It’s part two of The Nostalgia Spot’s look at Super Mario games. In this section, a couple of under-appreciated titles and a few too recent to benefit from the effects of nostalgia, but I’ll try not to hold that against them. Part one can be found here.
10. Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA (1988, Nintendo Entertainment System)
The American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has always been the black sheep of the Mario family. It was pretty weird going from the original Super Mario Bros. to this game. There were no fire flowers, no goombas, no koopas, no Bowser or green warp pipes. In their place were shy guys, flying carpets, vases, an egg-shooting bird-dinosaur thing, and Wart. By now, most people know that Super Mario Bros. 2 was so odd compared to the first game because it actually wasn’t a Mario game. Originally released as Doki Doki Panic in Japan, Nintendo re-skinned the characters and added a few Mario-type items to the game for the American audience after Nintendo of America rejected the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2. What most people didn’t know at the time, and what many still don’t realize, is that this Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually the REAL Super Mario Bros. 2! The game that would be released as Doki Doki Panic in Japan actually started off as Super Mario Bros. 2. Mario’s daddy, Shigeru Miyamoto, wanted to really change things up for the sequel with more characters and an emphasis on vertically scrolling levels. A prototype was developed by Kensuke Tanabe, but when the project became too ambitious Nintendo basically got cold feet so they put the brakes on it and went the safe route for the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2. Not wanting to waste the foundation of the game, it was re-dressed for release as Doki Doki Panic. By the time Nintendo of America was clamoring for a different sequel, Nintendo’s development techniques had improved enough to the point that it was comfortable going full speed ahead with this iteration of Super Mario Bros. 2. It was so successful that it would be released in Japan later as Super Mario USA, and today it’s pretty much considered the preferred Super Mario Bros. 2 in all territories. Even knowing that, it’s still a weird game and a lot of the sprites created for Doki Doki Panic were left in which is why there’s no familiar Mario enemies. Instead of jumping on enemies to destroy them, Mario can stand on top of them and lift them up and hurl them as projectiles or do the same with vegetables. The jumping and platforming is just as good as ever, and the soundtrack is beyond catchy. The game looks nice, and the additions of Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool as playable characters added variety. One thing Miyamoto really wanted to get into the game was simultaneous co-op, but that would end up needing another 20 years for refinement. Super Mario Bros. 2 is often overshadowed by the game that followed it, but it was an improvement on the original, albeit unconventional. It’s odd take on the Super Mario franchise is what makes it endearing decades later.
9. Super Mario Sunshine (2002, Gamecube)
I must confess, part of my placing Super Mario Sunshine immediately after Super Mario Bros. 2 is because it just seems so appropriate. The games are both great examples of their genre, but both find themselves some-what unloved among the other Mario titles. Super Mario Sunshine was a late arrival on the Gamecube, late in the sense that it wasn’t there for the system’s launch. Mario had been a fixture at every Nintendo system launch of any consequence before, so gamers kind of just assumed he’d always be there. With the Gamecube, Luigi got to bat lead-off for a change with his first solo outing leaving Mario to arrive a year later. Super Mario Sunshine is the sequel to Super Mario 64 and just the second 3D Mario title in the span of six years. 1996-2002 was kind of a dry spell for Mario, but Super Mario Sunshine is another superb outing for the venerable plumber. Unfortunately, Nintendo saw fit to saddle Mario with FLUDD, a water-powered jetpack type of thing that dominates a lot of the gameplay. FLUDD really wasn’t well-received by Mario fans (though reviewers seemed to enjoy it) even though it was a rather fine gameplay addition for the most part. With such an established star as Mario though, fans are often resistant to change. Super Mario Sunshine brought back a lot of the platforming elements of prior games with an emphasis on level exploration. It was well conceived, and using FLUDD as a means of propelling Mario along works quite well. It’s the more mundane actions that become tiresome, such as needing to spray the environment clean incessantly. As the player, you’ll do a lot of just standing around spraying water. There’s also the need to replenish the water supply that’s not much fun. Yoshi did make his return in Sunshine, and Bowser Jr. his official debut. Super Mario Sunshine is a game that’s likely better than most people remember, and is absolutely still worth checking out.
8. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009, Nintendo Wii)
New Super Mario Bros. brought the plumbers back to 2D in a way that was commercially very successful, though creatively felt more like a straight nostalgia trip and little else. Which was fine, but I’m not sure what people expected of the franchise going forward, or if it even would be a true franchise. New Super Mario Bros. Wii arrived three years later and for a home console this time, the Nintendo Wii. This is where the franchise really started to leave it’s mark, with more interesting power-ups and better level design. For the first time a Mario game was also able to be played cooperatively with up to four players all at once. This was something Nintendo wanted to do as early as Super Mario Bros. 2, but the technology just wasn’t there. To be fair, it’s not New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s strongest point as only two players of equal skill will be able to find much enjoyment in co-op. Otherwise, it feels more like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with one player controlling the action and the other frantically trying to keep up. The level design for the Wii game is much better though, after being mostly forgettable on the DS. The added power-ups of the propeller suit and ice flower/penguin suit also add to the experience. The propeller suit especially is one of the more fun power-ups to come along in a Mario game. With a flick of the wrist, the propeller on the player’s head spins sending Mario ever higher on the screen and allowing for a slow descent. Yoshi, again, is back but is limited only to certain stages which is kind of disappointing. The challenge is a bit better than the DS title, though it’s still a pretty easy game for Mario veterans. The final showdown with Bowser is both memorable and, if you’re aiming to collect all of the star coins, pretty tricky as well. The reintroduction of the Koopalings is also a welcome development after the many repetitive boss battles in the first game. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is another fun 2D Mario game, though it falls short of being a truly remarkable.
7. New Super Mario Bros. U (2012, Nintendo Wii U)
It should be considered a good thing that the most recent entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise is the best. Though that does kind of ignore the fact that the edition released just a few months prior to New Super Mario Bros. U is the worst in the series. The console editions are the stronger games, and they’ve apparently had a little more love during their development cycles. New Super Mario Bros. U also has the distinction of being the first original Mario title to debut alongside new hardware since Super Mario 64 back in 1996. Unfortunately for the Wii U, while New Super Mario Bros. U is a good and enjoyable title it’s not the system-seller that Super Mario 64 was. Sales of the Wii U have been putrid, to put it nicely, so a lot of people still haven’t played this one. Admittedly, when I first played it last year I was feeling a little fatigue after just recently finishing New Super Mario Bros. 2 and it took me awhile to actually play through this one. That’s not the game’s fault, though I suppose it is a short-coming for the title that, despite being in HD, it still looks and plays more or less the same as the previous games. The game borrows conceptually from Super Mario World in how the map is laid out. There are several hidden paths and special levels to uncover throughout the game and each world has its own distinguishing features. They’re also controlled by one of the seven Koopalings once again, with the King of Koopas waiting at Peach’s castle for Mario to arrive and save his princess. All of the power-ups from New Super Mario Bros. Wii return though in a diminished capacity. The main new power-up is the flying squirrel suit, which makes too much sense for a Mario game. With it, Mario can glide and he knifes through the air rather quickly, as opposed to the slow descent of the super cape or tanooki suit. He gets a one-time hop in flight that does bring him to that slow descent we’re used to. He also has the ability to cling to walls, though he can’t move along them (which is what the new cat suit will allow in the upcoming Super Mario 3D World). I was a bit lukewarm on the suit initially, but after extended playing time I’ve actually come to enjoy it quite a bit. It’s different, and probably Mario’s best flying suit since the cape. The best thing I can say about New Super Mario Bros. U though is the difficulty. It’s still exceptionally easy to rack up 99 lives, but the levels in this game will actually force gamers to use those lives. The star coins are also better hidden, and like previous games extra levels are unlocked after defeating Bowser for the first time. If the main game isn’t challenging enough, there are extra challenge levels that are designed to bring about controller-smashing frustration. Lastly, the game also makes use of the Wii U gamepad by allowing it to function as a second screen, meaning you don’t even need your television on to play the game. I’ve said a lot about a game that basically feels like more of the same, but New Super Mario Bros. U is the best side-scrolling Mario game since Super Mario World, so I suppose it deserves all of these words.
6. Super Mario 3D Land (2011, Nintendo 3DS)
Over the years, Mario fans have become divided into two camps: the ones that prefer the 2D side-scrolling games and those that prefer the 3D titles. In truth, most fans like both but there are preferences. In general, those that grew up with the 8-bit NES tend to prefer the games that remind them of the old titles, while those who first experienced Mario via the Nintendo 64 tend to favor the 3D games. For the first time, Nintendo decided to try and please both with a single title: Super Mario 3D Land. This was not just Mario’s first 3D portable adventure, but also his first trek on Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld and Mario was expected to demonstrate the advantages of stereoscopic 3D gaming. I don’t know if Mario was able to sell audiences on that feature, but people in general seemed to love the game and with good reason. The style of the game is basically an open world concept for each stage, but with each level being a small level reminiscent of the old games. Some of these levels force Mario into more of a 2D plane that may allow Mario to hop in and out of the foreground and background. The use of stereoscopic 3D meant a few stages at a high camera angle and some platforms are nearly impossible to negotiate without the 3D effect enabled. For power-ups, the tanooki suit was brought back but in a diminished capacity as Mario could only slow his descent, not fly (the stone form ability from Super Mario Bros. 3 is only available after beating the game once), which was a shame. The boomerang bros. suit was the other hyped addition and it’s a good alternative to the traditional fire flower (and a nice homage to the hammer bros. suit from Super Mario Bros. 3). The layout of the map is as linear as it gets, but completing the game once opens up what amounts to a second game. The first set of stages are fairly painless for Mario veterans, but the bonus worlds are much tougher and contain a good amount of challenge. Mostly, the game works as designed, though I could do without the 3D effects. Mario controls well and the approach allows the developers to pick and choose from the best of Mario’s past and stuff it all into one game. Hopefully Nintendo is able to build off of this game and it ends up being the first game in another successful Mario franchise, the Wii U is banking on it.