Super Mario Bros. 2 review
The one time tried to forget
After a smashing debut onto the NES, a sequel was inevitable. Two sequels were made; only Japan got the true sequel. The true sequel was very similar to the first, but harder. Still, I guess it wouldn't be too appealing to the mass audience outside of Japan (yeah, right), so Nintendo gave one of their Japan-only releases a makeover, taking out the intro scene, replacing Arabs with Mario characters and certain items with Mario items, and then passing it off as a proper sequel. Originally known as Doki Doki Panic in Japan, western Super Mario Brothers 2 dramatically changes the style of play to hopefully appeal to the masses, thereby giving them more money. I was welcoming of the change, but goddamn, some things were just ludicrous.
Story: Mario, Luigi, Peach (or Toadstall as she was known as then) and Toad all enter this alternate dimension known as Subcon, and they have to save these oracles from the clutches of the evil frog, Wart, as well as get out of Subcon and back into the Mushroom Kingdom (or so it would seem). It sounds a bit out there in terms of setting and the fact that almost no Mario enemies are there or ever come back, but it serves its purpose of being an excuse to traverse through seven sets of three levels (with the seventh only having two), and I'll be honest; that's all I ask. One thing that REALLY stands out is that it's not Peach who got captured (otherwise, how can you control her? Paper Mario doesn't count guys; this predates it by 13 years), but rather, some pixies who keep Subcon in good shape (as it’s up shit creek during the game, with evil and whatnot wandering). Other games in the series can really learn from this...
Gameplay: If you're too used to Super Mario Brothers 1 and 3, you'll feel a bit disorientated when it comes to playing this one at first. You can't just flatten enemies with Mario's fat ass; mostly because the other three don't possess the fat Mario does (not even Toad). Instead, you need to pull out some veggies (indicated by red leaves flowing in the wind) or lift an enemy up and chuck them at (other) enemies. This would sound tedious at first, but considering there's a bit of an overabundance in veggies and enemies to throw overboard, you shouldn't really have any problems finding some quick ammunition, and after a bit, it not only becomes natural, but also ends up... pretty fun, actually!
One key element is the use of a key. Since you’ll be spending the last level of each world in a castle, keys become very important, but when you grab one, you better run, because a mask will chase you down, and unless you let go of that key or unlock, he won’t get off your ass! The aim here is to keep the key on screen and keep the mask from hurting you. At first, it feels a bit freaky, but it’s no big deal afterwards. The real feeling is one of adrenaline, as you’re racing to get that key to the door, and in some levels, you really need to bust your balls to get that key without losing it.
At the end of most levels, you’ll be facing off against a fat-ish ostrich that shoots eggs at you. Considering that there will be at least 15 fights against it, you’re probably thinking “oh great same thing over and over again”. Well, sort of. There are three different palette swaps that either fires eggs or fireballs exclusively, or alternates between fireballs and eggs. These fights eventually get harder, but only bit by bit, and mostly due to either not seeing some of this shit coming, or because of level design choices.
So what about other bosses? Well, they’ll die about the same way. Throw 3-5 objects at them, and there, they’re dead. Now, what separates them from one another is the way you have to do it. One requires chucking back a few of the millions of bombs it chucks, while one requires chucking a mushroom block when it ceases fire (unless you don’t mind getting hit or dying). One is pretty much fire you have to hit with mushroom blocks (funny enough, that’s the ice world boss). But yeah, the boss fights are a bit tricky to handle at first, but once you manage to expose their weaknesses and tactics, you can really sock it to them.
Basically speaking, the gameplay is something different for the time, and manages to separate itself a lot from the first Super Mario Brothers game. Sounds fine and dandy, except for a few things – an extreme lack of power ups (meaning grabbing veggies/enemies/bombs is all you can really do), hardly any way to get lost health back (meaning you have to do levels... pretty much without getting hit... sounds like common sense, but it gives hardly any leeway, except for a checkpoint. Typically, games like Mario (and not Contra) cut you at least a little slack) and the bonus game at the end of each level if you get coins (which is just a test of luck, lining up the same pictures for extra lives... at least this way, you can’t be given shittons of free lives, but it just pisses me off that this is even included... skill > luck any day). These things manage to damp down the experience somewhat, not just by making it feel less like a Mario game, but also because these things can make this game rather annoying to play. Sometimes, it feels like you have to do a frantic dash just to get through the game, and it’s not exactly the most fun feeling to have. Then again, nothing’s perfect, so I’ll take what I can get.
Controls: The game controls very well. You pick up veggies in command, you run or walk on command, and jump on command. It takes a bit of time to notice that the run button also grabs veggies, but that’s not a big problem. Holding down until the character flashes, then pressing A allows for a super jump, which is useful for jumping huge ledges and maybe even discovering some shortcuts in levels. Basically speaking, the controls are pretty good.
Graphics: At first glance, it looks like an update. The foreground objects and characters have more depth and detail than the first game’s. Then you look at the background, or lack thereof. It makes the game a little boring to look at, which isn’t that great, since the sprites and objects actually look good. Oh well.
Audio: Despite feeling limited... am I seriously the only person who really likes this soundtrack!? The main tune is played throughout a fair amount of the game, but said tune is damn fun, damn catchy, and never seems to get tiring, mostly because other tunes will try to claw their way to your top list, and they do a reasonable job. I like the cave tune because it makes you feel like you’re in a cave, exploring. The boss tune kicks ass because its fast paced beats get you into the fight, even when it’s just throwing stuff at mice and hydras.
Replay Value: Even upon completion, there is always room to play through this game many times. It’s not only because it can provide you with a challenging experience over and over again until you start getting everything right 100%, but there are also shortcuts to look for. Basically, good replay value.
Overall: Super Mario Brothers 2 is a good game, managing to soup up the graphics a bit and make yet another catchy and awesome soundtrack while keeping everything fun and different. Unfortunately, due to the lack of power ups and healing opportunities, the game can be fairly frustrating during the later parts, but with some perseverance, you’ll begin to really get into this game.
Replay Value: 7/10
My verdict - Buy!
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