GSQ6: Sequence breaking

In honor of today’s release of the Super Mario All-Stars Collection (look for my review tomorrow on 1UP, I think?), I’ve broken from the linear posting of GameSpite Quarterly 6 articles and jumped ahead to this tribute to Super Mario Bros. 2. The American one, mind you.

Would you like to know a secret? I like Super Mario Bros. 2 a lot more than I do Super Mario Bros. 3. Not to denigrate Mario 3 by any means — I fully recognize what a brilliant, beautifully crafted work it is. It’s a masterpiece by any reckoning, and it’s fun to play. I just think that Mario 2 is more fun to play. But that shouldn’t surprise you; I think by now we’ve firmly established the fact that I prefer more open-ended games that allow for some degree of exploration and freedom without the incessant hand of a stage timer pressing firmly against the small of your back. Mario 2 introduced that to the Mario series; Super Mario World struck a balance between the two extremes, which is why it’s such a fantastic game.

Of all the NES Mario games, this is the one I return to the most. And this is my apologia for Mario 2. I pity anyone who doesn’t enjoy this game, because, well, that’s pitiable.

36 thoughts on “GSQ6: Sequence breaking

  1. When I got my copy of Super Mario All-Stars for the Wii, this is the first game I played! I think I’ll go through the game only as Princess Toadstool for now, though I might regret that in some of the desert stages.

  2. Along with the original Mega Man, I remember SMB 2 being one of the first examples of aesthetic “artistry” in a NES game that I’d seen back in the day, what with the graphics being intentionally stylized in a specifically cartoony rather than the graphics just being a clunky 8-bit representation of whatever it was the designers were trying to draw with the NES hardware.

    I loved that the sprites were drawn with blue-black outlines (like a cartoon!) and that you could actually see the white parts of the characters eyes. Details like these really made the game feel like a rudimentary attempt to bring a cartoon to life, and I dug the hell out of the ragtime music and vaudevillian presentation of the game’s title screen and ending.

    I still don’t know what’s up with those Atari-looking insides of the jars where the Phantos live, though. (I always assumed that was the last part of the game programmed, 5 minutes before Miyamoto dropped off the finished game at Nintendo’s magical game pak-producing factory.)

    • I always loved the look of Super Mario Bros. 2 as well; it really helped make the cast seem to come alive on the screen to me as a child.

  3. Oh wow, Mario 2 article! I actually played this for the first time 2 weeks ago. I needed to play through it to get a good feel of the game because it was the only Mario title I had never touched, so I didn’t use any guides or warps. The only thing I hated was how touchy and finicky the characters behaved while trying to hold on to stairs and ropes. But that could also be the directional pad on the Classic Controller Pro.

    I also made the mistake to play with Mario for most of the game, which made it harder, specially during the last levels. I switched to floating Peach and the game suddenly became a lot more easier.

  4. There’s a case to be made that Nintendo saw refitting Doki Doki Panic into Super Mario Bros. 2 as the opportunity for a do-over for the sequel to Super Mario Bros, that Super Mario Bros 2 USA is more what Miyamoto intended and that Lost Levels is somewhat disowned as the ‘true’ sequel. It would be a little unusual to keep packaging Super Mario 2 USA in the Super Mario All-Stars collections if Nintendo truly saw Lost Levels as the ‘true’ sequel. It would be a little unusual to, say, make bob-ombs a pervasive presence in the series if Super Mario 2 USA was second-tier.

    • Indeed, I made that case myself in a similar article on my web page a few years ago. Given how much of the game– and the game itself– has been reused in Mario games over the years, I wonder if this was not always meant to be a Mario game, and Doki Doki Panic wasn’t just a footnote along the way.

  5. Excellent article that captures exactly why I love the game so damn much. I always thought that I was only person who liked Mario 2 more than Mario 3. It’s up there with Mega Man 2/3 as my all-time favorite NES game. The world was so unique and had so much more character than the original SMB. I still remember how awesome it felt the first time I pulled a turnip from the ground only to see it transform into a rocket ship.

  6. The article does a good enough job disproving this “not a real Mario!” nonsense, but to add one more feather in the cap:

    Considering designers (and artists, and anyone paying attention) learns from everything they do, every new thing they try, etc. Mario 3 owes a hell of a lot more to Mario 2 than it does to Lost Levels. Miyamoto grew his platforming design skills each game, and that includes Doki Doki.

  7. Great, great article.

    Though I will say that I was just a little less sweet on this one than I was on Mario 3, precisely because 3 nailed it so hard on the quick platforming, while keeping just the right amount of exploration. Mario 2 has never been as eminently replayable or addictive because of the fundamental difference in pacing, though it’s superb on every other level, and I hold it in higher regard than World, both for originality and consistency in terms of exploration. The one game in the entire franchise I think did the lateral approach best was Yoshi’s Island.

  8. I think a lot of people might have been expecting another game like the first Super Mario Bros. when they got SMB2, causing them to be sort of shocked when they first played the game. I actually didn’t really feel that way, despite the fact that I did play the first game before it. It’s still fantastic though as you said, and I wish that after two New Super Mario Bros. games that sort of go for the more traditional Mario style Nintendo would do another 2-D Mario that expands on Mario 2’s ideas.

    • I think that’s less true than you might expect — sequels back then were rarely direct iterations. Not just on NES, but all around. Game design developed so rapidly in the ’80s that iterative works were hardly any more common than crazy departures. Mario 2 didn’t even faze me after games like Super Pac-Man.

  9. Great article, and I completely agree. I mean, I might have been in the “why didn’t we get the real SMB2?” camp until I had actually played it. I mean, it’s not a terrible game, but SMB2 USA is soooo much better. Howard Lincoln really hit the nail on the head with his decision to bring it over – it’s the superior or the two titles and there is no way we’d have gotten Doki Doki Panic in the States otherwise. SMB2j’s extreme difficulty and lack of evolution might have even turned off some people from the franchise (not that SMB3 couldn’t have won them back, but hey, a sale is a sale!)

    • Oh, and one thing you forgot to mention in the article. Super Mario 64 DS did bring back a Mario 2-like component with the switchable characters that all played differently (as I recall, it was Mario, Luigi, Wario and Yoshi this time). I always thought that was an interesting addition that made what would have otherwise been a fairly standard port a little more unique.

      • I always liked the idea of SM64DS but couldn’t get past the controls. Would be nice to see it on the 3DS with an actual analog stick.

      • I got used to the Dpad for it; I think they even modified the game in some regards to accommodate that.

        Still, a Wii or 3DS version with all those new features and stars, plus analog control? Sign me up!

  10. Mario 2 better than 3?

    That is treason. What’s next, The Adventure of Link better than A Link to the Past?

    • You DID read the article, along with his reasoning, didn’t you?

      (Admittedly, I’m part of the Zelda 2 > LttP camp. But I’ve got my reasons.)

      • Can we not do this “subjective comparative opinion stated as absolute fact” thing, please? I took care in the original post to say I enjoy Mario 2 more than Mario 3, not that it’s a better game, specifically to avoid this sort of thing.

  11. I’ve always thought that Mario’s sprite looks way better in Mario 2 than in Mario 3, as well.

    I must confess, I’m also one of the ones that liked Mario 2 more than Mario 3. Not that both of them aren’t good (although at one time, I hated SMB3 with a passion), but I just like the oddness of SMB2.

    • Same, on both counts. In fact, I think the All-Stars version of Mario 2’s Mario sprite looks better than World’s, and it drives me nuts when fan games, videos, etc. will seemingly ignore SMB2’s for those instead.

      And SMB2 has long been a favorite of mine, and I go back to it more often than SMB3 or World.

  12. Wonderful piece, it hits on some of the points I covered in my own tribute a while back (maybe I should repost it), and introduces several more.

    I have no idea why people turned on Mario 2, but it remains one of my favorite games to this day. And while I’m not a “mint-in-package” game collector, SMB2 is one of the few I would like to own in such a state, and the only Mario title, at that.

    Strangely enough, for all the disdain the game seems to receive, it seems to be the one people most want a “sequel” to, such as when they speak of a “New Super Mario Bros. 2.”

    • I guess some people either found it boring, or prefer traditional Mario.

      I can see the former reasoning, since there are more fun games in the series.

  13. Loved playing SMB2 on GBA (I could bare Luigi’s voice) I have yet to download the other Mario games from VC so I’m on the fence if I should pick up all-stars

  14. Gave it a fresh play a year or two back when drunken roommate wanted to show it to his little brother who was too young to remember it.

    We made it to World 6 I think (by way of the World 1 and 4 warps) before giving up. Don’t know if we’d lost our mojo with age or merely with drink. I used to be able to maneuver Luigi really effectively but found him pretty much as unplayable as your article implies.

    Don’t know where I’m going with this, but yeah, it’s a great game.

  15. SMB2 was the second best selling not-packed-in NES game. All the love had to have come from more than just branding, right?

  16. Love that you put in the Nintendo Power cover for this blog post. I miss that claymation stuff. Where the heck did the first image in the article come from?

  17. I thought I really hated SMB2 but it was because my only experience was the Super Mario Advance game. Played the NES original and it’s so much better. I can’t put my finger on it but the GBA game just feels wrong.

  18. I love Super Mario Bros. 2, it’s also my favorite 2D Mario game. Like a lot of the entries in GSQ6, it was a great game that never had much in the way of progeny. The indie scene built off the mechanics (by way of Lyle in Cube Sector or FiNCK) but outside of its aesthetics (which are awesome) the gameplay was an unfortunate evolutionary dead-end.

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