[UPDATE: Exciting news for those who love this game! "Super Mario Bros. 2" has been vindicated at LONG LAST! Nintendo has officially revealed that "Super Mario Bros. 2" began life as a prototype sequel to the original "Super Mario Bros.", even before "The Lost Levels", and was the intended second game in the series from the start. Apparently Nintendo were having issues with the prototype (as they were trying to implement co-op game play, a series mechanic that would not see fruition until "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" from 2009, and developed "The Lost Levels" and published that on the Famicom Disk System in the mean time. Fuiji Television approached Nintendo to develop a product for their 1987 Dream Event, so Nintendo took the existing Mario 2 sequel and released it in conjunction with Fuiji's promo event.
(Also be sure to check out the Nintendo Power two part guide given away for free back in the late 1980s for NP subscribers Super Mario Brothers 2 Inside Out [Nintendo Power])
However, the important part is that not only was "Super Mario Bros. 2" a Mario game right from the start, Miyamoto and his team began developing the game BEFORE "The Lost Levels" as the intended sequel to "Super Mario Bros."! So for all you out there who say "Super Mario 2" isn't even a real Mario game, you have been proven wrong. Not only that, Miyamoto himsmelf said in E3 2012 that, along with "Super Mario Bros.", "Super Mario Bros. 2" is his favorite game in the entire Mario series. Can't get much higher praise than that! Mike London 10-1-2012]
When "Super Mario Brothers 2" was released in the US in 1988, the game became an instant hit with gamers. What makes SMB2 so strange is how utterly and drastically different the game really is from its predecessor, Super Mario Bros., which is one of the pivotal cornerstones of the gaming industry. The game is expertly crafted (little surprise in that regard given it is a Miyamoto title), and just a great platformer with Mario quality, if not exactly Mario gameplay, written all over it.
Like most Nintendo franchises that began in the 1980s, the second installment in the series was incredibly weird and very different from the original. Case in point. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. "Super Mario Brothers 2". Mega Man 2. (Okay, I'm kidding about Mega Man 2. Mega Man is the one series that DOES NOT CHANGE AT ALL. Capcom remade Mega Man five times, and then moved it to the X series and remade that a bunch more times).
Instead of jumping on turtles and goombas, trying to reach high scores, timed levels, SUPER MARIO 2 had absolutely nothing to do with the original game. It's like Mario is on a bad acid trip. There's transgendered, sexually confused birds shooting eggs (Birdo), mice that throw bombs and sport sunglasses, a weird, occultic, socially inept brotherhood that wears masks and robes, demonic phantos guarding keys, and a giant lizard who styles himself as a king takes control of people's dreams (Freddy Krueger anyone?). Given the previous game, "Super Mario 2" is easily the weirdest of the main Mario series, make no mistake. The gameplay from SMB2, other than platforming, has absolutely nothing in common with the original SMB. You throw enemies at one another, throw vegetables, fight weird enemies, blow up walls with bombs, etc.
Although the Americans didn't know it at the time, Nintendo wasn't really releasing SMB2. By now this game's origins in well known, but back in the 1980s most gamers would have been shocked to realise that Nintendo took a preexisting game called DOKI DOKI PANIC, replaced the vaguely Arabian characters (one who was visibly pregnant) with Mario sprites, changed a few other sprites, rework the ending some, but otherwise leaving the game mechanics and the levels alone.
Nintendo had already released a SUPER MARIO BROTHERS 2 in Japan, but that game was much like the second quest of Zelda, a much harder version of what is ultimately the same game. When it came time to release a SMB2 in America, the upper management bulked because of the Japanese title's extreme difficulty and remarkable similarity to the first SMB. Howard Lincoln, at the time in charge of the North America division of Nintendo (and for you oldschool Nintendo Power readers, he's one half of the title characters comic strip "Howard and Nestor") also hated the Japanese SUPER MARIO 2. So they opted to release another game in its stead.
Enter YUME Kojo: DOKI DOKI PANIC (rough translation: "Dream Factory: Heart Pounding Panic"). Developed in cooperation with Fuji Television in promotion of Dream Factory '87, an event promoting Fuji's new television shows and other projects, DOKI DOKI PANIC, the game features a family of four characters who had to rescue these two lost children. In the game's intro, two children are reading from a book, when a giant hand grabs the children's faces and drags them into the book. The children's pet monkey, Chim Chim, runs and grabs the Arabian family, who also just happened to be the mascots of the Dream Factory '87 promotional event. Convenient, that. The family was Imagin (the son, replaced by Mario), Lina (Imajin's little sister, replaced by Princess Toadstool), Mama (who is clearly pregnant, with one of her hands clearly protecting her belly during gameplay; she was replaced by Luigi), and Papa (replaced by Toad). The family enters into the world of Subcon to beat Wart (Mamu, as he is known in Japan, as well as the 1993 gameboy Zelda title LINK'S AWAKENING, his only other appearance in a Nintendo game). Other than the family, all game characters were developed by Nintendo.
Now, what are the differences? I won't list them all here (google Doki Doki Panic and you'll find plenty of sites detailing the differences between SMB2 and Doki). Actually, other than some graphical changes, none of the changes really effects gameplay with two major exception. All four main characters are identical to their Doki counterparts. The B-button super speed run was added to SMB2. Nintendo replaced the storyline of having two kids kidnapped to Wart capturing Subcon people and Mario having to free them. Still, the replacement storyline fits in with the original dreamworld association that was associated with Doki Doki (which, after all, means Dream Factory).
The first of the two major differences between Doki Doki is that to see the end of the game, you must beat it with all four characters. The four characters have savable progress, and when you clear the game with all four then the ending displays. The second major difference is the replacement of Mouser in World 5-3 (his third appearance as the world end boss) with Clawgrip, a character exclusive too SMB2.
What does this all have to do with our perception of SMB2 today? As SMB2's origins have become common knowledge to video game enthusiasts and Nintendo fans (I found out in the late 1990s), a lot of people have put down this game due to it not being a Mario game to begin with. But back in the 1980s and 1990s, before DOKI DOKI became well known, the general critical consensus was SMB2, though a vast departure from the original, was a very fun, well-executed game on its own right. The game is among the highest selling Nintendo games of all time, with only SMB and SMB3 outselling the title on the original NES. When they reissued SMB2 in 2001 as SUPER MARIO ADVANCE, the title sold very well also, and is the highest selling title in the ADVANCED series.
There is another factor to consider. Despite what the purists say, Shigeru Miyamoto was heavily involved in the development of this game, and actually had nothing to do with the Japanese SMB2. As DOKI DOKI was to be a one-off promotional item for Fuji's Dream Factory, there has been some well-founded speculation Nintendo was planning this to be a Mario title the whole time and wanted to test the game by releasing it in Japan first. The packaging on DOKI has a picture of Mario and Imagin together.
While it is true SMB3, this game's sequel, reneged on most of SMB2 game mechanics, opting to return to the original SMB for its primary inspiration, most of SMB2's enemy characters became permanent cast members in the Mario echelon.
Overall, though not originally released as a Mario title, for all gamers outside of Japan, this is what we think of as SMB2. Playing thru the LOST LEVELS, which we finally got on the Virtual Console on October 1, 2007 (21 years after the fact), I'm glad Nintendo did what it did. And since Nintendo did release a separate SMB2, we know have four NES Mario titles. Mea culpa. Fortunate accident.
For my money, SMB2 is one of my all time favorite games. I have distinct memories of trying to get SMB2 for the NES but couldn't because it was selling out so fast. This was the big game of Christmas 1988, and you were a lucky kid indeed that had this game under their Christmas tree
For me, it is the one game, even more than SMB, that brings back the sweet incense of childhood and long bygone days I often times wish I could return too. I have played and beaten the game countless times, but every time I go thru it I just feel transported back to my childhood.
And for that mere fact, SUPER MARIO BROTHERS 2 is a truly priceless game.
Bonus Content: I have decided to include bonus content for this review. The first section is additional information I have assembled for the game that is separate from the review proper. The second is an unreleased article about "Super Mario Bros. 2" and its relation with "The Lost Levels" written back in the late 1990s.
Section 1: It has become well known that "Super Mario Bros. 2" was not originally a Mario game. According to many sources, what Nintendo employee blocked the release of Japanese version of "Super Mario Bros. 2" (known outside Japan as "The Lost Levels") due to the high challenge and gimmick-filled gameplay. This decision led to Nintendo adapting "Doki Doki Panic" into a Mario game. Howard Lincoln, president of the North American Branch of Nintendo, made that decision.
"Super Mario Bros. 2" has long been one of my favorite NES titles from childhood. It is well known now (though not back in the 1980s and early 1990s) that "Super Mario Bros. 2" began life originally as a game called "Doki Doki Panic" for the Famicom Disk System. The Japanese FDS version of "Super Mario Bros. 2" is pretty much a clone of the original, only with slightly modified graphics and a much more difficult game.
Nintendo would not publish the original Famicom Disk System outside of Japan for over twenty one years. The game first appeared in 1986 in Japan, and America and the PAL region did not get the original 8-Bit version until 2007 for the Virtual Console.
Another famous Howard in Nintendo lore is Howard Phillips who appears in the early issues of "Nintendo Power" in the comic strip "Howard and Nestor". There is also a photograph of Phillips next to a TV that has the main title screen of the (American-European) "Super Mario Bros. 2".
Published in 1987 for the Famicom Disk System, Nintendo published "Doki Doki Panic" for Fuji Television. The game was to promote Yume K˘j˘ '87 (translates Dream Factory '87), and included Fuji's mascots. Overall, the levels from Doki Doki Panic were left alone. The majority of the changes were swapping out sprites and cosmetic changes.
When Nintendo released "Super Mario Bros. 2" in Japan as a Mario game rather than the non Mario "Yume K'j': Doki Doki Panic", they marketed the game as the American "Super Mario Bros. 2" and released the game as "Super Mario Bros. USA". The only difference between the American version and this version is a different title screen.
There is a slight level change in one level. In 7-2, in the cloud section there is a portion of the stage where you must go back and forth on stationary cloud platforms that are stacked on top of one another in order to get to a ladder that has a column blocking access. In "Doki Doki Panic", there is an additional cloud platform, with a small column with a Snifit sitting on top. The most probable reason Nintendo removed this platform was even with the Mario and Toad character a super jump could completely bypass the cloud section and the player could simply jump over the column to get to the blocked off ladder.
The original characters are a family, with two parents with one son and one daughter. Mario replaced Imajin, the average skilled brother. Luigi replaced Mama. The Princess replaced Lina, the sister. Toad replaced Papa. There is speculation that Mama appears to be pregnant.
When Nintendo adapted "Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic" into "Super Mario Bros. 2", they replaced the third Mouser with a new boss character, Clawgrip. Mouser appears the same as World 1-3, though his chamber is shaped differently and there are two sections with spikes on the floor.
I remember my parents buying this game for me and being puzzled why Phanto looked different in the manual than he actually appears in the game. The reason is Nintendo published the "Doki Doki Panic" sprite in the manual, rather than the sprite that actually appears in the game. Phanto in "Doki Doki Panic" has small eyes and he is frowning. He does not look nearly as menacing as he does in "Super Mario Bros. 2". The game manual also includes pictures of the Magic Jar and the Heart sprite from "Doki Doki Panic".
According to the manual, Clawgrip "grows suddenly and is surprisingly skilled at throwing rocks". It is possible this refers to some gameplay concept of Clawgrip that never got into the final game, as Clawgrip does not change sizes in the actual game.
There were numerous errors in the Cast of Characters section of "Super Mario Bros. 2". Ostro, an ostrich that Shyguys ride, are given the name Birdo, and Birdo is labeled Ostro. Personally I believe this was a localization error, as the error was repeated in the game manual itself. Strangely enough, when Nintendo released "Super Mario Allstars" for the Super Nintendo, they did not correct this error, though they did correct it in the "Super Mario Advance" release. I remember back in the late 1980s all us gamers thought Birdo had two names, Birdo and Ostro, as Nintendo Power referred to Birdo as Birdo, not Ostro.
The Albatros, the only flying bird in "Super Mario Bros. 2", appears to be Subcon's natural resident before the Wart invaded.
Here is the game manual entry related to the Albatros. "He used to be the only resident in the world of dreams. Now, by order of Wart, he works as a carrier of Bob-Ombs."
In "Doki Doki Panic" he only has two frames of animation, making him appear to fly much faster. For the "Super Mario Bros. 2" conversion Nintendo added three more frames of animation, bring the total to five.
Section 2: Super Mario Brothers 2: The Next Adventure (written in the later part of 1999).
SMB2 is held as a classic in most video gaming circles. And yet, it depends on what you are talking about, and, precisely, where you are doing the talking. If you are in Japan, you are talking about a game that plays almost identical to the original, but much, much, more difficult. If you are in the States, you are talking about a Japaness game that originally had nothing to do with the SMB saga.
If I had to pick, I'd pick the States version any day. In this game, you get to choose from four different characters, and make your way thru 7 worlds. Very fun, although not incredibly challenging. I grew up playing this game (Lugi is still the best). We bought it when it first came out, and boy did it take forever to get it. That game literally sold like hot cakes. It was one of the most anticipated games that year, along side the ranks of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. However, public reaction to this game was very favourable, whereas to Zelda II it was not. It was totally different from its prequel, and, honestly, that's what made that game so great. Because of its differences from the rest of the Mario cannon, it stands alone. I remember my brother, his best friend Nick, and I (and another boy Rammy) took turns playing it, and we watched as he tried to get past that wiley Wart. In the end, of course, Mario triumphed, and it turned into nothing save a dream .... (Is that the story line of some Zelda game?) Anyway, it is still a classic game.
In Japan, however, SMB 2 is totally different. Imagine this: Super Mario Brothers, after beating the original game, a Second Quest, much like one of the more popular titles also had. And this Second Quest, just like Nintendo's corresponding cash cow, was increased in difficulty. Now we have SMB 2. Basically, SMB 2 plays just like SMB 1. Actually, I tend to think of these worlds as worlds 9-18. Basically, they correspond in that difficulty. If you think level 7 or 8 was hard on the original, just imagine what world 17 or 18 is!! It truly is that difficult.
Indeed, it was so difficult that it was damned to stay unreleased forever in the States on the original NES. Also, they didn't htink the market could support it. However, I have beat this game, and I can easily say that is the most difficult game I've ever beaten. The whole thing is a total nightmare. The difficulty level is totally absurd. Its like Miyamoto and his team got together, and said "Let's make a sequel to SMB, and its make it so frustratingly hard that the players will destroy their Famicoms in sheer rage." It is truly that difficult. Yet, if you do actually beat the game, you can stand in pride. On Super Mario Allstars, five new worlds were added. If you went thru the first eight without warping, Level Nine opened up (which is totally an anomoly. All water stages, save for the third). Then, after that, worlds A-D can be transversed. As I understand it (I didn't know this until just last night), these worlds were added to the Super NES version. I beat them too.
We have finally got as close to the original version as we'll ever see. They released it with Super Mario Brothers Deluxe, and called it Super Mario Brothers for Super Players (you just have to get over 300,000 points. I thought you had to get that and beat the game, so I was trying to do that, and didn't realize it was already opened). I'd be really interested in buying a Japaness cart and play it on the Famicom.