It’s terrible. Who’d expect underwear cartridge bandits in this day and age?

super mario bros 2

Super Mario Bros. 2 (1989)

Burkey enthusiasts among you may be interested to note that Super Mario Advance is the one and only game I’ve ever lost. That’s not lost as in given away, in a similar vein to when you give a hoody to a girl and you’re much too unassertive and conscious of your social standing to ask for it back, I’m talking about misplacing the game and never, ever finding it. I’d love to know what I did to it, where it could be now. If only there was some sort of tracking device I could have used back in 2001 – if there was, I’d have put it on everything.

After all, what if someone had stolen it from me? And I was able to track down the guy who did it? Wouldn’t that be a plot-twist? I sometimes read about people having their entire collections stolen, or oftentimes stolen and sold on by their older brothers to buy drugs. For God’s sake, we’re talking SNES collections with Chrono Trigger and EarthBound, here. If that happened to me, I think I’d go on a rampage. I’m serious, I couldn’t be held responsible for my actions.

It wasn’t a problem for Miyamoto and his boys to steal a game and try to fence it as a new Mario game. The game that you and I know as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels was released in Japan as a show of hatred towards Mario fans. I imagine that the bods in Nintendo of America, when they saw what Super Mario Bros 2 JP was like and how much their target audience would end up having nightmares about it, I think they needed to act fast.

So, in a similar vein to that dreaded day when your project or presentation is due and you realise it’s end up as an unappealing pile of rubbish, you need an out. Preferably you’d just grab some other gadge’s work, top and tail it with your own graphics, slap your name on it, and hope to get away with it for just long enough that you escape scrutiny.

So that’s what Nintendo did – they took the distinctly Arab-esque Doki Doki Panic, which was a game about turbans and dreams or something, snakes maybe. Then they gave it only a threadbare graphical makeover, giving us a Mario sequel that’s ‘experimental’, shall we say. Hey, their imaginations went wild with Zelda II. Konami threw a curveball with Castlevania II – maybe the late 80s was all about experimentation? It’s when Rick Astley got big, after all. Same with The Bangles. Do you know what I mean?

Well, just because this game was a bit of a patch-up job from a completely unrelated game, don’t fall into thinking that this is a real black sheep, you know, an unsightly boil on the otherwise perfect bum of Mario. Without Mario 2 we’d have no Shy Guys, no Bob-Ombs, no Pokeys, and playable versions of the Princess and Toad would look a lot different in, say, Super Mario 3D World.

I would also have to say that this game is significant for bringing Birdo to us, whom the manual gladly tells us is a girl dinosaur trapped in a boy dinosaur’s body, and would rather be called Birdetta. Enemy though they are, I’ll call them whatever makes them happy. And speaking of trapped in a body, you’ll have to beat Birdo in just about every level to make them regurgitate an orb, which in turn opens the mouth of a bird statue on the wall. Throwing yourself down its throat brings you to the next level.

But if you managed to pick up a few coins along the way, you can play the slot machine. You never, ever win these slot machines anyway, at least on the NES release, so you might as well not bother. That’s another reason for wouldbe punters not to go doolally with gambling and lose their privates on bum bets every week. On the All Stars version of Mario 2, I did once get a rare message that said “3 Coins Service” and gave me a few coins for nowt. But that’s only to get you back interested before you cut your losses, innit?

Yes, this is definitely still a weird game, and there’s still something slightly Arabic about the aesthetic. I suppose having two desert worlds gives that away a bit, but in my defence, there’s also a snow world where you go harassing whales, giving it back that Japanese flavour. Some of the more Arabian music cues have made way for the regular Mario theme, and it’s funny that Toad deputises for the squat, Ali Baba type character from the original Doki Doki Panic.

But don’t be too quick to dismiss this game – think about what it added to Mario. A lot more verticality in the levels, if you’ll accept that as a word. A variety of different bosses and enemies, some great music, different ways to play, and the graphics of the NES version are nicer than I remember. Of course, if you go onto the SNES All Stars version, you’ll find them still better, a proper feast of colour. That version makes things slightly easier, and I’d probably call it the definitive version.

Now I definitely enjoyed the GBA version (until the gods, or more likely the underpants gnomes from South Park, stole it from me), but that one gets a bit of stick for starting the ridiculous trend of adding voice samples where there really didn’t need to be any. It was a common theme of Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance games at the time, and A Link to the Past GBA really suffered from it as well. Still, who could turn down a bomb-toting Mouser with a Brooklyn accent?

The GBA version really gets the maximum wear out of the game – you can beat the game normally, but there’s also the challenge to collect 5 Red Coins in each level. Then when you’ve done that, you can find two hidden Yoshi Eggs per level, with not many clues to their location. Since it was my first GBA game, you better believe I wrung every bit of life from Super Mario Advance – I even played plenty of the rubbish Mario Bros arcade game included with it.

For my money, Super Mario Bros 2 has a perfect length, allowing you to sit down and blow through the game in an hour or two. And with four different playable characters there’s definitely high replay value, and you can swap characters between levels as well. That said, you’ll always tend to lean towards your favourite character. I’d love to branch out, but I can’t help it – every time I play this game, it’s got to be Luigi.

For a start, his spindly legs get him high enough to skip out entire portions of the level. To be fair, the Princess’s ability to float can achieve this as well. Mario is just a bit too average – I know the feeling – and Toad is pretty specialised. Fast and strong, which I wouldn’t have really imagined him as. But he can barely jump ten inches off the ground, which is a bit more realistic.

There was always a persistent rumour, given the presence of the his eggs in Super Mario Advance, that Yoshi could be unlocked as a super-powered character in the GBA release. Wish I had the chance to find out – I had just about gotten there when some pirate, some absolute blackguard, took the game from me. And now he’s out there, using my lizard, happy as you like. Perhaps he had an accomplice? A plague of Shy Guys o’ both their houses!

21 July 2020

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