Super Mario Bros. 2
- Nintendo, 1988 -
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A Curious Tale Of Two Sequels
When humble plumber, Mario, took a wrong turn down that green pipe and found himself saving a princess named Toadstool (?!?) and her Mushroom Kingdom from a spike-shelled, fire-breathing Koopa (?!?) named Bowser — little did he know that he would also be saving a whole industry. The future of home gaming would never be the same again. But, after Mario’s deliverance, what could Nintendo possibly do to mount that next tall flagpole and keep its tight grip on majority share of the market?
After some trial-and-error in what could be seen as a form of beta testing in Japan, Nintendo would make an avant-garde move to keep its banner flying high above its adoring public. Super Mario Bros. 2 would go where few other smash sequels have been — both before and after.
As confusing as it is, this is the first
version of Super Mario Bros. 2
— the version of the sequel that Japan would know.
Originally intended as a single sequel (like most games), the title would actually be released as two disparate games in two distinct regions of the world.
In Japan, the game would live on as a tougher reworking of the original Super Mario Bros.; in the rest of the world, a divergent variation would exist as a loosely-based, altered state of the first game.
In the latter Super Mario Bros. 2, mascot Mario takes brother, Luigi, and a small gathering from the Mushroom Kingdom to explore the slumberous land of "'Subcon', the land of dreams" (as stated in the game's manual). Mario is drawn to a strange door — one, first seen in his dreams — and thus, another journey begins.
The first step through that peculiar door is, indeed, a giant leap of faith for Mario and his fans alike — as Mario falls out of consciousness, he takes a deeper fall (some five screens high!!!) into the world of Subcon. Enter World 1-1 — and thus, begins the trippy experience of a sequel to a sequel that has a crazy tale all its own...
The first step through that first door in Super Mario Bros. 2
is more than a leap of faith — it is a franchise taking a bold step into a new direction — a quality that Nintendo has become renowned for.
In 1985, Shigeru Miyamoto set the gaming universe into a frenetic state. His efforts made the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the new must-have for the average household — to rest alongside the clunky VCR, rabbit-ear antenna and cable box atop the rugged, floor-model television set, of course.
Miyamoto transformed the original Mario Bros. and made it super by plucking plumbing brothers, Mario and Luigi, from the sewers and plopping them into a magical kingdom of mushrooms, pipes and turtles. The Super Mario Bros. platformed themselves into the collective heart of the world. Crazed, gaming fanatics demanded more... catching a contagion of the type, not seen since "Pac-Man Fever"!
Naturally, while riding the swell of high demand, Nintendo pounced with what was, in effect, a sequel to that sequel.
Nintendo's knee-jerk response was to glide forward into, what they believed, was a safe approach. Thus, a more unyielding follow-up was thrust upon the Japanese test-market. With a hard sell and even fewer buyers, most of this game's structure was derivative of the original Super Mario Bros. — little true evolution into bigger and better things actually took place in this first attempt.
On the Super Nintendo (SNES), gamers can try a run at Super Mario Bros. - The Lost Levels
— which is one of the first times, Americans got to play the original Super Mario Bros. 2
. Confused, yet? It can be found on the SNES cartridge, Super Mario All-Stars
To be known later as The Lost Levels, this first of the two spin-offs was a trickster's maniacal remix of the monumental Super Mario Bros.
Turning the original on its head by dumping in a defeating dash of deceitfulness, this iteration took depraved pleasure in poisoning mushrooms; reversing warp zones (pushing Mario backwards to earlier stages); setting Bloopers afloat in the water and air on some stages; hiding invisible blocks to entrap Mario; whooshing up unexpected, wind gusts during treacherous jumps and drizzling in other certain deathtraps.
The result? The disapproving reception that seemed lost on this Nintendo Family Computer Disk System, or Famicom, version prompted Nintendo to find a quick-fire fix before release elsewhere.
In America, stories pointed to North American quality control and intervention by Howard Phillips, a key figure at Nintendo Of America. He deemed the game frustrating and decided that it just wouldn't be much fun for American audiences. Executives heard out the concerns of their tastemaker and conceded — they agreed that the rest of the world would desire a more accessible and more original sequel, not a warmed-over rehash that might risk souring the newly-returning Western market's taste.
To take that harder edge off, America and the West would receive an overhaul of sorts for its version — a second and decidedly-unique sequel to Super Mario Bros.
Developers at Nintendo would take a game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic (English translation: Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic) to begin the task. The strategy? To deconstruct this game — a title exclusive to Japan that the outside population knew relatively nothing about — and essentially rearrange the furniture and give it a fresh coat of paint. By inserting Mario, Luigi, Toad (Mushroom Retainer) (Toad's official name according to the game's manual) and Princess Toadstool from Super Mario Bros., the remodel would be ready for reveal.
Being pressed for an early release date and eager to satiate the Super Mario Bros. craze, Nintendo found Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic to be the perfect game of convenience.
Now, for a bit of background...
In the summer of 1987 in Japan, Yume Kojo '87 (or Dream Factory '87) was a grand exposition held by the Fuji Corporation to promote its upcoming fall television lineup, as well as being an exhibition for the future of technology. The event was trumpeted a full year in advance with a promotional blitz upon the public there.
Japan's Yume Kojo '87 was built up to be such an event that several pieces of merchandise and souvenirs were released in advance of its opening. Pictured here are some of the promotional masks that inspired design within Super Mario Bros. 2
Everything from popular music to train passes and telephone cards to clothing to Venetian-styled masks were emblazoned with the upcoming expo's themes and mascots — one of whom, Imajin (the Japanese form of the English word, imagine), was the central character.
To further agitate the media buzz, Fuji tapped Nintendo to create a video game to coincide with the 44 day-long Yume Kojo '87 festival. The mascots of the event were chosen to star in said game. Doki Doki Panic came out of this favorable marriage in marketing.
The motifs of dreams, imagination and international culture that permeated the festivities, seeped into the groundwork of the game. This explains the notion of a world of dreams; the Arabian stylings of the set pieces and main characters — Imajin (Mario), Mama (Luigi), Lina (Princess) and Papa (Toad); and the game's obsession with masks — prominent carry-overs into Doki Doki Panic's future re-emergence as Super Mario Bros. 2.
These distinguishing features informed the almost-disjointed continuation of the story of Mario and his friends into this brave new world. For the casual gamer outside of Japan, Super Mario Bros. 2 seemed like a totally new experience because in many ways, it was.
Was this trippy game fraught with interpretations of dreams like some Jungian or Freudian study? Maybe so. Mario and company would go on a mind-expanding journey of their own that expounded greatly on their abilities from the prior title.
Previously in Super Mario Bros., Mario and Luigi had few resources to draw from. They could simply stomp foes or slide turtle and beetle shells. Grabbing special Mushrooms, Coins, Fire Flowers and Starmen gave incentive to break blocks and bricks.
But, now... with this notion of the crazy, irrational world of dreams to experiment with, the game designers' imaginations could bloom and push all Mario conventions out or greatly expand upon them.
The top picture is from Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic
. Super Mario Bros. 2
is essentially a reimagined version of that title. To confuse things more, the bottom picture shows Super Mario USA
, which is the Super Mario Bros. 2
that America and the West got, but which was reintroduced back to Japan.
The Dream Factory inspired much. Metaphorically-speaking, Mario’s Magic Mushrooms did more than make him grow — now they seemed to provide hallucinogenic attributes.
In Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario and friends can pluck vegetables and gourds from as crazy and random an area as a whale's back and toss them at the foes of Subcon to defeat them — no more stomping Little Goombas in this game (More about that later.).
Or any member of the crew may tug on a sprout that ignites a magic rocket to take them away!
The Arabian influence on the Japanese celebration left mementos all over Super Mario Bros. 2. Toad — dressed in turban and open waistcoat — might fly on a magic carpet (!) above a desert scene with palm trees and walking cacti. Clay jars, far below, may be filled with leaping, lethal Cobrats — a completely-unexpected departure from the Piranha Plants that clogged the green pipes of Mario Bros. past.
Or maybe Luigi — whose team-best, high-jumping abilities — may be better-suited hitching a ride across a night sky and bottomless chasm on the back of a magenta pterodactyl called Albatoss (!).
Of course, Princess Toadstool can just as easily take to the sky and float across a wide stretch of territory, as her flowing gown makes her the best long-jumper in Subcon.
These are, but a few of the loopy sights seen in Super Mario Bros. 2. So, while Mario is trying to wrest himself and the land of Subcon free for a restful return to a slumber of happy dreams, the wayward Wart — Bowser's stand-in for this title — has machinations on making Subcon's Dream Machine churn out nasty nightmares instead.
Usually the masks of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro (the same kind that were seen throughout Yume Kojo '87) are associated with playfully hiding away the faces of glistening bodies reveling and dancing the night away. Wart's army of dream warriors, however, is concealing more sinister motives behind theirs'.
For the westernized Super Mario Bros. 2
, Doki Doki Panic
had an overhaul — Nintendo swapped out its original cast for those ready-made Super Mario
characters. Above shows Imagin and Mario, Mama and Luigi, Papa and Toad and Lina and Princess.
The manual warns of some of these masked terrors: "Obstructing your way – gangs of enemy characters". The "8 bits", which is one of those gangs (referred to as "a club of evil dreams", in fact), is comprised of such unruly ruffians as Shyguys and Snifits — not exactly the type of shady characters your parents warned you to avoid, nevertheless, in Subcon's confectionary confines, bad enough.
Other masquerading manifestations are the scary masks that activate and spring to life, known as Phantos. They chase you down as soon as Mario and his teammates grab a Key to open locked doors — a new concept in the land of Mario games.
And tampering with the crystal balls that are left behind when a boss is defeated at the end of a World, will not reveal the future. Instead, they may make you fear it — as they force you to nervously step into the gaping mouth of a giant mask that looks like an intimidating, angry bird.
These are some of the lunacies that manifest in the sleeping mind of Mario. It is, as though, he took a swig from some of the bubbling, red Magic Potions the game has to offer (More about them later.) and drifted off into his imagination's unbridled embrace.
Yume Kojo '87's infatuation with masks are vestiges that found their way into Super Mario Bros. 2
. Several foes in Subcon are hidden behind masks.
It is apparent that Super Mario Bros. 2 wrote a new chapter in the Super Mario saga. Its shocking departure from the Mushroom Kingdom showed that Nintendo had courage to stretch out, albeit in a very calculated way. After all, it is fair to say that the venture wasn’t so impetuous — the more standard sequel was tested in Japan and the company did, essentially, re-skin a fairly-safe game for Mario remarketing. Nevertheless, the gamble was real and credit should be given.
Upon first look at Super Mario Bros. 2's opening screens, things would never be the same. The curtain was drawn back and now the gamer had the power to choose beyond the prerequisite Mario Bros. as their "Players". Toad and Princess Toadstool (representing with a punch of girl power!) would make a name for themselves, standing side-by-side on the pedestal, leaving their insignificant, non-player character (NPC) status forever behind them.
Curtain call for Super Mario Bros. 2
's heroes — and this time, heroine
, Princess. This marks the first time in a Mario game that a female is a playable character.
And from that point, it was a new revelation... the game felt like the breathtaking instance in the classic film version of The Wizard Of Oz, when after her house is violently uprooted by a twister and subsequently crash-lands, Dorothy opens the front door leading to the Land of Oz for the first time.
In a parallel, whichever one of the "Players" the gamer selects — Mario, Luigi, Toad or Princess — also, comes crashing down from dizzying-high altitudes to turn the knob of their first door and then... Click!
Vibrancy — brighter colors with more expressive characters, outlined in bold strokes, standing out in front of dramatic backdrops of foreign new worlds to explore... all in Technicolor 8-Bit, realized dreams!
Mario’s previous jaunts through grasslands, underwater caverns, clouded sections and stone castles in Super Mario Bros. are supplemented by Subcon's waterfalls, ice-glazed paths and desert danger zones of quicksand, snakes and sandstone pyramids.
The preoccupation with fungi-based ideas in Super Mario Bros. is abandoned for a more inclusive biosphere in the land of dreams. Wart's warriors are recruited from the ranks of fauna and flora alike.
Subcon's verdant plains yield Vegetables by the bushel. But, to use a poor cliché, there are bound to be a few "bad apples".
Pansers are Wart's answer to the Fire Flowers from Super Mario Bros. — but, now they "spout fire" at you, instead of vice versa. Pokeys are walking walls of cacti. These plant-based attackers harm, whereas all other Vegetables and Unripened Vegetables crunch the unsquashable foes of Subcon. In this crazy form of food-fighting, it seems that the bad characters go running from healthy vegetables like so many children averse to "eating their veggies".
Along the way, Mario also finds sweet Cherries for the taking. Cherry-picking yields sweet rewards: grabbing 5 Cherries will cause Starman to appear, while getting Cherries in the Bonus Chance slot machine can reward between 1UP and 5UP.
Cherries are a sweet treat that gives the "Player" in Super Mario Bros. 2
a Starman (upon collection of five of them). Getting Cherries during the Bonus Chance mini-game that follows every world can get you up to five 1UP's!
The remainder of Wart's Dream Machine mischief-makers are part of those "gangs of enemy characters" the instruction booklet cautions about.
A majority of these creatures are masked menaces, patrolling the grounds and impeding our heroes' march. Even through their masks, emotive eye and mouth shapes and gestures in tune with body movements and synchronized simulations of sound breathe more life into these "gangs of evil dreams" (and our heroic foursome, as well) than the sterile, flat visages of the cast of Super Mario Bros. (Even the Vegetables and Unripened Vegetables have facial expressions!?!)
This can be better illustrated in Wart's end-world recruits. Birdo, who has the most curious of background stories (Could Birdo be the video gaming world's first transgender character?), is the mini-boss featured most. He launches eggs and balls of fire at our friends, perhaps laying down the ideas for Yoshi in the near-Nintendo future.
Birdo is an unusual and iconic enemy in the Super Mario
mythos. He makes his first appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2
Mouser — not to be confused by the Mouser of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame — is an edgy mouse with cool shades, a short fuse and bombs-a-plenty.
Fryguy is a flaming mass of nastiness that, like so many other Super Mario Bros. 2 villains, obscures his identity — behind a flame-retardant, burglar's mask.
The change of scenery and upgrade in enemy design may be pretty, but the game's transformation and growth from the first title is more than cosmetic for the "Players" as well.
In Subcon, the limits on Mario’s former capabilities have been lifted. He doesn’t have a cape — (yet)... that will happen in later adventures — but at least, he can feel more super in other ways in this tale.
Building on his previous accelerated foot speed and fearless climbing skills (but, inexplicably, abandoning his occasional swimming strokes and ridiculous lung capacity), Mario and his mates pick up a fundamental, new ability.
Instead of solely using his feet to stomp out Goombas and Koopas, Mario gets a more evenly-distributed work-out this time around — he learns that his arms and back are equally important, required for pulling, lifting, carrying and throwing items and characters. This new mechanic becomes intuitive quickly and makes for a fun, new way to play.
To further fortify the Players' potency, they can now "power squat jump" (leaping 1½× higher than normal) and even, freeze time (just like Simon Belmont in Castlevania, a Stopwatch appears after five large Vegetables are pulled up). [Click here to check out our A Classic In Horror Immortalized Castlevania NES review.]
By collecting Mushrooms (More about that later.), up to four "Marks" are added to the expandable life meter per World. That's right! Super Mario Bros. 2 has a life meter, making it the only NES Mario title that has this feature. For every eight enemies that are defeated, a Small Heart will float onto the screen, filling in one empty Mark per capture.
Tossing the Power Block [POW] will shake the earth and rattle Wart’s comrades out of their boots, while a Bomb will crumble rocky walls. And for good measure, a remnant from Mario's waking days can be occasionally found. Turtle Shells can be tugged out of some tufts of grass!
Super Mario Bros. 2
shows off a diverse set of new items early on. Here in this single section of World 1-1, the "Player" can get a 1UP, Power Block [POW], Cherries, a Turtle Shell and a Bomb!
All of these shiny-new abilities and items may seem like a lot to play with, but Director Kensuke Tanabe's finished project that grew from an early prototype for a game centered around the mechanic of lifting and stacking doesn't let you down.
With maestro game maker and Producer, Shigeru Miyamoto, at his side, offering touches of his magic — suggesting the additions of side-scrolling gameplay, invoking his spirit of discovery and exploration that is a signature specialty and more; and with core members of the original Super Mario Bros. team programming the vision into a worthwhile expression of gaming, the former Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic seemed destined for a future life in the Mario universe from inception.
Much of the beauty and joy in this title comes from that Nintendo pedigree of stellar game design. Subcon's Worlds seem to extend an invitation for the gamer to explore and freestyle through its bright landscapes.
The 32 levels of Super Mario Bros.'s Mushroom Kingdom felt redundant and restrictive; Mario and Luigi could only race toward the right. With the occasional underwater cavern thrown in, the brothers were goaded through a rather mundane landscape of physics-defying brick blocks and cliffs.
For Super Mario Bros. 2, perhaps Mario has wanderlust. His dreams have pared down all of the repetitious design and condensed Subcon into 20 new worlds to discover.
There are lands of ice blocks — which never make for a fun outing in the gaming world, especially in 8-Bit titles.
There are lands where he can dig in the sand and where giant, sandstone pyramids hide away enemies instead of treasure.
And perhaps because Mario has such an affinity for collecting shiny coins, there are lands where luxurious, palatial structures are built out of golden bricks and pillars.
All of these new Worlds let Mario break free from the bricked-in feel of Super Mario Bros. And with all of that freedom of open air and newness, there is a new energy to explore.
Unlike any Mario before it (and most platformers of the era), strategy and the careful planning of matching a "Player"'s strengths to each of these new World's unique challenges added a richer experience than the mainly-cruise control tendencies of the day that prescribed to just mindlessly-running to the right and jumping through a fairly-standardized set of courses.
In Subcon, our heroes can move about freely, able to retrace their steps by re-entering doors and stretching out their limbs, both vertically and horizontally — something that was much more restraining in Super Mario Bros.
The clay pots or jars that rest throughout Subcon's many stages — that have, in effect, replaced the pipe mechanism of the prior title — invite curiosity.
Snatching keys and evading stalking Phantos takes some degree of preparation and foresight, as you make your way to the locked door that sometimes is found far away in another screen.
Bombs open up blockages and Mario’s interactions with Mushroom Blocks, Magic Carpets and obstinate enemies that are fun to piggyback upon, fold in an element of puzzle-solving that simply didn’t exist in the Mushroom Kingdom.
Coins remain an important collectible for Mario in Super Mario Bros. 2
- he just gets and uses them in a different manner... but, with the same end result - gaining 1UPs!
In Super Mario Bros., the ever-present timer flashed down to Mario or Luigi’s doom. But, in dream world, time is of no concern, so more dedication to the details is admissible. And with the new life meter feature and the lack of a scoring system to divide your attention and efforts, you have a game that invites striking out across the great unknown.
One of the quirkiest new items — the Magic Potion — stacks another tier of investigation for each World. Wherever the Magic Potion is broken, a new red door appears. Sub-space lies immediately behind it.
Sub-space is a reversed, shadowy version of Subcon. (Could it be that all along, Mario’s dreams have proven the existence of multiverses or some other esoteric theory of cosmology or modern physics?!?)
Landscape items that existed in the “normal” Subcon reality can be acted upon — these items can be touched, grabbed or lifted. Any patches of grass can be tugged on, but instead of harvesting Vegetables, that other fuel for life that is found in the Mario gaming universe — Coins — can be collected.
In this title, 100 Coins cannot be cashed in for a 1UP; but they can be used on the Bonus Chance slot machine that appears after the completion of each World. This fun gambling simulation rewards those of steady hand and clock-like precision of rhythm with the opportunity to gain up to five extra players per coin! Bonne chance! [Click here to learn a trick that helps you to gain more coins than normal per World.]
Coinage aside, there are still more reasons to explore Sub-space. Some clay jars lead to that familiar bonanza that so many gamers loved from the first Super Mario Bros. — those secret Warps to advance to later worlds quickly. [Click here to learn where these Warps can be found.]
Finally, in this game for Mario and company, there are no bricks to bust or break. Don't fret, though — Mushrooms still exist here and they do grant an instant growth spurt still.
In every World, a number of Mushrooms are hidden out-of-sight, just within the realm of Sub-space. The trick is to find out where to test each Magic Potion. It is worth the hunt because this game rewards you with something no other Mario game on the NES had — that precious life meter that was discussed earlier!
Here is a snapshot of the backstory of Super Mario Bros. 2
Because of theses upgrades on the Super Mario Bros. formula, Super Mario Bros. 2 proves to be a joy to pick up and play.
The gameplay is tight and responsive, and with its celebration of the individual, replayability stays high as the gamer learns to memorize level design and assess each "Players"' skill set.
Composer Koji Kondo's catchy music is a chipper mixture of lively tunes that plays off of the game's sprightly sprites.
And a little nostalgia for the homesickness of the Mushroom Kingdom still pervades — the game's Title Screen opens with a playful riff off of Super Mario Bros.'s 3/4 water waltz.
Other pieces that flashback to the first title are the Starman's theme, driving you forward with its spunky conga accompaniment and the ironic, original Super Mario Bros. main theme, which only plays when Mario and crew are in Sub-space (which, in a twist, could be seen as the opposite of SubCon or the subconscious, which would actually be reality in Mario's everyday, Mushroom Kingdom life... very deep, indeed).
Fresher compositions in Super Mario Bros. 2 glisten in tense tinges of ragtime and bossa nova. The game is sent out with a triumphant march that is escorted by the rat-a-tat-tats of pseudo-snare that melts into a calming lullaby that twinkles to a peaceful close.
In retrospect, it is quite telling that the phrase, "MARIO MADNESS", is displayed prominently, running across a black banner on the cartridge's box. Overall, Nintendo won with Super Mario Bros. 2 — even, if it took the unprecedented, convoluted path of double-dipping and issuing two Super Mario Bros. 2's. The company realized the commercial consequences that were at hand, and the gutsy gamble paid off.
Had a release of this type been made today, it is likely that the move would have been met with harsher scrutiny and a level of biting cynicism from critics. But, prior to the internet and digitized technology, news moved much slower and localized games remained safely isolated from other regions, so Nintendo's bold decision to redesign Doki Doki Panic as "Super Mario Bros. 2" skirted by with less friction.
From a bigger picture, Super Mario Bros. 2's sidestep into sleeping worlds paid off — the game sold well and received a grand reception from fans. At the time, other risk-taking sequels on the NES that swerved off-course were met with less agreeable reactions (Castlevania II - Simon's Quest and Nintendo's own, Zelda II - The Adventures Of Link, for example — although as time moves forward, these games are gradually getting warmer receptions).
However, Super Mario Bros. 2's success set up the future of the whole series by daring to be so different. As long as Mario was involved and solid, fun platforming stayed intact, Nintendo and Miyamoto were emboldened to reach out even beyond Mario's dreams. And so, the curious tale of two sequels has spawned an unparalleled series in the history of gaming that still dares to go where other games don't or can't.
b. jones © 2017, 2018
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