Super Mario Bros. 2 Review (Wii U eShop)

Warting off Bowser & The Gang

When people talk Mario, the thoroughbreds are always mentioned—Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, usually both Galaxy titles, but rarely does Super Mario Bros. 2 spring to mind. Savvy readers might recall that Mario’s odd NES sequel isn’t even a Mario title at all, but a heavily re-skinned Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, a one-off Famicom title made by some SMB1 staffers as a promotional tie-in for a Japanese television station. Ostensibly, if not for Miyamoto’s guiding hand during development, some might question SMB2’s pedigree since it’s not really a Mario, so is it fitting of the plumber’s moniker and is it even worth experiencing?

The answer in both cases is most definitely.

Like its classic predecessor, SMB2 is a 2D-platforming affair featuring an assortment of familiar items like mushrooms and coins, but that’s about where the similarities stop. This time Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach are all playable, each with their own unique characteristics that have since been incorporated into the main series and most recently seen in Super Mario 3D World for Wii U. Luigi flutters with increased height, Toad runs like greased lightning, Peach is able to hover briefly, and of course Mario rounds out the roster with balanced jumps and calculated speed. This welcomed variation begs the player to experiment and encourages subsequent playthroughs in order to master each individual’s quirks. Beyond unique skills, SMB2 features a nifty item-throwing mechanic in which players can pick up objects such as cheeky vegetables and lob them straight at the enemy. If this at all seems eerily similar then you’ve probably witnessed Peach’s Down Special in Super Smash Bros. at some point and — lo and behold — the inspiration for her moveset largely derives from her adventures in SMB2.

SMB2 World 1

Ninji patrol on duty. Consider that key mostly safe.

If it isn’t one of the nicest looking NES titles, then it’s certainly one of the most inspired as it greatly expands upon the visual concepts established by its predecessor. However, those hoping for a return to the Mushroom Kingdom might be disappointed to find that SMB2 takes place in the not-so-subtly-named Subcon, but fear not because its locales are every bit as imaginative as its celebrated neighbor’s if not more. From tropical jungles to fluffy cloudscapes to factories teeming with baddies, each world sports a colorful aesthetic that’s reinforced by exotic curiosities like palm trees, ceramic vases, and magic doors just to name a few. Though most of these objects were originally tailored for the Middle Eastern-flavored Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, in SMB2 they are a refreshing departure from the original Super Mario Bros.’s rolling hills of blocks and pipes.

Subcon is also home to a number of amusing residents, notably masked Snifits, spunky Ninjis, and nobody’s favorite Birdo. The whole lot of pixelated delinquents will put a smile on your face in no time, especially those Shy Guys riding ostriches. And, of course, the amphibious leader of this mismatched group of rag-tag simpletons is Wart. Sweet, sweet Wart—a royal goober of a villain that makes a doorknob look like a criminal mastermind in comparison. At the end of the day, Wart and company are just a bunch of lovable losers and SMB2 benefits from their charming presence, offering players with an even sillier spin on Bowser’s old schemes.

SMB2 Promo

Behold! The most capable trio of villains the Mario world has ever known.

For those wondering about the music, you’re in luck because SMB2 boasts some unforgettable compositions. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve probably heard some iteration of the bubbly Overworld Theme, and that’s because it’s right up there with the finest of Koji Kondo’s material. SMB2’s take on the iconic Starman Theme is as infectious as than ever with its faux woodblock beat and even the Character Select is ridiculously catchy. And while the game’s remaining tunes are less memorable, this is still very much a must-hear soundtrack for anyone who enjoys the sounds of gaming’s yesteryear.

Where SMB2 really takes off is in approach to level structure, which is wildly different than its 8-bit Mario counterparts. The journey from the start to finish in SMB1 and SMB3 is mostly linear with an occasional Warp Pipe or beanstalk interspersed throughout to prevent the formula from ever becoming too predictable. While SMB2 shares similar elements with its beloved kin, it effectively alleviates their linearity by incorporating a vertical focus that’s more indicative of NES classics like Kid Icarus or Metroid than conventional Mario level design. Make no mistake, the basic premise of every level is very much the same as first Super Mario Bros.—get to the end of the level, fight a boss, rinse, wash, repeat—it’s just that Subcon isn’t nearly as horizontally oriented as the Mushroom Kingdom, which is both appreciated and rather novel in an early Mario game. Scaling up lofty cloud formations and/or digging deep into sandy trenches provides players with the sensation that they’re able to explore more of the level because they aren’t just limited to venturing left or right even though, in reality, the level’s scope is effectively comparable to that of SMB1. In other words, SMB2 seems more sprawling than it really is because it elicits the feel of a much bigger, open-ended game.

SMB2 Birdo

May the odds be in your favor.

Unfortunately, not all is rosy in the land of Subcon. SMB2 suffers from common issues that plague many titles of its era, notably inconsistent difficulty spikes, repetitive boss encounters (Birdo says, “hi”), and noticeable lag and sprite flicker once too many objects enter a screen. Though these detractors do hurt the title’s modern appeal, its best not to dwell on these relatively minor shortcomings since the game’s strengths still shines so bright. And besides, nowadays when thwarting Wart’s diabolically-challenged antics is just out of grasp, the Virtual Console’s Save State function can help remedy some of the struggle, although such a luxury obviously isn’t available on the game’s original platform.

Don’t be afraid of SMB2. Though a prickly difficulty surge may rear its ugly head every once and a while, persist! Persist, persist, persist. Don’t deprive yourself of a truly wonderful classic Mario game, especially if you’re at all curious because chances are you won’t be disappointed. You might just find a captivating and refreshingly odd Mario escapade unlike any other, one that strays just far enough off the proverbial beaten path to forge an identity all its own while still possessing the quintessential elements of what makes Mario Mario.

(Sources: 1, 2)

Super Mario Bros. 2 Review (Wii U eShop)
Replay Value8.8
Luigi Factor10
  • Fresh take on 2D Mario formula
  • 4 playable characters
  • Lots and lots of charm
(Sub) Cons
  • Sporadic difficulty spikes
  • Lag and sprite flicker at times
  • Lots and lots of Birdo
9Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.