Published on July 22nd, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell0
A Review of Super Mario Bros 2: The North American Version
Year: 1988 // System: SNES // Publisher & Developer: Nintendo // Director: Shigeru Miyamoto // Genre: Platformer
>>> In comparing the two versions of Super Mario Bros 2, I must admit…we North Americans had it made! Sure, fans in Japan saw a sequel to their beloved Super Mario Bros. one year after the original’s release, but in spite of its well-executed levels and greater challenge, the Japanese sequel was more or less a repackaged version of SMB 1 with renovated tiles and a slightly more polished palette. But Super Mario Bros 2 as it appeared in the U.S.A. was completely different! You had characters to pick from, the combat system took on a whole new format, progression through levels relied on an entirely different approach, and everything about the worlds was just…unlike anything Mario and his pals had taken on in the Mushroom Kingdom. In fact, if you peered a little more closely, you’d start to wonder if you were in fact playing a Mario game.
Well, as the video game aficionados would tell you, you were not in fact playing the actual sequel, but rather a heavily altered version of Shigeru Miyamoto’s Doki Doki Panic, which was released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan in something of an incomplete state. Once some people get a hold of this information, then they may be quick to dismiss the USA version as a “real Mario game” and thus not include it in their discussion of the Super Mario Bros. series. But keep in mind three very important tidbits of information:
1) Although Doki Doki Panic featured entirely different characters, a different world, and a different style of play from Super Mario Bros., it was still a game created by Shigeru Miyamoto. This means that Nintendo of America didn’t shame Miaymoto by taking a game and turning it into Super Mario Bros 2.
2) Miyamoto originally intended Doki Doki Panic to be the sequel to Super Mario Bros, but couldn’t make it happen because of licensing issues.
3) Nintendo of America didn’t recreate Doki Doki Panic into the Super Mario Bros sequel. Instead, the corporation contracted the original developers of D.D.P. to take the game and reinvent it.
So, by taking those three facts into account, we see that Miyamoto and his creative team indeed created Super Mario Bros 2 as we know it in the United States. Although the sequel we received was not the first sequel to the groundbreaking platformer that solidified the popularity of the short fat plumber we’ve all come to know and love, it was supposedly the sequel that Miyamoto and his team originally envisioned. So, yes, Super Mario Bros 2 in the United States is, to me, deserving of the name Super Mario Bros 2.
But the most important question doesn’t concern its status as a sequel; rather, was this version a blast to play?
Let me just say that, at this point, I’ve played at least 50 different NES games, and only four titles proved better designed and more entertaining than this one: Mega Man, Contra, Castlevania III and the original Super Mario Bros. SMB 2 (USA) had a tremendous amount of substance to offer along with a nice array of challenges that improved on the first game without making the players feel that they were doing the same thing all over again.
There are a plethora of changes from the original, sure, but this brainchild of Miyamoto only served to further emphasize his genius as a game-maker. While the first game only featured characters- with Luigi only joining Mario in Two-Player mode and playing exactly like his older brother in red- this title allowed you to select from four characters- and mind you, you could do this for each level! This is excellent! Although that takes away the player’s need to replay the entirety of the game for each character’s ability, the character select per level allows you to change your mind on the fly in the case that one avatar’s ability doesn’t jive with your playing style, or if you think one character’s ability will act as a major benefit towards your success on a particular stage.
The four characters’ differences are miniscule in comparison to selectable characters from, say, Castlevania III, where each character possesses differences in speed, jump height, attacks, and special abilities. The combat system in SMB 2 is the same for each selectable, and there are no special abilities save for platforming differences. Mario is your well-rounded platformer, Luigi can jump higher but with slower falling speed (has a harder time landing on airborne projectiles in order to pick them up and throw them), Toad can move faster in the place of jumping power, and Princess Toadstool (Daisy? PEACH???) walks/runs the slowest but can float in midair for a limited amount of time. Given that her ability is far more visible than it is for the other three characters, she separates herself from the others as the most unique, but that doesn’t make her any more fun to play. The four playable avatars are all incredibly balanced and fun to play.
Game length is disappointingly short with an intermediate difficulty level. Whereas the first SMB presented the player with 32 regular levels, the American sequel offers only 21, or 7 worlds with each world divided into three stages. At the same time, each level is longer with multiple transitions. Mario can start a level outside, then enter a cave, emerge outside again, climb up a mountain, and finally reach the endpoint. Bosses are at the end of each level. For the first two stages in a world, your character (normally) encounters Birdo and needs to use the pink fiend’s eggs or other projectiles in the room against it.
Each world concludes with a major boss battle…either against a shades-sporting rat who throws bombs (Mouser), a many-headed fire-spitting dragon (Tryclyde), a stone-chucking crab (Clawgrip), a fiery general (Mini Fryguy), and whoever the final boss is (his name is Wart). For those who played the original SMB, facing a boss at the end of each level was a major change that changed the approach of level progression from hurrying to the end to coming up with an attack strategy for taking down the boss guarding the end. Fortunately, the annoying timer from the first game is absent in the American sequel, so you can take as much time as you want. But if times get tough, then don’t be shamed to consult a strategy guide.
The unfortunate thing here is that the internal programming doesn’t always clue you in on what to do next. For example, when you first face Birdo, you won’t know that you’re supposed to catch its eggs and use them as weapons against him/her/whatever gender Birdo is….that is, unless you’ve read the manual. When playing, you see the plants scattered across the ground and are attracted toward them. When you hit buttons next to them, one of them will activate your “grabbing” power and allow you to hoist the plant out of the ground and use the root (turnip? radish? BOMB?) as a projectile. But when you first face Birdo, there are no plants surrounding you, so unless you thought to hop of enemies and grab them, you’ll start off oblivious to the fact that you’re to throw eggs at Birdo. It’s counter-intuitive to think you need to land on a bullet-like object meant to do damage to you, and in many ways this is the genius of the game- you have to think in an almost entirely different manner in order to see your way to the finish. But the setup for teaching you how to work your way through the stages is a bit weak. Also, the perplexing scenarios will continue to crop up. Another Birdo will appear mid-world, and in keeping up with the counter-intuitive point, you might not think immediately to ride its bullet-egg to the next part of the stage.
But while SMB 2 The Red White and Blue Version doesn’t immediately clue you in, the wide range of challenges that you must learn to master will be what keep you going. For NES game with a pretty basic control scheme (you run, jump, and pick up stuff), there’s a LOT for you to do. You dig your way through sand pits, ride pterodactyl cousins (albatosses) across the sky, weave your way in and out of electrical magnet baddies (spark), and pull flowers to discover rockets that take you to the next segment.
Avoiding each enemy involves quite a bit of science. The fire-spitting flowers (pansers) are usually best avoided by getting a running jump to launch oneself over them, while the snakes hiding in the vases (redesigned pipes from first game?) absolutely need to be picked up and thrown at the army of snakes up ahead.
The overall combination of platforming with exploration elements resulted in a winning formula. This means the player doesn’t always need those lightning button-mashing reflexes in order to reach the next part. Sometimes the segments are slowed down enough for the player to use his/her head in setting him/herself up for finding the right exit (or key for finding the exit). For example, when a player grabs a key, a key-guarding mask comes after him/her in a series of rapid, looping motions that scare the player into a frantic scurry towards the locked door. HOWEVER, is one has figured out that the mask only comes after someone who is holding the key, then the player will find that, when he/she repeatedly picks up and throws the key towards his/her destination instead of carrying it the whole way, the mask will hardly show up to pose a problem. Although this certainly makes the game easier, it definitely ties in the cerebral aspect quite nicely.
The difficulty is on a perfect intermediate setting. From now on, when I think of a perfectly balanced setting, I will refer to this game. Super Mario Bros 2. was in every way a fair challenge. Although figuring out where to go could be a hassle, navigating through stages and battling bosses neither felt impossible nor too easy. Your enemies were vicious, but there was a clear cut way of dodging them, if not eliminating them outright. The Birdo generals became harder throughout the game but never became frustrating. This is certainly an easy title by NES standards, but what kept you from getting bored or acing the title on your first go in fifteen minutes was the versatile style of tasks that you had to learn on the fly.
Yes, it’s true that if you lose all lives, it’s game over and you’re back to the drawing board. BUT you have several shots to gain extra lives, most notably through the “mirror world” which you enter by pulling a plant that reveals a magical door. The mirror world struck me as an innovation that the developers added in when they were redesigning Doki Doki Panic. Here, the original SMB theme plays as you run around and collect items reminiscent of the first game: coins which allow you to play the slots for extra lives (if you get three cherries in a row, you get five), and mushrooms which add an extra hit point (you start with two and shrink to half your size if you take one hit). Planting these doors also involves a bit of strategy, as the plants you can pull for coins in the mirror world correlate with how many plants you left untouched in the “real” world (Mario’s dream). Therefore, after you die a couple of times, it becomes a matter of memorizing where some door plants are so that you can pull them first, collect all of the coins from the untouched plants in the mirror world, and then ensure that you won’t have any more problems with dying…especially if you get the cherries (with two in a row giving you 2 extra lives), which is pretty rare.
You’d think that this method is a little cheap, but given that you’re lucky to get three in a row, having multiple coins to collect definitely balances the whole means of earning lives by luck. No better way to gamble safely than by gambling for lives….in a video game…
If this was the sequel that Shigeru originally planned to follow up Super Mario Bros with, then I have to thank Nintendo of America for giving him the push he and his team needed to complete the project. In comparison to the excellent but “hard mode” version of the original SMB that the Japanese sequel turned out to be, the American version of Super Mario Bros 2 was an excellent way to succeed the original with a completely different and more complex set of challenges while retaining that specific Mario flavor through its characters and the mirror world.
In addition, let’s examine this title a bit more closely and observe the impact it had on the overall series. The Shy Guys, Birdo, the main theme, even the Princess’s midair float- they all would see their way into eventual releases, particularly the Party and Kart games. So even if SMB 2 started off as a replacement for the actual sequel in the Unite States, it’d eventually cement itself as an integral influence to the rest of Miaymoto’s masterpeice franchise.
Challenge: 9/10: Innate techniques for teaching the player how to deal with certain challenges, especially in the case of defeating Birdo in the beginning, are a tad weak, but the various, well-executed tasks make for a diverse game with an incredibly balanced difficulty and a memorable adventure that doesn’t receive the mention it deserves in retrospect.
Handling: 8/10: There are some issues with responsiveness. Sometimes you’ll hit the “dig” button while in a sand pit and your guy won’t dig. Jumping off of edges also presents some issues with the controller sending the command input to the programming. But overall the diversity in the characters and the organization of stages around the control scheme is crucial in making this title an enjoyable ride in spite of its handling problems.
Innovation: 10/10: Combined the SMB flavor with the Doki Doki Panic setup and came up with a platformer that contained the soul of a puzzle game. Whether it’s choosing the right vase to sink into, digging through desert sand, riding on flying eggs, or climbing vines suspended in the sky, you’ll be amazed by all of the new tactics that Mario and his pals discovered…at least in Mario’s dream…
Core Experience: 9/10: There is the occasional flicker and the lag that occurs when too many enemies crowd the screen. But ultimately, this is a very pleasing title in its aesthetics and tone. Between the bright colors and upbeat soundtrack, you can’t help but feel happy whenever you play. Furthermore, everything just feels lively, from the aggressive enemy threat to the personality of your character. Man, it feels amazing every time I kill one of those obnoxious pig warriors with a lightning-fast, well-aimed throw of a turnip. Damn ninji…
OVERALL: 9/Outstanding: In the NES days a game like this- varied, engaging, and totally beatable- was a treat for us American players. It’s a shame that people remember this game more for its controversy than enjoyability. Whether or not you agree that this is a “real” sequel, it’s at its heart a Miyamoto game, and it’s hard to go wrong with a Miyamoto game.