Mario Madness, Indeed

There is little doubt that Nintendo had a real hit on its hands with the original Super Mario Bros. back in the mid-eighties. As I have mentioned several times, I credit this game with helping save the video game industry from the horrible crash it suffered earlier that decade.  So what does one normally capitalize on such success?  A $equel, of course!  But a follow up would not be as simple as one would think.

Doki Doki Ripoff

Many people know about the fact that the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (originally subtitled “Mario Madness”) was not the vision that Shigeru Miyamoto had planned for the series to go. His concept was very similar in tone to the original, but very much harder. Filled with unfriendly poisonous mushrooms, backwards warp zones and an unforgiving amount of difficulty, Super Mario Bros. 2 lacked the wonder and childlike fun that the original game had. The game was so hard that Nintendo of America hastily ported in a little known Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic, photoshopped Mario characters in, and pushed it out as Super Mario Bros. 2. In fact, it’s quite striking when one looks up side-by-side gameplay footage on YouTube how little Nintendo changed between the games.  The game was easier, but it was so vastly different from the original that it doesn’t even feel like a real sequel – mainly because it wasn’t crafted as one.  It was to Super Mario Bros. as “Freddy’s Revenge” was to “A Nightmare on Elm Street”: similar characters but completely different storyline that didn’t quite fit and was all but ignored in later entries. To be fair, some of this game’s unique characters went on to become favorites within the Mario universe, but as for SMB2 itself, it’s rarely mentioned at all in subsequent installments.

But what about the real Super Mario Bros. 2? How does it stack up when looking back on it now as an adult gamer? It’s readily available on the Wii U/3DS/Wii Virtual Console service, and was also released in a few compilations such as Super Mario All-Stars for the SNES (under the title “The Lost Levels”).  It’s also referred to in one release as “Super Mario Bros: For Super Players”… and you indeed need to be Super to attempt this game.

mario 2

When Being Super Isn’t Super Enough

The game starts off in a very similar way – with similar graphics and happy music, and that is almost like a cruel joke. Within the first couple of minutes into the level, I encountered a strange looking mushroom and jumped on it like I normally would do. But instead of being all Bwap Bwap Bwap (imagine me making the Super Mario transformation noise there), it killed me. Wait, look at that HUGE gap I have to try and leap over! Oh, luckily I found a treasured Warp Zone, but it took me back to the beginning! What!

Then I began to notice that the graphics had a sort of dull, washed out look to them. This was not the happy go lucky world of the original, but a drug-infused variation with dangerous mushrooms and crazy level design that started off hard and only got worse from there. To this date, I have never gotten past the World 3-2 without dying completely. I’ve only seen the ending because of a YouTube video – and even those are in very short supply in comparison to other Mario games, which gives you a hint at how difficult this game is.  If you want a game that will send you into a controller-throwing, obscenity-yelling rage, this is it. For how Nintendo games tend to be criticized as being too easy, this one is harder than almost any other platformer I’ve ever played.  I remember when I first heard that the US version of SMB2 was not the original, and I was outraged.  “Who is Nintendo to tell me a game is too hard for me?!” I thought. Turns out, they were completely right, because this game could have killed the franchise before it ever got really started.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is a game that should definitely be experienced.  This would actually make a great drinking game, but if you took a shot every time you die, you’d have alcohol poisoning within ten minutes.  It has been re-released for a reason, and it is a fascinating part of the Super Mario Legacy.  Just don’t expect it to be an easy one.