In this series of articles we'll write about one Mario game every day for 30 days, each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
It's a reflection of the technological times that it was 1989 before Nintendo produced a profitable portable - its grey and green screen was far from cutting edge, but its relative affordability and battery life that obliterated the competition helped the system become dominant in the market.
Super Mario Land, when first commissioned by Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi, was intended as a system-selling launch title, and was likely planned as the bundle title in the West. Ultimately a wise call was made to bundle the addictive Tetris with the portable, but the prevalence of Mario made this title the most significant launch title outside of the Game Boy's box.
Though its sequels would perhaps make a better use of the limited resolution and screen size of the Game Boy, it's worth acknowledging that any launch release faces a challenge in utilising a system to its full. With Shigeru Miyamoto being rather busy and Gunpei Yokoi and his team being behind the creation of the portable, it was the latter entrusted with creating this one. The absence of Miyamoto-san from the process - and the fact the franchise was still young at this stage - helps to explain how this release diverted away from the standard approaches of its predecessors.
Not only was Sarasaland a new setting - with UFOs and references to ancient cultures, for example - but Mario was rescuing a new character, Princess Daisy. Beyond that the game itself stepped out of the standard platforming template, incorporating shooter stages and some quirky design.
Due to its short length and these aforementioned design choices Super Mario Land can sometimes be considered as a sub-entry, or a lesser regarded part, of the overall Super Mario IP. Yet its part in the Game Boy story enabled it to be a huge commercial success, shifting around 18 million copies and out-selling the much-loved NES title Super Mario Bros. 3.
For some, it's a game that stands up to scrutiny as a small slice of top-notch portable gaming, and it's certainly valid to embrace its quirks - its soundtrack is also loved by some. In his own reminiscences of the impact the game had when originally released, our own Damien McFerran recently wrote the following:
Super Mario Land boasted other innovations, such as a "lucky chance" game at the end of each level which would allow you to earn more lives and fast-paced side-scrolling shooter sections. The game was clearly designed with the Game Boy's limitations in mind; the sparse visuals aimed to avoid problems with the console's blurry LCD display, while the tiny enemies allowed the designers to fit more on the screen. Subsequent Mario games on the console bumped up the graphical detail and adopted more traditional themes, but there's a simplicity to the original which endures even to this day. When I hear Hirokazu Tanaka's distinctive music and see that boxy, ill-defined main sprite running along, I'm instantly taken back to 1991, sitting in Ed's bedroom waiting patiently for my turn on his coveted Game Boy.
As it happened, I had to endure a long wait, and wouldn't actually get my hands on my very own Game Boy system until a year or so later. My dad owned a video rental store and was given a free Game Boy console when he placed a bumper order for Terminator 2: Judgment Day on VHS, and thankfully this unit would find its way into my waiting hands. Super Mario Land was naturally one of the first titles I invested in, and I still return to it every few years. It's possible to finish it in a few hours [or much less! - ed], and while the lack of challenge may have been a concern to reviewers back in the early '90s, to me it represents the perfect way to spend an evening - allowing nostalgia to wash over me as I enjoy the game which will always been considered an outsider by Mario fans, but nevertheless introduced me to the world of portable gaming, and Nintendo itself.
Super Mario Land may not fit cohesively into the Super Mario timeline in terms of its gameplay or design, but it remains a Game Boy classic to this day.