Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

Today on Super Adventures, my Mario Marathon Month continues with a tale of two Super Mario Bros. 2s.

Back on the Famicom and NES in the late 80s there was a bit of a trend for sequels to be radically different to the original. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link added RPG elements and swapped genres to become a platformer, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest evolved into more of an open world RPG with NPCs and a day/night cycle, Final Fantasy II encouraged players to beat up their own team-mates to level up skills etc. But Super Mario Bros. 2 managed to be both more of the same and a reinvention of the formula at the same time, by cheating and being two separate games:

The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 (AKA. Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels in the West) is the next step on from Super Mario Bros. and arcade game VS. Super Mario Bros., with even more challenging levels and a badge on the box saying "For super players" to make sure that regular players realise that it's going to kick their ass.

The American Super Mario Bros. 2 (AKA. Super Mario USA in Japan) is a localisation of an entirely unrelated platformer, repurposed as a replacement Mario sequel due to the Japanese Mario 2's dated visuals and punishing difficulty level making it more likely to scare players away from the unproven NES than win the undying love that the Famicom was currently enjoying in Japan.

At least that's how I think it goes. I'll give each an hour or two and see how they play.

Developer:Nintendo|Release Date:1986 (JP)|Systems:Famicom (FDS), Super Nintendo

First up is Super Mario Bros. 2! Uh, I mean the original Japanese one that came out in 1986.

This was the third game released for the Famicom Disk System, a disk drive expansion to the Famicom that was never released in the West, which is fitting as the game wasn't released in the West either. Not until it was remade as The Lost Levels for the Super Mario All-Stars collection on the Super Nintendo anyway.

I wish I could give you a youtube link to the impossibly catchy theme music, but it doesn't actually have any. So there's the first thing that this and Super Mario Bros. both have in common.

Straight away it's obvious that this is for people who've played way too much Super Mario Bros. 1, as the first power up mushroom is hidden in a regular looking brick below a turtle trap, while the one hidden in the first row of flashing [?] blocks is a new kind of fake poison mushroom that kills small Mario instantly. Also they've added mushrooms in the background now as well, how confusing is that?

Super Mario Bros. All-Stars (SNES)
The deadly poison mushrooms are a lot easier to recognise in the SNES remake, with frowny eyes and a purple head instead of the darker tone and subtle scar of the Famicom game. Also the background mushrooms are now fences. But other than the redrawn graphics, improved sound quality and the way it started me off with two extra lives, this seems like a pretty faithful remake so far. It's more of the same of something that was already more of the same.

Well to be fair, Super Mario Bros. 2 does actually introduce something important to the series:

Luigi is now a distinct character in his own right, with less traction plus a block and a half of extra jump height. SMB1's two player mode has been scrapped, but with a character select in its place, I'm not seeing this as bad thing. It wasn't same screen co-op anyway so it didn't add much to the experience.

Super Mario Bros. (NES)                    |         Super Mario Bros. 2 (Famicom)
I'm getting the feeling that Nintendo didn't want to waste a whole lot of time reinventing the wheel here. They'd just managed put together a game so good that it'd turn platformers into the dominant video game genre for the next decade, so why not just make a new set of levels for it, draw a few smiley faces on the clouds, add some highlights on the bricks, and call it a day?

The biggest difference here I can tell is the falling speed when the Marios enter the second stage, and to be honest that's probably something I screwed up when I was stitching the clips together.

Another thing that confuses me is, if this is for people who've played Super Mario Bros. 1 to completion, then why does it have the exact same music? (Youtube link). I mean it's a really good tune, one of the greatest and most iconic in video game history, but surely the really hardcore fans this is aimed at would've gotten sick of it by this point.

WORLD 1-2.

Nice to see I can still skip the second stage by running around in the score area above the level.

Oh don't worry, it's not doing the looping maze thing where you have to choose the right path (yet), I just like my animations to kind of loop if I can manage it.

WORLD 1-3.

Well... crap.

Who let that squid out of the water anyway? I don't need erratic unpredictable enemies harassing me when I'm trying to make tricky jumps! It wouldn't be so bad if Mario would just learn how to leap forward properly from a standing start. Give him a bit of a run-up and he's great, but otherwise down the bottomless pit he shall go.

WORLD 1-4.

Hey, they've added enemies to the castle stages! Well, a single regular enemy that's only a threat because of the low ceiling and spinning walls of flame. I'm sorry I created the impression that this is an infinite corridor of turtles, I just couldn't resist making it loop.

This is still following the 'ground stage, underground, something else, a castle' formula that Super Mario Bros. used for every world, which means that at the end of this castle I'm probably going to run into a boss, and he'll likely be standing on a drawbridge.

Well nothing's changed here. Bowser is still obsessed with fighting me on that drawbridge, I'm still terrible at boss fights, and the Princess is still in another castle. Yep, they even kept the same story as Super Mario Bros. 1 and they couldn't even be bothered to change the dialogue!

WORLD 2-1.

Haha, I'm on to this game's tricks now. In Super Mario Bros. 1 if I collected an invulnerability star I knew that it was my cue to run as fast as I could to cover as much ground as possible before it ran out. So of course Lost Levels puts one just before a tricky jumping section without any enemies on it, to lure me into rushing and making a mistake. Okay there's a few piranha plants there, but you can see how much of a threat they were.

The game's harder than early Super Mario Bros. so far, but it's not even close being Kaizo Mario rom hack hard. It's not I Wanna Be the Guy: Mario Edition. Not yet anyway.

Oh for fuck's sake, I'd actually found a vine and the game went and STOLE it from me! Kicking that shell the wrong way cost me my Super Mario power, so I couldn't smash through the bricks to get to it. I never found a vine in Super Mario Bros. 1, and this was my big chance to find out where they go, but now it's gone forever.

Super Mario Bros. 2 does have one pretty major difference from the first game, and that's that it has a continue option that puts me back to the start of a world when I run out of lives. The Lost Levels remake goes a step further and changes this to let people continue from the start of the stage. So I could replay this stage to my heart's content trying to get up that vine if I wanted to. But I've grown bored of the idea now, and I've got other games to play today anyway.

Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (GBC)
There is another port of the game I could talk about called Super Mario Bros. For Super Players, which is hidden inside Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color. But to unlock it I'd need to get 300,000 points in original Super Mario Bros. and beat Luigi's score, and somehow I think I'll need more than a month to reach that. I'm kinda bad at Super Mario.


Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
While Super Mario Bros. 2/Lost Levels was the Japanese follow up to Super Mario Bros., legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto's next platformer was really Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (which Wikipedia claims to mean 'Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic'). Also released on the Famicom Disk System, this was created in association with Fuji Television for their Yume Kōjō '87 media-technology expo, and features their mascot characters as the heroes. It also features a soundtrack by legendary Super Mario composer Koji Kondo, who wasn't needed for the original Super Mario 2 due to the fact that it has no original music.

But Super Mario Bros. 2 didn't make it to the West for whatever reason, not on the NES anyway. Instead we got...

Developer:Nintendo|Release Date:1988 (Based on a 1987 game)|Systems:NES

...Super Mario Bros. 2: Mario Madness! Actually I don't think anyone really considers that last bit to be part of the title, though it certainly gets enough space on the box. They should've called it Super Mario 2: Heart-Pounding Panic though, because it's actually a reworked version of Doki Doki Panic, with Nintendo's Mario characters put in place of the Yume Kōjō mascots.

This was released in America around the same time that Super Mario Bros. 3 was coming out in Japan, with Europe getting it a year later than that. Then Super Mario Bros. 3 was released in America the same year as Japan got Super Mario World, with Europe getting it a year later. So when I tell you that Japan gamers first got to play this game on their Famicoms after Europe got Super Mario World, you can imagine how long they were waiting for it.

Or I could just tell you that it was 4 years.

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
Whoa... it's a monkey with a propeller cap! Also the kids have gotten themselves stuck into the Necronomicon again, and only four Arabian looking heroes can save them! Hang on, I'm sure I've seen this exact set-up in another game somewhere...

Yeah this is more or less how Doraemon: Nobita no Dorabian Night on the PC Engine starts, I just double checked.

This opening cutscene was pretty unusual for a Nintendo game back in 1987, as Super Mario Bros. and Kid Icarus throw you into the action immediately and even Legend of Zelda had to get by with just a single page of text. So when they remade it as Super Mario Bros. 2 they had a reason to finally give a Mario game a proper intro sequence.

But what they actually did was start the game with two pages of text (which I've stitched together here for convenience).

If it was anyone else I'd wonder why he'd go to a cave first thing in the morning, but he's Mario, he's drawn to underground spaces. Also (spoilers) the entire game is actually a dream, so he's actually waking up from a dream inside of another dream to go look for the dreamworld he saw in the dream, in a cave he just dreamed up. I think.

Anyway, enough of Mario's adventures in bed, I want to know what happens to the dudes in the book!

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
Well the good news is that Nintendo have gotten vertical scrolling working! The bad news is that it scrolls like Super Mario Bros. Special, with the action freezing until the camera's reached the next section of the screen.

I'm lucky that I'm coming into this with a bit of foreknowledge, as nothing here is making it obvious that I can pick up an enemy I'm standing on, and there's definitely no indication that I can pull up those shadowy bush-looking things on the ground too. Hey, wasn't I pulling up radishes in that Doraemon game as well?

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
I was expecting that a lot of the game would've been changed to make it fit the Mario style, but these shy guys I'm radishing are proper Mario enemies. Or at least they were after this game, showing up in basically everything he's been in besides the core Mario games.

You know, now that I think about it, these vegetables basically act like one-shot fireballs in the way they bounce across the ground. Instead of collecting a fire flower and having access to infinite fireballs for as long as I avoid getting hit, in this I'm harvesting my projectiles one at a time.

For Super Mario Bros. 2 the pullable plants have been changed to make them much more colourful and obvious, and... huh, he shrinks when he's hurt in this? That's definitely something that doesn't happen in Doki Doki Panic. I also have a run button now, which the other game doesn't have. Otherwise this seems basically identical so far.

Oh damn, I just noticed that Mario is finally in his correct colours!

1988: The year that Mario got his clothes right. He's wearing red dungarees on the box, but in-game they are most definitely blue.

The artist has also done a great job on his sprite, making him look far closer to the character on the box art. The All-Stars updated sprite for Super Mario 1 looks nothing like the original art, but the 16-bit Super Mario 2 sprite almost just the NES character coloured in.

I finally got to climb a vine! Too bad it was in the wrong Super Mario Bros. 2.

I'm not sure why the magic lamp of Doki Doki Panic was changed to a magic potion in this, but the effect is very much the same: it lets me access a single screen slice of a dark parallel universe, centred on the tile I dropped the potion on. In this dimension all the radishes I haven't picked up yet have a shadowy counterpart, but if I pull them up here they turn out to be money. There's no score or money counter in this, but I'm sure there'll be a point to hoarding cash eventually.

Forget money though, I just collected a mushroom that extended my health bar! Where was this when I needed it in the other Mario games?

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
There's a Mario Bros. POW block here in Doki Doki Panic! It's like Nintendo were trying to making the place cosy for when Mario eventually moved in. It makes me wonder what point in the development process they started seriously thinking about what they'd have to do to release this game overseas without the Fuji TV characters. Personally my guess would be 'after it started making lots of money'.

Super Mario Bros. All-Stars (SNES)
It's weird how the game has a Koopa shell item in it, which slides across the ground knocking enemies aside like a Koopa shell does, but there's no actual Koopa turtles in the game. Nintendo haven't added in any of classic enemies it seems, so it's Doki Doki monsters all the way.

This is the SNES All-Stars remake you're looking at here, and like the conversions of Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels it's very accurate and put together with obvious care (and lots more colours).

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
There's a few design decisions in Doki Doki Panic I'm not that 100% keen on, but these vines are just plain rubbish. I have no idea how I managed to slip sideways there, maybe I was worried he was too far to the right, but as soon as he's a few pixels off centre he just drops.

Fortunately I was able to continue the level from the doorway and successfully got him up to the next floor this time... then managed to drop him down the waterfall again, trying to jump over it to see if there was anything on the other side.


Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
Birdo, we meet at last. This thing reminds me a lot like Bowser from Super Mario 1, except with the twist that I have to throw her fireballs right back at her. Sorry, I mean eggs. She spits her own eggs out at me, and yet somehow that's still not as weird as the giant face door behind her that I have to enter via the mouth.

Obviously they couldn't keep thing that when it became a Mario game, it doesn't fit at all, so the artists replaced it with a different kind of door.

It's... not really an improvement is it?

But it turns out that I needn't have worried because inside the mouth I actually found...

...a slot machine with the power to reward players with extra lives! It's a little bit minimalist in Doki Doki Panic, but it received a makeover when it came back around in Super Mario 2 and looks far more stylish. So this is what the coins turned out to be for.

I can't say I'm all that impressed that the amount of lives you get here is so dependant on chance, when they're so rare and precious in this game.

After having a go at the slots, Super Mario 2 players get to swap their character, while Doki Doki players get nothing.

Both games start with a character select though and as far as I can tell the four Mario heroes correspond to the four Doki Doki heroes in their abilities, like Luigi can jump a bit higher and Princess Toadstool can float for a bit. Yep, Princess Toadstool is enjoying a rare bit of 'not captured by Bowser' time with her favourite plumbers, and it turns out that she's actually as capable a hero as they are (in Mario's dreams at least). The fourth slot is taken by little mushroom guy Toad, who coincidentally dresses just like one of the characters he's replacing.

What's really weird about this though, is that they all have super-sized forms here.

Until now it's seemed that Mario and Luigi have been far shorter than the average Mushroom Kingodm citizen and have needed a bit of super mushroom power to reach a normal height, but now in Mario's dream it turns out that everyone's been on the 'shrooms all along! Also Luigi and Toad's smaller sprites are basically just heads with limbs.

WORLD 1-2.

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
Uh... where'd the rest of the level go? I figured it'd scroll down to reveal another layer of land underneath, but nope, that's a bottomless death pit.

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
Ah, the trick is actually to steal the bird's flying carpet and... oh shit, it's got a time limit? Well that's unnecessarily cruel! Why didn't it wear out while he was flying it? Why did he even need it anyway, he's a bird.

Doki Doki Panic has infinite continues and saves, so I can afford to throw some lives away like this... at the start of a world. Not here though, if I lose all my lives here I'll be kicked right back to the beginning.

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
Man, that's an ugly looking vase; it's like an Atari 2600 game down there. I was going to whine a bit about how they should really be hiding critical objects down secret pipes/vases, but I found it immediately so it's not really that hidden I suppose.

When I grabbed the key an evil mask flew over to chase me, but thankfully he was no match for my... well, it was my stash of hit points that saved me actually. I'm going to try more dodging next time.

I'm not all that impressed with my bomb control, but that skid through the gap was amazing. To be fair, the bombs aren't automatically thrown forwards like basically everything else, I have to be moving to lob them, and keep forgetting that. An irritating inconsistency.

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (FDS)
Birdo, again? I don't know why I'm surprised really, seeing as Bowser turned up as the boss for every single world in the last two games. I'm only on the second stage though!

These levels are much bigger than the ones in Super Mario Bros. and there's three of them in every world, so it seems like there's a substantial amount of game here. Nintendo apparently thought otherwise though, as to get the proper ending in Doki Doki Panic I'd have to finish the entire game four times over; that's once with each of the characters! Fortunately that's one of the things that was dropped when it became Super Mario 2, as it only needs the one playthrough to be played through.

WORLD 1-3.

Apparently I'm supposed to be stacking those mushroom blocks to get up here, but Luigi's got a massive amount of height on his jumps so I don't have to bother. I did have to use my super jump though, which I charge up by squatting for a bit.

Things are getting a bit more vertical on this stage, which wasn't a new thing for Nintendo platformers, they'd already made games like Ice Climbers and Kid Icarus by this point, but it's new for the Mario Bros. They only just got used to being able to run to the right, and now they're going up and down too! Left as well, seeing as the cart has enough memory on it this time to let me backtrack to areas I've been before.

Holy shit!

I thought I was going straight onto those drill spikes just then. What sort of lunatic puts drill spikes on the floor... oh wait this is Mario's imagination isn't it? Yeah, this really is exactly what you'd expect a man tormented by years of princess rescue and sewer pest control to dream about at night, though I'm more interested in why the game's filled with masks. Most of the enemies are wearing one, if I grab a key one flies around to attack me, and there's a giant one on the wall at the end of each stage, with the exit in its mouth. Why is Mario so obsessed with masks all of a sudden?

Masks typically symbolise deception and the concealment of truth, so perhaps Mario is dealing with subconscious anxieties about being tricked, and his closest friends not being who they seem. For instance Luigi appeared at first to be a clone of Mario, but as the games went on it was revealed that he was hiding his superior jumping ability... so what else is he keeping from his brother? Plus people have always towered over our heroic plumber, driving him to eat growth mushrooms to compensate, but in the dream world he imagines that everyone's been taking the mushrooms all along behind his back!

I'm just joking by the way, there's no way that Mario's bothered by any of that. Nope, he's obviously just traumatised by being tricked into breaking into the wrong castle 7 times in a row in Super Mario Bros. (or more than double that if you count Lost Levels).

Actually the Yume Kōjō '87 event had a Mardi Gras theme, and the masks are just a left over reference to that. I got the gif from this advert if you're wondering: youtube link; worth a click if you ever wanted to see a space station designed to look like a cake.

And here's a mouse with sunglasses throwing bombs.

I was so surprised it wasn't Birdo that I screwed up and threw away two hit points. It's not the end of the world though... well I mean it is, I'm fighting the final World 1 boss here, but I could potentially beat this guy without taking a hit if I could just figure out how to beat him.

This doesn't seem like a terrible boss fight, with the respawn point located conveniently within the same room for when I lose a life, but I wish he'd stop stacking his bombs up in the same place so that I'm scared to grab one. It'd also be cool if I didn't have to run forward to throw the things, seeing as even touching his acidic rodent skin is as deadly to Luigi as any explosion. I got so lucky he jumped up at that exact moment, or else this would've been all over right then.

Not that it wasn't all over a few seconds later.

Wait, hold on, what the fuck... "CONTINUE 2"? I have two continues? Doki Doki Panic gave me infinite of the things, plus a save option, but Super Mario 2 only gives me two? Isn't it bad enough that continuing is going to kick me right back to the start of the world (which after all this time is still World 1).

And I thought Lost Levels was supposed to be the hard one.


Variety is great, falling bullets are less good. I'm sure it wouldn't take too many tries to figure this out, but now I know I've only got limited continues my enthusiasm has gone. Or maybe it was replaying the entirety of World 1 again that broke my fragile spirit, I'm not sure. All I know is that I'm pretty much done with this now I think. The All-Stars remake put infinite continues and saves back in, but that still means replaying the entire world when I screw up, so my interest in that has dried up as well.

Oh crap, I just realised there's something else I need to play. The game was ported to the Game Boy Advance as well!


Super Mario Advance (GBA)
Okay, that's new. There weren't any clouds below the first door on any of the other versions of the game. Otherwise this just looks like a more zoomed in version of the All-Stars remake, using the same art.

Super Mario Advance (GBA)
What the fuck? They didn't used to be a giant shy guy on stage 1... there didn't used to be a giant shy guy at all! Kill it, kill with radishes! Or is that a turnip, I don't even know, I'm too busy trying to deal with the fact that the shy guys have become monsters! This must be what Koopa turtles feel like when Mario gets a super mushroom.

Hang on... numbers came out of him. Whoa, there's numbers all over the top of the screen too, how long have they been there? Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn't give you a score, but this definitely does.

Super Mario Advance (GBA)
I take back everything I ever said about scores being pointless in platformer games. Well, some of it anyway.

The game's built upon the same levels and gameplay as Super Mario 2, but they couldn't resist tweaking everything and making something new out of it. Now there's new enemies, new bonus coins to hunt down, extra visual effects, and Mario's been fully Charles Martinetised, yelling things at basically no one any time he does anything. Even Birdo has lines now, as they brought in Princess Peach's official voice actor to give her phrases like "This is as far as you go!" and "I'll remember this!"

Super Mario Advance (GBA)
This is the closest we'll ever get to LEGO Super Mario Bros.

Mouser here isn't so tough for me now that I know I can grab bombs out of the air. I'm lying of course, he kicked my ass, but it doesn't bother me so much this time because Super Mario Advance lets you continue at the beginning of the stage you die on, instead of the world! That might sound a bit too lenient, but the stages have multiple sections in this game, and if I want to restart at a checkpoint I still need to hold onto my lives. The big downside over the other versions though, is that it's got a comparatively tiny screen resolution.


I guess I was wrong, in the end this turned out to be a tale of three Super Mario Bros. 2s, one of which is actually more of Super Mario Bros. 1

Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels is basically the Oh No! More Lemmings of the series; the Doom II to SMB's Doom. The only reason it's not considered to be a stand alone expansion pack is because there was originally a '2' in the title. It does its job of providing a more challenging set of levels for Mario 1 experts to test themselves against, but it doesn't really bring anything new to the series for people looking for a different experience. Well, okay you get to headbutt invisible blocks mid-jump and end up going straight down a bottomless pit, that's something new I guess.

Super Mario Bros 2. on the other hand would've carried on the series tradition of each sequel being entirely different to the last one. In Donkey Kong you jump over things, in Mario Bros. you jump under them, in Super Mario Bros. you jump onto them, and in this you pick them up and lob them at their friends! I wanted to like the game, but it was made back in the era when progress was expected to be achieved through repetition and pain, and the amount you have to replay after using a continue is pretty excessive.

The All-Stars ports help by adding a save function to both games, giving you infinite continues on SMB2 and starting you off on the level you threw your last life away on in Lost Levels, which is cool, but my favourite out of all the versions is easily... Super Mario Advance.

Super Mario Advance screws with Super Mario Bros. 2 graphics, level design and gameplay, making things far easier in the process, but that works for me as I didn't much want an endurance test anyway. Developers should save the idea of limited retries for rogue-lites like Spelunky with their randomly generated stages, or at least for a separate 'hardcore' mode, because replaying Worlds 1-3 every few times you mess up on World 4 becomes painful very quickly. For me anyway; maybe I just have a low tolerance for repetition and a lack of patience. I just know that when Super Mario Advance kicks my ass, I actually want to keep going back to give it another try. I just wish they'd fixed those vines while they were at it.

I've made the 'next game' picture extra difficult to guess this time, so I'm sure you're all utterly confounded about what it could be. You could still leave me a comment about other stuff though, maybe talk about the Super Mario Bros. 2s, or leave me feedback on my site.


  1. One of my favorite games of all time :)

  2. Best use of "distorted parallel ghost dimension" tag possible.

  3. Your logos are getting cooler and cooler. This one is at least 25% more on fire than last year's!

  4. I think Sonic and the Secret Rings also does the "trapped in an Arabian book" thing, but I try to forget Sonic and the Secret Rings.

    No radishes though.

  5. Easy Ray, the next game's Half Life 3 of course!

  6. I've heard that the European/American Mario 2 was going to be THE Mario 2 all along, something came up in Japan and they modified it to Doki Doki Panic as it was the only game close enough finished state to do so, and then quickly made their Mario 2 on top of Mario 1 adding a few small things and stuff because of release date and a sequel promise or something. The rest of the world got the intended Mario 2 as a result. Which came later in Japan as Mario USA (odd naming to me seeing as the same game also went in Europe).


Semi-Random Game Box