Platforms: Virtual Console (Wii, 3DS, Wii U)
You may be looking at the title and be wondering why you aren’t seeing screenshots of Toad or Luigi running around a fantasy environment fighting against Shy Guys and Bob-ombs. Though here in the USA our version of Super Mario Bros. 2 would fit that description, that is not what the original version of the game was. Super Mario Bros. 2 (henceforth being shortened to SMB2 since I’m lazy), referred to as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in the USA, was released a year after the original in Japan only (at first). It was later released on the SNES in the USA with the ‘The Lost Levels’ moniker, but with heavy modifications to make the game easier. Luckily, American players now have access to the original, unchanged version via various Virtual Console compatible platforms.
SMB2 is an odd game. Being a sequel, you naturally expect it to build on the predecessor while still being a standalone experience. This game does not follow that convention in the slightest. Rather, SMB2 feels more like an extension of the first game. It takes an extremely brutal approach to the mechanics that were established in the first game and throws you into the thick of things with little to no hand holding; unlike its predecessor which eases the player into the game through clever level progression. Don’t get me wrong, there still is clever level progression in this game, but it assumes you’re already familiar with the mechanics and design styles from the first games. In fact, it assumes you’ve played the original on normal and hard mode and have a reasonably intimate understanding of how the game works. Even with these tools under your belt, you’ll still likely be caught off guard. See, the first Super Mario Bros. game favors speed, control and reaction time. The second favors caution, precision and foresight. It is this that really makes the game feel like a proper sequel: the fact that it shakes things up a bit while still keeping things quite familiar.
The really clever part of SMB2 comes with the increasingly creative level design. The enemies are all the same, so the levels are the way the developers started to try new things. In order to help propagate this concept, some new environmental hazards were introduced. Of particular note is the addition of wind, Poison Mushrooms (which hurt rather than power-up) and Warp Pipes which send you backward rather than forward. To top it off, the ‘Luigi’ skin for player 2 in the first title actually is given a real identity in this game for the first time. Two-player mode was not included in this game, but instead, we get a second playable character in the form of Luigi. He can jump higher, at the cost of lower traction which ended up being a staple for his character and adds a whole new dynamic to the game.
This was also the first Mario game to introduce the concept of a secret or extra world. Upon completion of every single stage of the game (meaning no skipping via Warp Pipes), you are transported to a 9th ‘Fantasy’ World which contains some cute tricks just for fun, and will continue in an infinite loop until you run out of lives. The final level even has a cute ‘アリガトウ！’ (Arigatou = Thank You) spelled out using in-game blocks.
Ultimately, due to the nature of the game making assumptions about the previous knowledge of the player, it’s difficult to recommend this game to anybody who has not already played through Super Mario Bros. Due to this, there are also little to no substantial differences between the games at the core, aside from the more advanced level design. Despite the somewhat brutal yet satisfying difficulty, extremely clever level design and tight controls, it’s difficult to recommend this game to somebody who has not played the first title in the franchise.
Super Mario Bros. 2 is a high recommendation to the player familiar with the first Super Mario Bros. game. Not so much otherwise, unless you’re patient and willing to deal with a really steep initial learning curve. Overall, SMB2 is definitely one of the most well-made Super Mario games in terms of level design, and should be played if possible.
Note: If you are searching for the game on modern Virtual Console compatible platforms, it will be labelled as ‘Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels’, as to not be confused with the American release of Super Mario Bros. 2. Also, keep in mind as a reminder that the version included in Super Mario All-Stars and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is altered to be more accessible and easy.