Game 2 – Super Mario Land (GB)

Gunpei Yokoi, for those unaware, was an instrumental part of Nintendo in it’s early years following the success of the NES and revival of the video game industry after the Crash in 1983. One thing that’s always interested me was looking at how that crash came about in the first place, and what had to happen to get out of it. It’s almost a scary thought that many trends we saw in the early 80’s that led to the crash are similar to the ones we’re seeing today.

The biggest thing most people blame the crash on was a flood of cheaply-made and low-quality games into the market. With the rise of indie games and developers we’re seeing an abnormally high amount of cheap games that sell well. Now, I have no issues with indie games, but the interesting part is how it affects bigger developers. Realistically, it doesn’t make sense for big companies to fund high-budget projects anymore, unless they can trust that they’re going to sell well. Which basically confines them to the same yearly sequels they’ve been coming out with for a while now, causing them to over-saturate the market. They’re still selling plenty of copies of Fifa and Call of Duty, but complaints rise every year. But why would a publisher fund a huge project on an unproven idea? It’s asking to lose money. Yet cheap mobile and indie games sell, and have comparability little cost. And it doesn’t help that console gaming trends are on a steady down-turn, while mobile gaming is increasing at a staggering rate of 35% a year. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before we see so much shovelware that we end up in a large scale version of the 1983 crash.

Gunpei Yokoi, who died after getting hit by a car in 1997, had a philosophy when it came to design and video games. He called it “Lateral thinking with withered technology”. He believed that it didn’t matter that you were pushing the limits of technology, or using the latest processors. He believed there was something to be said of simplicity, as long as the execution was there. He wanted quality of gameplay over graphics. That being said, in 1989, after working on games such as Kid Icarus and Metroid he created and released the first Nintendo Game Boy, along with one of it’s launch titles, Super Mario Land.

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The interesting thing about the original Game Boy, is that it wasn’t the most up-to-date technology. It was Yokoi’s philosophy in physical form. He chose to have a simple device that was easy to hold, easy to use, and had a longer battery life than the stronger handhelds of the competition. And he was repaid by the community as being the best selling console of all time, until the PS2 eclipsed the mark in 2007.

Even years after his death, you still see Nintendo’s ideology strongly aligned with his. The DS and Wii followed the same principles, simpler and easy to pick up. Embracing creativity of games instead of strength of graphics and technology. And they have once again paid off as the Wii has outsold the console competition, while the DS’s 151.5mil units sold is currently just shy of the current best-selling PS2’s 153.1mil units. Argue what you will on quality of games on either system, or personal preference, but as far as appealing the the market Yokoi’s strategy has seemed to hold true.

My interest in Yokoi has lead me to deciding that I need to play Super Mario Land. I remember borrowing it from a friend when I was younger, but I never got to really sit down and play it all the way through. So begins my playthrough.

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I’m going to be honest here. I’m no graphics whore, and I love me some classic games. Hence me going through them here. One of the greatest things about the original Super Mario Bros. games was the tight platforming controls. It was almost unheard of at that time, but everything just felt so smooth. When you died it was very clearly your own fault. No one missed that jump but you. But in Super Mario Land the platforming feels…a bit choppy. Mario doesn’t jump and fall as smoothly or predictably as in the first 3 NES titles that came before this. It doesn’t bring the entire game down, but it feels a bit like something that could have been worked on a bit more.

I did enjoy, however, how refreshing the areas felt. There are 4 worlds in total, so it’s definitely a great deal smaller than the NES games (especially considering this came just after Super Mario Bros. 3 and it’s huge world), but what worlds there are feel completely different from a normal Mario game. This is also helped with enemies unseen in Mario games until this point, and even after.

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Really, even with subpar platforming (compared to other Mario titles, compared to most platformers of age it still plays very well) it doesn’t really detract from the game as a whole. Maybe it caused a couple deaths, but nothing terrible or rage-inducing. Another part I really enjoyed was the side-scrolling shooter segments, which happened twice in the game. Both of which ended in fun boss battles.Again, it’s just a refreshing thing to see in something that’s really a smaller package, but Yokoi wasn’t afraid to be creative with it. In the end, it took about an hour to beat it all. Maybe a bit less. Still enjoyable, and I feel did a great job of setting the standard for Nintendo’s franchises that would make their way to the handheld, like Metroid II and Link’s Awakening.

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So as this current generation (the 7th) comes to a close, and the major companies start to unveil their new consoles and products, I can’t help but wonder how close we might be to the next major video game crash. Maybe we need a crash to take a step back and re-evaluate the industry. Maybe we need another Gunpei Yokoi with a different outlook on the way games are made to turn things around again. I’m not saying Super Mario Land is the game we need to save the industry. It’s just a game. Fun, and worth it’s time, but that’s it. But maybe a we need something refreshing, something that concentrates more on lateral thinking than stronger processors and graphics cards.

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