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Super Mario Land: A short, oddball entry

Super Mario Land was a Game Boy launch title, but not the pack-in game. That honor went to Tetris. Tetris is an incredible game with perennial appeal, and it propelled the Game Boy's explosive success. Super Mario Land is not as impressive but still fun. Super Mario Land is a bit odd. It doesn't feel like other Mario games. Only four of the classic enemies appear: Bullet Bills, Piranha Plants, Goombas, and Koopa Troopas. Even the koopas behave differently: their shells can't be kicked and instead explode like bombs. Most of the enemies are assorted creatures, like spiders, robots, ghosts, and Moai heads. The Fighter Flies from the original Mario Bros. arcade game also appear. The Super Mushroom, coins, and Super Star appear, as well as question blocks. The Fire Flower, however, has been replaced by a similar flower power-up. It lets Mario throw a bouncing ball. It ricochets off walls like an old screen saver, and only one can be on screen at a time. Weird! Extra-life mushr
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Super Mario Bros. Deluxe: 25th anniversary

A quarter century ago, Nintendo went back to the fountainhead with Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, which brought the original Super Mario Bros. to the recently released Game Boy Color. While playing SMB on a handheld device was a novelty, the game is unfortunately hampered by the Game Boy's small screen. The GBC was powerful enough to recreate the NES in a handheld form. However, in order to recreate the game perfectly without using shrunk-down sprites (as was done for Super Mario Land), only a portion of the screen can be displayed at once. A "block" in SMB is sixteen pixels a side. The Game Boy screen can show only ten such blocks horizontally at once, and the height is nine blocks, with the top half of the top row being covered by your score, coins, and time remaining. The NES outputted sixteen blocks wide by thirteen high. This means in SMB Deluxe you can see only 40% of what the NES showed! The other 60% is offscreen. As a result, the game looks zoomed in. Enemies, coins,

Super Metroid: 30th anniversary

Three decades ago Nintendo brought Metroid to the 16-bit era in splendorous fashion with Super Metroid. They took everything good about the original Metroid and improved, expanded, and fixed it. No game is perfect, but this one comes awfully close. It holds up brilliantly today. Super Metroid follows the formula of the original, with a semi-open world divided into different sections. In many respects it feels like a remake, similar to what Nintendo did with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past . The "bounty hunter" Samus Aran returns to the planet Zebes and travels through Norfair, Brinstar, and Tourian, facing the Space Pirate bosses Ridley, Kraid, and Mother Brain. The maps are different, though a few sections from the original are deliberately recreated. In fact, at the very beginning of the game, Samus passes back through the escape shaft and original chamber in which she defeated Mother Brain the first time, only now things look eerily abandoned. Then she has to leav

Wario Land II: A rich puzzle platformer

I adored Wario Land as a kid but never played Wario Land II because by 1998 I had moved on from such childish activities as playing Nintendo games. Boy, did I miss out! Wario Land II is a rich puzzle platformer, featuring an astonishing 51  levels. Originally released on the Game Boy (except in Japan, weirdly), it was re-released for the Game Boy Color the following year. The first Wario Land game was technically part of the Super Mario Land series and played similarly to Super Mario Land 2 . Wario received Mario-style power-ups in the form of hats. Wario Land II is quite different: Wario is now, in his own words, "immortal." He can't be damaged by enemies, and there are no pits. When he gets his by a normal enemy, such as a goom, he is bounced backwards and loses several coins. There are no power-ups, but the attacks of certain enemies temporarily change Wario's bodily form. While these cartoonish transformations are depicted as negative, they let him go places and

Final Fantasy II: The lost "black sheep"

Final Fantasy II, the 1988 sequel, never came to the NES. The "black sheep" of the series, it is inferior to both I and III. A complete English prototype of the game was made but then shelved due to the release of the SNES. This was an understandable business decision, as FF4  is the far better game. The root problem was how long it took RPGs to make it to the West. Final Fantasy II has a clichéd story cribbed from Star Wars. There is an evil empire and emperor, rebels, dark knight, and city-destroying, flying death machine. The protagonists are four young people, orphaned by the empire. The game opens with a battle they can't win, but three of them are revived by one of the game's many NPCs, Minwu, a white mage. He works for Princess Leia—I mean Hilda, the leader of the rebellion (and yes, at one point you have to rescue her from a cell). You choose the names for the heroes: each is a tabula rasa , like in FF1. The girl's brother is missing and doesn't appea

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3: 30th anniversary

Wario Land was one of my favorite Game Boy games as a child, and now it’s 30 years old! Subtitled “Super Mario Land 3” for marketing purposes, it’s actually the beginning of a new series. No longer a villain, but an antihero, the greedy Wario seeks to gather as many coins as he can on Kitchen Island. The game mechanics of Wario Land are different from those of Super Mario. Wario, being fat, can’t run. He can, however, charge enemies with a shoulder slam (press B). His power-ups come in the form of hats, of which there are three. The most common is the bull hat, which enables Wario to smash through blocks in a single hit instead of two. While wearing the bull hat, Wario can also ground-pound, which is so forceful it stuns nearby enemies. The next hat is the dragon hat, which emits fire that can incinerate blocks and enemies. The last is my favorite: the jet hat. This increases the distance of Wario’s shoulder dash, which he can also perform in the air. Wario loses whatever hat he has

Mega Man 2: The Blue Bomber at his best

I didn't own a lot of NES games as a kid, but I did have Mega Man 2, and it was one of my favorites. It's full of great stages and great music. The prevailing wisdom, which I share, is that it's the best Mega Man game. Certainly it holds up very well after 35 years . Mega Man 2 follows its predecessor 's formula while ironing out all the wrinkles. The number of "robot masters" was upped from six to the canonical eight. Mega Man—the cybernetic humanoid created by Dr. Light—can face them in any order. They are Bubble Man, Heat Man, Quick Man, Crash Man, Metal Man, Wood Man, Air Man, and Flash Man. Once Mega Man has defeated, and obtained the weapon of, each master, he enters Dr. Wily's Castle. These four stages culminate in a multistage fight against the evil robots' maker, Dr. Wily. Each of the eight stages has its own theme, environment, and array of bad robots. Mega Man traverses a factory (Metal Man), an underwater area (Bubble Man), a forest (Wood