The original Super Mario Bros. game for the NES was not only a huge success, quickly becoming one of the most popular videogame titles ever
(a status it retains to this day), but also a tremendous breakthrough in terms of gameplay and concept. In face of this success, it was pretty obvious a sequel would be made, but, surprisingly, Nintendo decided not to play it safe and filled the second game in the series with innovations which gave the game a lot of freshness. However, their braveness didn’t translate into success. If the game wasn’t exactly a flop, it will always be remembered as the ‘weird’ title in the Mario series.
The game starts with Mario dreaming. In this dream, he climbs some stairs and opens a door, finding a completely different and strange world (as if the ‘original’ wasn’t weird enough) and he hears an unknown voice, calling for help. When he wakes up, he ends up finding the exact same vision from his dream and sets out on a new mission: to free the inhabitants of this new world from a spell cast upon them by a monster. This time, however, Mario is not alone in his journeys, for he counts on the help of Luigi, Toad and Princess Toadstool, which means these characters can be controlled by the player.
The gameplay is decidedly different from the first game’s. While Mario 2 is still a platform game by all means and, in that sense, plays quite similarly to the first one (with the important difference that the screen moves backwards as well as forward) and the game also has the same type of surreal concept the first one had, the actions Mario and his friends perform and how they interact with the other elements of the game is what’s pretty different and what sets it apart form most of the other Mario games.
First, they can’t kill enemies by jumping on them, instead these serve as ‘moving platforms’. By pressing the B button, the character can ‘dig up’ vegetables from the ground and even enemies while stepping on them, both of which can be thrown as weapons. There are no blocks to be smashed, instead items can be found by digging up potions that create passages to a ‘negative world’ where coins (which are spent in bonus rounds after each stage) and mushrooms are available. Mushrooms not only make the character big, they also increase an ‘energy bar’ they have (meaning you can take more than two hits before you die). To complete each stage, the characters must face a different boss and also find keys to unlock doors, while being chased by phantoms. Also important is the fact that the time limit for each level is gone.
While Mario 2 does have a solid, well-rounded gameplay, it doesn’t impress as much or gets as addictive as the ‘classic’ Mario gameplay of smashing blocks and stomping enemies fame. While it is true that many people dismiss this game as a weak offering only because it doesn’t ‘stay true’ to the classic style, sometimes without even really trying to play it, it is a fact that, even if there’s nothing actually wrong with the gameplay in any sense, the new factors as a whole didn’t work out as well as they could have, so it’s no wonder Nintendo would return to the original gameplay in subsequent games.
Mario 2, however, offers a new diversity of playing, not only in the gameplay system itself, but because you can choose, for each stage, one of the four characters previously mentioned, which was an almost unseen feature in NES games, specially because in this game each character played differently from each other. While they differ from each other basically in their jumping ability and digging speed, it does add some variety to the game as well as challenge, in the sense that players will have to decide which character is the most useful in a certain stage of the game.
In terms of graphics, Mario 2 retains the clean, cute, yet surreal look of its predecessors. All of these factors are heightened in this sequel, however, with great overall design and visual quality (we’re certainly talking about one of the system’s most solid-looking games) that are faithful to the original, yet much better. The surreal quality is also increased, not only in the concept of the game itself, but also in level and enemy design, with some trademark villains of the Mario world making their first appearance here. Also worth noting is how funny the characters look when they get small, because they retain their big-sizes heads.
In terms of sound, the game doesn’t improve on the original’s, but it still manages to retain the overall excellent quality. If the original Mario was one of the first games ever to realize how important a good soundtrack can be to create a great game (if not the first), thus generating some of the best and and most well-known tunes in gaming history, Mario 2 didn’t make as much of an impact with its music mainly because it came in second. But great tunes and a reprise of the first game’s main theme play their part well and definitely contribute to the overall fun of playing this game.
In the end, while not retaining the classic and immortal status of other Mario games, the second installment in the series can offer some fun and is a decent game, it just doesn’t work as perfectly as the other, more recognized, titles. If for nothing else, this game and its developers should be remembered for the courage of following a hugely successful game, a true classic, with a significantly different title, no matter how it came out to be, which isn’t at all a small feat.