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River City Retro: What Mario fans should really be talking about.


As I announced in my musing last week, this issue of River City Retro is dedicated entirely to the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2. Nearly every time this game is mentioned, people talk about the wrong thing entirely. Everyone is always going on about the controversial localisation. Even I have to plead guilty with my own second ever post here on Destructoid. It seems that Mario 2 is always walking in the shadow of its own international handling and it really shouldn't. It's a beautifully constructed piece of work that deserves just as much love as any other game in the Mario series.

It is so often wrongfully accused of being a simple level rehash of the first SMB. Even Howard Lincoln, at that time president of Nintendo of America, has fallen into this trap. Yet at the same time, so many players are complaining that it throws them completely off their game by not acting like they'd expect Mario 1 to act. Somebody please call Phoenix Wright because I think we've got a serious contradiction on our hands here. The truth is that Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't a simple rehash nor is it a messed up SMB1. It's a freaking sequel! It's expanding on the existing formula.

Not only is it expanding, many of its additions have become true Mario trademarks that we now take for granted. Can you still imagine a Mario title where you don't get an extra upwards boost from stomping enemies? How about upside-down pipes or the classic mushroom design with those cutesy little eyes? What about Luigi's higher jump and lesser traction that we see in so many games? Guess where they were all conceived. That's right! Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo Famicom Disk System.

Another big point is the notorious difficulty. The original box art depicts a golden medal with the words "For super players" written on them and not without reason. Even some of Mario 2's early levels are insanely more difficult than anything we've seen in the first game. If you've been reading Iwata asks on Nintendo's home page, you know how Mario 1 was cleverly designed to hold your hand with level designs that would guarantee you to stomp an enemy or collect a power-up. This time we're not having any of that. The game is no longer on your side and Mario 2 isn't playing around!

Quite often the only way to cross a chasm is to bounce back up off of a paratroopa. It wouldn't be such a problem except that the game most generously offers you a starman right before the breathtaking leap. As a result you drop right through the paratroopa and dead you are. It doesn't stop there either. Remember the classic warp zones from the first game? Don't worry, they're still here but they're now accompanied by the reverse warps. It's exactly what it sounds like. Encounter one of these and you can choose between a one-way ticket to the beginning of the game or wait until the timer runs out to put you out of your misery. Mario 2 often tempts you into taking a path towards these too. Seriously... This game is making fun of you! As you play, you can literally feel it pointing at you and laughing hysterically. If you intend to save princess peach, this time you're going to be sweating bullets!

Does that mean that this game is an unforgiving asshole that you should gang up on with four friends and beat the living crap out of? No, it doesn't. Super Mario Bros. 2 is going to make you squirm and enjoy doing it but at the same time, it's going to show you compassion. While it's skimpy on the green mushrooms, something I like to call one-up runways are all over the place. I mean those situations where you have a number of enemies lined up perfectly to toss a koopa shell at. If you do it just right, points will accumulate with ever consecutive kill until the very last one finally grants you an extra life. Even several of the castles have these. You'll get your extra lives but you just have to work for them a bit more. Your relationship with Super Mario Bros. 2 will be much like the one with a mean older brother. Openly he will make your life miserable but deep in his heart, you're his brother and he loves you.

While on the surface, the game looks essentially the same as its predecessor, quite a number of small graphical improvements were made to the backgrounds. Also some enemies don't quite behave like they used to any more. I'm not sure how much storyline time there is between the two games, but at least enough for both koopa troopas and bloopers to evolve their species. Koopas now survive under water and bloopers have been brainwashed into thinking they're birds as they now reside in tree tops. Piranha plants have evolved into a new red species which is much more aggressive and hammer brothers aren't playing mr. nice-guy any more either as they will slowly but unstoppably keep walking towards you.

There are a few new game mechanics as well. In certain levels, you have wind storms that will push Mario forward, dramatically changing the timing of jumps while in others you have the super springboards. The old ones would launch you up to the top of the screen but these send you above and beyond. They launch Mario so high that it will easily take over five seconds for him to come back down. This makes it significantly hard to judge where he will land. Throw in a notorious level *cough* 7-3 that consists primarily of using these to dodge massive pits while in a wind storm and you're in for hours of fun.

The levels are another place where improvements were made. Remember how Super Mario Bros. often recycled its earlier levels and just quickly added some more bullet bills or smaller platforms as an excuse? There's none of that this time or at least not until the main eight worlds are over. Yep, that's right. I said main eight worlds and that means there are more. If you can make it through the game without warping, you will be taken into world nine. I'm pretty sure that this is a stab at the famous minus world of the original. A glitch they cutely worked around this time by removing the two blocks of ceiling before the ending pipes in underground levels.

Anyway, why do I think world nine is a reference to the minus world? Because it's freaking insane! Look at it! Actually the minus world was different in the Famicom Disk System version of Super Mario Bros. Instead of a repeating level 2-2, it took you to three completely messed up stages. The first was an underwater version of level 1-3 filled with messed up sprites including several instances of princess Peach. Then we ran through a pretty normal level 2-3 until we finally landed in castle 4-4 except it wan't quite a castle any more and had flying bloopers. Could this have been the inspiration for the flying bloopers in SMB2? World nine looks very similar except that it replaces the normal 2-3 with another fucked up underwater level. The Disk System's minus world was over after three levels but world nine includes a fourth which is nothing more than an underwater level where the word アリガトウ, meaning thank you in Japanese, is spelled. When you beat this one, it loops you right back to the beginning of 9-1, not at all unlike what the NES-version's minus world did.

As if world nine wasn't enough, the game offers no less than four extra secret worlds. I do think a lot of players would never get to see these without help though. Why is that? Because in order to reach worlds A, B, C and D as they're titled, you first have to beat the game eight times in a row. Given that Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn't have a save-game feature, you'd best take a day off of work. Then when you've finally wormed your way through it eight consecutive times and mopped up the puddles of sweat below you, you have to figure out that you need to hold down the A button while pressing start at the title screen. If you eventually do get to them, be prepared because they're even harder than the already tough levels you've just cleared eight times.

In the beginning it was nearly impossible to get your hands on this bit of retro goodness. Nowadays it has had sufficient re-releases though not all offer you a true experience. The most obvious one would be what we knew as The Lost Levels in Super Mario All Stars. As some fellow Dtoiders pointed out to me before, this is a bit of a dumbed down version. You start the game with five lives instead of three and it allows you to continue infinitely from the level you died in. The original also had infinite continues but it always put you back right after the last castle you cleared. This version does have a save feature but it's much less needed as world A to D are now available immediately after your first playthrough. In the Japanese version, the words "For super players" that were originally written on the box, now appear as a subtitle on the first screen.

Then there was Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Colour. This is a beautiful 8-bit remake of the first Mario with a motherload of additions ranging from animated water to a whole freaking world-map. After beating the game, another dumbed down version of Mario 2 became available, once again titled "For super players". This time, the big problem was that the game was running on Mario 1's engine. Gone were the extra boosts from stomping enemies and with it went the challenging jumps where you had to rely on this mechanic to advance. The windy storms and anything beyond world eight were nowhere to be found either.

A Famicom-perfect re-release came out in Japan for the Game Boy Advance but here in the west, we missed out once again and we would keep missing out until summer 2007. Then the original game finally came out in both the United States and Europe on the Nintendo Wii's virtual console. This time we're not messing around any more. This is Super Mario Bros. 2 exactly the way it was intended when it first hit Japanese store shelves on June third 1986. Levels are left entirely intact and there is no save feature to help you beat the game eight times for those sexy extra worlds. Except for the Wii's built in suspend function of course. If you're interested in trying out the real sequel to Mario, this is where it's at!

In conclusion, a common misconception is that Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't as much a true sequel as it is a harder version of the original. I believe the sheer number of improvements and new gameplay mechanics that stayed throughout the remainder of the franchise, earn this title its full fledged entry in the Mario franchise. It is a challenging but truly magnificent game that deserves its rightful place in gaming history which is to stand tall between the two landmarks that are Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3. This has been Metallion and thank you for reading River City Retro!

Bonus feature: For super readers

I have recorded my full playthrough of this game and it's available on YouTube for everyone who is curious to see just how difficult some levels are. I have beaten the game legitimately before but to keep it a bit interesting, this run is done in three segments. The first one consists of worlds one up to four, the second segment shows worlds five, six and seven while for the last segment, I do worlds eight and nine. By keeping the segments fairly large, I have been able to run through the game without going game-over but you still get to see me fuck up royally in some parts. especially world 7 :(. Sorry for not including worlds A to D but I couldn't be bothered beating the game eight times at this moment. Knowing me though, I'll probably get to them at one point or another.

Complete playlist

world 1: 3.31

world 2: 3.58

world 3: 4.49

world 4: 9.08

world 5: 4.14

world 6: 4.24

world 7: 10.01

world 8: 6.23

world 9: 4.42
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About Metallionone of us since 4:11 AM on 10.14.2009

I'm a dude that used to write cblogs regularly but doesn't do that any more.