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Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES) artwork

Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES) review

"The story is a departure from standard Mario fare. Bowser's off making kids with a mysterious sperm receptacle of a woman (the guy's like Michael Jackson - he doesn't keep the poor mother around). The demented offspring of the unsavory union would later help him rule with an iron fist in SMB3. So, to amuse himself in his nemesis's absence, Mario enlists the help of his friends: gangly green-clad brother Luigi; the stocky, mushroom-domed Toad, and the ''I can too fight just like the boys - see I'm not the quarry this time'' Princess Toadstool."

''But um, wait! This game isn't original! It's, like stolen from a Japanese game called Doki! Doki! Panic! And you're givin' it such a high mark? You're like, messed dude.''

Can I tell you how many times I heard this? A few too many times. I pressed on though, determined to show this side-scroller, cutesy, mascot game that I enjoyed so much as a kid, and still enjoy quite a bit today, some well-deserved love.

Does it matter if we think Nintendo copped out and plugged their Mario characters into a game that was already alive and well without the plumber's face and friends? Not really. Not when this 'pretend' sequel to the original Super Mario Brothers is better than the 'real' sequel that Nintendo of Japan thought we westerners were too crappy to deal with. (If you have a Super NES, you can check out the 'real' sequel, renamed The Lost Levels as part of Super Mario All-Stars, the best game collection ever.) Anyway, now-irrelevant politics aside, like girls, I just want to have fun. And SMB2 (for short) is more fun than watching girls eat ice cream.

The story is a departure from standard Mario fare. Bowser's off making kids with a mysterious sperm receptacle of a woman (the guy's like Michael Jackson - he doesn't keep the poor mother around). The demented offspring of the unsavory union would later help him rule with an iron fist in SMB3. So, to amuse himself in his nemesis's absence, Mario enlists the help of his friends: gangly green-clad brother Luigi; the stocky, mushroom-domed Toad, and the ''I can too fight just like the boys - see I'm not the quarry this time'' Princess Toadstool. He enlists their help, and isn't sure what he needs their help for, so they go to sleep and wake up in the dream land known as Sub-Con. Or something like that. Honesty is a virtue; at least Nintendo admits the painted on premise was a Con. But, like the Doki! Doki! factor, it's all negligible in light of how the game plays.

Remember how SMB was all about jumping on the heads of things? SMB3 and later games in the series had that, but it didn't seem so vital because of all sudden there were other things you could do, like flapping your tail about, or riding a hungry little dinosaur. But SMB2 doesn't have Feathers or obedient friends named Yoshi. All it has are a bastardized cast of enemies to jump on.

And so, Super Mario Brothers 2 was able to refine the art of jumping on the heads of things.

After you mount the head (well, in most cases, the whole thing is like a giant head really) of your foe, you hit the action button again to pick the thing up (sometimes in midair), and as it wiggles above your head, you can toss it at other enemies to create a satisfying collision, or toss it into some bottomless pit, for a less satisfying, but equally effective effect.

Mario's the middle man in the proceedings, Toad is the solidly built archetype of an enemy carrier, Luigi is the awkward high jumper, and the Princess is the dainty long jumper. I thought it was pretty cool that you could play as the once hapless damsel in distress, and further, I thought it was especially excellent that she should be so effective. Score one for the broads! I mean, women! Her long floaty jumps really help in tight spots - more so than Luigi's gangly running-in-midair vaults, and since I'm alright with the picking up and carrying and crap at jumping, she's my gal. And don't worry if you think choosing a character will leave you stuck with them all game long. You get the friendly character selection screen before every level, allowing for some great variety and customization.

Besides tossing about enemies, you can pick up shrubs from the earth and toss them about too. The game provides a good variety of the expected platformer elements as backdrops for you to throw things and be entertained. You'll be navigating icy areas, deserts with disguised quicksand pits, and dungeon type areas with ladders and chains to climb. There will be three stages filling up each of the seven worlds. Mini-bosses will guard the conclusion of each of the stages, with a real boss guarding the conclusion of each world, just as you might expect. But SMB2 exceeds the expected platformer mold.

With all of this talk of jumping on things and grabbing them for use as live ammunition, it's quite possible you'll forget when SMB2 wants you not picking up your ride... Sometimes it's the only way to travel!

Hemmed in by pillars of rock? Sometimes what look like shrubs aren't actually shrubs... Yes, sometimes they're actually bombs secreted beneath the earth, and if you expected that, then you're probably a terrorist so you don't deserve to finish this review or play this game. Begone! To everyone else: place the bombs - or toss them if you're good - and explode yourself a way out of your rocky gaol (that's an archaic spelling for jail; I wanted to use it, and so I did).

Find that one of the usually open, ubiquitous red doors is locked up tight? Maybe you should check out that vase a screen or so back. Slide down it, and find yourself in a small room with a single Shyguy (waddling creature with a mask) at the bottom. But when you find that the Shyguy is actually marching his little patrol on sand, you begin digging, and find a key hidden in the dirt a screen below. Take care to not hold the key for any length of time - Phanto (the moon face creature on the wall wherever keys are kept) considers himself the key's guardian and will detach himself from his place on the wall to swoop in and implore you, violently, to drop his prized possession. You'll want to get to that locked door, hurrying, and flinging the key along the ground en route to avoid Phanto's menace.

And let's not forget Sub-Space. Shrubs can be bombs, and shrubs can also be red potions. (PROTIP: Shrubs can also be shrubs.) Throw the potions down and reveal temporary red doors. Where normal red doors lead you to other parts of Sub-Con, through the special red doors lie the realm of Sub-Space, where shrubs become coins, and mushrooms stand out, ripe for the taking, colourful in the blue darkness. Your power bar can be as healthy as four marks thanks to ardent mushroom collecting, or as low as one, thanks to cackhanded play. At one, you're literally a small consideration to enemies; make sure you're at least at two (the starting default) so you can be full grown, and so you can allow for two incurred hits.

The coins earned in Sub-Space are put to use in the bonus levels between stages. Use a coin at a time in a slot machine set up to earn extra lives. Three of a kind, or a cherry to start any combination of three will guarantee an increase in manpower.

Stockpile lives at the slot machine, jump on things, pick things up, throw things, and jump on more things. And pick up and throw more things. That's what SMB2 is about, and it's amazingly addicting. The simple beauty of the environs and the very memorable music should keep you entranced through most of your battles with Birdo, the egg spewing flightless bird that greets you in one form or another after every level. We'll call him the mini-boss, or in the spirit of the game, the Sub-boss. The real bosses manifest in danger-shaded rooms with sinister boss tunes clawing their way easily, enjoyably into your memory. Take on the bomb wielding Mouser, and the flame-spitting Tryclyde among others. Yes, there's enough to keep you quite interested and excited through most of SMB2.

Most. But not all.

SMB2 is a bit repetitive, and that hurts its value. Seven areas times three stages apiece add up to a lot of picking up things and throwing them, which would be all well and good if the environs and tunes didn't repeat so much. Luckily there are a few warp points, so that the repetitiveness doesn't hurt all over again when you replay the game once its made its almost magical mark with you the first time.

Mario's second adventure is a classic in its own right; never mind the Doki! Doki! and the Panicking of fans who look too deeply at the roots of the game - admittedly gnarled by a lack of innovation - when the flower it sprouts is as pretty as any of its kind. Never mind the rift in the flow of 'plot logistics' this second installment creates in the Mario series. When did fat guys gorging mushrooms and running headlong through green pipes make any sense anyway? It's a great game on its own, and it doesn't need to stand alongside its more traditional brothers in people's minds to prove it. But it should.

And it can.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 07, 2004)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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