Top 100 NES Review: #21 – Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)

A False Sense of Choice.

You might think you are playing SMB2, but really it’s playing you. 

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 8.33.00 pmSydlexia’s Ranking: #21/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

As the odd ball, SMB2 does a lot of things never seen before: it prominently incorporates a transgendered bird, hides rocket ships in plain sight by masquerading them as root vegetables, and allows the consumption of a potion for us to see dark world reflections of reality.

During this adventure, we feel like we are the driver of our thoughts, allowed to make character selections and win extra lives in roulette. Little do we know that SMB2 is playing with house money, and we are just along for the ride.

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One never knows what they will find when pulling tuberous vegetables: maybe a raddish or perhaps a rocket ship?


From Mario Wiki:

One night, Mario had a strange dream. He found himself climbing a long staircase leading up to a mysterious door. Opening the door, Mario’s eyes fell upon an incredible world unlike anything he’d ever seen. A quiet voice spoke to Mario, saying,

“Welcome to Subcon, the land of dreams. Our once-beautiful world now suffers at the hands of the evil Wart. Please help us! Only you can free us from his tyranny. Oh, and remember one thing: Wart hates vegetables.”

However, before Mario could figure out what was happening, he suddenly awoke on his bed and realized that it was all a dream. The next day, while heading out to a picnic with his friends Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad, Mario told the tale of his strange dream. Hearing this was quite a shock to his friends, who all had the very same dream the night before.

Upon arriving at their picnic spot, the group noticed a small cave. Inside was a long staircase that led up to a door. At the top, the four friends opened the door and stood shocked by what they saw. It was Subcon – the world of their dreams!

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In theory you get to choose your player, but really there is no choice at all.


Character Selection.

It is easy to get excited about SMB2. Upon starting the game, a new twist is immediately introduced: you get to choose who you play as. You quickly learn you have no choice: Princess Peach is the only option. 

  • Mario: An all around average character, he does nothing particular special. While his commitment to mediocrity is at first intriguing, you quickly learn other people jump and handle much better.
  • Luigi: Unlike his brother, Luigi does something of note — he quickly goes into muscle spasms whenever he jumps, allowing him to slow the effects of gravity. Unfortunately, his poor motor control also leads to decreased precision making him worthless when accuracy is needed.
  • Toad: With the athleticism of a squid, Toad is only noticeable for how worthless he is. While cases can be made for Mario and Luigi (albeit weak ones), Toad is undeniably and universally worthless.
  • Princess: Graceful and elegant, not only does she have tight controls and good jumping, she can levitate and float for  a couple seconds. This allows you to cruise over tricky areas or give you time to perfectly place your self in times of danger.

What at first seemed an divergence of choice becomes a one-way road.

Venturing Out.

You can’t say SMB2 wasn’t willing to try some new stuff. The game booklet was a treatise written in Engrish, and there are some unique finds that need to be highlighted.

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Birdo is really some kind of transgender figure, wishing to be called birdetta. Not only does the pamphlet make fun of his choices (“he thinks he is a girl”) it refuses to call him by his name or pronoun of choice. What privilege. Or take Mouser’s description: “It is a bomber of bad dreams that destroys good dreams.” Such clear and precise word selection.


The normal rhythm you get with a game never arrives. You are always one step away from an ostrich or a ghoul chasing face. This constant tricks and surprises make the game delightful, and somehow giving the eclectic variety, a sense of cohesion. The puzzles involving the potion are some of the best: the game has a way of telling where you need to drop it to really get something special, and finding these spots are a delight.

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Emulating real life, this roulette has nothing to do with skill.


The game ends on the biggest switcharoo. It was all a dream. The hidden political messages and non sequitur scenarios no longer matter. One almost feels cheated. After all, we have just spent hours seemingly being in control only to learn it was a subconscious projection of Mario. Who knows what powerful implications this has for our pscyhe?

In the final estimation, it is still a classic side-scrolling adventure, no matter how many times they trick us into thinking we had a choice.

Other People’s Takes:

  • Extra Life Reviews: “It wouldn’t be a terrible installment to start with either, though newcomers will have to realize that, for better or worse, no other game in the series is like it.”
  • VoVatia: “Of course, not all Birdos encountered in the game DO spit eggs; some only spit fire. Perhaps these are the males of the species? I doubt it’s that simple, though.”
  • Legacy of Games: “By world 4 I already began to kind of hope the game was about to end already, only to learn there were 3 worlds left to go.”

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  1. When I read this entry, I was already dimly aware that February’s Nintendo Online service would bring SMB2 to the Nintendo Switch and looked forward to playing it. I played through every single stage as opposed to warping, which is what I usually did as a kid.

    And yeah. Pretty much, the Princess is the only real choice in this game. I can’t imagine trying to get through some of those levels with anyone else.


  2. Agreed. I’m not sure how open to interpretation the ending is, but I like to think maaaybe it’s Mario just dreaming about an adventure that actually happened.

    In the original game, Dream Factory Doki Doki Panic, everything takes place inside a storybook; there’s no reason that couldn’t have worked for the Mario characters as well.


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