It’s the middle of the week, time for your weekly dose of Nintendo nostalgia, courtesy of WedNESday! Today I’m gonna talk about Super Mario Bros. 2, the weird middle child of the NES Mario titles, and why it was so different from SMBs 1 and 3.
When I was a wee one, like so many others my age, I had an NES, and with it came the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game pack. So of course I played it non-stop, stomping on goombas and shooting ducks like it was a career. Few years in, I obtained Super Mario Bros. 3, and it remains one of my all-time favorite NES games. Huge worlds, complete with cool world maps, lots of side-paths, tough baddies, great graphics and sound. Even then as a kid I could appreciate how great the game was. But what about Super Mario Bros. 2? For some reason, I just never had it. I finally got around to playing it at a friend’s house sometime during elementary school. I was quite confused by this game.
Unlike the original Super Mario Bros. and SMB3, Super Mario Bros. 2 was…different. For starts, it was only a one-player game, but you have the choice of playing as either Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool (she wasn’t called Peach yet, at least in America) and Toad. I for one was psyched to play as Luigi, who I always liked more than Mario (I believe this is because one, I liked the color green more than red and two, my older sister always made me be player two when we played SMB1 or 3. No wonder I have a side-kick complex, thanks sis). Not only that, but each character played slightly differently. Cool! Luigi could jump super high, Toadstool could glide with her dress (?!), and Toad and Mario could not do either really much special, though Toad is the quickest at pulling turnips from the ground. Did I just type “pulling turnips from the ground”? Yes, I did.
That’s where the game got very weird to me. Instead of the usual ‘jump on the bad guys’ heads routine you’d expect from a Mario game, in SMB2 you must pull turnips from the ground, and toss them at baddies in order to get them out of the way. Weird. Why turnips? Where are the power-ups, too? No fire flowers, though invincibility stars still popped up occasionally. For that matter, where’s Bowser? Or goombas and koopa troopas? What’s with the weird mask guys, dinosaur birds that spit out eggs, and this evil toad named Wart? While I enjoyed the game, it was just a tad off for me, and I would much rather just play the original or SMB3. Why’d Nintendo create this odd Mario game? Well, the truth is, it wasn’t a Mario game at all when it was originally released in Japan.
It goes like this. After the worldwide success of Super Mario Bros., it made sense for a sequel to be made. Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan was more or less the same as the first, but with new challenges and added twist. There were tougher enemies, backwards warp pipes, and bad mushrooms that would kill Mario & Luigi, or at least cause them to lose fire power or size, if they had those upgrades. Other than that, it was the same basic idea. Bowser had captured Princess Peach (she was called that in Japan from day one, America eventually went with it for Super Mario 64) and her Toad-people, and it’s up to those lovable Italian brothers to run and jump their way to save the Mushroom Kingdom. But America didn’t get this game, at least not for awhile. Why? Apparently, the folks over at Nintendo of America decided that the game was just too hard. The challenges were significantly increased from the first game, and NoA had made the decision that the level of frustration players could get would turn them off from ever buying a Mario game. But still, they had to get a new Mario game out there, but how? That’s where a strange little platformer called Doki Doki Panic comes in.
Yume Koujou: Doki Doki Panic (which translates roughly to Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic, cause that had a nice ring to it) was a Japanese game starring a family (a Dad, Mom, and two siblings, a girl and a boy) that enter a strange, Arabian-themed book, and go through it, fighting monsters led by a frog-demon king called Mamu (re-named Wart for SMB2) by plucking turnips from the ground (apparently, monsters hate eating their vegetables).
The game had enough similarities to the Mario Universe as is, with it’s colorful, otherworldly pallet, starmen, “POW” blocks, and coins, and the music was composed by Koji Kondo, who did the other Mario games (as well as Zelda, and later many more Nintendo games), so it didn’t seem incredibly difficult to do a sprite swap here and there for the playable characters, change the plot, and voila! Mario! Interestingly, because of the height difference between the Mom and Dad character sprites, this is why Luigi would become taller than Mario, where in previous games (and also in SMB3 and Super Mario World) Luigi and Mario were the same height. So we can thank Nintendo’s decision to turn DDP into SMB2 for that, as well as introducing now well-recognized baddies such as Shy Guys, Bob-Ombs and Birdo into the Mario Universe. The game was a success for Nintendo, and although considered weird and just not the same as the original Super Mario, or it’s sequel SMB3, the game is still considered a fun and engaging platformer, with great looks and sounds, and replayability due to the multiple character choices.
A few years down the road, on the Super Nintendo, Nintendo released Super Mario All Stars, which featured the first three Mario titles with updated, SNES-powered graphics and sound. On this title was also something called Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.
SMB:tLL played exactly like the original SMB, but with more challenges, tougher baddies, backwards warps and poison mushrooms. Sound familiar? It should now, and so American gamers could finally play the original Japanese SMB2, and like-wise Japanese gamers could now experience the American SMB2 (though they made have played Doki Doki previously, now it has that fresh Mario paint-coat over it). SMB2 (the American version) has been re-released several times since, notably as the first Super Mario game for the Game boy Advance. The Lost Levels, too, would be re-released a few times as well.
So that’s the story of the middle child of the NES Mario games. It was weird, but still enjoyable, and the music is always randomly getting in my head. Interestingly, Zelda II was also a strange deviation from the first title, and then the third would revert back to the original formula, as would the Castlevania series. Was experimentation not the way to go, kind of like a new band’s so-called “sophomore slump” album? Well, maybe I’ll get to those games at some point (oh, I will. Count on it.) But until then, eat your turnips, or throw them at weird little monsters.