Super Mario Bros. 2 – NES
Originally conceptualized by Fuji TV as a game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, an unrealized prototype developed for the Family Computer Disk System (also called the Famicom Disk System in Japan circa 1986), the title was later re-tooled and released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the U.S. Oddly enough, if the original, direct sequel to Super Mario Bros. hadn’t been deemed “too difficult” for the U.S. market, we wouldn’t have been gifted with this unlikely dream-based tour-de-force. The more difficult Mario Bros. sequel later surfaced in the form of Super Mario Bros.:The Lost Levels on the Super Mario All-Stars SNES cart. Now, let me just say this… I don’t necessarily adore the idea of believing that a game is supposedly “too difficult” for my own particular gaming market as I happen to reside in the U.S., but consumer targeting aside… Lost Levels is indeed an epic pain in the ass. Pain in the ass. Wind blows you off the screen to your death on your travels throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. Wind. No thanks. Give me Pidgets and Ninjis any and every day of the week.
In Super Mario Bros. 2, our familiar roster of heroes (a couple of them playable for the first time ever, namely Princess Toadstool and Toad) have found themselves in the odd world of Subcon, which has been taken over by a dastardly fiend called Wart. Playable characters include (all accessible from the beginning, one per stage) Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad, the lovable mushroom retainer (aka super douche) that directs us to other castles in the original SMB. Ahem. Guess who’s in another castle now, bitch? That’s right. Aw, suck it.
There’s always one character who benefits from the overall experience per stage better than the others, but only experimentation will lend truths there. My favorite, hands down, is Princess Toadstool. She is slow as molasses when it comes to picking enemies and plants alike up, but gurrl can float with that dress of hers for like 3 seconds of hang time. This instantly makes her a beast. Luigi jumps pretty damn high (higher than all the others) but he flutter kicks and is remarkably hard to control while in the air. Toad is the fastest at pretty much everything while our brave plumber and poster boy, Mario, is simply Wolverine-on-every-team, well rounded to a fault but pretty boring to control, honestly. Been there, plunged that. Nothing “Super” to see here, thanks.
I remember being genuinely surprised that the game I had first played through as a 7 year-old, though wildly different from any other Mario Bros. game I’d seen previously, wasn’t a Miyamoto original. However, I was quick to pick up on the beautiful truth that the piecemeal collaborative effort manages to pepper a surprisingly surreal, sometimes alarming world with everything from mushrooms to rolling fire tanks branded with an ‘M’ called Auto-Bombs. Yes, you read that correctly. I will now allow my lovely assistant Toad to help me fully demonstrate the many forms of crazy that appear throughout this ambitious title.
The very first thing I was truly excited about in this game was the complete lack of a time limit. I could spend the afternoon in one stage if I so wished. The concept was mind-blowing but did lead to what I term NES O.C.D., where I made up entirely new games within the game (INCEPTION) like using Ninjis for target practice then leaving the area and returning for more. These were the adventures of a 7 year-old with only a handful of NES games, a whole lot of time on her hands after her homework was done and a title that finally supported that concept! It had been a stellar investment of $20 with a half-off coupon at Toys-R-Us!
Stages are also separated by a slot machine based game of chance to win lives. Sniffits (the Shy Guys with bullet muzzles strapped to their faces), Turnips, and Starmen earn you a 1-Up with three matching Slot pulls but if you’re like me… you go straight for the Cherries that earn you a 5-Up if you hit three of them. Cherries are also the badasses of the Slot because if you land even one Cherry in the first Slot, you earn a 1-Up regardless of what else you get.
In many of the stages, there is a special little heart attack called “Phanto.” He guards keys that belong to the very evident locks attached to smiley faced doors throughout stages and dungeons. Doki Doki Panic (back to the prototype title) actually translates into Heart Pounding Panic and for this I think Phanto is probably solely responsible. Not since chasing the school bus as a child have I felt such a sense of urgency to get from one destination to another with a cumbersome object in tow. The ghosts in Pac Man for Atari have nothing on this dude except that they are a gang and are edible when blue.
It should be mentioned that I felt like a mastermind when I decided as an exasperated 7 year-old to drop the damn key and rest for a moment; this stops the Phanto onslaught until you pick the key back up. While it’s out of your grasp, Phanto takes a holiday; it doesn’t touch you or take the key back. All this being said, I hate these things SO much. They’re right up there with Dementors in my book. Merciless assholes.
Worlds vary from arid deserts to sparse cities in the cloudy skies and endless indoor mazes, all in the quest to arrive at Wart’s castle, which is absolutely no joke or disappointment. It’s not like at the end of Ocarina of Time where you’re like, “now this is a castle” then it’s like two minutes long and you think “I coulda had a V-8.” Oh, no. Wart’s castle is a sprawling fortress that is so epic and large, there are only 2 stages in World 7. I’m not about to spoil it for you with interiors (after all, the game is only 26 years-old) but I thought it was utterly thrilling during my first play-through. I remember it vividly, too. Conveyor belts, chain ropes, Hawkmouth finally snapping and coming for my head, organs pumping out vegetables. It was the best of times.
Have there been games as revolutionary as this one developed since its time? Why, sure. Tons. Is this one quirky, fun, and ambitiously bizarre because it can be? Absolutely. For a title that appears to have been some sort of happy accident, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a surreal peek into the kind of dreams and nightly adventures any of us might have after consuming a pizza with a full ‘shroom assortment on it. Even still, this game somehow manages to achieve and maintain a wondrous level of surprise, eerie thrill and variety throughout. I find, this convinces me to consider it not only the stuff that another man’s nightmares are made out of – literally – but also dreamily timeless.
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