(Review archived from January 20, 2016)
(English Translation by Vice Translations)
Continuing a rather protracted retracing of the Super Mario Bros. lexicon, I’ve made an intentional effort to take my time, slow down, and observe some of the more obscure facets of that universe. Accordingly it was practically obligatory that I play through Doki Doki Panic in order to observe the unsullied source of one of my favorite SMB games in its natural habitat. Would this game shine more brightly than SMB2 in the light of its original artistic intent? Or was SMB2 the patch-over this game needed in order to smooth out any remaining rough edges? Should discerning hipsters turn up their noses in spurn at SMB2 claiming that Doki Doki Panic is “better than Mumford & Sons holding a concert at an organically grown tomatillo farm”? Read on to find out!
Let’s talk trivia (full disclosure: I had to look most of this stuff up, but I found it interesting enough to warrant analysis here. Sorry for the errata!). While the game is commonly referred to simply as Doki Doki Panic in the west, it’s full title is Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku which translates as “Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic” (“Doki Doki” is onomatopoeia for the sound your heart makes when it’s beating hard). As the title indicates, the game was developed to promote an event called Yume Kōjō ’87 (Dream Factory ’87) in cooperation with Fuji Television. According to the sources I’ve found this event was a carnival of sorts designed to promote the fall lineup of shows for Fuji TV. The duration of this event was from July 18 through August 30 of 1987. So what’s the tie-in here? Well the characters featured in Doki Doki Panic were the mascots of the carnival event. Here’s a television spot promoting the event in which you can see cartoon versions of the characters featured in the game.
Furthermore, if you watch that ad until the end you may notice that one of the themes of the event was (apparently) that Carnival (as in the festival most famously celebrated in Rio De Janeiro and which precedes Lint). More specifically the theme of the event seems to have incorporated the masks associated with Carnival (And yes I do think it’s weird that the themes of Carnival were tied in with … Arabian mascots … but whatever). Have you ever noticed how many enemies in SMB2 are wearing masks? It’s a bit crazy when you think about it, but it starts to make sense in this context.
Further cementing this concept is that all the turtle shells, mushrooms, and stage exits as depicted in SMB2 are actually displayed as masks in Doki Doki Panic (including the somewhat infamous blackface mask that was thankfully and wisely replaced with a turtle shell in SMB2 World 1-1).
The character mascots featured in Doki Doki Panic consist of a family of Arabian themed characters, namely two siblings Imajin (the “Mario character”), Lina (“Peach”), and their parents Mama (“Luigi”) and Papa (“Toad”).
So obviously there are a ton of identical aspects between Doki Doki Panic and SMB2. It really is nearly identical in most regards. Having said that, let’s talk about some of the subtle differences between these titles before touching down on the common elements at the heart of these great games. The most immediate thing I noticed here is that there is no sprinting in Doki Doki Panic. So when your muscle memory starts to take over and you’re continually holding down the B button, you’re going to get … nothing. Mechanically this is the biggest change between the games. This will prove to feel very alien for any SMB veteran, but conversely is fairly easy to accommodate when you get used to it. The rest of the changes are relatively cosmetic, but if you’ve played SMB2 more than a couple of times you’ll notice them fairly quickly. The biggest of these changes is that in comparison to SMB2 is that there’s no “shrinkage” of characters upon taking damage. In Doki Doki Panic, you’ll accumulate hit points is the familiar fashion, but you’ll never shrink upon taking damage. There’s also no Clawgrip boss in this game (The rock throwing crab that appears at the end of World 5-3 in SMB2). In his place you get yet another appearance of Mouser. In true Japanese game completionist fashion you also won’t see the “true ending” of Doki Doki Panic until you’ve beaten the game with every character (we “lazy Westerners” got to see the true ending of SMB2 upon first completing the game regardless of chosen character). Beyond this point we get into some esoteric differences that you’ll only see if you’re really looking. You’ll find that the Bonus Chance screen is really ugly in comparison to the nice presentation we see in SMB2. There are also a handful changes made to animations which were improved for the better in SMB2. Here in Doki Doki Panic the grass doesn’t sway in the breeze … and is monochromatic black. The waterfall animation is much faster, bordering on seizure inducing. Various enemies had improved animation in SMB2 making them appear to have smoother illusions of movement. Ultimately SMB2 adds a level of polish to Doki Doki Panic that was not present in the source material (which is totally to be expected from a headlining Mario game vs. one that was developed to promote TV shows).
All told though, the things that make SMB2 a really great game have their inception here in this nice little FDS game. The vivid color palette, the memorable tunes, and the well conveyed “dreaminess” are all well-conceived and executed in Doki Doki Panic. In truth I need to hold back some of my praise in this regard, lest I have nothing to talk about when I complete Super Mario Bros. 2. For the purposes of my final thoughts I’ll recommend this game for those that love SMB2 and are looking for an alternate take on the experience (guilty as charged) and for those folks who are interested in the general esoterica of the SMB series (also guilty). For everyone else I feel like I can safely recommend jumping straight to Super Mario Bros. 2 as it received a level of polish and perfection that was not present in Doki Doki Panic.