The underappreciated step-child of the “Super Mario Bros” series, “Super Mario Bros 2” was a huge departure from its predecessor. It was well-received during its release in 1988, eventually selling over seven million copies. Its legacy has been ingrained in the Super Mario identity ever since.
If you love iconic enemies like Bob-Ombs, Shy Guys, Pokeys, and Birdo, or if you appreciate playing as Toad or Peach—then you have Super Mario Bros 2 to thank for. This installment forever changed the Super Mario series. But before we delve into that, let’s talk about what this game is all about.
Super Mario Bros 2 is a 2D side-scrolling platformer just like its predecessor and sequels. You take control of Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool (also known as Peach) or Toad as you run and jump across levels. Eventually, you will be going up against bosses like Mouser, Tryclyde, and Fryguy. What sets this game apart from the first one are the major changes to its gameplay mechanics—which later became staples in future Super Mario games:
● Each character has unique abilities that allow them to be played differently. Mario can jump far, while Luigi can jump high. Princess Toadstool’s dress allows her to float, which is an ability that defines her in every game since—even in the Super Mario Run mobile game. In addition, Toad’s beastly strength allows him to pick up items more quickly than the others.
● Verticality was introduced to the game. Aside from that, Super Mario Bros 2 has levels that scroll up and down. Additionally, the player can opt to walk back towards the left of the screen instead of just pressing to the right.
● Instead of being defeated by a head-stomp, most enemies are ridden when the player jumps on them. There are exceptions, and enemies can still damage the player if they walk into them.
● Players can pick up and throw objects and even ride enemies.
● Coins collected throughout levels allow players to play a slot machine mini-game between every level. This feature is not consistently carried over in recent Super Mario games, but it appeared prominently in Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World.
There were also additions and changes in the old gameplay mechanics that have not been repeated in other Mario games for some reason:
● Mushrooms added to a cumulative and stacking maximum “health” count instead of allowing the character to take just one additional hit.
● Floating hearts appear from the bottom of the screen after defeating a certain number of enemies, which refill lost health up to the maximum when collected.
● Players could perform a Power Squat Jump by holding down on the d-pad to charge up before jumping. While this exact move was not repeated in future Mario games, the maneuver is possible after obtaining the SMB2 Mushroom in Super Mario Maker 2.
● Magic Potions, when thrown, opened doors to an Upside Down subspace world where players could temporarily find coins and mushrooms.
● Cherries appeared throughout every level, and when players collected a total of five, a Starman would emerge floating from the ground.
Core gameplay should be familiar to anyone who played just about any side-scrolling platformer, or any Super Mario game for that matter. Basically, you just have to move towards the right of the screen until you reach the end.
At the end of every stage is a mini boss named Birdo. And at the end of the last stage of every world is a big boss. Most of these fights are won by throwing an item at the enemy. For example, Birdo spits eggs at the player, but the player can pick them up and throw them back at Birdo.
In a twist of fate, the final boss is not Bowser, but a giant frog king named Wart. Upon defeating Wart, the game’s plot is revealed. Spoiler alert: it was all a just dream... Or was it?
Curious minds may wonder at the rather radical departure this sequel took from the original, which by comparison was a simpler game. Interestingly enough, the first prototypes of Super Mario Bros 2 featured two players cooperating to lift and throw each other, stacking objects to scroll the screen upwards. Unfortunately, this proved too demanding for NES’s hardware and the concept was eventually postponed.
In Japan, the “real” Super Mario Bros 2 was actually just an upgrade of the original game—only with harder levels, the Poison Shroom debuff, and lack of a 2-player option. This version was deemed by Nintendo America as too difficult for a Western audience. So work was done to convert another game, Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic (Dream Factory: Heartbeat Panic), into what would eventually become the Super Mario Bros 2 title that the world knew and loved.
Super Mario Bros 2 eventually became the fourth best-selling game for the NES, and was one of only 3 games to receive a perfect score in a category evaluated by Nintendo Power magazine. The other two games were Metroid and Mega Man 2, which are excellent titles too.
I remember playing Super Mario Bros 2 for the first time as part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection for the SNES (which incidentally also included the “original” Japanese sequel that is known in America as The Lost Levels).
It featured an enhanced version of the original with modernized graphics and audio. It also had some changes to gameplay mechanics such as additional starting lives, allowing players to swap characters upon losing a life, and alterations to collision detection.
Even though Super Mario World still holds a special place in my heart for being the first Mario game I ever played, the All-Stars version of Super Mario Bros 2 still strikes me as one of the most impressive games in the series.
While that version has yet to be re-released, you can still play the original Super Mario Bros 2 on the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service. Several websites also host emulators to run the game, along with other classic arcade games online such as Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Street Fighter, among others.
Jonathan J Kingston is a video game enthusiast, gamer, and a veteran video game news writer for Games.lol. He spends his free time hunting for free game sites and testing their reliability.