When Super Mario Bros. 2 was first released in 1988, there were many things that set it apart from its predecessor, but perhaps one of the most often overlooked is its introduction of varied worlds to the Mario series.
(Incidentally, Japan would have to wait until the third game in the series to see such a change. As luck would have it, though, they received that game the same year, so it’s all good, right?)
The original Super Mario Bros. did feature a bit of variety, make no mistake about it. There were your normal levels that took up the seeming majority, as well as your undergrounds, underwater, bridge, castle, and treetop (also known as “pod”) levels. For all the newfound variety presented, however, there was a certain relative feeling that they were all found in a singular type of region — that they were all a part of the same location in the bigger picture.
With Super Mario Bros. 2, that changed. The primary world was this sort of tree-dotted grassy plain that would persist on and off throughout, with slight variations. Rather than different types of blocks dotting the landscape, there were tree stumps to maneuver around, waterfalls with log bridges to navigate, hills to climb with caves to venture into, and familiar beanstalks leading up into the clouds.
For Super Mario All-Stars, these worlds were enhanced with a lush jungle style background, as you can see above at right, changing the aesthetic a little more dramatically than most worlds to come.
World 2 is where things get interesting, as we’re introduced for the first time ever to a desert world filled with cacti and pyramids in place of the previous world’s tree stumps and hillside caves. More unique to this landscape, as hazards go at least, is the sticky quicksand that makes jumping more difficult — and pulling you to your death if you become complacent.
World 3 is more or less back to the plains/jungle setting, but introduces some twists. The first area has you scale a massive waterfall before ascending to the clouds, while the second features a bit of back-and-forth movement between the overworld area and underground tunnels. The final area continues from the underground, bringing you back outside briefly before placing you inside a trap-filled tower.
World 4 once again flips the script by placing Mario and company in a world filled with ice and snow. The Super Mario All-Stars versions of Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels would retroactively decorate some levels with fallen snow, but this world came several years beforehand, and introduced a hazard that would not be found in its remade predecessors: The slippery ice surface, which made getting solid footing extra-treacherous.
The second area combined the icy platforms with Whales that spew water from their blowholes that can be harmful if touched from the side, but provides a useful platform for getting to higher ground. Finally, the third area calls back to the end of the preceding world with a pair of towers to navigate, only this time filled with frozen-over platforms.
World 5 returns to a more neutral plain setting, but again with its own twists, including that it all takes place at night. The overworld time in the first area is brief, sending players through a cave filled with pits against a very long waterfall backdrop, while the second is largely in the overworld, but one fraught with more pits than usual before sending players into the clouds to find a cave entrance against a steep mountainside. Finally, the third area is a mix, leading players from an overworld area with enormous trees to an underground cave, where they’ll then proceed to climb one of the trees from the inside before heading among the treetops to a final confrontation with the world’s boss, Clawgrip.
World 6 is something of a retread of World 2, its most notable distinction (aside from an unusually large cave entrance in the third area) being the enormous expanse in its second area (which takes place at night again) requiring players to ride atop Albatosses in order to cross.
The climax of World 6 takes place among the clouds, and World 7 picks up with this by remaining in the sky, with a variety of Phanto-adorned temples decorating the background in the Super Mario All-Stars version. This leads directly to Wart’s castle in the clouds in World 7-2, the final level. You might have noticed that this world is unusually shorter than the rest, and I’ll touch on that sometime in the future.
Wart’s castle is a giant fortress filled with conveyor belts and constructed from what appears to be gold bricks — the same style of gold bricks that make up the Great Palace in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, interestingly enough. When I was a kid, I always imagined that this implied some sort of connection between the two. As it turns out, nothing ever really came of that.
One thing that piqued my curiosity over time is what the geography of Subcon might be like. Of particular note is that there are two desert worlds at opposite ends of the game, but only one ice world that is situated right dab in the center. Thinking on it, I figured one possibility of a map would look something like this:
I admittedly don’t know what could be in the giant space that separates the two sides of the land, be it an enormous mountain, a bottomless (for all intents and purposes, at least) pit, or perhaps even an ocean. Either way, I think it kind of makes sense that the order of the worlds and the arrangement of styles could mean that they wrap back around themselves somehow.
Heck, maybe World 7 isn’t so much across from World 1 as it is right above it (or maybe above and to the side a bit)?
Regardless of its actual layout (assuming there even is one), the worlds of Super Mario Bros. 2 helped establish the idea and potential of the kind of varieties they could each hold to players around the globe for years to come. The desert, ice, and sky-themed lands in particular would become staples (with the former most often found in the second world) of the series, especially when Nintendo decided to do more 2D platformers beginning with New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS in 2006, while a variety of other styles would emerge over the years as well.
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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.