In this series of articles we'll write about one Mario game every day for 30 days, each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
In our 1986 entry of this series we covered Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, which forms the other half of this particular tale. Both that and what would become Super Mario Bros. 2 in the West not only have intriguing tales to tell, but have introduced ideas and mechanics that have become pivotal to Mario's history and legacy.
To recount the basics of the tale again, The Lost Levels were simply Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan, arriving to great commercial success on the Famicom Disk System. The problem was the intense difficulty - it's still one of the toughest Nintendo platformers ever made - that wasn't deemed to be a good fit for the North American and broader Western market. Nintendo of America was building the NES brand on a platform of family fun, and the gruelling sequel simply didn't fit with that message. In truth it was probably the right call, as The Lost Levels can beguile but also infuriate in equal measure even now.
With the NES booming, Nintendo needed to produce a product that could serve as a sequel to Super Mario Bros., especially as 1987 passed with just the occasional cameo. In 1987, no doubt when debates were raging on the right course of action, Kensuke Tanabe and his team finished Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic for a release on the Famicom Disk System. Tanabe-san is best known at present for his extensive production credits on the Metroid Prime and Retro Studios Donkey Kong games.
Originally set with an arabic theme, the fact Doki Doki Panic was a strong game no doubt helped with the decision to re-produce it as a Mario title.
Its re-skin for a release in the West achieved various things - it allowed playable members of the original's cast, establishing trends such as Luigi's high jump and Peach's steady descent that have been revived in various games since. As you can see in the Doki Doki Panic video above, meanwhile, the original had various enemies that would go on to be favourites in Mario spin-offs, such as Shy Guys and Birdo. Perhaps a little by accident, the Subcon setting added some welcome diversity and a flourish of extra creativity to the Mario universe that would endure in years to come.
As for the game itself, it's certainly got merits. Levels have a great deal of verticality and even aspects of problem solving, with the main mechanic being to pick up and throw items and enemies. Playing with different characters shakes up the experience, and it's a title full of quirky enemies and creative environments. It was a commercial success, too, shifting a huge number of units on the NES.
It's worth remembering, of course, that its origins as Doki Doki Panic would have been unknown to the vast majority that played it in its Mario form when it launched. As a result it must have seemed like an exotic diversion from the original, and in the early NES days it was certainly accomplished on a technical level, too. Some of the music has gone on to receive classic status, as well.
It would eventually arrive in Japan as Super Mario USA, with Lost Levels going in the opposite direction as Western and Japanese audiences enjoyed each others' own versions of Super Mario Bros. 2. While it may seem peculiar in this modern age of internet knowledge and global localisation of major releases, in the context of the mid-to-late eighties the respective Mario sequels released in Japan and the West were, it can easily be argued, the correct choices for their respective markets.