Review by Retro
"It's the ugly duckling of the series, but it's still a classic!"
If you've ever played Super Mario Bros. 2, then you know it's not anything like the groundbreaking Super Mario Bros. that millions of people just couldn't get enough of. Fortunately, different doesn't always spell disaster.
Instead of jumping on top of enemies with your basic shoes to give them such a severe migraine that they die, Mario and his friends must use their arms this go around. Even though they're still plumbers, pipes are the last thing on the minds of the Italian duo of Mario and Luigi.
When you first begin a game of Super Mario Bros. 2, you must choose who you want to use as your player. You can choose from Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the Princess. All four of them have their own set of strengths and weaknesses. The most noticeable ways they differ are in their upper body strength and their jumping ability. For example, Luigi can jump so high and stay in the air long enough to make Julius Erving (Dr. J) jealous, and he has average power; Toad is as strong as Superman, but he jumps like a flea that is missing its legs, and so on. Princess has an added ability that the other three don't have; she can use her dress to float and hover through the dense air for a few seconds after jumping (girl power!).
As strange as it sounds, rather than jumping on top of a bunch of enemies and busting tons of blocks, in Super Mario Bros. 2, your main ways of kicking ass and finding power-ups will come in the form of plants. Throughout the whole game, you'll see what looks to be grass blowing in the wind. Pull up any of these blades of 'grass' and you'll pull up one of several helpful or dangerous items. The vast majority of the underground agriculture that is waiting to be pulled up has a plant of some sort attached to it. Whether it's a frowning turnip, a yucky onion, a green pumpkin, etc., you won't be eating them (who wants to eat plants that are smiling or frowning anyway?). These natural plants are used as weapons to throw at your enemies.
On occasion, when pulling up a blade of grass, you'll pull up something that's not so edible. You might pull up a deadly item such as an exploding bomb, an article you absolutely must have to reach the next scene, such as a surging rocket, and several other weapons such as the all-familiar turtle shell or a POW block to show the surroundings a shuddering experience.
While exploring the 2-D lands, you will come face to face with a huge variety of enemies that are scurrying about. This was the first game that included the now famous shyguys, and there are legions of other new faces such as hasty sparks of light, what looks to be bird-like dinosaurs who just hop instead of fly (its name is Tweeter), bugs that crawl on vines, bees with dagger-like stings, birds who fancy riding on flying carpets, running snakes hiding deep within the draining sands of the desert, and many many others.
You can destroy most of these enemies by standing on top of them, picking them up, and then throwing them into a hole, another enemy, or by throwing another item such as a vegetable at them. Of course, there are exceptions. A few, such as Spark, can't be touched, so you must hurl something at them to show them the way to their grave. Still, others such as Phanto (the brown enemies that fly at you when you steal a key from them) are invincible and must simply be avoided at all costs.
Way more fearsome than the little enemies are the bosses. At the end of most stages, you'll have to defeat a big egg or fireball-spitting dinosaur named either Ostro or Birdo. But those two are just boss wannabes. The real bosses await the plumbers, the mysterious mushroom creature, and the raving beauty at the end of the final stage of each world. The bosses range from an oversized bomb-wielding mouse (Mouser! My favorite), to a flame-spitting glob of fire, to a towering three-headed snake. It will take more than just a single pansy hit to do in these monsters!
Something that has been improved in this oddball of the series is the bonus level. You're probably used to just finding a room from time to time that's full of coins. This time around, you can pull up certain plants and secure yourself a bottle that holds a red, bubbling potion. When you drop or throw the potion onto the ground, the glass will disappear and form a door instead of breaking into several sharp pieces. Go into this door and you'll find yourself in the same area, except that it'll be as dark as a city that is suffering a blackout.
Try to drop the potion in a place where there are a lot of plants stuck in the ground. Go into the door and pull up the plants, and they will come up as coins instead of the normal, everyday leafy vegetables with faces. If you're lucky, there might also be a lit up mushroom standing alone somewhere. Picking up a mushroom gives you an extra energy slot.
You can use the potion twice in each level to collect coins; use it for a third time and the grass will come up as plants instead of valuable metal. Mario and company might be yelling ''SHOW ME THE MONEY!'' deep down, but their newly found riches will not go toward buying a new castle or paying Bowser to let them be for a few years. Upon completing the current level, the coins will go toward playing the slot machine. Get three in a row of anything, or a cherry in at least the first slot, and it'll be money well spent for the foursome's journey.
Like most platformers, the player's energy is represented at the top of the screen. Get hit to where you only have one slot left and you'll shrink just like you did in the original. Instead of collecting a mushroom to grow several years older in a couple of seconds, you must now keep an eye out for a heart that slowly rises up the screen after you show a few enemies how it feels to die. Get hit by an enemy or spike while you only have one slot of energy left or jump into a hole like a suicidal maniac and you'll lose a life faster than you can even think about cursing. Something that may help you keep more lives in store is the cherries. Collect enough cherries to make the screen spit out a star that floats to and fro while it also ascends up into the atmosphere. Stars make you an almighty being that can't be touched for a matter of seconds.
Just as varied as the enemies are the levels and worlds themselves. As your expedition progresses, you will travel through deserts full of hungry quicksand, underground oceans of light brown sand waiting to be dug through, miles of lands full of slippery ice and skating snowmen, castles that rest on clouds miles above sea level, and much more.
Each world, with the exception of the final one, consists of three separate levels. Depending on the level and world that you're currently challenging, you'll have to do certain things such as maneuver a flying carpet across unbelievable heights while you dodge oncoming flies that want to take a stab at you; use jumping fish as steps to make it across a drowning waterfall; free fall hundreds of feet while sharp populations of spikes pass you by, and more. Basically, all you have to do is make it to the end of each level and then defeat the boss that is patiently waiting for you, if there is one.
Super Mario Bros. 2's graphics are cartoonish, but not bad at all. The enemies, the heroes, and especially the bosses, are all well drawn and animated. The backgrounds and levels have that Mario look and feel to them. They're colorful and easy on the eyes. What more can you ask for? When you do what you're ultimately supposed to do (coughcoughbeatthegamecoughcough), you'll see some graphics that look just like a real cartoon (jaw-dropping for the time!!).
I've always liked the sounds in this game a good bit. The sound effects aren't spectacular, but they definitely get the job done. On the other hand, the music is great. Don't expect to hear any metal or other upbeat kind of music, it's all just good ole Mario-esque music that can become extremely catchy.
Super Mario Bros. 2 has nearly flawless controls. No matter what you're doing, it's easy to make the characters do what you want them to do with the fluid controls that respond to your every button press. The only thing that should require a decent amount of practice is judging how far the characters, especially Toad, will jump. Keep hold of the down button until your player flashes and then jump for an extra high jump with any of the characters. Even turning around and falling back in place in mid-air is a breeze.
Although Super Mario Bros. 2 isn't much like the dramatically popular original, it is still a classic game. My only fuss is that a particular world (World 6!) is like a huge never-ending maze that is overflowing with a few too many enemies pots to fall into and explore. Everything else about the game is good, including the perfectly balanced challenge. Even though I first beat the game only a few days after I received it as a gift, it's still fun, even these days, to go all the way through it and watch the classic ending.
While 'Super Mario Bros. 2' might really be a direct copy of a game called Doki Doki Panic, I'm glad that the makers decided to make this Super Mario Bros. 2 instead of what was originally planned on being the sequel: The Lost Levels. Don't let the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 is of a completely different species scare you away. It is a great game that will provide you hours of fun for the rest of your life.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/29/01, Updated 02/23/03
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