Retro Game of the Day! Super Mario Bros. 2
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, of course, and that reminds me of Super Mario Bros. 2 - released in very limited quantities in the US in October of 1988, we didn't get many copies out our way (Northeast) until days before the holiday. I pestered my poor mom to drive 45 minutes out of town to track down a copy the day before she was supposed to be cooking up a turkey. My poor mom! What a spoiled kid, right?
Hey, it's not entirely my fault. I needed this game, like a normal person needs oxygen. Being a member of "the Nintendo Fun Club," Nintendo was sure to send me a promo copy of their new Nintendo Power magazine - cover story was their new blockbuster-to-be Super Mario 2, follow-up to one of the most-loved games of all time. This was 100% total media manipulation of 13-year-olds!
But ah - the game looked so good. Compared to its predecessor, Mario 2 was so much more. So many colors, so many different worlds - new enemies to kill, new techniques to attack (no more jumping and killing, now you got to pick up and throw items). New characters (pick Mario, Luigi, Toad the Mushroom Retainer, or Princess Peach) and to top it off, each character had unique abilities. Well, Mario played it petty straight I suppose, but everyone else was unique.
This game was enormously charming and compelling, everything felt straight out of a cartoon even more so than the first one. To top it off, the music was so happy and bouncy (and, no lie, it still regularly bops through my head all of these years later).
Of course, a game like Mario is huge, and so a departure like this is going to have its share of detractors. The story, famously, is thus: the "true" Mario 2, in Japan, was very similar to the first (same looks, same engine) with the difficulty cranked WAY up. Fearing that the wussy Western players wouldn't accept this, Nintendo modified another game ("Doki Doki Panic," based on some Japanese TV show or something) and essentially Mario-ized it. This seemed strange, as there were quite a few differences between how the two played, but no one cared at the time. It looked good. It was fun.
Even so, there's plenty of folks who even today deride SMB2 USA (as it is often referred to) as "not a true Mario game," an" aberration," even blasphemous. Bah! I was very happy with this game, even if it was a fairly completely different game - perhaps that is why (I loved the 1st Mario, but come on, everyone played that title backwards, forwards and sideways, and something different was certainly welcome).
I will take issue with one thing - the game was a lot easier to pick up and play than its predecessor. I suppose I was a bit of a Nintendo maniac back in the day, but even I was sort of disappointed with how easily one could breeze through the game. It didn't put up much of a fight - I guess loading you down with extra-extra-EXTRA lives and a few well-placed warp zones made it easy to zoom through the entire game with minimal effort, if you knew what you were doing. Otherwise, the game was fairly long and engaging, and well-designed enough to keep you on your toes. I guess I gotta blame myself for being weak and skipping through (though I eventually did play through all the levels - well, nearly!)
Love it or hate it, whichever camp you reside in, there can be no argument that SMB2 was a landmark game for a landmark series, and despite how one feels now, it was hard not to love this when it was The New Hotness. A beautifully compelling world, a new way to play, all wrapped up in an enjoyable package. The sweet animated ending was just the icing on the cake. Some folks saw "bah, stick with the 16- or 32-bit upgraded versions," but I say the first Mario 2 is the best!