Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 2 USA Rev A 188x266 Super Mario Bros. 2 NES Nintendo Review ScreenshotDeveloper: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Released: October 1988
US Cartridge ID: NES-MW-USA

Players: 1
Genre: Action Platform
Supported Peripherals: Controller

ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC3 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)

Requires Flash10

Super Mario Bros. 2 has long since been considered the “odd-duck” of the Mario series, eschewing many of the gameplay elements that its older brother established when released with the NES in 1985. Unbeknownst to the American public when Super Mario Bros. 2 appeared on US shelves in 1988, the true sequel to Nintendo’s smash launch hit, the Japan-only Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Famicom Disk System, had already been in the hands of gamers for over two years. Not to be seen in the United States until included Super Mario Bros. 2 USA 000 Super Mario Bros. 2 NES Nintendo Review Screenshotas Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in the release of 1993’s Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES, the Japanese only follow-up fell far more in-line with the expectations of American fans than the “official” sequel that they received.

Whereas Japan’s own Super Mario Bros. 2 strongly resembled Super Mario Bros., so much as to be criticized by some as a subpar “hack” of the original, US audiences received a complete re-envisioning of the Mario mythos that they’d been originally introduced to. There is no longer a giant anthropomorphic turtle holding hostage the princess of a kingdom populated by sentient fungi, nor are there any references to the famed plumbers’ real-world profession. Mario 2, as the game was called on school playgrounds at the time, begins with a vivid dream Mario has one night. At the top of  a huge staircase, Mario finds a lone door. Beyond this door he finds a new, strange world – Subcon, the world of dreams. The denizens of Subcon beg Mario to save them from Wart, a cruel amphibious despot who has put the entire kingdom under a spell. The next morning, Mario, unnerved by the dream, goes to a nearby mountain with his friends for a picnic. Spying a cave, the friends enter and are greeted by a staircase exactly like the one Mario described from his dream. Fearfully climbing the stairs and entering the door, Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool find themselves standing in Subcon, thus beginning their adventure.

Pressing Start, the player is asked to select which character he or she would like to use to tackle the upcoming stage. Each of the starring four differ in both jumping power and in the speed with which they can pick up buried items. Mario is the most well-balanced, with no Super Mario Bros. 2 USA 019 Super Mario Bros. 2 NES Nintendo Review Screenshotnotably outstanding nor disadvantageous traits, making him a reasonable choice to explore new areas with. Luigi, Mario’s green-clad younger brother, uses his spindly frame to jump higher and farther than another of the others, though his agility comes at the cost of speed and control. While slow, Toadstool, Mario’s romantic interest and the Mushroom Kingdom’s crown princess, can hover for a couple seconds when in midair, allowing her to float over large pitfalls and crowds of enemies. Finally, Toad, the loyal retainer to the crown, has little in the way of aerial capabilities, but can quickly and efficiently pick up and hurl enemies, buried vegetables, and items as the strongest physically of the four.

The differences between Subcon and the Mushroom Kingdom are immediately apparent from the outset. Level 1-1 begins with a freefall as the hero plummets having stepped through a door suspended high above the ground. Landing on a grassy mound swarming with Shyguys (Subcon’s equivalent to the Goomba), the player’s chosen avatar runs to a red door at the foot of the hill, and upon entering is greeted by a world that mixes elements of the One Thousand and One Nights and Dr. Seuss’ fantastically brazen  color sensibilities in equal parts. The resultant surrealism, however bizarre and foreign, infuses Subcon with an incredibly unique and appealing aesthetic across the twenty stages comprising the adventure.

Exploring grassy plains, waterfalls, barren deserts of ice and sand, pyramids and more, Super Mario Bros. 2 USA 450 Super Mario Bros. 2 NES Nintendo Review Screenshoteach of the characters is tasked with defeating the guardian of the area and stealing its orb. Picking up the orb will force the giant wall-mounted bird head to open its beak, granting access to the next stage. Each set of stages is then capped by a boss encounter, pitting the heroic invaders against Wart’s lieutenants, including Mouser, an bipedal mouse sporting rad sunglasses; Fryguy, a giant, oscillating ball of flame wearing what appears to be a cheap Mardi Gras mask; Tryclyde, a cartoony hydra that spits flame; and Clawgrip, an ill-tempered crustacean with a proclivity for hurling boulders.

The areas of Subcon are large and relatively non-linear in nature, with several stages offering multiple paths to the goal. Bombs can be used to wipe out obstructing walls and other such deterrents, enemies can be ridden to gain access to otherwise inaccessible areas, and vases often need to be searched for the items that they are housing. Vegetable stalks protruding from the ground of each area and can be picked up.  Most stalks will be attached to a veggies than can be used as weapons, though some disguise bombs, while others yet reveal red potions: these potions can be thrown to create a door into a parallel Super Mario Bros. 2 USA 070 Super Mario Bros. 2 NES Nintendo Review Screenshotuniverse named “subspace,” granting Mario’s crew mushrooms (which will extend the life gauge) and access to rare vases harboring secret warp zones. Any vegetables picked up in subspace become coins that give chances to win extra lives at the one-armed bandit machines located at the end of each stage.

The controls are versatile and responsive. Though each character plays differently, the mechanics never feel inappropriately floaty nor forced, and maintain a natural level of consistency between them. The diversity in gameplay necessitates a considerable number of maneuvers be made available, but there is little need to study the manual, as the contextually activated actions are intuitively mapped to the NES controller’s two buttons.

The quality of the graphics have been greatly improved since the first game: already strong character designs have been enhanced through a stronger attention to animation and sprite detail, and character sprites are significantly larger than they were in Super Mario Bros. Subcon presents a great deal more personality than the Mushroom Kingdom ever did in Mario’s first adventure, playing host to slew of aggressive oddities. The mini-boss that guards the exit to most stages, Birdo, is a pink dinosaur with a penchant for oversized fashion accessories. In what is likely Nintendo’s first hysterically non-PC nod to the
transgendered lifestyle, the manual avers that “he thinks he is a girl and spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called ‘birdetta [sic].” Gender bending aside, the evil mask Phanto will attack if his treasured keys are taken, masked Snifits (purportedly members of the gang “8 bits”) spit “bullets of evil dreams” from mouth holes cut in their masks, and theSuper Mario Bros. 2 USA 548 Super Mario Bros. 2 NES Nintendo Review Screenshot flightless avian Pidgits cruise around on magic flying carpets that can be stolen if so desired.

The music in Mario’s second US outing is a massive departure from that featured in Super Mario Bros., but still holds the same charm and sense of whimsicality, though the Mario theme appears only briefly in subspace scenes. Tunes now better fill the audio landscape thanks to the liberal inclusion of digital samples for percussive instruments and the notably heavier bass lines.

Though it is not what fans expected, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a worthy successor to the original’s crown, and stands as one of the finest platformers on the Nintendo. Though with very little effort Nintendo of America could have released The Lost Levels in the United States and made a fortune, Super Mario Bros. 2 represents the company’s dedication to providing new and innovative experiences. The genius instincts of Shigeru Miyamoto are firing on all cylinders here – this is an adventure that should not be missed for any reason.

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