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RELEASE DATE (NA): October 9, 1988 GENRE: Platformer
// review by Stingray

Let's not Doki Doki Panic here.

In 1986, Nintendo of Japan released its sequel to the blockbuster hit, Super Mario Bros. Nintendo of America took a look at this new game and decided that it would be too difficult for western audiences. They then created a game quite different than Super Mario Bros. and its Japanese sequel. We all know that Nintendo of America lazily grabbed Doki Doki Panic ("doki doki" is a Japanese onomatopoeia for a racing heartbeat). Or did it? This review will be in defense of Super Mario Bros. 2 in North America.

I'd like to think that Nintendo of America took careful consideration in its choice in games to reskin. After all, careful thought (I think much more than we realize) went into the design of the first game. I can't believe that Doki Doki Panic was picked at random. The central theme to the first game was Mario's ability to jump. That was not only his movement but also his first weapon. So let's take out its differences from the first game and that it is a mod of another game and judge Super Mario Bros. 2 on its own merit and continuation of Mario's central theme: jumping.

When starting up Super Mario Bros. 2, the player is given a nice surprise right off the bat. The choice of characters directly correlates to the main mechanic of jumping. The princess can hover for a short distance (a long jump). Luigi jumps the highest and has a floating effect as he descends. Mario and Toad have a similar jump style but differ in a different category which we'll cover soon. The different style of jumps here effect greatly how the game is played. Luigi and Princess can skip certain areas with their specialized jumps. The jump is also no longer a weapon. Landing on an enemy no longer kills (or hurts) them, but it allows the enemy to give the player a ride, perched atop their head. This easily introduces the second new mechanic: grabbing.

Every non-boss enemy can be grabbed, tossed, and even used as a weapon. Like most Super Mario games, it easily introduces this concept in a way that is non-intrusive and easy to pick up (pun intended). Pulling on weeds will uproot vegetables. Sand can be tossed aside as you delve into the second world. Like the jumping, the grabbing is dependent on which character you choose. Toad is the fastest, Luigi and Mario are average, and Princess Toadstool is the slowest.

'Twas a jump in a different direction for Mario & Co.

Departing from the standard left to right in the first two games, Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) introduces vertical level sections, having the player jump up platforms or climb vines. This departure allowed for some very creative level designs that had the player guessing (just enough) as they progressed through the game. The graphics are different from the first two games, but the playful style fits well with the idea of the Subcon universe. Care was also taken to ensure each character has its own design as they jump or fall. Princess picks up the front of her dress as she jumps, and Luigi's legs flutter as he falls.

Although few items or mechanics changed the world of Mario on a whole, this game shines with a different, but same, vibe that let it stand on its own and represent Mario at the same time. The POW block, although not introduced here, plays an important role, thus paving the way for future games. The grabbing and holding of items and enemies is used in just about every other Mario game. And Luigi's leg flutter can be seen in unlikely spots like on Yoshi in Yoshi's island.

That is not to say all is perfect. Power-ups and 1-Ups are much more difficult to obtain. Life is represented by hexagonal shapes in the upper-left corner. You start with two. Thank you. To find more you must locate a potion hidden among the vegetables. Once thrown, the potion will open a door to Subspace, a fleeting one-screen mirror of the normal level. When you find the correct location to throw the potion, you are rewarded with a mushroom which will add one more hit point for the remainder of the level. Picking vegetables in Subspace will reward you with coins, which makes sense. These coins are used in a game of slots at the end of each level in which the reward is an extra life. Wart, the final boss, is killed by force-feeding him vegetables. Not quite sure that force-feeding you vegetables will kill you is a message I want to teach my kids.

The world of Subcon is one we have not yet (here's to hoping) revisited. But to say it is not a true Mario game or just a reskin is doing it a disservice. It still flows like a Mario game. It introduces new ideas or mechanics slowly, often over a safe area, and then builds upon them usually in a tricky way. And, of course, jumping is a central mechanic to the game.

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