For those unfamiliar, Subspace is like a sort of mirror dimension found in Subcon when you discover a magic potion and throw it to the ground, where a door to the mysterious realm will manifest itself.
Stepping through said door will take you to a one-screen area where everything is reversed like a mirror image of wherever you threw the potion, and this is where Mario and company are able to collect items without fear of attacks from enemies. However, the time spent there must be used efficiently, as after around ten seconds, you’ll be forcibly returned to the regular world of Subcon (unless you exit voluntarily back through the door, of course).
Originally, Subspace was depicted through pure silhouette; all items, obstacles, the very ground you walked on — almost everything was pitch black, broken up only by the dark blue sky/background. In remakes, this changed a bit, as Super Mario All-Stars let more detail show through, but with a blue tint to it. Come Super Mario Advance, which had to deal with the technical issues of hardware without a backlight in its initial launch version, they opted to just keep everything in color, but with a slightly darker tint to it. For my money, I prefer either of the first two versions.
Entering this enigmatic shadow realm should probably provoke some fear of the unknown, but in truth, it was a sanctuary. Not only were there no enemies here (though you could still die to pitfalls, spikes, etc.), but this is where you gained a lifeline — straight from the Mushroom Kingdom! Drop a potion in the right spot, and you’ll find a mushroom on the other side. No need to worry about it blending, either, as it’s one of the few things in Subspace (besides our heroes and the door itself) that exists in full red-and-white color (a palette choice different from Super Mario Bros. that would stick around for installments well into the future). Grab it, and your life meter will not only be extended by one hit, but it will be refilled if necessary, too!
As an aside, two of the Heart Container-like toadstools could be found in each level of Super Mario Bros. 2 and its Super Mario All-Stars update, but in Super Mario Advance, the number was increased across most (if not all) stages to three, as were the potions needed to find them. As such, this could not only make things a little easier in some regards, but also provided a new challenge for intrepid explorers to seek out their locations.
Mushrooms weren’t the only thing hiding out in Subspace, however. Another familiar site could only be found there as well: Coins. Patches of grass in Subspace would each yield one coin when pulled up, allowing for one round of the Bonus Chance slot machine game at the end of each stage. The more coins you had, the more chances to win extra lives you’d get — which is why it’s important not to pull up all the grass in a key area before entering Subspace, as removing it from Subcon will remove it from Subspace as well.
It’s for this reason that Toad is often a favorite, as finding an area with lots of grass combined with Toad’s speedy plucking ability could yield lots of coins in the limited time you’re given. But even with Toad and some areas loaded with easily-resettable grass and potions, you can only root for coins twice before they all turn back to ordinary vegetables.
Coins and mushrooms weren’t the only carryovers from Super Mario Bros. to be found in Subspace. The background music which plays during your short trip there is a remix of the “Ground Theme” from the first game of the series as well, a fact that only further fueled my desire to see what was on the other side of that first door.
I also have an extra tidbit about that music, but that’s for another time.
Going back to Super Mario Advance, Subspace plays a key role in one of the game’s bits of bonus content: The Yoshi Challenge. After completing the game, you can take on the challenge and go back to any area of any world at any time. However, the number of mushrooms you can get in each stage is reduced to one; in the place of the others are two large Yoshi eggs, often found near (but not quite exactly where) you found the other mushrooms. Oh, and if you die? You lose the eggs you’ve accumulated, and have to do the level over.
While Subspace hasn’t extended its reach very far beyond Super Mario Bros. 2 itself, some of its iconography has shown up in other media.
The most notable example of this is in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! During the intro (just after the 30 second mark), a red door magically appears between Mario and Luigi, out of which come “Koopas, Troopas, the Princess, and the others” before the brothers appear inside, the door closes, and it disappears again. Look through the door, and you’ll see a place with black and dark blue (plus a bit of white for detail). Heck, the door even sticks around for just under ten seconds, though that much is probably a coincidence.
Nothing as grand as what we saw on the other side of the door appears in the show, though several episodes do end with King Koopa pulling out a magic potion and tossing it to create a “Warp Zone” of one kind or another (often a door, as seen above), through which he escapes.
And that’s pretty much the long and the short of Subspace. While it’s never properly graced the Mario games again outside of Super Mario Bros. 2 and its ports, remakes, and the like, it does serve as perhaps one of, if not the earliest of examples of Nintendo’s recurring use of mirror dimensions in their games, including The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.
Hopefully we’ll see Mario and friends return to Subcon one day, and if they do, fingers are crossed that Subspace will be a part of that package.
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.