When you have a massive hit with something – a movie, TV show, a song, or even a video game, you know a certain question is going to be asked: what do you do to follow it up?
Even if the folks at Nintendo never voiced it out loud, that question did weigh on their minds. Now that they had gone nationwide with the NES and single-handedly revitalized the video-game market, they knew they had to keep that momentum going. Fortunately Super Mario Bros. had proven to be the lynchpin they had hoped it would be, and their third-party licensees were already hard at work making games for the new system. However, it didn’t take long for Nintendo to realize that the courageous Italian plumber was turning into quite the household name to kids everywhere in the U.S. and they knew that a Mario sequel would be just the thing to help keep momentum, and as luck would have it, the sequel was already done.
Originally created for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, Super Mario Bros. 2 was an enhanced version of the original game, only with the level designs being more complex, character features were a bit more distinct, and there were even weather effects that could either help or hinder the player. As a result, players had a game that harkened back to the original, but with the difficulty amped up tremendously.
As Nintendo of America studied the game, they came away from it feeling that the game would be too difficult for their audiences to grasp, and as such they had to find some other option. Given that the crash of ’83 was still fresh in their minds, NoA wanted their Mario games to be fun to their audiences, not difficult to the point of all-out frustration, which they felt would only make their games inaccessible to a market that was only just now recovering. As a result, they declined the original Mario sequel and requested a newer, friendlier sequel.
The timing was pretty good because right around this time Nintendo game director Kensuke Tanabe had already been working on a prototype for a new game, with help from Nintendo’s programming partner SRD. The prototype was essentially a model that put emphasis on levels that scrolled vertically with two players literally throwing each other in a cooperative way, and ascending by throwing and stacking blocks. Unfortunately the combination of both the scrolling and the multi-player action was deemed too much for the Famicom’s hardware to handle, and Tanabe sat on the prototype for a while until he was told to use the Yume Kojo mascots in a game. With help from Shigeru Miyamoto’s team, Tanabe took the gameplay concepts from his prototype and ended up creating “Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic”. The game was set in an Arabian environment, with four distinct protagonists: Mama, Papa, Imajin and Lina. Although all four characters are optionally playable, the game is never fully completed until the player clears all the levels using each protagonist.
To convert this game into what would be Super Mario Bros. 2, several graphical changes were made to the levels and the characters, particularly with Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach Toadstool being built upon the character models of Imajin, Mama, Lina and Papa. As a result the characters now had the physical likeness that audiences now recognize these days such as Luigi being taller than Mario. Plus when Luigi jumped he would not only jump higher but his legs would do a little animation as well, an idea Miyamoto himself came up with. Aside from the aforementioned changes, very little else needed to be changed, seeing as how Doki Doki Panic already had familiar elements like the Starmen, coins, POW Blocks, and Warp-Zones. However, the only other notable change was that instead of needing to use each of the heroes to complete each level, the player could finish the game with any combination of characters, and if he/she wanted to, they could just keep choosing the same character when prompted.
In addition, the sound effects from the first Super Mario Bros. game were used, along with some new music cues courtesy of Koji Kondo.
So just what was the end result? Well, players were reintroduced to some familiar characters once again, only this time in a whole new way. Not only were Mario and Luigi playable, but so were Princess Peach and Toad, and instead of the Mushroom Kingdom the four heroes found themselves in a dream-world called Subcon and they had to try and find a way to free it from the clutches of the villainous frog known as Wart. To do this they had to defeat Wart’s forces using vegetables, bomb-plants, and POW Blocks, as well as picking up their enemies and throwing them at other foes.
Not only did the four heroes each look distinct, but they also had abilities that could be a big help, depending on the level and if the player knew how to use the characters well: Mario was a character who was the most balanced; Luigi could jump higher than anyone else; Toad was the strongest of the four and wasn’t hampered by whatever he picked up; and Princess Peach was able to hover for a few seconds.
Unlike SMB, SMB2 had an actual life gauge for the characters. So unlike the first game – where if you touched an enemy you shrank and lost all your abilities – with this gauge you could take a hit and not worry about dying unless you were at your final life point, and it would only be at your final life point where you would also shrink.
In keeping with its predecessor, SMB2 also had Easter Eggs, but they could only be gotten to if the player found a magic flask which, after being thrown would activate a doorway that would access a hidden area known as subspace, where the level’s grounds appear black with the exception of the sky, the vegetable sprouts could be picked up as coins instead of actual vegetables, and if the player threw the flask in just the right spot, he/she could find a mushroom that could increase their maximum life gauge by one once picked up.
Plus, the jars that work like pipes – gateways to hidden spots – could also be used as Warp-Zones if one knew where to look.
Not only that, but the coins that are collected in the subspace could be used for the bonus round at the end of each level, which was a slot machine game that could earn the player more lives if they could match up certain characters.
Now even though the game was significantly different than its predecessor it was still nonetheless enjoyable, plus being able to play as Toad and the Princess as well as the Mario Bros. made it all the more fun, plus there was still enough of the gameplay that carried over from SMB that didn’t turn audiences off, which made Nintendo of America sigh in relief.
As a whole, the game ended up doing very well (ten million sold) and became the third highest-selling game for the NES at that point in time. The Nintendo Power magazine even said that although it wasn’t originally released as a Mario game, it was able to stand on its own merits and its unique takes on the series’ trademark format, and it is very difficult to dispute that.
Although the original Super Mario Bros. 2 would eventually find its way to U.S. shores years down the road, it is still nevertheless impressive to see how the sequel we received was different yet still didn’t break the elements that made the original SMB great. And the game’s staying power still holds up even to this day, given that it has been re-released countless times since the dawn of the new millennium, from the Game-Boy Advance to the Virtual Console on the Wii U.
Mario and his friends may have taken a little detour into a dream world, but it was one that was still nevertheless fun for all, and every gamer who has played it can attest to that.
But even with this little detour, gamers were going to have to brace themselves for things to get super once again within a year and change, but this time on a much grander stage, both literally and figuratively…