Thursday, March 17, 2011

Super Mario Brothers 2 (Japan) - The Lost Levels

I won't pretend that many of you don't know how to use Google or Wikipedia (unlike the shitty Irate Gamer who's shitty and rips off the awesome Angry Video Game Nerd). Anyway, I won't assume you haven't googled Super Mario Brothers 2 and figured out by now that the Super Mario Brothers 2 that was released in the United States wasn't really a Mario game. Whether or not you knew this, I think it's pretty obvious as it doesn't follow even the basic elements of gameplay of the original or any other Mario game since. It's clearly an anomaly, which makes it suspect to being googled. Point is, I'm not going to talk about the Super Mario Brothers 2 that Americans grew up with, the one I grew up with, but rather what was later released on the Super Nintendo in the game Super Mario All-Stars called The Lost Levels.

The Lost Levels was released in Japan on June 3rd, 1986 on the Famicom as Super Mario Brothers 2. As you may already know, Nintendo thought the game was too similar and the difficulty too high for American gamers, so they, instead, took a game called Doki Doki Panic, replaced the sprites with Mario sprites, and then released it in America as Super Mario Brothers 2. I'll be going into that game more another time, but for now just know that it's a very different game from the others, but that some of its elements have lived on in later games and has become Mario cannon.

Now that that's out of the way, we can discuss The Lost Levels. As I've said, Nintendo chose not to release it. Their reasons were because the game played too much like the original, as well as its difficulty. To be honest, Nintendo was right. I often get frustrated when I learn about what we missed out on here in America, but I can't say I really feel I've missed out as a child. That's not to say this game is bad, because it's not. It's just too similar to the first and what isn't the same is so much harder it's tedious and obnoxious. It's Nintendo Hard and borders on unfair and upsetting gameplay known as Platform Hell and (in my opinion) Trial and Error. It becomes a "memorize the level then beat it" kind of game.

The game is more like an expansion pack of the original. It even starts relatively challenging, unlike the first game which does a beautiful progression from simple to complex to really challenging. It uses the same engine, so the controls are exactly the same. So now little nitpicks like Mario's stiff turning around or falling faster when he hits the ceiling can not only get really annoying, but can cost you life after life after life. The final level of this game is absurd. It takes advantage of those stiff controls to make the game harder, rather than giving you more challenging enemies and platform jumping, it seriously sets up several moments where you need to hop to a lower platform that is directly underneath you. I don't know how many times the stiff turns meant falling into the lava no matter how long I had been holding left on the D-pad. There was maybe one moment in the first game where I had to memorize what can and can't be done in order to beat a platforming area. This game, by world six, you're dying so often you're not even keeping track. It's really just a trial and error experience. It's not about reaction time or simply you versus the game. It's about remembering the level and when the enemies are going to come out.

The few changes this game does make are not pleasant ones and they haven't survived much in later Mario games. They introduce red Piranha Plants that don't follow the rules. Normally, if you stand next to the pipe, the plants stay hidden. This game breaks that rule and after a certain point you're no longer meeting any of the original Piranha Plants. Now it's only the mean red ones that come out unless you're on top of the pipe. If that's not bad enough, the game introduces the shitty mushrooms (better known as the Poison Mushroom) which only survive in more casual Mario games such as Super Smash Brothers, Mario Kart, or Paper Mario. I'm not saying those games are bad (Mario Kart has got to be one of the best group-playing games), just that Poison Mushrooms aren't found, later on, in the standard Mario-platformer setting. In 8-4, there is a hidden block that keeps you from dodging a Koopa Troopa. Not only that, but it's holding a Poison Mushroom. It deliberately hides an additional threat and puts it in your way. Getting out of that situation is damn near impossible unless you've already been through it. Also, Luigi can be specifically chosen by the first player, rather than just the required second player. He also has different controls than Mario, which is the first game to do so. He jumps a lot higher, but turning around or stopping is even rougher than before. The final level is even harder with Luigi because of this. Also, it's interesting to note that it started here with Luigi's different mechanics rather than Super Mario Brothers 2 (USA). This game also introduces backwards warps. Honestly, this one didn't bother me. Maybe I kind of felt it was a risk you take when you venture into unknown territory, but somehow I didn't feel cheated. It was probably because I discovered this earlier on, before the game became egregiously hard.

Though I'm sure plenty of people were not pleased with the rehashed Doki Doki Panic as Super Mario Brothers 2, I think we should consider ourselves lucky. Some elements of Doki Doki Panic are hard, and I'll admit that it wasn't what I wanted, but it ended up introducing some really interesting characters, and it's gameplay wasn't too harsh or obnoxious. It was actually quite fun, just not a Mario game. Super Mario Brothers 2 (Japan) or better known as The Lost Levels, is definitely more a Mario game, but it's a lot harder and not nearly as fun. It's a great expansion pack, if you look at it that way, and if you're a master of the original game it's definitely a way to step up your skill. That being said, it's not a bad game. Part of me definitely enjoyed the challenge, and I was very pleased to beat a final level that was worthy of Bowser. Still, the first game's 8-4 was hard, but not a trial-and-error hard level. And really, Boswer is ultimately just as easy as all of his kids. You run under him and hit the ax. Done and done. Winning either game gives a feeling of accomplishment, but there's something a little less satisfying after this one. I honestly can't say for sure, but I tend to think it's because it's not really about timing and effort, but more about playing and replaying and replaying. By the time you beat 8-4, the satisfaction feels cheapened. Perhaps it's because it wasn't just you vs. the game, or maybe all that frustration hasn't completely washed away with that winning screen.

The Lost Levels on Wikipedia.
Also Super Mario All-Stars on Wikipedia.
Want to know how far Shitty Irate Gamer had to go for his "research" in learning about Doki Doki Panic?
TV Tropes on the Lost Levels.
Poison Mushrooms on Mario Wiki.
Watch Angry Video Game Nerd, not Irate Gamer.

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