Mario would eventually become renowned for his many different hobbies and professions, as the Italian hero best known for his platforming adventure games also dabbled in golf, tennis, soccer, medical care, and teaching kids how to type. While side-games and spin-offs are the cause behind these, it’s worth remembering that the second Super Mario Bros. game ever was already an oddity that strayed from the original’s premise.
Mario in Dreamland
Most of us are probably aware of how this story unfolded. While Japan got a direct sequel to Super Mario Bros. for its Famicom, the overseas audiences got a different game entirely. The actual sequel was more of a level pack with increased difficulty and new mechanics, which Nintendo of America felt wasn’t a good fit for the American audience. Wanting to get at least something out, Nintendo rebranded a game called “Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic” which was previously developed as part of a partnership with Fuji Television.
The story, likewise, has been adapted from the original Doki Doki Panic game. In Super Mario Bros. 2, we play as Mario who has just received a strange dream beckoning him to save a magical land of dreams. The following day he goes for a picnic with Luigi, Toad, and the Princess, only for the four of them to discover a cave that leads to the very land Mario was asked to save. With its inhabitants cursed by the evil Wart, the gang must work their way through 7 levels in order to defeat him and break the curse.
The original Super Mario Bros. has a simple plot and, while it’s obviously an effect of Nintendo adapting a completely different game to fit the Mario license, it’s a novel concept to have Mario team up with his friends for a new adventure. To not have this be another “save the princess” tale, but rather a story in which she herself can be the hero too, is a nice change. And while it wasn’t an official Mario game from the start, many of its elements have since become ingrained in the franchise’s legacy. It even introduced my favorite Mario creatures, the ever-mysterious Shyguys.
Story score: 8/10
Super Mario Bros. was a linear, 2D platforming game and while platforming remains central in this sequel, linearity has been thrown to the bus. Levels can now go pretty much anywhere, frequently sending you through doors or into secret areas, or switching up the left-to-right platforming with vertical stages or levels that go all over the place.
Running, jumping, and stomping on enemies are no longer the central mechanics, which is a bit of a shame since those were so fun to do in the original game. Jumping on enemies just leaves you standing on top of them and, with the press of a button, Mario will simply pick them up. Likewise, you can pick up various objects you can stand on or pluck vegetables from the ground. Hitting an enemy with an object or throwing an enemy at another enemy will defeat them, meaning fighting is now often optional, but more tactical when it is required.
Picking up items is also central to puzzles, like picking up bombs to throw at walls in order to carve out a path. It’s a novel mechanic to base a platforming game around, but the controls aren’t always perfect. They require a bit too much precision, like an early boss that requires you to throw bombs that must explode exactly on-target or they don’t count. That same precision is not demanded of the enemies, which frequently get away with deceptively large hitboxes for their attacks.
Health is now tracked with hearts, starting with two. When the player is reduced to 1 heart, the character shrinks down into a mini version of themselves, but unlike the previous game, I found little use for this smaller form. You can’t even duck under projectiles like in the last game, even though it looks like you can. Health can be expanded by finding secrets and is sometimes restored when a heart appears. A power star can also appear for brief invincibility.
The four characters available also have different stats, deciding their jumping height, momentum, the ability to carry items, and more. All of them are useful for different challenges and play-styles. However, I found Super Mario Bros. 2‘s levels to be kind of tiring. There is an initial sense of wonder as you begin exploring its strange worlds, but the first game was very tightly designed, whereas this one allows gimmicks to come before quality. Many obstacles are just annoying and often repeated, like having to dig through a pile of sand one block at a time, overly-precise bomb challenges, and finicky platforming between ropes that can cause major setbacks.
By world 4 I already began to kind of hope the game was about to end already, only to learn there were 3 worlds left to go.
Gameplay score: 4/10
It is honestly amazing to see how much more advanced Super Mario Bros. 2 looks compared to the original game released just 2 years earlier. The sprite art is significantly improved, giving us vastly more detailed characters than before. Mario and crew look fantastic and the same goes for the world around them. Subcon is many times more varied and detailed than the Mushroom Kingdom was. There are more obstacles and more of it animates, like the beautiful effect of logs rolling across waterfalls to create platforms.
The new soundtrack is also nice, I am happy they weren’t too attached to the music of the first game. The music is again provided by Koji Kondo, guaranteeing the finest music your NES is capable of. It all works to create a fantastic and adventurous atmosphere, very lighthearted stuff. I do have to say that I found Wart’s battle them to be kind of annoying and the game’s music for underground bits feels out of place because these segments aren’t as eerie as those of the original game.
Presentation score: 8.5/10
The way Super Mario Bros. 2 came to even exist is an interesting story and it makes for a game that is entirely unique within the franchise. However, it traded in the quality and controls of the original game for a play-style more interested in experimentation. While fun for a while, repetition and tiny frustrations make this a tough game to recommend to die hard platforming fans.
- Picking up and throwing items is an interesting new gameplay mechanic.
- An entirely new roster of enemies to deal with.
- A joy-filled soundtrack by Koji Kondo.
- Finding secrets for extra lives and upgrades to your health.
- Four different characters that actually play differently.
- Controls are less precise, while gameplay actually demands more precision than before.
- Challenges are often repeated for no good reason.
- Annoying challenges like the (repeated) digging or swinging from chains.
- Not being able to stomp on enemies.