Wednesday, January 29, 2014

NES Replay Bonus Round: Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japan)

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: June 1986 (Japan Only)
The story goes like this: After the phenomenal success of Super Mario Bros., Miyamoto and company decided to make a sequel. They created several new levels that upped the difficulty considerably and released it in Japan in August of 1986 as Super Mario Bros. 2.

Super Mario Bros. 2 (sometimes called The Lost Levels) was hard. There were plenty of new challenges, like gusts of wind and difficult jumps. Poison Mushrooms were added to the mix, which looked like regular mushrooms but with a sickly orange color to them. The enemies were more aggressive, like Hammer Brothers that advance on the player and Piranha Plants that come out of their pipes whether or not the player is standing on the pipe.

Mario was already huge by 1986, and the NES was well on its way to being the go-to video game system of the late 80's. Another Mario game in 1986 would have been a huge moneymaker. However, Nintendo of America looked at The Lost Levels and decided against releasing it in the U.S. Instead, they picked a different game developed by Miyamoto's team called Doki Doki Panic and had that one converted into Super Mario Bros. 2 for American audiences (sometimes called Super Mario USA), then released it in 1988.

So, we're going to ask the big question: Did Nintendo of America make the right choice? Should they have released The Lost Levels in the U.S. in 1986, or were they right to wait for Super Mario USA?

The case for The Lost Levels: They’re really good. They cleverly play with Mario conventions. The first real mushroom you can get forces you to use advanced tactics to retrieve it, and the first ‘?’ block you hit has a Poison Mushroom instead. When I played through The Lost Levels from start to finish, I was astounded by the way they forced you to really think about what you were doing before you did it.

For those reasons, some point to the fact that Nintendo of America declined The Lost Levels as a sign that American gamers aren't as "hardcore" as Japanese gamers, but that's not necessarily the case. The gaming markets in Japan and America were completely different in 1986. Japan didn’t experience any market crash, so no one had to be “reintroduced” to video games. Players could easily be thrown into the deep end and left to their own devices.

However, the NES was still in a tenuous position in America. Yes, the NES was selling well, but it was the first console that sold in any quantities in three years. Nintendo was still trying to introduce players to gaming and had to exercise extreme caution.

The Lost Levels looked almost exactly like Super Mario Bros., and the average player wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two. Imagine the average player hearing about how great Super Mario Bros. is, picking up a game that looks exactly like Super Mario Bros. and being soundly humiliated and confused. Would they be willing to try again? It's highly unlikely. Is that what Nintendo wanted? Of course not!

Nowadays we can appreciate the brilliance of The Lost Levels, but American players just weren’t ready for them back then. Super Mario USA was a much better choice for players at the time, and a classic in its own right. However, that’s a story for another day.

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