Books, movies, music, video games – it’s all part of how we entertain ourselves. Sometimes they overlap and get adapted from their original form into a different type of media. Super Mario Bros is a classic form of this in the fact that it was not only a video game (a serialized one at that) but it was also a TV show. That lovable plumber has been a part of our lives for 20 years, and my favorite part is actually the least popular choice.
From the time of my 4th birthday when I received my very first Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), to my 7th birthday when I got my Super-NES, to my 13th when I got my Nintendo 64, 16th Gamecube or 24th Wii, I could always count on Super Mario to come to my birthday party. My wife even had a super mushroom groom’s cake made for me at our wedding and Mario themed cakes and cupcakes at my grad school surprise party. My son’s room is decked out with 8-bit Mario wall decals. My Mario pedigree is official and thorough.
The deep veracity of Mario fandom is important because what I am about to say next will smack of blasphemy to many. I want to announce my undying love for the game so-called in America, Super Mario Bros. 2. Many consider SMB2 to be a blight on the series for a variety of reasons.
A major reason for this is that SMB2 breaks with the format of the other games in the franchise. Sure, it’s a side scrolling adventure game but, you don’t jump on the heads of enemies to kill them—in fact jumping on their heads allows you most often to ride them—but instead you lift vegetables from the earth or other objects/enemies and launch them at your prey. This game also does not occur in the Mushroom Kingdom, but rather in the ephemeral realm of Subcon (more about that later).
There is nary a Koopa to be found, and the adversary of concern is a frog named Wart—who is some kind of combination of Bowser and King Dedede from the Kirby games. Also you choose from Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the Princess at the start of each level as a playable character. You are not saving the Princess — in fact, she is an actual playable character. She isn’t in another castle, she isn’t being held in anyone’s thrall, or baking any cakes—she’s getting her hands dirty for the first time in the series.
The History of Super Mario Bros 2
The most influential reason that people tend to discount this game from the series, however, is that it isn’t actually a Super Mario game. In Japan the game was initially released as a title called Doki Doki Panic. It had nothing to do with Mario at all. However, the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 was insanely difficult. So difficult that Nintendo decided that stupid Americans were too stupid to want to play it. So they switched some sprites and pixels and –bazinga—you’ve got Super Mario Bros 2 (USA). Years later Nintendo would re-release the games as Super Mario Bros. USA and Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels in Japan and the US respectively.
BUT! When I was five years old I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was the Princess could basically fly; not only useful but bad ass. Also I loved that the game was not like the original Mario Bros or Super Mario Bros (and later SMB3). It was different! Unique! And it fit in (for more theories on the importance of these three things read Ten Years Gone: Pomp and Circumstance). It had the familiar characters I loved in a new world, with new moves, new enemies, and new power-ups!
How awesome was that potion that sent you into the shadow world? How fun was the slot machine game for extra lives? The colors were vibrant, and the game made a real impact on the course of the franchise. Without SMB2 we wouldn’t have Shyguys, Bob-Ombs, Luigi’s crazy jump, mini-games, or Mario’s ability to lift and throw.
The music is fresh and different, the game play is solid, and the design (from maps, to sprites, to levels) are fun and engaging. The game is chocked full of secrets and cheats. To this day I time myself in trying to beat it in run through (my top time using cheats and warps is 35 minutes). The game was even endorsed by the Super Mario Bros. Super Show cartoon.
I challenge anyone who player-hates on Super Mario Bros. 2 (or Super Mario USA) to play it through with a fresh set of calloused thumbs. It’s worth the play—if not to just find out where all those Mario-Sports extra characters come from!