For all of my griping about Nintendo, they used to make some brilliant games. So why have they cast them aside to cheaply and easily cater to the nostalgia/casual crowd? Of course, the answer is obvious: Would you rather your game sell five hundred thousand copies or thirty million copies? Yet even amongst Nintendo’s exhausted back catalog there are several excellent games that are typically ignored.
As every internet nerd knows, the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was originally Doki Doki Panic, a game produced by Nintendo that was completely unrelated to the Mario series. However, the “real” Super Mario Bros. 2 (Later released in the United States under the name The Lost Levels) was deemed to be too similar to the first to be worth releasing in foreign territories; it was a collection of new, more difficult levels with few new features, which would be well-suited to the Japanese market where there was already a gamer culture (As opposed to everywhere else I suppose). So Nintendo altered the graphics of Doki Doki Panic to transform it into a Mario game. This cynical and lazy attempt to alter the game for a new market turned out to be one of Nintendo’s best moves.
The brilliance of Super Mario Bros. 2 comes from the level design, the creative enemies, the interesting items, and the variety of unique selectable characters. (The latter of which was a first in all of video gaming as far as I know. And no, building a party of 6 wizards in The Bard’s Tale doesn’t count.) Mario is surprisingly bland and underpowered considering it’s his name on the box; Luigi has gigantic jumps but slippery controls; Princess Toadstool is slow but can hover in the air for an instant, allowing jumps to be timed better and mistakes to be corrected; Toad has the unique ability of picking up items quickly and running faster while holding them than while empty-handed, a strange feature I haven’t seen in any other game. The variety of the characters adds fantastic replay value; the same level can be a completely new experience with a different character.
I appreciate the levels of Super Mario Bros. 2 to the extent that I prefer to play it through without using warps or any other shortcuts, like the one level where you can ride Birdo’s eggs across the pits. I’d rather savor every last corner and empty hidden vase room, explore every pit and brightly-colored dungeon. I adore this game and it’s not even the best in the series. I even play through it with the crap characters (Mario and Toad) to get more out of it.
The enemies are even more wildly imaginative than those in the Mario series proper. Birdo, Mouser, and Clawgrip (All of the bosses in the game, actually) require proper application of picking-up-and-throwing skills that the levels teach you nicely. Birdo is especially noteworthy as later levels continue to throw new upgrades of Birdo at you, progressively giving Birdos that shoot eggs and fireballs to those that spit only fire and require mushroom blocks to hurt. This keeps things interesting and keeps the player on their toes. And the bird mask thing boss was shocking and hilarious the first time I saw it.
Picking up a seemingly normal-looking vegetable and having it turn out to be a bomb, a rocket ship, a potion that leads to a dream world, a clock stopper, or a friggin POW block gives the game fantastic variety and lots of surprises, even decades later. Picking up enemies for use as missile weapons is also a blast, especially as Toad. I love this crap.
Nintendo has officially accepted American Super Mario Bros. 2 as a true entry in the series as seen in the enemies originating from the game such as Birdo, Shyguys, and Snifits appearing in other Mario games. The ninjis (the little black star guys) show up in Bowser’s Castle in Super Mario World. This shows that, despite the game’s weirdness, it is canonically a Mario game. In case, you know, you care about the plots to Mario games. And if you are, that narrows you down to the creator of the dreadful unskippable cutscenes in every recent Mario game and you have my eternal hatred.
This 1up article says “Of course NSMB2 won’t be a modern take on Super Mario Bros. 2. Why would it be?” Because Super Mario Bros. 2 is fantastic, that’s why. I don’t know where the author of that article got the idea that a new side-scrolling Mario game would be anything other than a tepid rehash of Nintendo’s twenty-plus-year-old successes, let alone be similar to something as great as Super Mario Bros. 2. Nintendo is a brand in the business of selling dull nostalgia, waggle controls for babies and grandmothers, and little else.
So the question is why didn’t Super Mario Bros. 2 get hordes of games copied from it like Super Mario Bros., both from Nintendo and competitors? Was it simply too different from everything else in the series to warrant endless remakes and spinoffs? My money’s on yes; as phenomenal as Super Mario Bros. 3 would later be, it has little in common with 2.
There’s another similar case in Nintendo’s early catalogue. The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, unlike Super Mario Bros. 2, was designed from the start as a genuine Zelda game. But, like Super Mario Bros. 2, it is very different from any game in the series before or after.
Zelda 2 is sidescrolling whereas all the other 2D Zeldas are from a top-down view (Save a few levels in Link’s Awakening and the Oracle games). There is an overworld like in many RPGs, one with towns, caves, and wandering monsters, the latter of which transports you into a small level to fight enemies. Quest objectives are even more obscure and dungeons even bigger and tougher. What’s more is that there are many villages with items, spells, techniques, and characters that are all important to progression. This gives a greater variety of interaction than the first entry in the series. Also similar to Super Mario Bros. 2 is the fact that it has an extraordinarily brilliant sequel that overshadows it in nearly every way.
Zelda 2 has rad dungeons. They’re full of hidden passageways, dead ends, and a great smorgasbord of monsters to kill. The final dungeon’s two bosses, Thunderbird and Link’s Shadow, are both particularly challenging and fun to face. Though there are many palette swaps, there are also many new enemies to find which require new skills and new ways of thinking to defeat.
The spells grant the player more flexibility while maneuvering said dungeons and the wilderness paths leading to them. Healing is obviously useful, but how about casting Fairy to skip past a group of obnoxious enemies? And when you find a red magic pot that restores your magic points completely, you can go nuts casting everything in your arsenal before picking it up. Unfortunately, though, finding the spells necessary to progress past certain points often requires a trip to GameFAQs.
The JRPG-like leveling system is kind of irritating. Grinding is rarely an enjoyable process in anything and the game already gives you periodic powerups in the form of heart containers and spells and stuff anyway, which you think would eliminate the need for the experience point nonsense. You do get the option of choosing which of three stats you want to increase, but you need the maximum in everything to have a chance in the last few dungeons anyway.
Despite the game’s pitiless brutality, it does give the player one consolation: If you run out of lives in the final gargantuan dungeon (And you will run out many times) you may continue at the beginning of the final dungeon rather than being thrown back to the beginning area of the game like it does if you run out of lives anywhere else. Given that the tunnels leading to the final dungeon are even harder than the labyrinth itself, this is a welcome respite from a game that is otherwise immensely difficult.
Nintendo has been sloppy lately with the mediocre 3DS and not-promising-looking Wii U. It is sort of ironic that Super Mario Bros. 2 was Nintendo attempting to make a cheap and easy capitalizing on the Mario name–pretty much just like now–except Super Mario Bros. 2 will be forever loved. My wish is that Nintendo would learn something from the excellent black sheep in their gaming family. As long as they’re mining ancient intellectual properties for new material, they could stand to copy some things from the obscure Marios and Zeldas rather than giving us the ten billionth version of the first Super Mario Bros. or Ocarina of Time. Or, you know, make something new entirely. But that’s out of the question, isn’t it?