Feature: Three Reasons Why Mario's Next Adventure Should Visit Subcon

It's from Super Mario Bros. 2, if you didn’t know

By the mid 1980s the world had fallen in love with a stocky Italian plumber named Mario. With the release of Super Mario Bros. on NES, the gaming icon left an indelible boot-shaped impression on the minds of gamers around the world and forever changed the landscape of the video game industry. After finding such universal acclaim with the original release, Nintendo shocked gamers by completely altering the tried-and-true formula in Mario’s next adventure, Super Mario Bros. 2 (“SMB2”).

Most of us remember playing SMB2 for the first time and silently asking unfamiliar questions. “Vertically-scrolling platforms – what is this Kid Icarus?” “Why won’t this guy die when I jump on his head?” “Where have all the Goombas gone?” “Did I just pluck a vegetable from the ground?” And, of course, “Oh wow! I can play as the Princess … and float?”

Of course, our questions were quickly answered, our concerns quieted, the unfamiliar became familiar and SMB2 turned out to be an excellent game in its own right. At the time, not everyone knew that the original Mario Bros. sequel in Japan was replaced by a re-skinned version of Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic for Western release, with some undoubtedly believing that Nintendo had just changed direction in its second Mario outing. Although we’ve never heard anyone complain about Nintendo’s decision to return to the original game mechanics in Super Mario Bros. 3 and subsequent adventures, perhaps the question that should be asked is why, after nearly 25 years, Nintendo hasn't revisited this underappreciated escapade into Mario’s subconscious?

There was some speculation recently that Nintendo plans to release “Super Mario Bros. 4” after picking up the related web address, though the announcement of New Super Mario Bros. 2 has perhaps dampened the rumour. Still, with the idea of a direct sequel to the trilogy of original eight-bit titles for the NES, we can’t help but wonder if it isn’t high time for a return trip to Subcon and the play style of SMB2.

Perhaps the question that should be asked is why, after nearly 25 years, Nintendo hasn't revisited this underappreciated escapade into Mario’s subconscious?

We recently wrote about the tendency of fans to look back to their most cherished Mario memories at the expense of looking forward to new and original releases, as renaissance-man Mario continually reinvents himself on new platforms. The prospect, however, of a fourth instalment to the beloved original series of games has us experiencing equal parts of nostalgia and anticipation. So, whether the game appears in HD or stereoscopic 3D, here are three reasons why Super Mario 4 should return to its SMB2 vegetable roots.

Variety is the spice of life

Over the years, Mario has visited his fair share of varied locales. From the pristine beaches of Delfino to the outermost reaches of space, Mario’s reach knows no bounds. Even with his impressive travel résumé, however, nearly every one of his platforming adventures includes a certain amount of similarity and, dare we say, predictability.

We recently wondered whether Nintendo had become a bit over-reliant on Mario, and we think it’s safe to say that part of this over-reliance stems from stagnation to the Mario formula. We love our Mario games, and it’s not always easy to find Nintendo fans that would ever say otherwise, but by tweaking the Mario formula – say, by creating a game in the vein of SMB2 – Nintendo could simultaneously reap the rewards of brand familiarity while allowing gamers to enjoy an all-new, or at least rarely-visited, experience.

Besides, with the advances in technology and game development over the past 20-plus years, wouldn’t it be fun to play a four-player-multiplayer Mario game with the unique abilities of the original SMB2 cast? Wouldn't it be a blast to fling vegetable projectiles at unsuspecting Shy Guys or to explore the spaces hidden behind potion-produced doors? Not to mention squaring off, once again, with some of the most inventive bosses Mario has ever encountered (Fryguy, Mouser, Tryclyde and Wart himself) in an epic battle for power and dominion over Mario’s mind. There are lots of possibilities for a modern-day SMB2.

Give the multiplayer Mario fans what they want – diversity

We've already mentioned that we’d love to see a Mario game with multiplayer functionality that takes advantage of the unique control mechanics of the original SMB2 cast, but the point bears repeating. With the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo showed that Mario can be four times the fun when he’s playing alongside his best friends. Though the game was a huge critical and commercial success, a common complaint was the fact that all four playable characters were essentially the same. In the minds of many, Nintendo missed an opportunity to include a high-jumping Luigi or a far-floating Princess Peach to shake things up a bit.

Even though the original SMB2 was not a cooperative multiplayer game, the varied cast of characters gave it a unique and complex feel. For example, some distant platforms could only be reached by floating the Princess across a bottomless pit. Likewise, Luigi had the ability to create shortcuts in levels by jumping to platforms that other characters simply could not reach. Even Toad had an advantage in areas where his strength gave players the split-second ability to quickly pick up an environmental item while evading a key-chasing Phanto. With a new SMB2-style game, Nintendo could finally give the multiplayer-focused Mario fans what they want – a diversified character experience.

One of the best parts of a cooperative multiplayer game is the ability to work with friends to solve environmental puzzles or to combine forces to defeat a common foe: we can only imagine the possibilities in a SMB2 sequel. For example, you could take control of Princess Peach to float across a lava-filled Tryclyde lair (Tryclyde was a red three-headed dragon from SMB2) to obtain pieces of a disassembled blockade barrier while your friend, playing as Toad, quickly gathers vegetable ammo while evading oncoming blasts of fire from the dragon’s heads.The multiplayer and cooperative possibilities are exciting.

Even if a player wanted to go alone – though it’s dangerous to go alone — a SMB2 sequel could take a page out of Mario’s later RPG-style games and switch between characters to find the most useful plumber, princess or toad for the job.

It’s time for Nintendo to embrace SMB2 as part of its legacy

SMB2 has never really enjoyed the approval or acceptance that it deserves. We do see the occasional SMB2 character pop up in a Mario sports title, and the game has been re-released on several different platforms, but SMB2 has been washed down the proverbial pipe for so long that even Mr. Game and Watch is starting to feel badly for it.

Even Wario and Waluigi – the latter of which has no confirmed background in any of the canon of core Mario Bros.’ titles – have received more Nintendo love than Wart and his band of SMB2 followers. Fans of SMB2 have been deprived of a true sequel for long enough; if Super Mario Bros 4 does happen in the future, there’s arguably no better time for the company to embrace the 8-bit sequel as part of its legacy.

No-one is suggesting that Nintendo give up on the Mushroom Kingdom or the routine of princess saving that we’ve all come to know and love. But for at least one game, just one sequel, let’s make a return trip to Subcon.