Game Review

Super Mario Bros. 2 Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

The stuff dreams are made of

By now we all know the story of Super Mario Bros. 2: concerns about the Japanese sequel to the original Super Mario Bros. kept it from release in North America and Europe. Different reasons have been given over time, from the game being too difficult to it simply not demonstrating enough creativity to keep gamers interested, but the end result is that the Western world received a Mario sequel that was actually a retooled version of the Japan-only title Doki Doki Panic. The Japanese sequel eventually saw release as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels — and that concludes your history lesson for the day.

With that interesting path to release out of the way we're free to concentrate on the game itself, and we're happy to do so, because it holds up brilliantly.

Super Mario platformers are famous for certain conventions: stomping enemies, hitting blocks to obtain items or reveal secrets, collecting 100 coins for an extra life, battling Bowser, rescuing Peach, and so on. Super Mario Bros. 2, however, features none of these things. For that reason, among others, it stands out as a significant outlier in the natural evolution of the series.

This is something that may turn gamers off, but we hope it doesn't. The world of Subcon might obey very different rules than the Mushroom Kingdom, but the adventure it holds is no less fun.

You don't kill enemies, for instance, by stomping them or roasting them with fireballs. Instead, you can stand on them — without taking damage — and pick them up with a press of the B button. You can then carry them around and throw them at other enemies, knocking them both cold. It's a significant departure, but it's one that leads to some interesting strategies, and it also sets up inventive set pieces — such as the digging puzzles, where enemies follow you down through the sand — that couldn't have been done in the other games.

Pressing B also allows you to pick vegetables to throw at enemies. This might not sound very exciting, but in 1988 it was a concept so promising that the game's box art consisted of nothing more than Mario with a beet in his hand. When's the last time you bought a game that advertised itself with a picture of the main character holding a vegetable?

You can also pull other things from the ground, such as bombs or potions. The potion, when thrown, creates a door that you can pass through in order to pull coins out of the ground and, hopefully, find a mushroom that will give you another hit point.

These represent a further departure from the other Mario platformers, as there's a level of foreknowledge you'll need in order to find all of the mushrooms. Early on you can simply drop the potion immediately and collect your reward, but later on you'll have to carry it to a very specific location somewhere else before dropping it. If you place the door in the wrong place, the mushroom is gone for good. That's a far cry from simply waiting for the next ? Block to come along!

This also contributes more to the unique strategising of Super Mario Bros. 2. Using some of the potions correctly actually represents a kind of logic puzzle. For instance, you may know that the mushroom will appear beneath those bombable blocks, but you don't get bombs after passing through the door. This means you'll need to bomb it ahead of time, which means finding and placing the bomb before finding the potion you need. It's not something you're going to know right out of the gate, but it's a reason to keep playing and experimenting. Of course the restore points on Wii U make finding the mushrooms a bit easier — simply set one before tossing the potion — but anyone attempting to seek them out the old-fashioned way has quite a job ahead.

Perhaps the biggest deviation from the rest of the series is the character select screen. Before every level you're able to choose your hero. Mario, as always, is the balanced option. Luigi can jump the highest. Toad can pick things up the fastest. And Peach can use her dress to hover if you hold down A. It would have been nice to have areas where one character shines more significantly than the others, but there's very little in the game that's inaccessible to everyone, meaning you're likely to just gravitate toward the character you enjoy using the most.

Worlds are three levels long, with interesting boss fights dotted throughout. A limited number of continues will help you along, but if you run out it's right back to the start of the game for you. And since Super Mario Bros. 2 offers far more of a challenge than its cutesy exterior belies, you may be playing through that first level a lot.

This is a game we hope more people discover soon. Its unique approach is worth experiencing for itself, but its fantastic graphics have aged wonderfully, with the characters looking crisp and cartoony — and while its soundtrack is limited, it's absolutely on par with the best music from any game in the series. It's a fun and memorable adventure, and it's worth playing just to be chased around by the key-guarding Phanto, which is still one of Super Mario's spookiest experiences.


Super Mario Bros. 2 is mainly remembered for the things it does differently from the other Mario platformers, but taken on its own merits it's a fantastic game. Its colourful, cartoonish graphics hold up brilliantly, the soundtrack is unforgettable and the four playable characters and hidden goodies make for a varied experience every time you play. It's a great deal of fun and is far more challenging than its reputation suggests, and it's a title we're always glad to see more gamers discover.

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User Comments (54)



6ch6ris6 said:

i wonder how doki doki panic would have been remebered if nintendo didnt make this



SparkOfSpirit said:

This game is massively underrated.

It is an EXCELLENT platformer and one of the best on the NES.



bezerker99 said:

Nice review, Phillip! I got this 50% off. Since I've gone thru this game numerous times in the past, I'm doing a playthru this time with just Luigi only - in honor of 2013 - the Year o' Luigi!! (Here we go!)



jayblue said:

im playing it the now and its great,thank god for some decent releases and a decent price as well,weres earthbound waiting patiently for that one.



SirQuincealot said:

they should make a sequel to this game, if nintendo is looking a new ways to make mari 2d game, they should just look to the past again



Rezalack said:

My favorite Mario game by a long shot. I just love the boss fights and the enemies in it so much.. it's definitely more challenging than a lot of the other Mario titles as well. Wish they'd make a sequel to this one, somehow.



iphys said:

This has always been my favourite of the NES SMBs. I love the graphics, music, bosses, magical doors, and different characters.



Dpullam said:

I will admit that it would be pretty cool to have the option of playing this game on the gamepad.



WesGrogan said:

People love to hate on this game, but at the time it was actually released it was such a HUGE graphical upgrade from all the games that had come before, and the lack of timer and points was so very, very freeing. In some ways, it really was a prototype sandbox game, encouraging leisurely exploration and lots of creativity at its own pace.



miiandmario said:

A definite pick up for me since I'll be getting the 50% off and because its a great game.



Tsuchiya said:

It's an strange one but nevertheless, good.
It's just not Mario though. Never will be.



biglittlejake said:

I just got an email saying if you bought super mario world then till the 29th this game will be half off. Sweet.



biglittlejake said:

You know how in Links Awakening there are Mario enemies and characters, what about making a Mario game with Legend of Zelda characters and enemies?



Toodles said:

This game is a great example of how different does not necessarily have to be bad, as long as the new concepts are just as fun and interesting as what was done before. For my money, I'd say this is the best NES Mario platformer, despite being so far removed from what it typical expected from a Mario game. It also has the best Mario sprite from any of the 2D games!



Zodiak13 said:

Love this game and so glad I got it. Actually better than I remember which is rare with retro games for me.



Tasuki said:

One of my favorite Mario games. I remember one summer this is all that a friend and I played.



DrDingus said:

I've played this one on GBA and on Super Mario All-Stars for SNES and just never fell in love with it. Maybe if I play the original 8-Bit version that could change... especially if it's half off 'cause I bought SMW... Hmm. I don't dislike it, but I don't know of I'm willing to pay 2.50 for a game i've played several times already.



Philip_J_Reed said:

Toad is my favorite character. I use him for every level, except for world 4, where I use Luigi.

I don't think I've ever seen someone else agree that Toad is the best! We might be soul mates.



LetsGoRetro said:

@DrDingus ..I don't mean to be a jerk, but "I don't know if i'm willing to pay 2.50 for a game I've played several times already" I mean, really? 2.50? How much lower can it get? Do you actually have a set price of what games are worth to you or is it just "Whatever the company initially asks is automatically too high"? I mean, why do I get the feeling thT if they priced it at, say, 3.99, your thought would be "I don't know if I'd drop 3.99, that's too high. 2.50 would be more reasonable". Again, sorry if it sounds like i'm attacking you, but people are always bashing the pricing in these comment sections and I would REALLY like to know what they're basing their ideas of fair pricing on, geesh.



mjhopkins81 said:

This was, and still is, my favorite Super Mario title, to date. Growing up, the music was infectious, and to this day, I still have it as my ringtone (something we'd never dreamt of until I was out of college). I will forever love this game.



Peach64 said:

I'm in the camp that isn't really a fan of this either. I just don't consider it a Mario game.



SwerdMurd said:

I always felt like this was my least favorite... But I'm replaying the All Stars version and I gotta admit, it's pretty legit. This was the only one I didn't own growing up, and it's rockin' my world right now.



Zeldalover said:

This is the most underrated Mario I've seen. What a platformer! It is a true classic from the 8-bit era and a true example for art style in video game graphics. Just look at those imaginative backgrounds and tell me you don't feel enchanted.



DarkNinja9 said:

omg i so remember playing this game as a kid was so weird yet it was a mario game i always got to the 3rd world and couldnt pass it xD always played as toad too glad i got this game again time to finally give it another go



DrDingus said:

Lol chill, man. It's a perfectly reasonable price, but like I already said, I'm not in love with the game. And no, I don't really have a set price I put on certain games. I've played Super Mario World like fifty bajillion times but I was willing to drop 8 bucks on it because it's one of my favorite games of all time. And besides, I know 2.50 isn't much, but I'm paying my own bills and rent out of pocket at the moment, so I can't go buying every game that's on sale simply because it's on sale.



zipmon said:

Great review Phil! I've always had a soft spot for this game, and it's so much fun getting to play through it again on the GamePad!

Peach is my weapon of choice, BTW I don't think I've ever even tried Toad!



Gioku said:

This was the first Mario game I ever owned (the GBA version, actually, but they're similar enough). I absolutely loved it; it will always hold a special place in my heart.



HawkeyeWii said:

This game always seemed odd to me even though I knew it wasn't a "legit" mario game. It is just kind of awkward to play some of the levels.



JuanitoShet said:

I haven't played this game on yeeaaaarrsss. Hopefully I'll find the GBA version in one of my swapmeet trips. I'd love to play this again.



Kitsune_Rei said:

Why was this not also made for the 3DS eShop? WHY WHY WHY??? ;_; It had a GBA version! I would take that game!
My favorite old Mario game, but I'm never going to have a Wii.



mediagiant said:

"It would have been nice to have areas where one character shines more significantly than the others, but there's very little in the game that's inaccessible to everyone, meaning you're likely to just gravitate toward the character you enjoy using the most."

I disagree. I always chose characters strategically based on the world I was entering. I rarely chose Mario because he didn't do anything particularly well. So I gravitated toward Luigi by default only because his leaping abilities were so useful most of the time.

But, in the worlds that involved lots of digging (2 and 6) I used Toad a lot. I used the Princess a lot in the ice worlds (4) and wherever there was a magic carpet in case I had to abandon ship prematurely.

I wish the future Mario games had incorporated at least some of the concepts from SMB 2 — especially the idea of picking up things (including enemies) and throwing them at enemies. I suppose Yoshi does this with turtle shells, but that's not quite the same.

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