(Review archived from April 5, 2023)
I had previously played (and reviewed) Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels as it appeared on Super Mario Bros. Allstars for SNES, but I had never played the original Super Mario Bros. 2 release for Famicom Disk System. So much of what I said about the Allstars version applies here as well. But for whatever reason, and against prevailing common wisdom, I think I actually had an easier time with this one than the Allstars version, although ‘easier’ is perhaps the wrong adjective to apply here. SMB2 is every bit the ball buster that Lost Levels is, but I think playing this one in such close proximity to SMB1 on the NES helped to ease the difficulty curve considerably. Because (at least when you play as Mario), the control mechanics here are basically identical to the first title. It’s just that SMB2 expects the player to have mastered the nuances of those mechanics.
As alluded to, one of the big differences with SMB2 (as opposed to SMB1) is that it allows you to choose which Mario brother to play as, even in the single player game. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a Mario purist when it comes to any first playthough of a Mario game, but I did at least try Luigi long enough to confirm that he does play quite differently than Mario. In practice this mainly means that his jumps are longer and more ‘floaty’ than Mario’s, but in execution (for me at any rate) it made the game even more difficult, due to my unfamiliarity with Luigi’s handling as opposed to just using Mario which is almost (but not quite) muscle memory at this point. Again, SMB2 expects you to know the exact height and distance of your jumps under any scenario. If you’re still playing guesswork with these details … you’re already dead. The same could be said for drift, inertia, and momentum as well. A successful play through requires the player to be have the mechanics dialed in so as to be operating on the level of second nature.
All music is carried over unchanged from the first title as near as I can tell, but the graphics are a slight improvement. Here we haven’t yet reached the lush cartoon-like visuals of later 8-bit Mario outings, but here we see nice refinements on the graphics in SMB1. Rather than the ‘brickwork’ ground from the first game here we see rocky textured soil in overworld levels. Moving platforms are made up of tiny mushrooms instead of the ironwork platforms from the first title. Leaves blow through the air in some levels depicting the wind gust mechanics that propel your jumps much further than normal. So this isn’t a ‘grand leap’ in terms of graphical quality or fidelity, but rather several nice graphical enhancements and subtle improvements.
There’s one hugely significant difference between SMB2 and The Lost Levels on SNES that I need to point out though, and I think it played a big role my perception that this play through was easier than my past experience with The Lost Levels. After completing World 9-4 in the All-Stars version of the game, you just proceed directly to the ‘super-special’ worlds of A-D. I was aware of but had completely forgotten that in the original FDS version you have to beat the game 8 times before you can proceed to those levels (and even then only by entering ‘secret controller input’ from the title screen). Those are the worlds I remember as upping difficulty levels to neigh on impossible, but I have to be honest … I don’t feel compelled to repeatedly play through the first 8 worlds that many times in order to unlock the special ones. That’s not to say I don’t have a certain morbid curiosity, or that I won’t revisit SMB2 from time to time, but I’m putting this one aside for now. It’s a good and challenging platformer, but I don’t currently feel the need to go for 100% completion. It’s also for this reason, despite my earlier reevaluation of Super Mario Bros for NES, that I have no qualms calling the Lost Levels/All-Stars version of this game as my own definitive/recommended version. That said, Super Mario Bros 2 for FDS is absolutely worth checking out particularly if you have love for other 8-bit Mario releases.