Super Mario Land is an interesting entry in the Game Boy library. Like many early Game Boy games, it has relatively simple graphics. But unlike many games that came after it, including the rest of the Mario Land series, it uses very tiny sprites. Other games used NES-sized sprites, resulting in a smaller play area, but Super Mario Land’s play area is essentially the same size as the home console Mario games.
The result of using such tiny sprites is that this game just feels weird. In many cases you’re better off avoiding enemies if you can, due to the precision needed to jump on top of them. The play control Mario is so known for is not nearly as crisp here as on the NES, causing the game to feel almost like a cheap knock-off. Even the B-button run is dangerous to use very often since your normal speed is already so fast. And the super balls, which replace fire balls, are just strange.
Controls and graphics aside, Super Mario Land is a pretty decent platformer. It’s short, but its 12 levels are actually a lot by Game Boy standards of the time. It even features two shoot ’em up-style levels and a few stage themes we rarely see in Mario games. The levels do suffer a bit from obviously repeated sections, no doubt implemented to save on memory.
Super Mario Land may be the least Mario-feeling game in the series, with everything feeling just a little bit off. The tiny sprites make it unattractive and somewhat difficult to play, but it’s still enjoyable enough after you get used to the controls. And it did introduce us to Mario sports mainstay Daisy, so it has historical significance. So there’s that!