When the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) launched back in October of 1985 most of the Game Paks were familiar, albeit prettier versions of games we had already played on older video game consoles before the great video game crash of 1983. Many of the titles were single screen affairs with static, black backgrounds. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that Nintendo released its revolutionary Super Mario Bros. for the NES. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air that propelled home video games to the next level. With sprawling levels littered with secret areas and items to discover and colorful scrolling stages with diverse backgrounds, the bar had been raised. Nintendo knew this was the must-have game for the system, and a few months later bundled it in with the system to guarantee every new owner would have access to it. Here we are three years later and we’re finally getting our very first sequel to any NES game with Super Mario Bros. 2. It has some big shoes to fill, and boy does it ever try!
Take everything you know about the original Super Mario Bros. and throw it out the window. Nintendo has ditched the tried-and-true gameplay mechanics and level structure of the first game and come up with something entirely new. Right off the bat players are able to choose from four different characters to play as! Of course you’ve got Mario, an excellent choice for beginners thanks to his average jumping and plucking powers (more on that in a bit). Luigi can jump the highest of all the characters, but he is slippery to control and will most likely be the candidate of choice for expert gamers. After having saved Princess Toadstool in the first game, she’s now a playable character in the sequel. She has the ability to float in the air for a short period of time, making her long jump an essential asset for exploring the new realm. The tradeoff is that she’s the slowest of the bunch and can’t lift items or dig as quickly as the other characters. Finally, you can play as the Mushroom Retainer, Toad. He is by far the worst when it comes to jumping ability, but he’s the fastest digger out there.
While any of the cast of characters can be used on any given level, some are definitely better suited for different situations. As alluded to in the previous paragraph, Mario and friends have a completely new move set. No longer can enemies be destroyed by simply jumping on top of them! In fact, if you land on top of one of the baddies you’ll simply ride on its back. Pressing the “B” button will allow your character to pick up the enemy and then you can toss it at another one to take both of them out of the game. Scattered around the ground you’ll come across small shrubs that can also be plucked, often revealing vegetables that can be thrown at your foes. In the second world you’ll have to survive in the desert and you’ll come across vast swaths of sand that you can then dig downward to reveal more of the stage. This is a perfect time to use Toad thanks to his fast digging abilities!
Picking up items and using them is an essential part of playing Super Mario Bros. 2, and one that you’ll have to get good at in order to prevail. Unlike the first game, you have the freedom to backtrack through a stage and indeed the entire game has adventure elements woven throughout. Some stages will feature locked doors and you’ll need to locate the key, pick it up, and then reach the door to unlock it. This won’t always be easy because the second you grab that key Phanto, a floating masked head, will give chase. You can temporarily send him away by throwing the key down on the ground, but as soon as you pick it back up he’ll fly across the screen after you. He’s just one of many of the new gang of enemies that await you.
Gone are Koopa Troopas, Goombas, and The Hammer Bros. In their place are menaces like Shyguy, Bob-Omb, and Snifit. Then you’ve got the big bad bosses like Birdo, Mouser, and Clawgrip – each with their own patterns of attack that must be memorized to succeed. The pink dinosaur creature known as Birdo is the first boss you’ll encounter and it shoots eggs out of its snout. Since jumping on top of its head has no effect, you’ll have to time your jump just right to land on the flying egg, pick it up, and then toss it back to deal damage. These new strategies are fun to learn and gratifying to pull off.
You’ll have to battle your way through five different bosses (some of them multiple times) before you face off against their leader: Wart – a gigantic toad with a disdain for vegetables. If all of this sounds like a psychedelic fever dream, that’s because it is! Much like the horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, the entire game takes place in a dream, where Mario and friends have been trapped inside the world of Subcon and the only way to escape is to defeat Wart. If they die in the dream, they die in real life, right? Although there are fewer levels in the sequel (20 versus 32 in the original), there seems to be less repetition here and there’s more variety in the environments and with more playable characters things stay fresh and exciting throughout. Although the game’s world does seem completely different from the first, there are some throwbacks here, like the POW block from the original Mario Bros., as well as things like turtle shells to kick and the Starman that grants temporary invincibility.
Super Mario Bros. was one of the most colorful and vibrant games on the NES near launch, so it’s only appropriate that the sequel outdoes the original. The first thing most players will notice is that Mario and friends look a lot closer to their familiar art than the original game portrayed. The sprites are much more detailed and colorful this time around, with Mario ditching the drab brown and red clothes for his more iconic red shirt and blue overalls (interestingly enough all of the art in the instruction book shows him wearing a blue shirt and red overalls, but I digress). This time around the characters begin the game in “Super” mode, and if an enemy hits them they will shrink down to “Normal” size. Hidden in the levels are special potions that when thrown will reveal a secret door. Going through the door will flip the level and it’s here that you can find a Super Mushroom to get big again and also pick up some coins, which can be used at the end of the level to try and win extra lives via a slot machine. But, what happens if you’re already Super and pick up the mushroom? You can gain an extra health slot so you can take more damage before shrinking back down!
It’s not just the playable characters and enemies that are more detailed this time around, but so are the stages themselves. The colors are even brighter and more cartoon-like than the original and you’ll visit tropical locations with beautiful waterfalls, vast deserts, frozen tundra with slippery ice, and climb high into the clouds via giant vines. The entire game looks and feels more magical than the original, but it’s lacking in the amount of secrets. Anyone who has played the first game will know that there are invisible blocks hidden throughout the stages that can reveal 1-Ups, vines, and other helpful things. While there are definitely things to be discovered here (including Warp Zones), they definitely aren’t as plentiful.
The other slight criticism is that in Super Mario Bros. 2 the game often revolves around stop and go gameplay mechanics. You’ll often need to stop to pick up a vegetable to then methodically toss at an enemy. In the first game there was a certain kinetic energy – a cadence if you will. When a player got really good at that game he or she could keep running and jumping and bounce from one enemy to the next and it was an exhilarating and rewarding experience – a true testament of skill and the perfection of hand-eye coordination. That’s definitely not the case here, where the game plays much slower with a deliberate emphasis on exploration and grabbing items. That’s not to say the game isn’t fun in its own right, but it could be a disappointment for some. I also miss jumping up and breaking bricks – that was just so fun in the first game and there’s nothing in the sequel that’s as satisfying.
Once again the team at Nintendo has done a remarkable job creating music that will undoubtedly bore its way into your subconscious for years to come. The standard stage music is extremely catchy and has an Italian flair to it that the original game lacked. The exotic melody that plays when inside caves and other structures is fitting, but it repeats way too much for its own good. Although there are a few good compositions here, many of the tracks are exceptionally short, and thus wear out their welcome by the end of the game. Still, the game features iconic tunes that for the most part will no doubt be appreciated by many kids (and equally hated by parents).
I have to say that I really love Super Mario Bros. 2 and all that it has to offer. I appreciate that Nintendo went for something completely new instead of just making an easy sequel that’s just like the first one. As we reported earlier in the year, that’s exactly what happened in Japan, and I’m glad they switched it up for us. It’s hard to say that this game is better than the first, partly because that game was (and is) so darn good. This one features better control over the characters, more variety in the lineup, and a bigger and more creative cast of enemies. I appreciate that we’re not having to rescue a damsel in distress for once, and it’s even better that you can play as the princess. The world is fun to explore and the sense of discovery is every bit as potent as the original. However, it’s been three long years since the original released and in that time many fantastic NES games have released, raising the expectations bar even higher. When the first game released there was absolutely nothing like it on the system, whereas Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t.
It’s too bad the game doesn’t feature a two-player mode, but I suppose players could simply hand the controller over to someone else upon a death or a level completion. I don’t know how Nintendo keeps on doing it, but they’ve managed to once again create a wholly original game that is packed with fun gameplay. This is sure to be one of the biggest hits of the year, with many kids hoping and wishing to open up this box on Christmas morning. It was definitely worth the wait!
Super Mario Bros. 2 Review
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Super Mario Bros. 2 is a must-have for all NES owners. It’s not a quick sequel cash-in by any means of the imagination. It features all-new gameplay mechanics, creative levels, new enemies, and the presentation is top notch. Being able to play as four different characters is a genius addition that adds strategic elements to the adventure. The wait was worth it!