8.5

Super Mario Bros. 2 review
Requiem for a dream

The good:

Different but simple to pick up and play gameplay complimented by tight controls and excellent level designs. The story is a bit odd but given the environments and enemy designs, it makes sense. For the most part, the presentation is top notch.

The bad:

Slightly bland backgrounds with a side ordering of reused bosses. Most of the bosses are mediocre.

Summary:

Released in 1988 by Nintendo, Super Mario Brothers 2 is a dream-like experience. Not quite in the sense that you're probably thinking of - whether it's dreamy like Ico, weird like Katamari Damacy or nightmarish like Silent Hill. No, it's an experience that's more akin to all three put together. It's weird in that the residents of the dream world known as Subcon aren't the same as those found in the real world. It's nightmarish because you're plopped in the middle of its takeover by the evil Wart, who had imprisoned the guardians of Subcon. It's dreamy due to how many different environments you go through. In the original Super Mario Brothers game, you pretty much went through some plains, trekked through underground passages and all through each of Bowser's castles - in Super Mario Brothers 2, you went through grassy lands, deserts, ice lands and even up in the clouds with no real transition other than "it was all a dream", combined with some high quality graphics that manage to perfectly capture that experience. In short, Super Mario Brothers 2 is a dream that you won't want to wake up from.

It's amazing how some of these ideas came to be. The idea of a four legged creature wearing a mask is a bit odd. My estimation is that they're the souls of the people who had committed suicide due to bullying, or the souls of people who had burned to death that Wart had brought from hell or purgatory to do his bidding. Coupled with the fact that the rulers of this dream world are sprites and their captor happens to be a giant frog, and it's clear that nothing is rooted in the confides of reality besides the landscapes. Not that the Mushroom Kingdom is the paragon of realism or anything, but Subcon makes the Mushroom Kingdom look normal by comparison. But one thing I'll never understand is how Mario and friends exit each level – so they defeat this dinosaur with a wide open nose that spits eggs (and occasionally, fireballs), take the crystal ball that it spits out upon defeat and then go through... a hawk's open mouth? In even my most intoxicated and stoned state, I still cannot fathom the idea of going through the open mouth of a hawk to get to the next level in a world. I guess prior to going to sleep, Mario had saved Princess Peach from the clutches of a giant hawk and his engagement ring somehow fell into its mouth so he had to reach in and grab it. From there, he was like “it's like being in a part of another world”. That's the only explanation I could think of that makes even a fraction of a percentage of sense, really.

Not only is the setting different, but the playstyle is also different. In Subcon, Mario and friends don't seem to have any weight, so you cannot jump on enemies to kill them. Instead, you'll be required to pluck fruits and veggies out of the ground and to throw them at enemies. It's very easy to not consider this when you first play this, especially nowadays when pretty much every other Mario game has you jumping on enemies in order to kill them, but it'll quickly become second nature when you catch on to this change in style. Never to the point where you'll go back to the first Super Mario Brothers game and expect to find plants to throw at Goombas and Koopas (neither of which are in this game), but more to the extent of which you'll play a Mario game expecting to find things to throw at Shy Guys and all sorts of otherworldly creatures. Probably doesn't help that this wasn't originally a Mario game, but let's not go there.

There's more to it than that. You're given four characters to choose from and each of them have their own draws – whether it's Mario's well roundedness, Luigi's high jumping, Toad's fast running and pickup speed (but terrible jumping) and Peach's ability to float in mid air using her dress (although she's slow and her jumping isn't very good), you're given a decent amount of options in terms of what you'd rather utilize the most. There are rare, rare occasions where Toad's quick veggie plucking skills are paramount to success and where you can utilize Luigi's super high jumping as a means of finding shortcuts, but other than that, it comes down to personal preference – which style or which character best tickles your fancy. In that sense, you may even wonder why there's a choice to be made when they're so well balanced that they're almost virtually similar, and given Mario's general well roundedness, why would you choose anybody but him, but then it just comes down to what you feel more comfortable with. Faster veggie plucking, higher jumps, mid air floating or something of a jack of all trades master of none? The choice is yours.

Each level comes jam packed with platforms to either ascend, descend or jump across to, and given that jumping is hardly a difficult task, it's not like you'll ever find yourself getting screwed by the game. In that sense, any and all platform related deaths are all your fault. It's about the same with enemies – picking them up and throwing them at other enemies may take a bit of time to get the hang of, especially throwing power, but after that, there's no real excuse to die. The controls respond rather well and it's a good thing too... I'd hate for these levels to go to waste because the controls suck. They may seem a tad simplistic, but they're effective in utilizing what you have at your disposal. Obviously, there'll be some cleverly placed platforms either positioned for some tricky jumps or for those who like to live life on the edge if you catch my drift, but there will also be walls to bomb with each of these parts requiring smarter usage of the bombs around you, and the desert levels will have trickier and trickier digging parts that'll require some clever thinking before enemies kill you. The boss rooms tend to be designed around counterattacking the boss, with conveniently placed blocks to throw at them or an easy means of using their projectiles against them.

Sadly, the bosses aren't particularly good. They do make utilization of the gameplay style, but most of the fights aren't too interesting. A lot of the time, you'll need to either have the item thrown at you so you can throw it right back, or pick up a conveniently placed mushroom block to throw it at them. Blah. One boss that is interesting is the Fry Guy. He moves in a figure eight pattern, but the way the room is designed takes advantage of this by forcing you to grab the mushroom blocks that comprise the middle of the top platform to drop onto him as he spits fireballs downwards. The mushroom blocks down below are very tempting if you accidentally throw the two up top off the top platform, but you risk getting burned by him. Even when you defeat him, he'll split into three mini Fry Guys that just hop about. That, my friends, is actually quite an interesting boss. Unfortunately, the rest don't really have interesting room designs or anything that makes them any fun to fight. They're just... there, ready to be taken down. I also find it to be rather lazy to reuse bosses – unless you're going to stockpile them into a marathon of sorts, you should only ever use a boss once and then move on. One is seen twice, and the other is seen thrice. Oh, did I forget to mention Birdo, who is fought at the end of nearly every other level? Laziness, thy name is the Super Mario Brothers 2 boss designer.

On the cosmetic front, Super Mario Brothers 2 ranges from good to average. On the average front are the backgrounds, which are literally just single colors. This was fine for the first game because there was no way to gauge what the NES could do at the time when it utilized scrolling levels, but three years later, there's no excuse. Some details would be nice, thank you – and no, some solid white clouds here and there don't cut it. I don't know, maybe it was because everything in Super Mario Brothers 1 looked like a slightly tuned up Atari 2600 game, but I felt it was more forgivable there than here. But everything else looks good. The sprites are detailed enough to stand out from the bland backgrounds and you can make out what everything is supposed to be. They're also quite colorful with a healthy amount of vibrancy to keep your eyes enamored by the action on screen. Outside of the backgrounds, this game is very easy on the eyes and looks quite nice. Not the best that the NES has to offer by any means, but it's all good.

Now, there's no way that you could top the first game's soundtrack. I mean... how can you? The first song you hear in that game is simple, yet very effective as it's such a humworthy tune that'll get stuck in your head for years! Well, this game tries its damnedest to outdo that with an extra layer of music – bass tracks with more emphasis on the percussion track to compliment the rhythm track, if you will. It doesn't quite get there, but it has an excellent soundtrack nonetheless. Each song is peppy and upbeat with enough catchiness to get stuck in your head for months as you continually hum the outdoor level song, and it's pretty cool that not only is there a boss song, but it also manages to get you hyped up for fighting the boss with fast, repetitive chords. The underground song is especially good – the downtuned notes; the slightly drawn out notes; the tribal sounding drums; it's perfect for cave exploring and castle raiding! Overall, the music is pretty damn good.

In many ways, Super Mario Brothers 2 is a very good game. It doesn't quite reinvent the wheel like the first game did, nor did it refine the wheel like its sequel did, but it still provides a solid fun experience that shouldn't be missed out on. The way that this game plays, despite being different, manages to work out quite well thanks to its tight controls and excellent level designs. I wish the bosses weren't quite as boring, but eh, nobody's perfect. It's just a bit of a glaring flaw in an otherwise stellar package. In fact, you could almost equate it to a dream where you're just running through a field, trying not to bump into trees while throwing objects at other objects for the hell of it, only for it to transition into a nightmare where you're about to be blown up. But the nightmare isn't all that scary because you likely have the means to dispel it conveniently placed nearby, or you can blow it up right back with ease. Plus there's repetition. Thankfully, you go back to the dream between each nightmare, and by the end, it's like a good night's sleep... except you woke up 15 minutes before your alarm was meant to go off. Whoops.

Overall – 8.5/10

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