Now that Mega Man is taken care of its time to move on to another great sequel Super Mario Brothers 2, the secret best Mario game (If you do not get the reference you should listen to Retronauts). Super Mario Bro. 2 is a game with a complex history and some of the best platforming on the system.
I know some readers are now crying out that the SMB 2 that I’m writing about is not the “real” SMB 2 and all I have to say is “bullshit.” Yes, Japan did get an entirely different game named Super Mario Bros. 2 than we did here in the United States, but the one we got is the better version of Super Mario Bros. 2. Japan’s SMB 2, known locally as the Lost Levels, is warmed over SMB with added spite. The innovations in that game are terrible things like poison mushrooms and invisible wind bursts. Our SMB 2, on the other hand, was greatly influential to the future of the Mario series. Shy Guys and Birdo are enemies that continually show up in the various Mario Parties and Sports games. Any time the secondary cast of Mario games – Luigi, Peach and Toad – are playable nowadays there is a great chance their controls will be based on their SMB 2 counterparts. Most importantly the American Super Mario Bros. 2 is a great game with colorful, detailed graphics and solid, if a bit easy, gameplay. So if any player feels ‘cheated’ by getting this game get over it; this is the real Super Mario Bros. 2.
I feel like I have to explain how SMB 2 came to be. In Japan the game we know as SMB2 is known as Doki Doki Panic. I have never played DDP, but I assume it plays about the same as Super Mario Bros. 2. It was created by Nintendo’s golden boy Shigeru Miyamoto, his involvement is a big reason it feels like later Mario games. The reason Doki Doki Panic became Mario 2 is that by the time for Nintendo to release a Mario 2 in America, the original Mario 2 would have seemed dated on top of not being any good. So Nintendo basically did a sprite swap in Doki Doki Panic to make it the real Super Mario Bros 2 and everybody won.
One of the biggest changes from Mario Bros to Mario Bros 2 is that instead of Mario and Luigi being playable and playing identically there are four different unique playable characters. In addition to Mario and Luigi this game has Peach and Toad. They all have different abilities. Well, the same basic moves, they just work in different ways. Mario is the base character. His momentum and jumping ability are the normal setting. Luigi jumps higher than Mario, but he is also much harder to control. He slides back and forth and is generally infuriating. Luigi is the expert character; once you learn to control him he makes large parts of the game much easier. If Luigi is the expert character then Princess Peach is the beginner character; she does not jump quite as high as Luigi but she can float for a limited amount of time before she comes back down. It makes the jumps all much easier. Toad’s jumping abilities are not that different from Mario but he can dig really fast and I rarely use him. Still, having 4 different playable characters adds tons of replay value, which is good because SMB 2 is short. As in beaten in about an hour short.
Another deviation from the Mario formula is that jumping on enemies head’s does not kill them. You can ride them or pick them up and throw them, making for interesting but very different gameplay. And instead of Goombas and Koopa Troopers the game has shy guys and Birdo.
While very different, SMB2 is also very good. It is more of a puzzle game than other Mario games. Getting to the end is not the challenge, at least not as much as figuring out how to get there is. You must find keys guarded by frightening masks. Passages must be cleared using a limited number of bombs. Potions that take the player to a shadow area must be thrown in specific areas to get power ups. All in all it is very different from other Mario games, but Super Mario Bros 2’s uniqueness is a large part of its charm. There are other strange things in SMB2, though their uniqueness is debatable. At the risk of spoiling a more than 20 year old game, SMB2 ends with an it was all a dream reveal. The whole game is Mario’s nightmare. Another strange thing is Birdo. Of the manual it to be believed, and being an NES manual it is probably not, then Birdo is some sort of trans character that wishes it was a girl so it could lay eggs. This is why it shoots eggs out of its nose. Truly a bewildering creature. And the 2nd best thing in all of ever (number one of course being Frankenstein’s Monster riding a motorcycle, swinging a sword and quoting Milton) is in this game you pull a turnip out of the ground and it turns into a rocket ship. Yes, a turnip rocket!
There is no other game like SMB2. No game has its convoluted history, its puzzley platforming, or the sheer amount of unique weirdness. Some games may match it in places, but none has them all. Despite being an entry in a long running franchise, Super Mario Bros 2 is unique. Even if you do not think it is a good game, in which case you are demonstrably wrong, it’s worth playing just for the novelty of it. This, the real Super Mario Bros 2 is one of the most fun and individual games on the NES.
pictures from the VG Museum.