Thursday, October 18, 2018

Five reasons I (mostly) hate myself for waiting 26 years to play Super Mario Land 2 for the first time

You may have heard me grouse here or there about the fact that I've never played Super Mario Land 2 for the GameBoy.

It's my own fault, of course. No one kept me from playing it.

The thing is, I can't really say what did keep me from playing it all this time. Which is strange, as I recall enjoying the original Super Mario Land quite a bit back in the day.

Granted, that title launched alongside Nintendo's first handheld in 1989. And it was a lot easier to please GameBoy owners then than it was when Super Mario Land 2 followed it onto store shelves in 1992.

Did I become a more discerning game fan during the three-and-a-half-year span between those two releases? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Far more likely, in my opinion, is that I couldn't shake the (admittedly uninformed) feeling Super Mario Land 2 was little more than a poor man's version of Super Mario World.

Do I still feel that way about the game now that I've played and even beaten it? (I accomplished the latter last week.) Not really, and here are five reasons why:

It's far less of a Super Mario World ripoff than I assumed it to be--Some of you probably are wondering why I ever thought Super Mario Land 2 was a ripoff of Super Mario World. To be honest, I can't remember. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the Mario sprites in both games look pretty darn similar? Regardless, I no longer have such an erroneous opinion of the iconic character's second portable outing. Instead, I now respect its uniqueness and even silliness.

The zone maps are everything--Seriously, how could Nintendo give us something so fabulous and then never return to it? Each and every one of the zone maps included in Super Mario Land 2 brought a smile to my face during my breezy playthrough, though the Mario, Pumpkin, and Space ones especially thrilled me. Admittedly, they're just maps--and single-screen maps, at that. Still, they add a sense of childish whimsy to the experience that most side-scrolling Mario games lack.

Many of its enemies remind me of the first Super Mario Land--And by that I mean they're completely bonkers, of course. They're also a breath of fresh air compared to their counterparts that appear in nearly every other Mario game in existence. I mean, who needs Goombas and Koopas when you have pigs who shoot cannonballs out of their huge snouts (they're called Bomubomu) and fish-cow combos (Mōgyo) that try to gore you with their pointed horns?

I like its mostly unique (for the Mario series) soundtrack--I'm used to Mario games featuring tons of reused tunes. That's not the case here. In fact, I'm not sure any of Super Mario Land 2's music was pulled from previous entries in the long-running series. Regardless, pretty much every song this cartridge offers up is almost profanely exuberant. That makes playing through this platformer even more grin-inducing than it would be if it sported the typical Mario soundtrack.

A late-in-the-game stage pays homage to the "Balloon Trip" mode of Balloon Fight--Some of you may not know this, but I absolutely adore the "Balloon Trip" mode of Balloon Fight. It's the ultimate "just one more try" type of game experience for me. Does this mean I've been playing the Super Mario Land 2 stage alluded to above over and over again since I first encountered it? Not on your life. I sure enjoyed my first time through it, though, and I'll always look forward to it in future attempts.

As for that "mostly" I hid in this post's headline, well, I did that because I don't love each and every aspect of Super Mario Land 2. For example, jumps in this game feel stiffer than they do in other Mario side-scrollers. Also, it's far from the meatiest platformer I've ever played. (I finished it in a few minutes over three hours.)

Despite those minor missteps, I had a blast getting to know Super Mario Land 2 via my trusty 3DS recently. It was the polar opposite of the samey New Super Mario Bros. titles Nintendo's frustratingly focused on for the last decade-plus.

Here's hoping whoever there heads up the next Mario sequel turns to this 1992 release for a bit of inspiration.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Manual Stimulation: Crazy Climber (WonderSwan)

I've long ignored Crazy Climber for WonderSwan because it looked just a little too antiquated for my liking.

Granted, the original arcade version of the game came out all the way back in 1980, so this portable port from 1999 was bound to have an old-fashioned air to it, too.

If this is your first foray into the world of Crazy Climber, you're probably wondering: wasn't it updated or modernized at all between 1980 and 1999?

You'd think so, but as far as I can tell, the answer to that question amounts to "not really."

Maker and publisher Nichibutsu improved the looks of most of its console ports and sequels, but even Crazy Climber 2000 (from--you guessed it--the year 2000, and released for the original PlayStation) features the same "scale a skyscraper using two joysticks" (or directional pads) gameplay as the quarter-muncher that birthed the series 38 years ago.

So what prompted me to do an about-face and pick up a copy of this nichiest of niche titles? One catalyst was that I found out it's played holding the WonderSwan system vertically. (I've always been a sucker for that.) Another was its cartoonish and colorful box art.

Speaking of Crazy Climber's lovely cover illustration, I've got admit I kind of assumed it meant the game's instruction manual would be stuffed with similarly eye-popping imagery.

Boy, was I wrong. In fact, except for the manual's last spread, it's nearly devoid of art. The only exception is the awkwardly drawn hands found in the lower-left corner of page seven.

Don't take that to mean I'm disappointed with my purchase. I'm still glad I own this version of Crazy Climber. Hell, I'm still glad I own this booklet. Its cover and second-to-last page alone make it worth every penny.

If you're wondering what the illustrations on the second-to-last page are supposed to represent, by the way, that would be the game's "characters." I put it in quotes because some of the depicted objects obviously don't fit the typical definition of the word.

Anyway, you encounter all of these so-called characters as you (attempt to) make your way to the top of each of Crazy Climber's mammoth buildings.

Most aim to do you harm. The lone exception: the "lucky balloon." It kindly hauls you up a handful of floors without asking for anything in return.

One last comment before I declare this post complete: click on any of the scans you see here to take a closer look at them.

See also: previous 'Manual Stimulation' posts about Engacho! and Lode Runner for WonderSwan