Super Mario Bros. 2
The original Super Mario Bros. is arguably the most important video game in Nintendo history. For most of us it was the first game we played once we got our brand new Nintendo Entertainment System hooked up. When the NES launched here in North America by far the most popular edition was the "Basic Set" which included the console, two controllers, and Super Mario Bros., so many young gamers found themselves investing the vast majority of their playing time controlling Mario and Luigi. By the time 1988 rolled around, everyone was salivating at the thought of making some new memories with their favorite Italian plumber.
Super Mario Bros. 2 had a pretty interesting development history. Japan had gotten a sequel to Super Mario Bros. all the way back in 1986, but it bared no resemblance to the game that would be released under that name in North America. The Japanese version of SMB 2 utilized the exact same game engine and mechanics that its predecessor did, the only change being a ridiculous spike in difficulty. Challenge-wise, the first level is on par with Level 8 of the previous game, so anyone expecting an easy go of things early on was in for a surprise. The game eventually came to the States under the title Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and while it's cool to check out most gamers find it an exercise in frustration.
For the North American version of Super Mario Bros. 2, Nintendo originally envisioned a vertical-scrolling game where Mario and Luigi would fight their way to the top of levels instead of constantly traveling right as you did in the first game. This proved to be technically too much for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, so as fans restlessly waiting the developers were forced to look elsewhere for their Mario sequel. They eventually found their answer in Doki Doki Panic, a Japanese game that had been released in the summer of 1987. Keeping the game engine and graphics intact, the team replaced many of the game assets with enemies and protagonists more in line with the established Mario universe, and the result was we now know here in the USA as Super Mario Bros. 2.
Most of us got our first look at the sequel when the inaugural issue of Nintendo Power arrived in our mailboxes in the summer of 1988. Nintendo wisely featured their lovable mascot on the cover modeled in high-detail out of clay and promoting his next adventure. Super Mario Bros. 2 was coming to the NES that October and 20 full-color pages spilled all the details. And boy...it certainly wasn't what any of us expected.
The two-player format was tossed aside for Super Mario Bros 2, which was a big problem for a lot of people, myself included. About the only time my sister and I got along was when we were playing video games together, how the hell were we supposed to do that when SMB 2 was going to be a single-player game? I can't even imagine how much trouble this was for two-kid households back in the late 80s, I know it caused countless fights over the controller in ours.
Luigi might have been fired from his job as Player 2, but he was still be playable in the game. And Toad and the Princess were available to play as well, giving gamers a 4-person roster to choose from before starting each level. Mario had the best all-around game, Luigi could jump super-high to reach impossible objects, the Princess floated through the air over the heads of her enemies, and Toad...well Toad could pull stuff out of the ground really fast. I can count the times I've played as Toad on one hand and I'm sure I'm not alone. The whole system always reminded me of the arcade classic Gauntlet, you could beat any level in the game with any of the available characters, but a savvy player quickly figured out which hero made things easy.
The changes didn't stop there. Gone were traditional Mario enemies like the Goomba or Koopa Troopa as players now had to deal with Shy Guys, Cobrats, and Bob-Ombs. Even traditional series antagonist Bowser is a no-show in this one as something called Wart fills the role of big baddie. The environments were different, the power-ups had changed, it was a game that bared little resemblance to its wildly-successful predecessor outside of the main characters. Now much of that was explained by the fact that the entire game was nothing more than a dream Mario was having, but many players still found all the changes to be jarring.
And I have to admit that I was one of those gamers that just couldn't get into Super Mario Bros. 2 when it launched. It was the only NES/SNES Mario game that I didn't own until I picked up Super Mario All-Stars a couple years ago, and SMB 2 certainly wasn't the reason I bought that game. But while it's never going to be my favorite in the series I have discovered an appreciation for it. It's weird, the gameplay isn't always great, and it just doesn't feel like a Mario game to me. And that's probably because at its core it isn't, it's Doki Doki Panic dressed up as a Mario game. But that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. There's plenty of good to be found in SMB 2, and if you're a fan of Nintendo, Mario, or just traditional platformers it's worth your time to check it out.
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