Saturday, November 23, 2013

Taking a Page from Super Mario Bros. 2

I write about Super Mario Bros. 2 a lot, I realize, especially considering that the game is now twenty-five years old. I suppose that results from the combination of it being especially surreal, even by Super Mario standards, and me having encountered it at the perfect age to be asking “Hey, why is that?” I actually still ask “Why is that?” fairly often. One of the things that had always bugged me about the game is its level structure. Super Mario Bros. makes sense: four sets of levels each composing a world, and eight world altogether. It’s all tidy and even. Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t so easy: It has seven worlds, but an irregular number of stages.

The first world has three levels.


The desert world has three.


The ice world has three.


But the last world — the one on the clouds — only has two.


Granted they’re longer than most other levels, and harder too, but it should probably surprise most first-time players that it’s the second level that ends with a fight against the biggest of the big bads. There is no surprise third level.

“Hey, why is that?”

The answer, apparently, lies in the source material: Doki Doki Panic, the Japanese NES game that was remade into the American sequel we call Super Mario Bros. 2. In Doki Doki Panic, the four heroes are an Arabian family trying to rescue two children, Piki and Poki, who were sucked into a magical storybook. Also, there’s a pet monkey, but the monkey doesn’t get to do anything, which anyone can tell you is a lost opportunity on Nintendo’s part.


Watch the dramatic kidnapping (plus listen to a weirdly off-key version of a tune that should be familiar to anyone who beat Super Mario Bros. 2).


It doesn’t show it in the intro, but the storybook motif explains the missing final level, at least according to this page: In the scuffle, the final page of the book accidentally gets destroyed. Yep, the final level is missing because the ending of the book got removed. You, the player, has to go through the game and beat the big bad, essentially re-writing the lost ending.

Weird, right? And possibly a little meta? Especially when you look back on those stage intro screens I posted above and you realize that they retain that “page of a book” motif? They literally look like stacks of paper.

I’m assuming this backstory comes from the instruction booklet, which I (a) don’t have aside from this snippet and (b) couldn’t read anyway because it’s in Japanese. Can anyone with such access and a functional understanding of Japanese verify? The Mario Wiki, being a wiki made by and for crazed fans, isn’t so hot with the documentation and citation.



Previous times Super Mario Bros. 2 made me question things:

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