For many, it all began in 1985 with Super Mario Bros., the title packed in with many of the Nintendo Entertainment Systems sold throughout the later half of the eighties and into the nineties. It was a title which revived an industry that many had written off as forever gone, and gave the world a hint as to what a video game could be.
In 1990, Super Mario Bros. 3 was released and went on to not only become the best-selling video game of all-time (contested only by the aforementioned pack-in bundle, which some will claim doesn’t count), but cited by many as simply being the best video game of all-time, as well.
However, amidst the numbers and nostalgia, there is one title that is often overlooked. One might even suggest unjustly so, given its contributions to the Mario mythos. And today, that title finishes celebrating the 18th anniversary of its US release.
That title is none other than Super Mario Bros. 2.
Naturally, when talk of the super sequel comes up, there soon comes the discussion of the “true” sequel to Super Mario Bros., Japan’s own Super Mario Bros. 2: For Super Players, known as The Lost Levels upon its release in the US years later as a part of the Super Mario All-Stars Super NES compilation.
Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2 was a lot more faithful to its predecessor than a lot of sequels were back in the day; even though there were some new graphics, a lot of the key elements were pretty much lifted from the original. For all intents and purposes, it was a direct continuation of the original, taking what you thought you knew and turning it on its head. Warps that go backwards, poison mushrooms that acted more like an enemy than a power-up, and many other elements were designed to challenge the cream of the original game’s crop. “For Super Players,” indeed. It was so hard, in fact, that Nintendo was afraid to release it until well into the 16-bit era as a part of a compilation, for fear of alienating gamers.
When it was finally released in the US as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, many fans felt the game seemed less like a sequel and more like a sadistic re-imagining of the original game. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto was actually more involved with another title, instead leaving the sequel to his blockbuster title to be directed by Takashi Tezuka, programmer of the original game
The other title on which he worked was, of course, Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic, a game which Nintendo developed in conjunction with Fuji Television to promote its Dream Factory event. This was the game that would be released to the rest of the world as Super Mario Bros. 2, and go on to do quite well for itself. The game was the cover story on the inaugural cover of Nintendo Power, was remade as a launch title for the Game Boy Advance, and has had a lasting impact on the Mario universe.
And despite the Dream Factory connection, much of what went into the creation of Doki Doki Panic was made by Nintendo themselves. So much, in fact, one really has to question whether Doki Doki Panic was the original intent for the title, or if it was simply a convenient tie-in for their deal with Fuji TV. When you consider various factors, it starts to look more and more like the original Japanese release was merely a 0.5 version of what was originally destined to become a part of the legendary Super Mario Bros. series.
Keep Your Friends Close, Keep Your Enemies Closer
One thing which makes it seem as though Doki Doki Panic might possibly have been intended as a Mario game first and foremost is its cast of characters, many of which have become staples in the Mario titles over the following years. One such enemy, the Bob-omb, was even featured as soon as Super Mario Bros. 3 the year following DDP‘s release. Other enemies to return have included the Ninji and Pidgets (Super Mario World), Pokeys, Shy-Guys (Yoshi’s Island, various), and Birdo, who now seems to be a full-fledged female and friend of Yoshi (or something more?).
To this day, there are still those who would love little more than to see even more enemies return, such as Mouser, Tryclyde, or the evil Wart himself.
And speaking of which, Super Mario Bros. 2 added another element to the Mario series, that being the introduction of mini-bosses. Before, every fourth level would see Bowser or one of his transformed copycat minions obstruct you from seeing justice prevail, but in Super Mario Bros. 2, it was rare to make it to the end of a level without a showdown. So while the likes of Boom-Boom, Reznor, and the Koopalings have helped maintain the tradition, Nintendo did decide to tone it down a little by assigning them to guard fortresses and airships, rather than the goal to every level.
Of course, while the Mario franchise certainly took a lot from the title, it didn’t go without putting anything in. Doki Doki Panic featured a few famed Mario staples in its original form, including the famed POW block (Mario Bros.) and Starman(Super Mario Bros.), though the latter featured a different theme while in use.
On a related note, Doki Doki Panic was not the first time Nintendo had teamed up with Fuji TV to use a game for promotion. In 1986, the two partnered up to make a special version of Super Mario Bros. (featuring levels from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, and Vs. Super Mario Bros.) titled All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros., which replaced the Mushroom Retainers and some enemies with Japanese celebrities from the All Night Nippon radio station. Thus, a precedent was established.
Land of Dreams
Of course, enemies were neither the only nor the most significant offerings which later Mario games would take from Super Mario Bros. 2. The truth is that it seems much of the gameplay which came to be in later titles originated in this game.
For starters, the environments seem to have been greatly influenced by what was available in Mario’s Subcon outting. In the original Super Mario Bros., there were a few level types: land (with the occassional pit), sea (underwater swimming stages), air (running across high bridges or tree/mushroomtops, plus the cloudy bonus levels), underground tunnels, and the fourth-level castles.
Save for the underwater portions, the general feel was pretty much the same regardless of where you tread. But in Super Mario Bros. 2, new elements were added: Ice levels with slippery terrain, deserts ready to swallow you up with quicksand, and caves full of rocky barricades to tunnel through. In addition to the settings established in the original title, these would prevail for many years to come in the continuing adventures of Mario.
Add to that the freedom of exploration. In Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels, you went in only one real direction: forward. Other than the occassional vine or pipe which would move you to a different part of the area, the only direction you could move in was to the right. But in Super Mario Bros. 2, this was eliminated as Mario and his friends could move forward or backtrack with complete freedom. In addition, there were also sections of stages in which the movement was vertical, often requiring the player to go up or down, if not both. Come Super Mario Bros. 3, the two types would be merged to form vast areas that seemed to have no limits to where you could go, provided you found the means to get there.
And while it may not have been the first game to do it, it was the first Mario title in which there was a sort of fusion between background and foreground elements. Whereas in Super Mario Bros., your movement was restricted in relation to what was on the same plane as you were, Super Mario Bros. 2 allowed interaction with the background in small but noteworthy ways, such as the use of doors to reach new areas, or to be able to leap atop the hill you were passing in the background. Super Mario Bros. 3 later exploited this by featuring special white blocks in the background which you could drop behind temporarily to discover even more secrets.
Even vines reacted differently: in the original game, if Mario came into contact with a vine, he’d automatically grab ahold of it, and the player would have to maneuver around it if they didn’t wish to climb. But in the sequel, the vine became an interactive part of the background, allowing you to pass freely if you wish, or to grab ahold and climb to see where it would take you.
Moving beyond the world Mario and his friends explored, they took a number of new abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2 as well. One thing that is easily noticable is how much more maneuverable Mario is, particularly in the air, allowing him to turn around in mid-jump and double back before making a fatal mistake, or possibly allowing access to areas which would be unreachable.
Another move Mario retained, albeit in a different way, was that of picking up enemies and objects to use as weapons. While it was a primary gameplay mechanic in Super Mario Bros. 2, it remained to a lesser extent in future titles, be it picking up and carrying the shells of his fallen foes to use as a weapon, or to slam oversized enemies into the ground to hail their surrender. This also carried over in the need to take keys to their respective keyholes, such as in Super Mario World.
Something else to consider. Originally, Miyamoto and his team wanted Mario to always be “Super,” but later came up with the idea of using the Super Mushrooms to increase his size. Super Mario Bros. 2 managed to combine the ideas by starting the player Super and keeping them that way until they were down to one heart in their life meter, thus helping to fulfill the original vision to some degree.
And in the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 3, one hit would return Mario to his smaller size, no matter how powered-up he was. But in the US version, Mario would return to being Super Mario if he took the hit while in Raccoon or Fiery form, or in one of his suits. Given that Super Mario Bros. 2 had a life meter, perhaps Nintendo wanted to retain some aspect of that in Mario’s third outing?
Oh, and remember how much fun it is to knock Lakitu from his perch and cloudjack his ride? Mario started the whole Grand Theft Auto-ing of enemies with Pidget and his magic carpet back in Super Mario Bros. 2 as well.
One of the things that people think about when they think about the Mario games are the series vast and varied cast of characters. And while Super Mario Bros. helped establish quite a lineup of friends and enemies, it was Super Mario Bros. 2 which helped define the characters and shape them into what they are today.
For starters, from a graphical standpoint, the characters more closely resembled the cartoon renditions which peppered magazines, box art, manuals, and Sears catalogs, helping further bridge the gap between video games and animation which Shigeru Miyamoto had begun with Donkey Kong.
Mario was more or less the same, only now he’s seen a color-swap between his overalls and shirt, a change that has lasted to this day (though the scheme did vary wildly between various art for the game). In addition, the simple addition of a few white pixels around his eyes made Mario seem more lively than his pack-in counterpart, eager to tackle the wide, unknown world of adventure which awaited him.
It was this look that seemed to be emulated in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, though neither carried it over quite as well.
But for what Mario gained in the advancement of his looks, his companions received so much more.
His brother, Luigi, for example. No longer the green “Player 2″ twin of his better-known brother, Luigi had his own look and abilities. Taller and thinner than his older sibling, Luigi was ironically able to jump even higher than his superstar brother, allowing him to make his way to harder-to-reach areas. In some cases, there were parts only he could traverse with ease, enough so that a proficient player could sequence-break the game, bypassing entire lengths of the game to reach their goal. Of course, doing so also left the player woefully underpowered on their Life meter, but that was the sort of thing you should have thought of before jumping the chasm.
Of course, this was a trait shared between sequels in the US and Japan, but in the Super Mario Advance updates of the Mario classics (as well as Super Mario 64 DS), Luigi’s high jump acts more like our Mario 2 than The Lost Levels.
One might also suggest that this game is what inspired Luigi’s other well-renowned trait: his cowardice. Not only could the younger brother jump further and away from his enemies, perhaps entirely avoiding them altogether, but in doing so, he had a unique tendency to kick his feet at a rapid pace, perhaps trying to keep afloat for longer so that he wouldn’t have to face those who would wish him harm down below.
Sadly, neither his looks nor his traits carried over into Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, save for the games’ promotional art, but Nintendo wisely made sure to at least bring back his unique appearance for all the games included in Super Mario All-Stars, as well as the Super Mario Advance 2 remake of Super Mario World.
The head of the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Toadstool (“Peach” only in Japan at this time, until Super Mario 64 combined the two) also made her debut playable appearance in this game. Super Mario Bros. 2 changed the mushroom monarch’s look from fiery red hair and a white dress (and one of the worst sprites you’d ever lay eyes on) into what we know today: the slightly-floaty, pretty-in-pink Princess.
She returned (with a much-improved sprite, no less) in Japan’s version of Super Mario Bros. 2, but barring that game, it would be hard to say where fate would have taken the Princess. Maybe she would have reappeared, but it’s also possible that like Mario’s first damsel-in-distress, Pauline, that her function had been fulfilled, and she would have languished in the depths of obscurity, only occassionally pulled out of early retirement for the occassional piece of nostalgic fanservice. Regardless, Super Mario Bros. 2 seemed to help secure her as a staple of the Mario universe, as well as a longer-term love interest than her predecessor.
Even though she was slower and weaker than her allies, Princess Toadstool had a rather unique ability in her jumps which allowed her to hover. It couldn’t carry her as far as Luigi’s spring-legged leaps, but it certainly allowed her to hold her own, even carrying over into future titles such as Super Smash Bros. Melee, and even her own starring role in Super Princess Peach, though by then she required the use of a parasol named Parry to maintain her trademark hangtime.
And finally, we have Toad.
Arguably, Toad received the greatest benefit from his apperance in the game. He was a character who had not been named before; some contest if he’d even been seen, as there were 7 identical Mushroom Retainers to rescue in the original Super Mario Bros.; who was to say he was necessarily one of them? Regardless of whether or not he had a prior appearance, here he was a part of Mario’s inner-circle, accompanying the Bros. and the Princess on the picnic which began the story.
In addition to his debut as a fan-favorite character, Toad was also given some generous stats, thanks to the carryover from his Doki Doki Panic counterpart. Even though his jumping ability betrays his name, he was the strongest character as well as the fastest, with little delay in his actions. This helped set a precedent that helped lead to his starring (though not titular) role in Wario’s Woods, a puzzle game which called upon his tremendous strength to move stacks consisting of several enemies, bombs, and jewels at once.
Ever since, Toad has been a constant companion for Mario and his friends, be it smuggling stars to our heroes in Super Mario 64, racing in go-karts, playing party games, providing helpful tips, or even just blocking harmful blows to his Princess in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
In addition, it was these four who formed the primary cast of protagonists on the syndicated cartoon The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, as well as its NBC follow-up The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, even though Toad and the Princess returned to diminished roles for the game based on the latter series.
Over 18 years, from Doki Doki Panic to Super Mario Advance, the game most players know as Super Mario Bros. 2 has seen quite an evolution.
If one were to pick up Doki Doki Panic after playing the Mario-fied version, they might swear they were playing some sort of Beta program, or perhaps a hack of some kind. Screenshots only tell half the story, as the graphic changes went beyond mere swaps of characters and items. Where Super Mario Bros. 2 felt like a living, breathing, animated world, Doki Doki Panic simply… did not. Many of the moving elements, such as blowing grass or the scrolling word “POW” on its respective blocks, were static in the original game. In contrast, the waterfalls moved at an almost irregular speed, appearing as though ready to induce seizures that would make a Pokémon jealous.
Many of the sounds were duller and less pleasant to the ear as well, from the throwing of items to the appearance of Subspace doors, to the pained shrieks of the mini-bosses as they writhed in pain from having their own devices turned against them.
The music was for the most part the same, though songs wouldn’t loop quite as smoothly as Super Mario Bros. 2, or would be missing a beat here or there. The game did have two original tunes, however, to replace the Mario-based music for Subspace and the Starman invincibility phase.
In terms of gameplay, Doki Doki Panic was much more of a chore to get through. To see the ending required you to play through the game a whopping four times, once as each character. And to make matters worse, none of the characters could truly “run;” the B button was reserved exclusively for the picking-up and throwing of items.
And it should go without saying that the traditional growing/shrinking of characters based on their health is purely a Mario addition, perhaps made obvious by the fact that being smaller didn’t really do much to help you move or make you harder to hit.
Nintendo didn’t just stop with updating the animation, music, and graphics when they made the conversion. They created an all-new ending featuring a very cartoon-like Mario in bed, sleepily opening one eye to try and determine whether his adventure was just a dream, or something more.
As if that weren’t enough, they went another step further by creating an exclusive new boss for Super Mario Bros. 2, the oversized mutant crab known as Clawgrip, who replaced a third battle with the bomb-chucking Mouser.
Full-circle, but not yet finished, for Super Mario Bros. 2 joined Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and its rechristened Japanese namesake Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels as part of a 4-in-1 16-bit update of Mario’s classic NES adventures known as Super Mario All-Stars.
Super Mario All-Stars enhanced the four titles included within its code with the ability to save progress in a limited fashion, but more noticable to fans and critics alike were the improved graphics and music for the games. The gameplay was largely untouched, with a few minor exceptions here and there, such as the addition of “Lucky 7’s” to the slot machine which ended each level of Super Mario Bros. 2.
An interesting twist in the collection is that both Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels were updated to feature the exact same graphics between the two, robbing the latter of some of its visual distinction.
And then, for a time, Super Mario Bros. 2 was allowed to rest, its influence carrying on in its stead for many years and through many titles and mediums. That is, until 2001.
For fans of Subcon and its inhabitants, 2001 was a pretty good year. Part of this would be due to features within the Nintendo GameCube blockbuster Super Smash Bros. Melee, including the return of the Princess as a playable character, complete with not only her trademark hover from Super Mario Bros. 2, but also the ability to pull the game’s trademark emotive vegetables from the ground to use as projectiles. Even better, there was a full-fledged stage devoted to the game, recreated in the style of the 16-bit adaptation and featuring waterfalls, logs, a flying Pidget on its carpet (which players could land on), and the occassional appearance of Birdo from the sides, interfering in the matches with a volley of eggs.
But more significant than the features of another game was a brand-new update of the classic in the launch title for the Game Boy Advance, Super Mario Advance.
If Super Mario Bros. 2 is the result of the Mario-fication of Doki Doki Panic, then Super Mario Advance is a continuation of that line of thinking, making it the most Mario-like iteration of the game.
Graphically, the game pretty much matches up with its visually-impressive 16-bit predecessor, but then goes further, adding new features that take advantage of the new hardware such as supersized vegetables and enemies. From the second you start the game, it becomes easy to tell that Super Mario Advance is more than a mere port, and that the developers actually put a fair amount of work into making the game familiar to those who played the classic, but still new at the same time.
Most of the sound is carried over from the All-Stars version as well, though there are some new pieces of music added as well, such as a slightly carnival-like tune played inside of the jars found throughout, or the eerie tune that lets you know a mini-boss lurks nearby, before kicking into the full boss theme for the battle itself.
In addition to the music, there are also voices added as well, which is good for some, but bad to others. Mario, Luigi, and Peach sound much like they do in other titles, but the sad fact is that Toad’s voice is too much for most people. The voice actor sounds like he’s trying to impersonate the sort of “cool little brother” character from the old DiC cartoons, but gets it horribly, horribly wrong, sounding closer to a drunken cat in heat than the amusing “cool dude” seen back in the Super Show.
And though it’s not impossible to get used to the voice as you play through, odds are that most people won’t want to even try, turning a game that was once Toad’s ticket to stardom into a bullet in the head of his career.
Fortunately, the voices cast to the various mini-bosses of Wart’s empire are a lot easier. Birdo herself has numerous phrases, depending on her form. Many of the voices are very fitting, or just laughably unexpected in the case of FryGuy, and add a lot of character to already-distinct members of the Mario ensemble. And in the cases of Clawgrip and FryGuy, you even get to see their origin prior to fighting them, as the dark magic of Wart changes them from what they once were to what so many gamers have come to know them as. Add to their ranks the new Robirdo, a robotic version of the egg-spitting fiend who replaces the second Mouser (who himself replaces the second TryClyde of World 6), and even the mini-boss battles provide new twists for veteran gamers.
In terms of actual gameplay, Super Mario Advance might be considered a little easier than its preceding versions, as it gives ample opportunities to gain hearts and extra lives. In fact, there are actually more lifebar-increasing Super Mushrooms in the game, allowing players to reach a maximum of five hearts total in most stages, versus the other versions’ four. This is balanced, however, by utilizing another classic Mario staple: starting the player out in their smaller form.
Other classic Mario traits that have been implemented are a score, which grants you an extra life if you can chain enough hits together to defeat several enemies, much as chasing a kicked shell would do for Mario in his other adventures. And it’s important to get it right the first time, as this version of the game does not feature respawning enemies, something which set the original Super Mario Bros. 2 apart from others in the line.
Take all of this, add in the moderately-challenging Yoshi Challenge “second quest,” and it still doesn’t cover the entire length of changes made to the classic title which redefined Mario as we know it. And recently, Super Mario Advance was added to Nintendo’s Player’s Choice roster of Game Boy Advance titles, making now a perfect time to visit the Land of Dreams again for the first time.