Retro Review: Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

Content Warning: Fantasy violence, gambling



I usually pick Mario myself.

I usually pick Mario myself.

One night while sleeping, Mario encounters a mysterious door at the top of a long staircase. He opens it to reveal a hidden world, the likes of which he’d never seen. As he gazed in wonderment, a soft voice spoke unto him. The voice reveals the name of this world to be Subcon, the Land of Dreams. It goes on to say that once serene and gorgeous land has been invaded and corrupted by the evil Wart. Beseeching Mario for help, the voice leaves him with one last piece of advice: “Wart hates vegetables.”

Mario springs awake from his bed and realizes that it had all been a dream. The very next day, Mario went out for a picnic with Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool. As they traveled, he told them of the strange dream he experienced the previous night. To his amazement, all three of them had the exact same dream. Upon finding a suitable spot to eat, they noticed a small cave in the distance. Upon entering the cave, they find the same long staircase from their dreams, with the same door at the top. They ascend the stairs and open the door. Upon crossing the threshold, they behold the same place they encountered while sleeping last night: Subcon, the Land of Dreams.

Mario and friends see that everything the otherworldly voice said was true. The land had been taken over by Wart and his henchmen. Steeling their resolve, the group sets off to defeat Wart and restore peace to Subcon.

You can't swim. I just thought I would let you know.

Unlike in the first game, you can’t swim. I just thought I would let you know.

Fun Fact: The game that was to be the true sequel to Super Mario Bros. was Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. The Japanese developers deemed the game both too difficult for western players and too similar to the original to warrant releasing it in western territories. So instead, Japanese developers overhauled a popular game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, refitting it with the Mario characters, and released it in the west as Super Mario Bros. 2. American gamers would not get to play this the true Super Mario Bros. 2 (called The Lost Levels in America) until the release of Super Mario All-Stars in 1993.


A prototype of the game revealed the color scheme playing a more prominent role in the game's main color palette.

A prototype of the game revealed the color scheme playing a more prominent role in the game’s main color palette.

You select a character at the beginning of each stage, choosing between Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Judicious use of these characters will mean difference between victory & defeat, and most players will end up using a combination of at least two characters to complete the game. Mario is average abilities across the board, Luigi jumps the highest, Toad runs the quickest and does not lose speed when hauling objects and the princess has a special hover move she can perform while jumping, allowing her to cross wide gaps.

Each stage involves getting to the end of the stage as efficiently as possible, while trying to avoid taking damage. One key difference from the original is the use of a life meter. This represents how many hits you can take before dying. When you’re down to your last hit, you will shrink. To defeat enemies, you must yank vegetables out of the ground and chuck them into them, or pick up an enemy an toss them into another enemy. Making your way through each stage involves any combination of finding keys, diving in jars, climbing vines, flying, log-jumping and blasting walls with bombs. At the end of each stage is a boss, and when beaten, a door to the next level will open up.

You can earn extra lives by finding hidden 1-up mushrooms in the world, or by collecting coins and playing the slot machine game between stages.


Be careful when climbing; you never know what's above you!

Be careful when climbing; you never know what’s above you!

Reds, greens, and blues are prominent in Super Mario Bros 2. The characters, enemies and environment all have greater detail than in the original. Additionally, you are able to traverse in both directions, which is good, because backtracking will often be necessary in order to reach the end of the stage. You will also be moving vertically at times, as the situation demands. The worlds are rather diverse as well, featuring stages in grassland/hills, deserts, caves, icy & snowy areas, nighttime stages and even way up in the sky. Finally, one of the most memorable sights in this game is when you throw bomb. When the bomb explodes, it flashed a brief animation of an explosion on the screen, with the word “BOMB” proudly displayed in red.


That's right, vegetables can be found growing anywhere, even out of a bridge.

That’s right, vegetables can be found growing anywhere, even out of a bridge.

Super Mario Bros. 2 receives a complete musical overhaul, with brand-new tracks from composer Koji Kondo. The background music regarded as the main theme or overworld is particularly good, and is recognizable by Mario fans both young & old. The sound effects are quite smile-inducing as well, especially when you throw a vegetable at an enemy and knock them out for the very first time. As an added bonus, when you enter sub-space–a sort of reverse world–by tossing a magic potion at the ground and creating a door there, you get to hear a brief redux of the main theme from Super Mario Bros. The boss music is well-produced, if simple. It invokes a feeling of urgency without blaring obnoxious notes into the player’s ear. Plus, you’ll know you’re about to face boss as soon as you hear it, as opposed to some games, where the boss music doesn’t start until you’re right on top of the boss.


While there is not enough writing to truly score Super Mario Bros. 2 in that regard, you do get a nice explanation of the story if you wait on the title screen, right along with that nice title screen music.

Christian Concerns

Outside of the cartoon violence, there is a slot machine game between stages, should the player have coins needed to play it. While not a major exposure to the concept of gambling–as it is more a game of chance that does not use real money–it is still worth mentioning.

Bonus games like this one have become somewhat of a staple in the Mario series.

Bonus games like this one have become somewhat of a staple in the Mario series.


For a game that was never intended as a Mario game, it stands up as a shining example of 8-bit glory. It is a fun game that virtually anyone can pick up and have a good time playing. This game belongs in every gamer’s library.

Photo Credits: Moby Games & GameFAQs

The Bottom Line



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Steve Schoen

Live to game; game to live. Nominal Christian from birth; practicing Christian since 2002. I love to talk all things gaming, from console classics to Dungeons & Dragons.

1 Comment

  1. Casey Covel on September 12, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Aside from Super Mario World, this was my favorite, classic Mario game. It certainly made me “appreciate my vegetables” in a brand new way :3

    I always preferred playing as Toad (not sure why). Peach was pretty cool, too, because she could fly. Interesting how it was never intended to “be” a Mario game in the first place. Reminds me of Dinosaur Planet, which eventually became a Starfox game on the Gamecube.

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