For how unique it is compared to other games in the Mario line, it’s amazing how easily Super Mario Bros. 2 is taken at face value or glossed over entirely. Many fans are happy to share the fact that the game is actually a reskin of Japanese title Doki Doki Panic after the original Super Mario Bros. sequel was deemed too difficult and unfair for Western audiences, and that has always seemed to sum it up. End of story. What else matters?
Jon Irwin’s Super Mario Bros. 2, part of the Boss Fight Books series, strives to prove that a great many things about this quirky game matter, and that even the ways we know Mario and Nintendo today could have very well hinged on the success of this transplant. Reaching the points of these arguments is an adventure in itself, and a surprisingly eye-opening one at that.
Properly understanding the impact of Super Mario Bros. 2 is to study it from a lens unfiltered by all the Mario titles and spin-offs that succeeded it. To borrow imagery from the game itself, Irwin freely dives into the vases of history, pulls up the sands of time that bury the keys to Super Mario Bros. 2’s importance, snatches them and bolts away from the Phanto masks of complacency, screaming the entire way.
It quickly becomes clear that, although Super Mario Bros. 2 feels like a somewhat isolated project compared to its series brethren, you can’t concentrate solely on the game itself to demonstrate its influence. The book takes a broad scope, including the interesting history of Doki Doki Panic, reception of the original Super Mario Bros. 2 (aka The Lost Levels) at both Nintendo of America and in Japan, and Super Mario Bros. 2’s iconic cover placement on the first issue of Nintendo Power.
At times it feels as though the author goes down a ridiculous tangent — as if the wall of his writing room contains the sprawling scribbles, photos, and lines of a conspiracy theorist — but it all ties together in a way that might ultimately make you ashamed that you never thought of these connections before. Adding One Thousand and One Nights, (where a ruler’s wife tells tale after tale to stay her own execution) into the mix seems like a bit of a stretch at first, even though the game and texts share desert themes. However, Irwin not only juxtaposes the tales with the Arabian influences of Doki Doki Panic, but also uses them as a springboard to muse over Nintendo’s philosophies:
The conceit of these tales, known alternatively as The Arabian Nights, reminds me of the tale of Nintendo. We, the royal players, are held in their interactive stories’ thrall. They keep making them, over and again, for fear of losing our interest. To stave off such inattention, they’ll even go so far as to cannibalize their own work to spin another yarn.
As a series, Boss Fight Books embraces weaving the author's personal experiences — both with the game, and otherwise — into their works, a behaviour that Super Mario Bros. 2 is happy to continue. Irwin recounts a range of experiences, from playing the game as a kid to attending a Mario-themed burlesque show(!) as an adult. There is even a small crisis of maturity when he has to balance playing Nintendo for study and facing the passing of a loved one. These personal accounts seem a bit isolated from the research-based focus of the majority of the book, but this is not a bad thing. Both forms can freely co-exist, and the first-person narratives are individually poignant without feeling like an interference.
Super Mario Bros. 2 shines a much-needed light on a game whose significance has rarely felt fully understood — or even fully considered in the first place. At the same time, it also shows how the game’s success helped steer Nintendo down the path toward becoming a company that consistently recasts its characters and rewrites its own history. This is required reading for game historians, with accounts from Nintendo of America figures adding to the record, such as Howard Phillips, whose role as Ninty's official "Gamemaster" played a significant role in influencing Mario's Western fate; there's also Gail Tilden, who helped launch Nintendo Power. For anyone who’s even just curious about the game, though, Irwin's relatable writing and healthy seasoning of humour make it an engrossing and enjoyable read.
Super Mario Bros. 2 will be released on Oct. 6, 2014. Our review copy was provided by Boss Fight Books.