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Super Mario Land 2: Parallel Paths

Written by Golem
About the game Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Read the original forum post here.
Posted on Oct 11, 2015
I loved Super Mario Land 2 as a youngin, but over the years, that passion faded. Mario and his foes are all painfully sluggish, most likely due to the huge sprite size; if you can't see what's up ahead, you don't want to let the player move too quickly. But recently, I returned to it and began to see why I put all those hours into it in the first place.

Super Mario Land 2 likes to play around with parallel paths. In many stages, you'll have one path on top and one on bottom, both of which take you to the same end point. Which one you take is often, though not always, a matter of taste. If you can, think of the mainline Sonic games on Genesis or the first Bubsy game.

By no means is Super Mario Land 2 revolutionary; on the contrary, it's more or less what you'd expect from parallel paths in a platformer. However, with the recent release of a fourth New Super Mario Bros. game, it's interesting to take a look at a Mario game that thinks of its level structure in a unique way among other Marios.

Mario Zone 1 makes a natural starting point, I think. It serves as an introduction to Super Mario Land 2's take on parallel paths. The stage contains four sequences of paths, developing ideas from one to the next.

The first sequence simply exposes the presence of parallel paths.

Click here for the full image.

You start at the bottom here, and initially, your only way up is along the right side. However, the right-hand set of platforms doesn't flow directly into the platforms on the left. Instead, your first instinct will probably be to climb upwards until you reach point A, at which time you realize you can't get any higher, and you need to find another way up. From there, it doesn't take long to recognize that you can hop over to the left side and continue upward.

This establishes the right platforms and left platforms as separate paths. When you jump to the left, you're switching paths. However, that switch is forced. The rest of the level lets you decide if you want to switch paths.

Still within the first sequence, you come across a small choice in path.

Click here for the full image.

Eventually, you've got to go up to one of the platforms above point B, but when you do so is up to you. You could jump from any of the lower three platforms. There's little to compel you to choose one path over another here; no matter which platform you take upward, your journey will be more or less the same. The middle and right lower platforms slowly move, so it's a little safer to jump from the far left platform, but that's about it.

So little goes into this choice that it's almost arbitrary. This is the bare minimum for a parallel path, giving you no reason to choose one path over another. The rest of the stage develops why you would want to choose a certain path.

While the first sequence was vertical, this next one is horizontal.

Click here for the full image.

The top path here offers trickier platforming and enemies that are harder to dodge, but you'll earn coins for your troubles. The choice boils down to a classic dichotomy: risk it for the reward or play it safe to get through the area.

After this is the checkpoint bell, marking the middle of the stage. Within its first half, Mario Zone 1 gradually establishes what parallel paths are and that some are more desirable than others.

At the checkpoint bell, you are more or less forced to take Bunny Mario. You're faced with a huge pit of spikes, and the game offers you a Carrot powerup. Take it, and you'll transform into Bunny Mario, who has the power to safely glide across the pit.

It's a fitting opening to the second half, which builds on the ideas of the first half by using powerups. This third sequence is another horizontal one.

Click here for the full image.

Here, the lower and upper paths switch roles; the lower path is fraught with bouncing screw enemies, but it provides access to ? blocks that the upper path can't reach. Super Mario and Fire Mario can hit blocks from above by spin jumping, but you're probably Bunny Mario because of the Carrot powerup near the checkpoint bell. Small Mario and Bunny Mario cannot spin jump.

In other words, what powerup you have determines which path you might take. If you're Bunny Mario and you want the contents of the ? blocks, you'll need to take the bottom path. You'll also need to take the bottom path if you're Small Mario, which can happen if you die and respawn at the checkpoint bell. However, if you took damage once as Bunny Mario, you'll be Super Mario, giving you the ability to spin jump and hit the ? blocks from the safety of the upper path.

One of the blocks contains a Fire Flower, offering the player another choice. Fire Mario and Bunny Mario each have their strengths and weaknesses, making the decision largely reliant on the player's taste.

The fourth and final sequence juxtaposes powerups further and tasks you with climbing a vertical shaft.

Click here for the full image.

To the left of point C is a wall of blocks that can only be broken with fireballs from Fire Mario. So, if you took the Fire Flower from the previous sequence, you can run through the coin cache on the left; otherwise, you'll have to climb through some relatively difficult gear platforming on the right.

The vertical sequences parallel one another in that neither one offers much of a choice. In the first sequence, you're either forced to switch paths, or the paths available are very similar. In the fourth sequence, which path you take is determined by a choice you made in the previous sequence: namely, if you took the Fire Flower or not.

On the other hand, the horizontal sequences both show off paths interacting with one another. In the case of the second sequence, you can easily jump up from the bottom path or fall down from the top path; you're not stuck to one or the other. And for the third sequence, if you can spin jump on top of the ? blocks, you'll access goodies that you can normally only access from the bottom path.

Divided in half by the checkpoint bell, this stage shows the importance of powerups. The first half sets up parallel paths, letting you know that you can earn collectibles if you choose the correct path, while the second half of the stage shows the impact that powerups can have on deciding which path to take.

Parallel paths aren't something altogether alien to 2D Mario games, but Super Mario Land 2 places a greater emphasis on them. And, in a way that nicely complements Mario gameplay, powerups often play a big role in what path you choose.

Thanks to RyuMaster of VGMaps.com for the Mario Zone 1 map.
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