Retro Profile: Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

If you would have told me as a kid that Super Mario Bros. 2 was merely a localized version of a pre-existing game from Japan (Doki Doki Panic), I wouldn’t have believed you. But in fact, that’s exactly what Nintendo did for the stateside release of the next chapter in the Super Mario series. This was due to the fact the original Japanese version was basically the same as the first Super Mario Brothers, only with slightly improved graphics. Also, the difficulty level was on the high side, too high for American audiences in the eyes of Nintendo. The solution? Take a platforming-oriented game, swap out the main characters and a few items to better fit the Mario theme, slap a “Super Mario Bros. 2” label on that bad boy, and you’ve got yourself Nintendo’s best-selling game of 1988.

Welcome features over the previous game are noticeable very quickly, starting with the character selection screen. It was a bit surprising to be able to choose from 4 characters instead of just the original two. This time around, along with Mario and Luigi, you’ll have Toad and Princess Toadstool (later known as Peach) accompanying the brothers on their adventures through this strange new land. And as can be expected, they all have different attributes that sometimes make them particularly useful in certain levels in the game. Luigi has the highest jumping ability; Toad can swiftly pick up objects and quite nimble; and the Princess can float in the air temporarily after a jump. She also is the slowest at picking up items and enemies. Naturally, Mario is the “all-around-character”, being the most balanced one in the group. An interesting attribute of all 4 characters is the ability to reach higher places by doing a “power squat”. This is done by holding the “down” direction on the control-pad until your character begins to blink, and then jumping afterward. It’s a nifty feature that will have plenty of chances to be used in the game. And since our version of SMB 2 was actually a re-worked title, it’s no surprise that the familiar green pipes are nowhere to be found in the game. Instead they were “replaced” with jars that can be entered instead. When exploring the many sections in the game, you can sometimes uproot a potion bottle that leads to “Sub-Space”, a mirrored non-scrolling version of the area you’re in. This is good for finding coins that are usful in later levels.

Gone are the familiar Goombas, Pirana Plants, Lakitus, and Bullet Bills. Instead, you’ll get to contend with a host of new enemies like Shyguy, Snifit, Ninji, and Birdo. Certain doors in some levels require a key that is closely guarded by Phanto, a mask of sorts that chases you relentlessly until you finally open the locked door. I used to always dread it when I had to grab a key and run for my life from those Phanto masks. It should also be noted that SMB 2 marked the debut of infamous Bob-ombs. These ticking time bombs would later show up in almost every major title in the Mario series after this game.
One of biggest contrasts between the first SMB and this one is how your foes are defeated. In the first game, all you had to do was jump on almost any critter to send them to an early grave. In this one, you can pull a vegetable from the ground and throw it at an enemy, or you can pickup the enemy itself (in most cases) and throw them into another baddie or toss them off a cliff. Personally, I find it more amusing to just bean them in the head with a veggie.

Hands down, I would have to say that Super Mario Bros. 2 is probably the easiest game in the series, due to the abundant vegetables-for-ammo method that was used along with the overall flow of each level. That being said, the game isn’t exactly a walk in the park either. If you don’t watch it, you’ll allow worlds 1 and 2 to lull you into a false sense of security, only to get a rude awakening as you progress through the middle of world 3. After completing, each level, you get the joy of facing off against a mini-boss of some type. The first and second sections of a world usually require you to defeat Birdo, the egg-throwing dinosaur creature. The third section always features a particularly menacing foe that takes more effort to conquer. The power-ups are a little more conventional than they were in first game too. Every so often, you come upon a “POW” block that destroys all enemies once you throw it to the ground, or you might come across a patch of small bombs that are good for blowing your enemies off the screen and clearing wall sections that lead to otherwise inaccessible parts of a particular level. Coins can be used towards the slot machine bonus game at the end of a level, provided you have any. If you can match up the slots in a particular order, then extra lives are given as the prize. Not a bad trade-off really.

The game had a much improved visual appeal over the first game and Japan’s sequel. While it looks little more “cartoony”, this actually helps the game in this case. Everything just seems a little more alive. All 4 playable characters have a certain personality that makes them unique in there own way. Probably one of the most notable things about Mario & Luigi would be their body types. Nintendo didn’t merely recycle Mario’s sprite and color Luigi’s clothes green. Instead this was the first time is was more or less established that Mario is the shorter portly one, whereas Luigi is taller and a slightly leaner around the waist. This was done out of necessity, as Luigi had to be re-drawn in order to match the same sprite size as the character from the game the SMB 2 was built from. Other little details like the leaves on vines moving about, cherries swaying in midair, and quicksand pulling your characters down end up doing much to make the American version of this game feel like…well…a sequel. Admittedly, I must say that the visual style of SBM 2 also gave it more of surreal theme than even the third Mario game did to a certain extent. Even so, the level designs stilled worked very well for platforming title and seemed to fit the Mario universe quite nicely. There are even warp jars that can be found by entering Sub-Space near them and proceeding down the “pipe”. But it only works with certain jars, not all of them. Things like this kept the game from being too far off the beaten path of the original SMB.

The audio presentation was well-fitting for the game as well. The title screen start off with the now familiar saloon style theme music. The main music for the outdoor sections of the stages is a fast paced, bouncy kind of tune. In contrast, the indoor parts have a calm, smooth theme playing in background; it actually has a very Arabian sound to it. The only time the music doesn’t sound quite as friendly is when you’re about to do battle with one of boss creatures at the end of a level. Most of the music in fact, was left unchanged from the original game this was based from. However, certain Super Mario themes can still be heard at times. Getting the invincibility star plays the well-known “Star Man” tune found in nearly every Super Mario game to date. Also the original Super Mario Bros. tune plays when you enter any Sub-Space sections, though it’s only for a short while since you’ll automatically go back to regular area after about 10 seconds or so.

Play or Stay? Due to the dramatic change in style and visual presentation of the game, Super Mario Bros. 2 is considered to be a step child in the family of Mario games. Even so, the game still deserves its place in the NES library of games that made Nintendo as popular as they still are today. The quirky characters from SMB 2 went on to see further appearances in many other games furthering the adventures of Mario and friends (and foes). So if you’re in the mood for something a little different than what you’d get with your everyday platformer, then Mario has the cure.
Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the Shyguys bite.

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing. When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea. Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way: “If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.