Every discussion about the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 invariably turns to its origins as a completely different game. “It’s not the ‘real’ Super Mario Bros. 2,” is a fact some folks are more than happy to point out, and in some ways, they’re absolutely right. I just…
America Got The Better Super Mario Bros. 2
don’t think it matters all that much when the replacement is so much better than the original.
But before I get into that, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.
After the massive international success of the original Super Mario Bros. in 1985, Nintendo was quick to begin work on a sequel. This follow-up, the appropriately named Super Mario Bros. 2, came out for the Famicom Disk System in 1986. While it offered some novelties, like the player bouncing higher after stomping on an enemy and differing jump physics between Mario and Luigi, the engine was still heavily based on the first game.
Screenshot: Nintendo / MobyGames / Kotaku
The Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was more like an expansion of the original than a completely new game. In some ways, it was also like a romhack, since a lot of the levels were complete bullshit. Super Mario Bros. 2 played on common knowledge from the first game, like mushrooms and warp pipes, and punished the player for expecting them to function the same way. Some mushrooms were poisonous. Certain pipes would warp you back several levels rather than to subsequent worlds. The stages were overwhelmingly difficult, with hazards like unpredictable piranha plants and wind.
“As I continued to play, I found that Super Mario Bros. 2 asked me again and again to take a leap of faith and that each of those leaps resulted in my immediate death,” former Nintendo of America “Game Master” Howard Phillips wrote in the foreword to Jon Irwin’s book on the game’s history and legacy. “This was not fun gameplay, it was punishment — undeserved punishment.”
Fearing that the game would be too hard for American audiences, then-Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa declined to publish Super Mario Bros. 2 in North America, instead asking the company’s Japanese headquarters for something else. What they decided on was retooling an existing game called Doki Doki Panic with elements from the Mario series and marketing it as a sequel in the United States. It wasn’t until Super Mario All-Stars was released for the Super Nintendo in 1993 that Western audiences would get a chance to play the original Super Mario Bros. 2…which was dubbed Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels to avoid confusion.
Apart from the weird “Americans won’t be able to play our difficult game” exceptionalism that was common in Japan at the time, I love that story! Not only did Nintendo act on some good advice, it also gave us twice as much Mario, which is never a bad thing. Fortunately, the Super Mario Bros. 2 created for the United States is plainly a better game, and has impacted the Mario canon — yes, Mario games have lore and some of us, against all odds, actually care about it — more thoroughly than the “real” Super Mario Bros. 2.
The biggest draw of Super Mario Bros. 2 USA is its originality. While it’s still a side-scrolling platformer, there’s a greater emphasis put on verticality and exploration. Levels are full of vines, portal-opening potions, and secret passages that can greatly change a player’s experience. This is compounded by the introduction of four playable characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Mario is the jack of all trades, Luigi jumps higher, Peach can float, and Toad digs faster.
And unlike Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan, Super Mario Bros. 2 USA’s borrowing of gameplay…
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