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Black Sheep: 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 2 is considered to be the "black sheep" of the Mario franchise, an anomaly in an otherwise uniform series that features an overweight plumber killing all types of turtles while eating psychedelics. But the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 breaks the mold is the only reason it's a black sheep; it's not an unenjoyable game by any means. In fact, it may single-handedly be the reason for the continued success of Nintendo and the video game market as a whole.

Super Mario Bros. 2 released at a very turbulent time in the North American video game market: home consoles were too numerous, crappy games multiplied like rats, and E.T. on the Atari 2600 was making everyone curse video games (and the folks who had created them). It was a dark time to be a gamer until Nintendo released the NES in New York City and a game called Super Mario Bros. Suddenly, everyone left E.T. in whatever hole he had fallen into (and rightfully so!), and things were looking up. But this left Nintendo in a perilous position: should they release the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, a difficult, demoralizing continuation of the first game?  Or, should they try something else and think outside the box? Thankfully, they chose the latter and gifted us the infamous black sheep Super Mario Bros. 2, or as Japan knows it, Super Mario USA and the industry was saved from the brink of destruction. Now, pull up a radish, throw that potion, and lets ride our magic carpet into 15 Things You Didn't Know About Super Mario Bros. 2!

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15 It’s Another Game

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The climate surrounding video games was a bit different at the time Super Mario Bros. 2 was being developed for western audiences. Still reeling from the crash of the home console market in 1983, North America was sensitive ground for video game companies that wanted to tap the potentially substantial profit base stateside. After the launch of the NES and the acclaimed original Super Mario Bros., Nintendo needed to follow up with a fun and accessible second installment that could keep the NES afloat above the multitude of console and video game companies that were burning.

So they turned to a game that had already had massive success in Japan: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. Translated as Dream Factory: Heart Pounding Panic, the game was developed by Nintendo for Fuji Television for its Dream Factory ’87 event in Japan. The story centers around two twins who are pulled into a book and must be saved by their family, who also enter the book in pursuit. Its Arabian theme was based on the success of the Arabian Nights fairy tales in Japan at the time. Due to its success in Japan and its Japan-only release, Nintendo made the wise decision to reskin and update the title as the Super Mario Bros. 2 that we know and love today.

14 Despite Being A Black Sheep, It Was A Commercial Success

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Considered a “black sheep” today because of its unusual style, as compared to the rest of the franchise, Super Mario Bros. 2 was a critical success when it was released in North America in 1988. It has sold a resounding 10 million copies to date and helped continue Nintendo’s upward climb in the overseas game market, as well as lifting the industry up as a whole.

Although the game may be considered an oddball in the plethora of available titles on the market today, back then it was seen as a radically successful reinvention of an already stellar budding video game series. In retrospect, this isn’t that surprising considering that Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic was a pretty substantial success in Japan and Super Mario Bros. 2 is basically an updated version of that game. It was a genius move on Nintendo’s part and is one of the key decisions that gave us the flourishing game market that we all have the privilege of enjoying today.

13 It Was The Beginning Of Stardom For Toad

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Always known as the mushroom cap wearing guy who informed you that the princess was in another castle in the original Super Mario Bros., Toad didn’t play much of a role in the original installment, aside from being a prop to move Mario’s quest along. In Super Mario Bros. 2, Toad is thrust right into the action. Born out of necessity, Toad was included in Super Mario Bros. 2 because the four character roster needed to be filled.

Taking the roll of “Papa” from Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, Toad is gifted with the ability to pull turnips out of the ground quicker than the rest, but is handicapped by the squattest jump out of the roster. Honestly, that’s not much of an ability; I’ve never really found myself scrambling to pull up the grass in Super Mario Bros. 2. Regardless, Toad’s appearance was the beginning of a long and prosperous career for the Mushroom Kingdom resident; he has made an appearance in almost every Mario game since.

12 It Was Supposed To Be A Co-Op Stacking Affair

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When the developers at Nintendo originally started working on an alternative to the intensely frustrating Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 to appease audiences overseas, they had a much different prototype in the works.

Originally the game was going to be a co-op affair that revolved mostly around the concept of stacking. Players would throw and stack a variety of stools and other objects that would allow players working in unison to advance vertically through the levels. Ultimately the idea was scrapped, and the idea to reskin and update Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic for release as Super Mario Bros. 2 was given the green light. However, some traces of that original prototype did make it into Super Mario Bros. 2, as evidenced in the sections throughout the game that require players to stack “mushroom blocks” platforms in order to reach a key or door.

11 It Forged Nintendo’s Philosophy About Making Games

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In the 80’s Nintendo was the king of gaming. They were prospering in their homeland of Japan, and had had unprecedented success overseas in light of more niche markets and a crippling video game crash in North America. Their little grey box was in millions of households thanks to a game called Super Mario Bros. In order to keep the North American Market involved, they decided to release an already successful title disguised as Mario, which proved to be a genius move.

Why? Because Nintendo has always focused on one core principal when it comes to making games that people love: fun. Their games are polished, approachable, and balanced. But above all, they are fun. Apparently, this is what Nintendo had in mind when they released their incognito Super Mario Bros. 2 in the states: make it fun, and it will sell. Considering the game sold 10 million copies, it seems like Nintendo may have been onto something.

10 The Characters Heads Are Big Because Of A Design Flaw

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If you’ve played Super Mario Bros. 2, you may have noticed that when your health is declining, like most Mario games, you shrink. You may also have noticed that the pint-sized versions of the characters in-game have massive heads in relation to their body size. This was only implemented to make the game more Mario-like, as Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic characters didn’t shrink when hit. Because Super Mario Bros. 2 is ostensibly Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, the game wasn’t made for shrunken characters.

When Nintendo developers originally shrunk the player’s sprites down, they realized that certain characters were able to bypass areas completely due to their size, breaking entire levels in the process. So, they blew the heads up in order to keep everyone on the same track. A great design choice for the mechanics of the game, even if it makes the cast look like mutants.

9 It Was A Huge Update To The Original Game

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Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic was originally developed and released for the Famicom in Japan. When Nintendo made the decision to make their successful Arabian inspired platformer a serious mainline Mario game, they also decided that an upgrade wouldn’t hurt either.

In Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, most of the items in-game weren't animatied, including: the cherries, stars, and grass. The sounds when throwing vegetables and hitting enemies was the same guttural growl (due to the Famicom’s sound capabilities). The music was shorter, looping more often and the waterfalls flowed so rapidly that anyone with epilepsy would be subject to a seizure while trying to cross the perilously falling logs. Also, many enemies animations were given more frames, making their movement look more organic (for an NES games anyway), and making them look less like flip books being thumbed by a toddler wearing oven mitts.

8 The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 Is Super Difficult

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Part of the reason we got the Super Mario Bros. 2 we have today, was because the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, or true Super Mario Bros. 2 (if you’re a snob), was deemed too difficult for American gamers. With the popularity of From Software’s Souls titles and the resurgence of roguelike indie games, the American gamers of today can’t get enough of a challenge. However, the climate of gaming in 1988 was a bit different, resulting in Nintendo deciding that an overly difficult game that mocked players for their lack of unwavering dedication may be a misstep; something that would sway players away from their gray box.

How difficult is the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2? Like a three-legged cat trying to bury turds on a frozen pond difficult. The game focuses less on skill, and is designed more around the concept of luck; each stage is a gauntlet of booby-traps and random factors that can end even the most skilled players run prematurely. Gusts of wind, invisible trapdoors, and overly complex platforming await any gamer with the patience and time to attempt it.

7 You Had To Beat The Original Game With Every Character

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Back in the day, and some would argue that still, Japan had a hardcore gaming culture that makes the rest of the world look as skilled as a blind man standing in as a goaltender in the NHL playoffs. Considering the sensitive nature of the gaming market when Nintendo was getting ready to release Super Mario Bros. 2, they decided against sending the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 stateside, as it was deemed way too difficult for a market as fragile as North America’s. Nintendo then decided that revamping an already successful title and adding the red-hatted plumber would be a better gamble.

But they still had to weenie it down for North American audiences. In order to actually see the ending in Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, players need to beat the entire game with Every. Single. Character. Basically, beat the game four times. Today that doesn’t seem like much, but back then, Japan really doubted the skill of American gamers. Actually —if you must know— today most “normal” modes in North America are the European and Japanese “easy” mode. Let's step it up ‘Murica!

6 The Plot Is Basically Marioception

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Stated in the brief introduction of Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario has a dream about a door leading to another world, where a voice asks him for help in defeating the evil that has overtaken the land. Mario tells Luigi, Peach, and Toad about it the next day and they all report on having the same dream as well. They then decide to go on a picnic (because why the hell not?), and discover a cave with a staircase that leads to, where else, the dreamland that they all were called into the night before.

Yeah, typical early video game storytelling at work here. For a game that had to be converted from an existing title into something that would sate fans of an entirely unrelated franchise, they did a good job! However, when players do beat the game, they are treated to an end sequence that shows Mario having a dream of the victorious heroes. Meaning…that he never really woke up to have the picnic in the first place. So basically Mario was in a dream in a dream. How are we supposed to know that Mario’s whole life isn’t a dream now? I’m surprised that they didn’t just end it with Mario waking up and spinning a top on a table while the credits rolled.

5 It Introduced A Lot Of Flagship Characters

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Considering that Super Mario Bros. 2 was actually Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic with a new can of paint and a Mario injection, you’d figure that the enemies from the second installment may have died off after the series returned to normal. However, most of the characters from Super Mario Bros. 2 became some of the most beloved in the series. Still making appearances in the main entries and spin-offs in the Mario universe, Shy Guys, Birdo, and Bob-omb among many others made their initial appearance in Super Mario Bros 2.

In retrospect, it’s funny to think that some of the series most beloved characters and enemies were actually from a completely different game. Due to North America’s ignorance to the existence of: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic at the time, some of the most memorable characters in the series would never have even made their way into gamers’ hearts like they have if Nintendo hadn't made their fateful decision.

4 It Was A Direct Byproduct Of The Video Game Crash Of 1983

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In 1983, home gaming consoles and computers were at the pinnacle of their popularity. The home gaming industry was lucrative and new, causing hundreds of companies, and subsequently, those companies games and consoles, to flood a market that had just recently gained steam. Right before the crash, retail stores were so flooded with games and consoles that they rarely had enough shelf space to display all the products they received. Coupled with the fact that many games were being designed and released without the consent or quality control of the bigger developers of the time, meant that a lot of products were lackluster, leaving consumers with a sour taste in their mouths after purchasing the particularly awful software.

On the other side of the world, Japan’s video game market is largely unaffected by the crash of the industry in North America, aside from companies like Nintendo who looked to the horizon and saw massive yen signs. They soft launched the original NES in New York City in 1985, which was met with serious fanfare (as it still is). Not wanting to blow the foothold they had established in a fragile market, they scratched releasing Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2, which was deemed too difficult and too similar to the first Super Mario Bros. and tweaked an already successful game to release in North America. Luckily, it turned out to be the shot of Listerine that cleaned that sour taste out of so many consumers’ mouths.

3 Phanto Wasn’t Such A Butt In The Original Game

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More commonly known as “Crap, crap, crap!” (what you yell before tossing your newly acquired key haphazardly to avoid him). Phanto is the red and white mask that pursues you whenever you pick up a key in Super Mario Bros. 2. It's hard to put your finger on exactly what makes him so panic-inducing. It could be the way that he has a tendency to appear right before you’re able to use the key on a locked door, or his arcing pattern of flight that seems to catch you just as you jump to avoid him. Even that smug, satanic look on his face (er, mask?) is terrifying. But the original Phanto as featured in Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic wasn’t as much of a wiener as the one that made its way over to the shores of the states in 1988.

Originally, Phanto’s face wasn’t that nightmare-inducing grin that mocks the player as they desperately flail away from its omnipresent pursuit. Instead, its expression looks almost more melancholy; like its confused about why it’s tasked with guarding a key but accepts its fate nonetheless. Also, in Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, Phanto won’t start chasing you until you leave the screen where it’s posted, as opposed to Super Mario Bros. 2, where he takes off as soon as players pick up the key and make a scramble for whatever door they need to unlock.

2 Luigi’s Leg Flutter

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In Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, the game focused on a family of four that the player was able to choose from ( all of whom had different skills). Obviously, these skills translated over to Super Mario Bros. 2. The mother character from Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic was made into Luigi (because Luigi always gets the short end of the stick in the franchise), who had a high, slow jump. With Nintendo’s concerns about American gamer’s reception of Super Mario Bros. 2 and the fact that it could make or break Nintendo’s foothold in the States, they decided that they shouldn’t leave anything to interpretation. Instead of letting gamer’s figure out that Luigi’s jump had a little more float than other characters, they decided to give him an animation that would “explain” why his jump was longer and higher.

Making said animation Luigi furiously kicking his legs in midair makes about as much sense as The Rock dressed as Pikachu for Easter. Regardless, it has become one of the most recognizable animations for the oft-ignored plumber in green.

1 Birdo: The Gender Confused Boss

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From the pages of the Super Mario Bros. 2 guide: “He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called ‘birdetta’”. So … yeah, that’s downright weird. Not the fact that Birdo (who is incorrectly labeled as “Ostro” in the manual), is confused about gender; there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What’s weird is that the backstory for a sub-boss in one of the most popular video game franchises in the world literally consists of that one detail. The developers at Nintendo could easily have typed something as simple as “He is a bird that spits eggs from his mouth.” Instead, they dove into some deep societal shit by mentioning a completely left field struggle that Birdo has with his gender.

It doesn’t affect the gameplay, the story, or really, any element in Super Mario Bros. 2 at all. Yet, there it is. What’s even weirder is the fact that he is spitting eggs. If he is a he, pretending to be a she, whose eggs are those? He certainly doesn’t produce them himself. In retrospect, I’m glad I glanced over the manual quickly as a kid; if I had caught onto this earlier, my adolescent mind might have exploded.

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