decided to re-release this game, but they had little options in conveying his fire power since they couldn't just turn him red and white. Lastly, a lot of the level design in this game feels a bit… nonsensical. In newer titles,
, but here it honestly feels like the level designers were just throwing tiles around for the hell of it,
like having abnormally long stretches of "?" blocks. Overall, it does feel a lot closer to a mainline Mario game, but not quite there.
Then we get to Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 which wasn't even a Mario game at all! Though I love that it continues the story of the last game, and actually got me to start to like Wario as a character. He has a lot of charm even with the limited display. Last fun ending spoiler bit: Mario is a major asshole at the end of Wario Land, just straight up taking away the thing Wario was looking for lol. I won't get into the gameplay of this since it has little to do with the rest of the Mario series, but I found it was more enjoyable as an action game than a precision platformer. I had more fun figuring out how to dispose of enemies using the different powerups, but once the levels started having you make precise jumps, the slow movement of Wario made it fall flat for me.
I guess playing these games made me appreciate how consistent the gameplay of the Mario series has been since then. Despite all the changes in perspective and visuals, Mario games always have had this tightness to how they control. I rarely ever feel like a death wasn't my fault, but you can't really say that with these older games. Even later spinoffs like the Yoshi series have had really satisfying movement from the start, which the first Wario Land game didn't. That said, I do love how bizarre the settings are. I was about to say Nintendo could open up to having more weird locations in newer games, but I just realized that Super Mario Odyssey already had a bunch of oddball themes in there. Who knows though, maybe sentient Moai statues could make a return??
Anyways, to turn this into a discussion– what makes a good Mario game for you? What is it about the physics makes things "feel" right? Can a Mario game still be enjoyable even if it doesn't have good physics? After all, I know I still enjoyed my time with these games despite their faults.
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