Depending on who you ask, you're likely to hear quite a few different variations on the story of how Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic came to be. Some say it was originally intended to be a Super Mario Bros. game but ended up taking on a life all its own at the hands of video game developer extraordinaire Shigeru Miyamoto, while others claim it was always meant to be a completely original platforming title. Either way, the game has gone on to become quite an influential title in the video game world, so much so that it would go on to become the third biggest-selling NES title in history - a fairly impressive feat considering it was almost not released outside of Japan at all.
In 1987, Nintendo of America was anxiously awaiting the follow-up to their mammoth hit Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Unfortunately, when members of Nintendo of America finally got the chance to play the sequel, they were shocked at the exceedingly high level of difficulty of the game, not to mention the fact that it looked like little more than a remixed version of the original release. After careful consideration and ample panicking, Nintendo of America decided to take another Famicom platformer called Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic and replace the characters with the more familiar Super Mario cast and turn it into the game that would be released as Super Mario Bros. 2 for gamers outside of Japan. And so it was done.
If you've played Super Mario Bros. 2 (and if you haven't then shame on you) then you'll feel right at home with Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic from the get go. While it's basically the same game overall, there are quite a few changes that give this title its own unique look and feel. For starters, there is no run button in this release, so you'll quickly have to learn to navigate the game's tricky platforming sections without a running start. What this does is put an increased emphasis on using the crouching power jump, a move you'd better learn to make quick use of if you're going to reach some of the higher ledges strung throughout the game.
Much like Super Mario Bros. 2, you'll still be able to pull up vegetables and other useful items from the ground in order to toss them at enemies. You'll even be able to access the sub-world, only instead of tossing a magic potion to open up the portal door, you'll instead hurl a magic lamp. This is where you can add heart containers to your health and pick up coins to use on the slot machine at the end of the each level.
You'll progress through seven different areas in the game, each containing three levels per area. As in Super Mario Bros. 2, you'll still face off with most of the same bosses at the end of each area, although Clawgrip is sadly missing, replaced instead with a second and much more challenging encounter with Mouser. Of course the traditional warps are all still in place as well, and thankfully they're in exactly the same places they are in the western title.
The solid control of Super Mario Bros. 2 is still in full force, but getting used to playing the game minus the run button does take a little while. In some ways it makes this release easier and in other ways it makes it more difficult; you'll find escaping from the nefarious Phanto Masks to be a much trickier ordeal without the ability to sprint.
One nice touch of Doki Doki Panic is the ability to save your place with each character you use, always starting back just after the last world you've completed. Of course the catch is that in order to beat the game, you must defeat Wart with all four characters - a fairly tall order even with the ability to save your progress. Thankfully the smooth and responsive play control is there to help make the challenge a manageable affair for those willing to put in the time to completely conquer the game.
Although Doki Doki Panic looks extremely similar to the familiar Super Mario Bros. 2, there are quite a few visual changes throughout the game. Most of these differences are merely cosmetic and tend to revolve around the game's slightly annoying animation deficiencies - unlike the US release, the vines and plants don't feature any type of animated movements. Of course the game more than makes up for this lack of movement with its blisteringly fast seizure-inducing waterfalls. It won't take you but one play through of area 3-1 to see why Nintendo greatly slowed the pace of these waterfalls for their Super Mario Bros. 2 outing.
Because the Famicom Disk System featured an added FM synthesis audio channel, the music tracks in Doki Doki Panic tend to sound just a little bit enhanced at times. It's generally a minor difference in most tracks, but one that any serious Super Mario Bros. 2 fan will likely be able to immediately pick out in each area. This added audio channel is also used to add various sound effects to quite a few of the enemies in the game, including a rather entertaining growling sound from Birdo during your many encounters with her. Much like the visual presentation, the differences are minor, but add an element of fun to the experience for those who've longed to play the original version of the game.
It's difficult to justify the cost of purchasing a Japanese Famicom console and Disk System attachment just to play the game that ultimately became one of our legendary Super Mario Bros. classics. Most gamers will be content to simply enjoy the western localisation and call it a day, but for the more curious fans of the game it might at least be worth considering and there's a definite buzz about experiencing the game the way it was originally intended. Sure it's a bit weird at first playing the game without the familiar faces of Mario and his chums, but when it's all said and done it's still well worth a look for any serious Nintendo and Super Mario Bros. fan.