Super Mario Bros. 2 review
Remember, Vegetables are good for you
Creating a ground-breaking title that helps define the gaming market is a difficult task, but even harder is producing a follow-up that can meet the expectations of the public. The original Super Mario Bros set standards in how platform games should be done, so much was expected from the sequel. While Japan got a sequel that was basically 'more of the same', we got a mishmash of Mario graphics into a completely different game. While Super Mario Bros 2 does not reshape the market, it does provide great fun.
Visually the game is a notable improvement over the first game. Backgrounds are much more detailed, colours are more vibrant and varied and there is still a lot more objects and the like in there. The biggest improvement are the character sprites used in the game, which are much better defined than the first game, with a better use of colour and the animation also appears a lot smoother. Powerup items also appear to look great as well. The world of Subcon is a pleasure to look at as you explore.
The music in the game isn't as catchy as the last title, but it is still a rather nice collection of tracks that pump out in the background. The majority of it is suitably upbeat while some will sound more darker by comparison, and each time the track being played matches the theme of the environment well. The sound effects are also pretty solid, with character noises and power effects coming off well.
The plot is also a good point for the game. It revolves around Mario having a dream about the world of Subcon, then the next day his dream comes true and he and his friends find the world of Subcon, which asks for their help. It might lack depth compared to modern day games, but this is a solid NES story. It even avoids the now all too common pitfall of a princess in trouble.
Anyone who has played the original Super Mario Bros will be in for quite a shock when they move to the second game. This game possesses some similarities to that game, but so much has changed that it is hard to believe it is still a Mario game. However, it is definitely for the better, as the changes help provide a great package.
The levels themselves are a world apart. While the basic premise of moving from one level to the next until you beat the final boss is still there, everything else has been altered. Indeed, SMB2 plays out much more like an adventure, as each level is expansive enough to warrant exploration by the player to discover the finer aspects of each area. No longer are we restricted to running from left to right. Now the screen scrolls freely in both directions, and some areas even allow for travelling vertical in a level (a point made clear in the game's opening moments, as you are dropped out of a floating door to crash land onto a blocky hill).
This means that the levels are complex enough to avoid any sense of linearity. In any given level the path can branch off and rejoin multiple times before reaching the end of the stage, and these alternate paths are not always so obvious. Ever reach a large waterfall and decide to jump down it instead of climbing up the visible platforms? What about sinking down into quicksand so that you can go under a large rock wall? This aspect encourages players to think outside the box and makes playthroughs interesting.
To compliment this new direction the game timer has also been ditched. This does remove an element of pressure, as players are no longer needing to rush to the finish, but it does allow for the levels to be more complex in their design and allows players to take the time to find the hidden stuff without worrying about death waiting as the clock ticks down.
Despite the change of pace, SMB2 still retains elements that mark it as a platform title, even if leaping about is no longer the main focus. While earlier stages do not possess challenging jumps, the later stages can still provide some difficult platforming sections with the classic 'instant death for missing' consequence at a steady pace, although the difficulty largely depends on your choice of character. Jumping itself is still the same system as before though, where you can use B for a running start and hitting A to go airborne.
Each stage is also littered with various bad guys that wish to get in the way. While a player's initial instinct would simply be to hop off the heads of these guys to dispose of them, it soon becomes apparent that such a tactic doesn't work, as no enemy ingame is defeated like that. The most common form of attack is via vegetables that can be yanked out of the ground and lobbed at baddies. It's also possible to throw other objects, like keys, blocks and even other enemies (yes, you can actually land on them and pick them up). Some objects bounce a little too, allowing for chain hits to take out whole groups of enemies. This concept of basically using your environment as your weapon is quite refreshing and a nice idea.
The enemies themselves can pose some real problems too. Even the basic Shy Guys (think - this game's version of goombas), while hardly a threat early on, can be put into situations that make them a threat. Digging your way down through a sandy pit? How about we send in some Shy Guys to basically come down after you, making them rather tough to avoid. Other enemies are just difficult in general, like the Snifits firing at you, Pokeys that require a high jump to land on and the Bob-Ombs that explode.
Boss fights also provide an entertaining experience. Many levels pit you against Birdo of varying types as an end of level sub-boss. Birdo fires eggs at you, and is a classic example of using an enemy's weapon against them as you basically grab the eggs out of the air and throw them back. Later Birdos mix in fireballs with egg shots, or even replace their ammo entirely with fireballs. These might get a little repetitive later on though.
Thankfully, each world culminates with a proper boss battle, and these don't repeat so often. Whether you're tossing bombs back at a mouse or dodgign a huge fireballs while grabbing and tossing mushroom blocks at it, each one will challenge you to survive while looking for chances to strike.
There are a lot of items to grab in the game too, and the potion is probably one of the more unique ones. This red liquid is found buried in the ground at various points and create a door when thrown to the ground. Entering the door sends you to an alternate version of the current area, which is silhouetted, flipped and limited to a single screen. While this may not all that useful there's a lot more to it than that, as this is the only way to get mushrooms and coins and some vases are really warp vases that only work in the dark world. The fact that the dark world is affected by the light one (move a mushroom block in one and it will have moved in the other) helps to add a puzzle element to certain areas.
Each character starts with two health segments, and getting hit depletes one segment regardless of the hit type. Mushrooms can be found in certain areas, but only by entering a potion door in the correct location, which adds an extra segment to the gauge (although this upgrade does not carry over between levels). Hearts refill existing segments and are earned by defeating so many enemies, encouraging combat. Extra lives are earned in two ways. 1up mushrooms can be found, although these are extremely rare. Another way is to win them in an end of level bonys game. Essentially, this game is a slot machine, where you get to spin the reels a number of times based on the number of coins you picked up. This makes earning extra lives a little too random though. It's too easy to have a huge spike in life gains or be very unlucky to not get anything. From experience the game does tend to err on the side of the former, but less randomness would have been better.
There's a few other items as well, although they don't really impact the gameplay as much as the others. Collect so many floating cherries and a star rises up to offer limited time invulnerability, bombs can be plucked out of the ground at times and a POW block can cause a screen-wide tremor to hit all enemies on the ground in one go.
A choice of characters is offered, featuring the four main Mario stars of the games. While Mario and Luigi are no stranger to playable roles, it's rare and equally refreshing to be able to play as Princess and Toad - two characters that don't get nearly as much screentime as they should. As well as looking different each character also plays differently. Mario is typically the average character - a role he has since grown into in most multi-character Mario titles - where he neither excels or suffers in any area. Luigi jumps higher than anyone else but is somewhat harder to control. Toad is the fastest character, although at the expense of jumping height. Princess has the most unique trait though, as in exchange for being the slowest character she can actually float for brief periods of time. This does essentially make platforming sections a breeze but at least having the option is nice and it does compliment the exploration well as some paths require this floating to reach. Thankfully the game doesn't lock the player to a single character either, as characters can be freely switched between levels.
The game can be rather challenging and it has a great lifespan. There's quite a few levels to go through, and the number of alternate paths extends that greatly. This does lead to a little problem though, as once again there is no actual save system in the game, meaning that gamers have to tackle the game in one sitting if they want to reach the end.
I think SMB2 tends to receive some unwarranted criticism at times. This game may not have been the original SMB2 Japan got, but I think the change of pace worked well. It's influence can still be felt today, as certain elements from here still continue to appear in Nintendo titles. The game also expands on aspects outside of platforming, and the opportunity to play as someone other than the Mario brothers is a welcome change of pace. Definitely a worthy addition to any NES owner's collection.
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