Super Mario Bros. 2 made numerous changes over its predecessor, but there is one in particular that stands out to me. More than a new villain and cast of enemies, more than a new setting, more than the change in gameplay from stomping to item-tossing.
The whole purpose of the “Bros.” in Mario Bros. was to give two players the opportunity to engage the oncoming flow of enemies as two different characters (unlike the two Marios or Donkey Kong Jrs. who would challenge their rivals in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., respectively). This carried over into Super Mario Bros. as two players would be allowed to take turns attempting to rescue the princess as either Mario or Luigi.
Despite the “2” in the title, Super Mario Bros. 2 dropped the number of players down to one (due to its origins as another game, of course — I’ll probably be touching on that in due time). However, while this sacrificed the ability for two friends, siblings, or other associated folks to embark on their own individual-but-mirrored journeys to thwart Bowser, it did open up something which some people might consider even better: Four playable characters.
Upon pressing the Start button for the first time, players of Super Mario Bros. 2 were greeted with a relative wealth of options for the time in terms of finding a character that best suited them and their own play style and preferences, or even just adapting to best suit the unique challenges of a stage at hand.
There was Mario, of course, the hero and main protagonist who played much like one would expect Mario to from having played Super Mario Bros., albeit with a bit more control in the air and a faster turn. Then there was Luigi, who was no longer Mario’s twin, but a unique yet clearly-related individual who was a little bit taller and maybe a touch slimmer, too (to say nothing of paler, where the pixel art was concerned). His brother might be the one with the alias of “Jumpman,” but it’s Luigi who had the gravity-defying leaps at the cost of more skittish maneuverability, his legs moving like he’d looked down with no ground beneath him in an old Warner Bros. cartoon.
Next is Toad, the first distinct member of the Mushroom retainers mentioned in Super Mario Bros. instruction manual. Shortest in stature and sporting a new all-blue-and-white look, he was also the strongest and therefore the fastest, at least when it came to not only picking up enemies and items, but carrying them as well.
Last, but certainly not least, was Princess Peach — or as she was better known at the time, Princess Toadstool. Her appearance differed somewhat compared to how she is seen today, but Super Mario Bros. 2 was effectively her breakout role. No longer a damsel in distress (for now), “the Princess” (as she was commonly known at the time) was the slowest at lifting things, but made up for it by being able to float during a jump, an ability that would become her trademark ever since.
Together, these four heroes came together to form a formidable team — a “Dream Team,” if you will. Sure, you only ever saw one on screen at a time between the character select and the ending, but hey, you only got to control one Turtle at a time in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on the Nintendo Entertainment System, either.
In fact, though the original Super Mario Bros. had established Mario and Luigi as a heroic sibling duo, Super Mario Bros. 2 codified them in my mind as but one half of a team of four. And really, that just worked at the time, as heroic superteams were quite the thing at the time: The aforementioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the ThunderCats, the X-Men, the Silverhawks, the Power Rangers, and so on. Heck, when rival Sonic the Hedgehog broke into comics and cartoons only four years later, his only in-game ally was Tails, and so a whole team was developed for him to be a part of in the Freedom Fighters.
This was typically reinforced in other media as well, most prominently The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, where the four traveled together from land to land in search of a way to free the people of the Mushroom Kingdom from King Koopa’s magic spell. Despite its namesake, this dynamic carried over into The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 as well, and even though they were outnumbered two to one, they were able to successfully foil the schemes of King Koopa and his seven children. But though it was Mario’s name in the title, every member had equal weight (well, more or less — one is a princess, after all), and sometimes it was up to one or more of the others to save him from random romances, life-threatening illnesses, or other dangers.
The team also carried over to The New Super Mario World, but with a bit of a tweak: Toad was out, replaced instead by the young Yoshi Luigi had found upon their arrival in Dinosaur Land. The good news there is that Toad’s voice actor, John Stocker, still got work that season. The bad news is that it was voicing the irritating cave kid (who was thankfully not featured too frequently) Oogtar.
Sadly, as far as Nintendo was concerned, once Super Mario Bros. 2 was over and finished, the whole team dynamic was as well. Mario and Luigi, when the former wasn’t performing as a solo act, went back to two-person adventures. Personally speaking, it never did sit well with me; it just never felt right, like something was missing.
Nintendo would occasionally toy with multiple playable characters, such as in Super Mario 64 DS, but with Wario and Yoshi replacing Toad and Peach, it just wasn’t the same. Likewise, various role playing games would put Mario with a variety of personalities, but there has yet to be one to reassemble the original fab four. Fans perked up at the prospect of New Super Mario Bros. games with four players able to participate simultaneously, but that was quickly deflated when it was revealed that the fourth player would be a yellow-colored Toad — and the extremely iffy reasoning given would go on to become rather infamous, too.
Fortunately, a quarter of a century after uniting Mario, Luigi, Toad (well, a Toad, at least… more on that another time), and Princess Peach Toadstool, Nintendo saw fit to finally reunite the team in Super Mario 3D World. Whether they heard the cries of the fans or it simply suited their whims, all four heroes were once again selectable in the Wii U-exclusive title. What’s more, for the first time ever (not counting possible sports games and the like), all four could appear and work together simultaneously as they pursued Bowser through the Sprixie Kingdom, all while retaining their signature strengths and weaknesses from Super Mario Bros. 2.
On top of that, Nintendo’s EAD Tokyo studio even did one better by featuring Rosalina as an unlockable playable character, bringing the total to five! Just kind of a shame that the maximum is only four players at a time, but it’s understandable.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh; the team has been broken up once again, but you can play as all four in Super Mario Run, provided you unlock everyone besides Mario. They’re also joined by Toadette, Princess Daisy, and a whole rainbow of Yoshis. Aside from amiibo costumes, Mario is solo in Super Mario Maker, and is also alone (Cappy notwithstanding) in the recently-released Super Mario Odyssey.
But hey, these aren’t likely to be the last Mario games we ever see, so there’s a chance we’ll see the Dream Team reunited once more. Of course, that’s generally been my hope with each new release, and I usually wind up disappointed there. Maybe we’ll see it again someday — I just hope it won’t be another 25 years before we do.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.