Before the Internet became mainstream, video game companies were able to get away with things that they never would be able to today. For example, Nintendo chose to make a sequel to Super Mario Bros., one of the most popular and influential games of all time, and not release it outside of Japan. They then released a different game outside of Japan entitled Super Mario Bros. 2 and gamers were unaware of the swap until Super Mario All-Stars.
This obviously begs the question of why Nintendo decided not to release Super Mario Bros. 2 to the rest of the world. Most sources say that it was deemed too difficult and/or that it was too similar to the original Super Mario Bros. Are those reasons justifiable? Honestly, yes.
If there’s a difference in plot between Super Mario Bros. 2 and its predecessor, I haven’t found it. Bowser has again kidnapped Princess Toadstool/Peach, as well as some random Toads, to fill his decoy castles. Mario and Luigi must once again defeat him and save the Mushroom Kingdom. Aside from Bowser setting up a few more decoy castles, his plan is completely identical to Super Mario Bros. Also, the Bloopers somehow learned to swim in air. There has to be some kind of deep plot point explaining that.
Like the story, the basic gameplay and structure in Super Mario Bros. 2 are nearly identical to the original. You control Mario or Luigi and make your way through exclusively horizontal scrolling platforming levels in the hope of rescuing Princess Toadstool. The only change to your abilities is that Luigi now has different physics than Mario: he can jump higher, but has less traction when stopping or turning around. Since Mario’s traction is already far from perfect, this can be a pretty big issue, but the characters are balanced enough that whichever you prefer comes down to personal preference.
Due to this change, you can now play as Luigi in single-player mode (in fact, the two-player option was removed, but the lack of simultaneous play in the early Mario multi-player modes stops this from being a big drawback). There are a couple of new elements added to the levels, such as wind that interferes with jumps, springs to bounce on, and the infamous Poison Mushroom that comes out of question mark blocks. Other than these new additions, Super Mario Bros. 2 is basically a level pack for the original SMB.
The most memorable feature of Super Mario Bros. 2 is its difficulty. It is universally regarded as the hardest Mario platformer and that is certainly true. The question, however, is whether or not this is a good thing and I’d say it isn’t. I love difficult platformers, but far too much of SMB2’s difficulty comes from unfair traps and precision platforming that the control just isn’t up to handling.
There are invisible blocks that kill you by messing up your jumps that belong in a rom hack, not a real Mario game. The mazes, which require hidden pipes and vine sprouting blocks, are more common — and more annoying — than in Super Mario Bros. There are jump sequences that you can only make after memorizing exactly how much momentum to use at each point. While dividing the skill of gamers up by nationality was obviously unfair, Nintendo definitely had a point in thinking SMB2 was too hard. The game goes beyond giving a reasonable challenge and the gameplay suffers for it.
If you can handle the often infuriating difficulty level, Super Mario Bros. 2 will give you a good amount of value. The length of the game has been significantly extended — with 52 levels compared to its predecessor\’s 32. This does place the game at greater risk of feeling repetitive, however, since there are now about ten times as many levels as there are general level themes.
The levels start to really blend together, with the only prominent memories being especially unfair tricks or jumps. Secrets reward you with making the game easier — although using warps will hide one of the later worlds from you — so you’re unlikely to go back to the game after beating it to find them. There is some replay value with the differing play styles of Mario and Luigi, but after everything the game puts you through, it may be a long time before you have any desire to play it again.
The graphics and sound are also identical to the original Super Mario Bros. This means that they are colorful and have a good amount of personality for such an old game, but it also means you’ve seen all of it before. The quality has not been increased in any way. In a side-by-side comparison, the only way to tell the games apart would be if you recognized the level design. The only notable change is an increased presence of surrealism. Squid enemies swim through the sky and one of the worlds will make you question whether or not the game is glitching. Whether this is cool or just makes the game feel more like a rom hack is up to you.
Super Mario Bros. 2 manages to be both the least original Mario game and the black sheep of the series. While a very dedicated and skilled gamer may get some enjoyment out of it if they have the patience, the level design shows none of the creativity or balance that Mario platformers are known for. The game is not terrible, but it requires an exact mindset to enjoy it and even then, you will never forget about its problems. It’s one of those games you want to beat just to say you have — and may very well never touch again once you do. While I’m certainly glad it was eventually released outside of Japan, both of Nintendo’s alleged reasons for withholding it were justified, as I said before. If you want a challenge, there are certainly worse 8-bit platformers, but don’t let it being the “real” Super Mario Bros. 2 blind you to its flaws.