While Nintendo kept things fairly standard with the first two Super Mario Land releases, it obviously decided to make some changes when it got ready to create this third title in the series on Game Boy. Instead of featuring Mario, it decided to give players a chance to shake things up and take on the role of its newest bad boy, Wario. While it still features the same mix of platforming and action elements players have come to expect from the series, the control system was totally revamped and gave the game its own unique look and feel. The end result is what has become a hugely popular series for Nintendo's various portable game systems, with this original now joining the 3DS Virtual Console.
Wario, still reeling from his defeat at the end of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, now wants a castle more than ever and will stop at nothing in order to get it. Upon hearing that a ragtag group of pirates has stolen Mario's Princess Peach statue and taken it to their hideout on Kitchen Island, Wario hops aboard his ship and sets out for the island. While Captain Syrup and the Brown Sugar Pirates sounds more like a 1970's lounge act than a group of video game antagonists, that's exactly who Wario will have to go up against if he wants to get back the stolen statue and finally buy a castle of his own.
Although this is a Super Mario Land game, you certainly wouldn't know that from playing it. When Nintendo decided to feature Wario as the main character, it also gave him his own unique set of moves as well, making the feel completely different from the previous two releases in the series. While Wario still has the basic move-set of running, jumping and stomping on enemies, he also has an entirely new set of abilities that depend on which hat he's currently wearing. The standard Wario can do a charge attack at enemies, but he can add to his arsenal by picking up the various types of pots that are hidden in blocks around each level.
There are basically three types of pots in the game for Wario to make use of. The Bull Pot allows him to wear a bullhorn hat that not only increases the length and power of his charge attack, but also allows him to pound the ground and stick to certain ceilings using his horns. The Jet Pot will bestow a jet pack hat onto Wario's head and allow him to fly through the air for short periods of time, something that comes in quite handy for traversing some of the wider chasms. Finally there is the Dragon Pot, which will put a dragon's head on top of his head to spit fire for a short period of time. This is probably the most useful of the hats as it can make taking out enemies much easier, especially in tight spaces where a charge move might be difficult to execute.
There are eight different areas on Kitchen Island, each of which contains five levels. At the end of the fifth level you'll have to square off against a boss in order to progress to the next area; some levels even feature a Skeleton Door that you can unlock with a hidden key and score some serious treasures: of course, that's if you can locate them. There are even a few levels that feature two exits that you'll have to find if you want to experience the optional Sherbet Land bonus area.
Given the fact that this is the third release in the series, you'd expect a certain degree of visual advancement, but Nintendo really excelled with the graphical presentation. Not only does this title feature some of the best graphics seen in a Game Boy release, but there's not a bad-looking level in the entire bunch. The backgrounds themselves show a wealth of detail and the characters and enemies that inhabit them are equally impressive. As big a step up in graphics quality as Super Mario Land 2 was from the original, so too is the advance in this third release. It's also nice to see that very few areas use the same visual style, so you can expect plenty of variety in level's appearances. This game is a perfect example of what could be accomplished visually with the Game Boy system when in the proper hands.
The soundtrack is equally impressive, and Nintendo was able to produce a memorable musical score. While it's obviously a very different style from the previous two releases, it's certainly no less catchy and shows off the diversity of the system's unique sound capabilities. While some tracks are obviously better than others, many of the best samples tend to be the ones that are used most often, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to hear them throughout the game. Even the sound effects are extremely well done and seem to complement the soundtrack to perfection. Very seldom do you see an audio/visual presentation so in tune with each other and executed so well.
The revamped gameplay in Wario Land is a welcome twist on the tried-and-true Mario Land style. The control itself might take a little getting used to, given how different it can be, but once you get a handle on controlling Wario you'll truly appreciate what Nintendo was able to do and realize how original the overall experience is. Even the boss fights this time around show a lot more imagination and variety in their design. Nintendo also managed to increase the difficulty level a bit from the original two Super Mario Land releases, which should please fans of the series who felt a bit let down by the lack of challenge in the originals. While the Wario Land games might have become a bit more diverse as the spin-off series progressed, there's still something special about this first release that will keep you coming back for more.
It would be quite easy to make a case for either Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins or Wario Land as the original Game Boy system's best platforming experience, but given how different the two titles are it almost seems unfair to compare them directly. With Wario Land, Nintendo completely reinvented its portable platformer and gave its greedy new character his own game, instead of merely plopping him down into the middle of another standard Super Mario Land presentation. A wealth of new gameplay features combined with a unique visual and musical style make this title stand on its own, and at £3.60 on the Virtual Console it gives old and new fans of the previous Super Mario Land releases a fresh spin on the series. If you want to experience some of the best platforming the Game Boy system has to offer, you needn't look any further than this release.