This Is Your (Extra) Life: Hidden in Mario’s Shadows
Every family has one. The aunt who brings a new, younger boyfriend every time the family gets together. The cousin who dies his long hair jet black and listens to death metal even though everyone knows he can barely kill a bug. The brother who can’t get over the fact that it’s not 1977 and he’s not star quarterback anymore.
And if you can’t figure out who it is in your family, you might want to take a look in the mirror.
In any case, the same axiom applies in video gaming: should a game series go long enough, there’s always one title that stands out as “the weird one.” That title that just doesn’t fit in with all the others. It still might be good, but it’s not the usual.
Need proof? Mega Man Soccer, Puzzle Fighter, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.
But this does not mean we love these weirdos any less. We never would dream of ousting Aunt Cougar, Cousin Emo, or the once and future Disco Homecoming King.
And this is why, with the arrival of Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS, we must address an issue that’s been plaguing our community since 1988. It is with bravery and conviction that I proudly stand for this “weird” title…
Super Mario Bros. 2, this is your (extra) life!
When you think Super Mario platformers, you think of horizontal sidescrollers, you think of Koopas and Goombas, Fire Flowers and all sorts of various power-ups, and mainly you think Mario. But Super Mario Bros. 2 had very little of that. Instead, you could use Mario… or his brother, his main squeeze, and her sidekick. Jumping on people had no effect; instead, you ripped up the ground for vegetables and threw them at enemies. And Bowser, King of the Koopas, has an iron-clad alibi. Instead, some frog named Wart is terrorizing… well… something. Allegedly it’s the “citizens of Sub-Con,” though we never see these said citizens.
What is this madness? Two years later, Super Mario Bros. 3 came out, and everything was right again. Bowser captured the princess, Mario’s stomping on things, kicking turtle shells, and Luigi is primarily an afterthought palette-swap. So who’s responsible for this tomfoolery?
Many people know that Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t the official sequel to the classic Super Mario Bros. That mantle is carried by a game that was released in 1993 as part of the SNES title Super Mario All-Stars, tagged as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. It was SMB on steroids: tougher, more demanding, less forgiving. The SMB2 we all know was actually a reformatted game from Japan called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panikku (“Dream Factory: Heart Pounding Panic”). The starring roles in the game are the mascots of the 1987 Yume Kojo event put on by Fuji Television in Japan, siblings Imajin and Lima. Imajin, Lima, and their parents, called – wait for it – Mama and Papa, are in an Arabian story, saving the land from a villain known as Mamu. When converted to Super Mario Bros. 2, Mama and Papa became Luigi and Toad, whereas Imajin and Lima became Mario and Peach (then known by her proper title, “Princess Toadstool”). The rest, as they say, is history.
Here’s what many people don’t know: Doki Doki Panikku, before the Yume Kojo infusion, was director Kensuke Tanabe’s original prototype for a sequel to Super Mario Bros.
Wait, what? It’s all true. The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, known here as The Lost Levels, was released in 1986, but Nintendo of America executives thought it was too hard with little payoff, and decided against releasing it in the West. So Tanabe began working on a vertical scroller that involved block-throwing and co-op play. Developers, however, were displeased with the new Mario project and shelved it, only bringing it back when the directive to use the Yume Kojo characters was handed down.
The proof is in the pudding: there are two critical items from the Mario universe that appear in Sub-Con. The first is the Starman, which appeared in Super Mario Bros. In 2 the Starman appears when you collect five cherries, but it does the same thing: run around all crazy and bowl people over with your invincibility. “So what, Ryan? Lots of games have stars and invincibility!” OK, I’ll give you that. But the second items wasn’t even in Super Mario Bros. Yet it showed up in its sequel. I speak of the POW block.
POW blocks appeared originally in the original Mario Bros. It was the save-all in that game; hit it, and all the enemies flipped over for easy killing. It was nowhere to be seen in Super Mario Bros. And yet it plays a prominent role in Super Mario Bros. 2, eliminating all enemies on screen, sometimes producing life-increasing hearts. Are you trying to tell me that it’s pure coincidence that Doki Doki Panikku also had POW blocks that did the same thing?
Friends, it is time to accept and appreciate difference. Yes, SMB2 had a lot of vertical climbers. Yes, it broke the newly-created mythology of the Mario universe. But through it, we’ve added a lot to that universe. For example, in future games such as Super Smash Bros. Melee, Peach demonstrates (either by magical powers or via parasol) the ability to float, and Luigi demonstrates a higher but slower jump than Mario on occasion. Then there’s the cavalcade of critters crossed over from Sub-Con to the Mushroom Kingdom. Super Mario Bros. 2 brought us Shyguys, Snifits, and the potentially-gay dino-thing that serves as a female and/or feminine foil to Yoshi, Birdo, who routinely makes appearances in the Mario Party and Sports series.
Difference is good, and frankly it could be a great idea to release Super Mario Bros. 2-2: Return to Sub-Con. Your aunt may never marry that 22 year-old, and your brother may never return to 1977. But a failed Mario sequel turned Japanese-television promotion turned Western Mario sequel should be revered in the Mario universe. Let us honor its uniqueness, let us cherish its eclectic nature.
Sometimes it’s good to be a little weird.