There’s something concerning about Super Mario Land 2. It’s clearly on display right here:
Is it J-Son the Horror Goomba? No. Vertically moving mines? ‘Fraid not. Mario gradually turning into a bunny girl? Nah, that was always inevitable. What’s really concerning about Super Mario Land 2? It’s this right here:
Mario has a kill count.
Mario is being incentivized to murder his opponents. That is vaguely concerning.
Granted, Mario has always been rewarded for his bloodlust. In Mario’s first appearance, leaping over a barrel would award 100 points, but smashing and bashing with a hammer granted triple the reward. Granted, the closest Mario ever got to a living thing in DK was a dubiously sentient bit of walking flame, and we can all agree that living fire is something that should stop living immediately. But Mario’s next adventure was all about extermination, as Mario was not allowed to progress until he had slain every last living thing on the screen. This wasn’t a situation where Mario was compensated for murder, murder was the entire point.
But, depending on your perspective, things got better by the time Mario became super. Super Mario Bros. technically rewards Mario for leaping on the koopa troop and squishing goombas in new and innovative ways, but what Mario needs (precious, precious lives) are granted for feats of acrobatic prowess… that incidentally generally murder turtles. Bouncing off multiple monsters at once is what keeps Mario afloat, and if some of his enemies are shell-shocked along the way, so be it. And this seems to have been the standard for Mario going forward: Bowser’s henchmen are going to have to die, but as long as Mario looks like an Olympian during the bloodshed, he’ll receive a prize or two. That seems pretty fair for an athletic hero.
But things are a little different in Super Mario Land 2. Here, Mario’s hitherto unseen home kingdom has been invaded by the nefarious Wario. This is Wario’s first appearance, and, while he is clearly the antagonist, he is still very much Wario. Is he kidnapping princesses or threatening the state of the world? No, he’s just a homeless dude who saw an empty castle, decided to move in, and then changed the locks after a few too many keggers with Tatanga. He’s theoretically the ringleader of the other bosses in game, but, what, do you think he needed to command a gigantic creature named “Sewer Rat” to be a nuisance? Of course not. Every one of Wario’s flunkies is just futzing around Mario Land because it’s Tuesday, and what else do you have to do when you live in the eternal night of the Pumpkin Dome? Wario, at worst, just distributed Mario’s wealth to the commoners of the kingdom, and now Mario has to deal with the fallout of a peasant uprising. If things get too rowdy, they might damage his gargantuan statue of/to himself!
But maybe that’s why Mario is getting bloodthirsty. Mario owns the castle, the place is called Mario Land, and there’s that Mario Monument over in the East. The implication here is clear: this is Mario’s kingdom, and the various enemies of the zones were previously Mario’s loyal subjects. Are they under a magic spell? Fighting against their leader under the orders of Wario? Or simply driven into a mad frenzy and attacking the first plumber they see? No, of course not: they’re rebelling. Mario ruled his land with an iron fist (that you can accidentally activate with a floor switch) for so long that the first moment his subjects had a taste of freedom, they mutinied against the very concept of ever dealing with the Mario Monarchy ever again. What does the Hero of the Mushroom Kingdom know about the plight of the common Goronto Ant? Nothing. These dudes are just trying to live their best lives, and here comes that jerk with the moustache to inform them it’s time to work on a brand new giant turtle statue with opposable neck. And all the taxes are going to building a new casino for toads? What is wrong with this land!?
Mario needs a kill count. Mario needs to know how many of these insurgents he’s stomped into the ground.
But whatever the cause of Mario’s new need for destruction, it doesn’t feel very… Mario. Yes, Mario has always had a vicious streak, but it was often tempered with a sort of… elegance. For an easy example, look no further than the persistent image of Mario sending a koopa troopa shell sailing through a row of his opponents. Yes, he is killing every last turtle in his path by using one of their own as an unstoppable, fatal bullet of green annihilation, but there’s a bit of cartoonish whimsy to such an action. And, what’s more, it’s not just about Mario’s murderous antics, but the inherent cleverness of lining his enemies up in the first place. They were an overwhelming force, greatly outnumbering their plumber prey, but Mario tricked them all and came out on top thanks to his own innate cleverness.
But that cleverness is nowhere to be found in Super Mario Land 2’s kill count. Do you receive a point for tricking a monster into walking off a ledge and into an endless void? No. Any additional bonuses for ending a bullet bill with a touch of flare? Nope. Do you even see a smidgen of a benefit for bopping multiple victims simultaneously? Not a bit. The only way to make that number go up is kill through any means necessary. And your reward for depopulating Super Mario Land? A super star, so you can reach terminal velocity running through your casualties as quickly as possible. Destruction begets destruction, and Mario is the wrecking ball that is going to swing across his kingdom.
Luckily, Super Mario Land 2 did not set the standard for Nintendo’s legendary hero. Mario returned to being rewarded for his cleverness in later titles, whether that be through collecting peaceful flowers and coins, or discovering the secrets of another monarch’s castle. In fact, at least one later title saw Mario serving a sort of community service for the violent crimes committed in his own kingdom, and cleaning up beaches and volcanoes alike. Mario never entirely stopped being destructive, but he did at least make some grasps at making the galaxy a better place through non-violent means. And the kill count? That went to Wario and his various adventures.
And, hey, maybe that means this was Wario’s fault all along. Maybe the invasion of Wario didn’t cause the inhabitants of Mario Land to turn murderous, but Mario himself. Maybe that was Wario’s plan all along, to leave Mario alone in his castle, trapped in a kingdom that no longer respected their ruler. Maybe Wario really is the greatest, and most successful, opponent Mario ever faced.
Or maybe giving Mario a kill count was just a dumb idea.
Though this may explain why we’ve never visited Mario Land’s blood-soaked hills ever again…
FGC #486 Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
- System: Nintendo Gameboy, and wherever else Gameboy games are currently available. Nintendo 3DS? That sounds right.
- Number of players: Mario is going this rampage alone. I shudder to think what Luigi Land looks like at this point.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Kill count aside, SML2 is a very good Mario game, and was one of my favorite Gameboy titles back in the day. Right up there with Mega Man V and Final Fantasy Adventure… which means I didn’t get to actually play these games very much until the Super Gameboy. But boy did I play it a lot then! More 2-D Mario content was like ambrosia back in the pre-Mario Maker days, and any game with this many secret exits and malevolent witches was bound to be fun for the whole family. And battling Wario for the first time was pretty great, too.
- In Living Color: When ROB selected this title, I was moderately happy at the chance to try the new(ish) Super Mario Land 2 DX patch by Toruzz. And it’s cool! Mario Land 2 in color! And hearts are mushrooms now! And… uh… that’s it? Got some physics tweaks in there, and maybe a Luigi, but that’s about it. Look, this thing looks amazing, but it’s still just an improvement on an already great game, so it’s hard to really make an impact.
- It’s the Little Things: I appreciate that piranha plants that don’t stick their teeth straight up are now spiky and wearing clear “do not touch” signs. This is coming from someone that may have tried to stomp a fire-breathing plant in Super Mario Bros. 3 and was immediately punished for my hubris.
- Favorite Zone: Even if it is short, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Space Zone and its nonstandard jump gravity. I also love/hate the automatic scrolling stage, as infinite jumping is great, but automatic scrolling is the devil. A hippo that blows Mario-sized bubbles, though, is always great.
- Would I play again: Probably! It might be a Gameboy game, but it’s still a lot of fun, so if I’m looking for bite-sized Mario, it’s one of my first choices.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… if you can believe it… Super Mario Bros. 2. Yes, in the year 2020, ROB has chosen two twos in a row. So now it’s time to trade Warios for Warts. Please look forward to it!