In this series of articles celebrating the upcoming 30th Anniversary of Super Mario, various members of the Nintendo Life extended family will share their memories and thoughts on the iconic franchise. This time we have reviewer and guide extraordinaire Dave Letcavage.

A nostalgic trip back to Subcon
Image: Dave Letcavage

I'm not sure of my exact age at the time, but toward the end of the '80s my dad moved a 13" television into my bedroom – and with it came our NES. Since he hadn't yet beat Super Mario Bros. 2 he'd hang out in my room every now and again trying to beat it. As much as I loved playing video games, I had no problem sitting back and watching someone else play. In fact, I genuinely enjoyed participating as a spectator. Not having to worry about jumping around and franticly avoiding enemies meant I could sit back and soak in the spectacle, which allowed me to closely analyze and observe the finer visual details. I found video game worlds so magical and fascinating, and Super Mario Bros. 2 was one of the weirdest and most visually compelling games I'd seen at that point in my life. It wasn't until Mr. Thomas Whitehead reached out to me about contributing to this series that I realized the lifelong impact that the (SPOILER ALERT) dream-induced world of Subcon had on me.

Being like most other kids on the planet – pre-internet access, at least – I'd spend a lot of my free time with art supplies in hand. It started with rudimentary stick-figure-like illustrations of my family, dog, and home, until my focus almost exclusively shifted to animals. At first I tried to draw various animals in a realistic manner, but my skills were way too lacking for that. So, due to the limitation, I put my own spin on it and instead took a cartoony approach. I was about five or six years old then, so believe me when I say these drawings were nothing overly creative or special … but I was getting there.

Then came Super Mario Bros. 2.

Not long after the NES was moved into my bedroom, I was flipping through the Super Mario Bros. 2 manual while my dad was immersed in the game. If you're familiar with instruction manuals from the NES and SNES days, you'll know that it was common for unique hand-drawn art to be littered throughout the pages. It was that level of presentation that added value to those otherwise uninteresting instructions, and it's why you often hear '80s kids bemoaning the near extinction of manuals in the current market. In the case of Super Mario Bros. 2, it was the detailed illustrations of the game's cast that captured my attention. They were so bizarre and charming, and they provided me a better image of what those blocky 8-bit characters actually looked like. Most importantly, these illustrations were much easier to emulate than real-world subjects were.

Mario Bros. 2 manual.png
Image: Games Database

So one weekend afternoon, while my dad was settling in to make a run at Wart, I busted out my art supplies and decided to do a bit of doodling. Between the illustrations in the manual and the game being played on the television, there was plenty of inspiration within view. I ended up studying the characteristics of the common enemies and bosses very closely and began drawing them. Mouser, Birdo, Tryclyde, and Porcupo are a few of the characters I recall having a fondness for, and it wasn't long before I'd drawn each of these baddies on their own piece of paper and colored them in with Crayons. After that, I tracked down some scotch tape and hung each drawing on my bedroom wall.

In the days following my initial art session, I continued to draw the rest of the "bad guys" from Super Mario Bros. 2, and about a week later the majority of my bedroom wall was covered in a dense layer of tape and paper. By then I'd ran out of characters to draw, so I decided to create my own critters and creatures that would blend in with the entire cast hanging on the wall. The result was a concoction of the animal types I used to draw, but with a dose of the imagination I gained my newfound inspiration. That was right about the time that art became more than just a way to escape boredom; it become a hobby that I wanted to explore very thoroughly.

Looking back, there's no question that my relationship with the Super Mario Bros. 2 manual led to something special. I firmly believe those illustrations set me on a path to developing my own art-style and my own personal brand of weird. For the sake of this article, I whipped up a little Subcon-themed drawing on my tablet (which you can find at the top) to commemorate the occasion. I don't draw very much these days, but lately I've been making an attempt to get back into it. Who knows – maybe I'll seek out a few classic manuals this weekend and challenge myself in newish old ways. Now that I think about it, I also spent an awful lot of time with the Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World manuals, as well as Nintendo Power's Super Mario Bros. 3 strategy guide. I guess meeting up with the Koopalings and the inhabitants of Dinosaur Island would be a fitting way to follow up my recent stint in Subcon...

Thanks to Games Database, you can view the entire North American Super Mario Bros. 2 manual in PDF form by clicking here.