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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Virtual Console Review: Super Mario Bros. 2

System: NES
Genre: Platformer 
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Virtual Console Release: USA Jul 2, 2007 / EUR May 27, 2007 / AUS May 27, 2007 / JPN Aug 10, 2007
Original Release: USA Oct 9, 1988 / EUR Apr 28, 1989 / AUS May 1989 / JPN Jul 14, 1992
Players: 1
Cost: 500 points
Controllers Supported: All
Rated: E for Everyone

It's almost impossible to discuss this game without talking about the events that transpired to bring about it's release. These days, it's a well known fact that the game we refer to as Super Mario bros. 2 wasn't originally intended to be a Mario game, but there's always a handful of people that may not know that so let's rewind for a bit.

The year is 1986 and many gamers outside of Japan were experiencing Super Mario Bros. for the very first time. In Japan, however, Super Mario Bros. 2 had already been released. It looked and sounded a lot like the original game, so much so that you almost wouldn't be able to tell the two games apart, but the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 differed from it's predecessor in one key area: challenge. The difficulty of the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was cranked up to such absurd levels that the idea to release it in America and Europe was 86'd. Nintendo of American wanted a sequel for American and European markets but there wasn't time to make a whole new game from scratch. A decision was made to modify an existing Japanese Famicom Disk System game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, also developed by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamato. The game's original four protagonists were switched out in favor of Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach and this game became the Super Mario Bros. 2 that gamers would know outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 would later make it's way to American and European shores under the subtitle, The Lost Levels. For those that wondered why Super Mario Bros. 2 seemed so different from the rest of the series, well there ya go. Although this is one case where straying from the norm isn't a bad thing.

Select a player? But if I do that, the
catchy music won't play anymore!

Super Mario Bros. 2 marks the first time Mario and friends aren't stomping Goombas in the Mushroom Kingdom. Instead, the game's adventure takes place in the world of Subcon and there's no stomping in this game at all. Jump on an enemies head and he'll be just fine. But you can pick up an enemy and hurl him into his pals, killing two birds with one stone. There's also a nice assortment of vegetables you can pluck from the ground and toss at your foes. It's just as fun and classic as stomping a Koopa Troopa and kicking it's shell at a group of oncoming flunkies in more traditional 2D Mario platformers.

There aren't any underwater stages here, but between grassy plains, frosty climates, cloud tops and caverns, Super Mario Bros. 2 offers a lot of different environments for you to travel through. Much like the first Super Mario Bros., the game begins on an easy note, but about mid way through, the challenge steps up. There are  will be many instances where you'll have to use precise jumps to make it across pits and avoid obstacles. In some situations, you'll even have to stand on top of an enemy's head and use him to cross a hazard. Subcon may be different from the Mushroom Kingdom, but it's no less dangerous.

In Subcon, vegetables kill bad guys. That's
the best excuse I've heard to avoid eating veggies.

One of Super Mario Bros. 2's best features is it's inclusion of multiple characters to play as. Not only can you play as Mario and Luigi, but Toad and Peach are playable characters for the first time in the entire history of Mario games. At the start of each world (or after you've used up all your lives) you can select whomever you want. All four characters play differently from each other. Where as the only difference between Mario and Luigi were their clothes in Super Mario Bros., the changes between the two in this game are more than cosmetic. Mario is the most balanced of the bunch, performing decent in every aspect. Luigi has the best jump out of everyone but said jump is a bit tricky to control. Toad is the fastest runner and picks up enemies and items incredibly fast but has a very weak jump. Last but far from least is Peach, who is actually the weakest of the four characters, but has the ability to float during jumps for several seconds. Depending on what character you choose to tackle a world can make the difference between saving lives and losing them.

Mario and friends run and jump with the greatest of ease thanks to some improved controls. Super Mario Bros.' controls were good but hey felt stiff. Here, you exhibit much greater control over your characters jumps and bringing them to a complete stop is also a lot simpler. But at the cost of the added freedom in movement, the controls feel pretty loose. As Takashi Tezuka put it "Controls have a very free, silly feeling to them". You have to do a lot of vine and chain climbing in this game and it's really easy to fall off and have to make your way back up. It's not a huge deal, but it can get a little irksome. While jumping may feel easier in this game when compared to it's predecessor, you've still got to be careful on some of those landings, especially on smaller platforms.

Pick up a key and Phantos will be all over you
like white on rice on a paper plate in a snow storm.

There's little in the way of new power-ups in Super Mario Bros. 2, but what's here gets the job done. Collecting five cherries will produce a floating Starman, letting you merc anything in your path. Super Mushrooms are hidden away in Subspace which is accessible via Magic Potion. Super Mushrooms have the same affect they did in Super Mario Bros., but they also add an extra bar to your vitality. Yeah, you can actually build up a health meter in this game, something you'll be thankful for in the later worlds. Off five enemies and a floating Heart will appear. Hearts can restore health or turn you Super again if you've been shrunk. Since enemies and cherries are all over the place, farming for a Heart and Starman is child's play. And then you've got the POW Block. Returning from Mario Bros., the POW Block will obliterate all enemies on the screen with a loud thunder upon impact. You better believe those suckers are super effective.

Birdo. He, she, it, whatever. You'll fight
this thing a lot.

The game has a limited number of tracks, but this is still some very catchy, endearing music. What would you expect with Koji Kondo at the helm? Super Mario Bros. 2's Ground theme has a very happy, carefree vibe to it. The Underground theme is far less upbeat and makes great use of bongo drums. Player Select may be even more catchy than the Ground Theme. There's a bit towards the end of the track where you think Koji Kondo just went nuts on the piano. It's awesome. If Player Select doesn't make you grin like The Joker, you're dead inside. Even today, the music to Super Mario Bros. 2 is audio bliss, ranking up there with the original's masterful music. Subcon is also quite the lively, colorful place. The character and enemy sprites are loaded with more detail than those of the Mushroom Kingdom.

They see me floatin', they hatin'...

Upon it's release Super Mario Bros. 2 was met with a warm reception, being one of the top selling Mario platformers. In recent years, some of the gaming press has criticized the game for being too much of a departure from the series roots. Screw Attack even went so far as to call it the 9th worst Mario game of all-time, which is a pretty wild and ridiculous claim. These differences are what make Super Mario Bros. 2 so memorable and like a lot of other Mario titles, it has aged very gracefully. Many elements from this game were incorporated into future Super Mario games. Pokeys, Shy Guys, and Birdo have been making regular appearances in Mario titles for years. Peach's ability to float was one of her defining attributes in the Super Smash Bros. series. This game also marked the first time (in-game, that is) that Luigi wasn't a pallet swap of Mario, sporting a taller, lankier look. The different characters give this one some nice replay value if you want to try to finish the whole game without switching. Of course if you're looking for a much shorter trek you can find Warp Zones to skip worlds. Even in Japan under it's Super Mario USA moniker, the game is recognized as part of the series. In the case of Super Mario Bros. 2, change is most definitely good.

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