Given the popularity of the Super Mario Bros. series at the time of the Game Boy's release, it came as no real surprise that Nintendo would release a Super Mario title for its brand new portable game system. Now the 3DS eShop is available, it makes just as much sense for Super Mario Land to be one of the first titles made available.
For anyone that's ever played a Super Mario release, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the gameplay in Super Mario Land. The controls are pretty much the same as those found in the NES titles: you can still make Mario run and he can even shoot off a super ball that will bounce around the screen and take out any enemies it touches, if you're able to pick up a Flower power-up. You'll even find the trademark Star power-up hidden in certain blocks that will make Mario invincible for a short amount of time.
Your goal is to traverse each level and reach the exit doors: the bottom door will take you out of the level, but the more difficult to reach door near the top of the screen will give you a shot at playing an end-of-level mini-game where you can earn power-ups and free lives.
There are basically four worlds in the game, each containing three individual levels to play through. The final level in each world features a boss boss fight, although they're generally very simple in design and execution, so you should have little trouble with them. There are two vehicle levels that allow Mario to take control of a submarine and an airplane that mixes things up a bit as well. The levels are plenty long, but having only three per world makes each world really fly by, and given the overall lack of difficulty in each level, most players should be able to breeze through the entire game in less than 30 minutes. And given that there's not really any incentive to go back and locate any hidden items, there's very little replay value involved in the experience to keep you coming back for more. It's still a lot of fun to play through, just don't expect to feel any huge urge to do it again anytime soon.
The visuals in Super Mario Land are about what you'd expect from a first-generation Game Boy release, and certainly look no better today than they did way back when. There's very little detail in the backgrounds, although some of the later areas do feature a good amount of detail in the foregrounds for you to enjoy. There's absolutely no parallax scrolling of any kind, and even the animations are fairly basic in design and execution.
The music is easily the high point of the entire experience and Nintendo really did a superb job in somehow capturing the trademark Super Mario sound with the game's soundtrack. Every tune in the game features that same catchiness we've come to expect from the series and many of the tracks even fit in stylistically with the area in which they're played in. The Egyptian-themed track is a particular favorite among retro gamers and does a nice job of showing off the Game Boy's solid sound capabilities. The sound effects are hit and miss, but they're certainly not anything that could be classified as detrimental to the overall audio presentation. The musical score is so good you certainly won't mind the somewhat bland sound effects anyway.
Super Mario Land was impressive when it was first released for the Game Boy, but given how the length and overall quality of Game Boy releases increased shortly thereafter, it only made this original seem even more inadequate by comparison. It's not the best launching-off point for the 3DS eShop — Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins is by far the better game — and it is the most expensive of the launch Virtual Console titles at $3.99/£3.60.
It's still a very fun Super Mario experience, but just about the time things are really getting good, the experience ends and the credits roll. If you haven't played Super Mario Land before, you owe it to yourself to at least give the game a try. The quest might be fairly short, but it's still worth playing through at least once, if only to see where Mario's portable adventures began.