As much fun as I had had with Super Mario Brothers in the late 80s, I think the true love affair between Mario and myself began with Super Mario 3.
We were first introduced on the NES and it was love at first play. The 1990s were still young and I was still ~sigh~ young at heart. Super Mario 3 certainly had the cuteness factor – I mean, he looks like a raccoon (sorta) on the cover of the game! Squeeee! Well, okay, it wasn’t really a “suit,” but the tail and ears were enough for me.
But really, how could I turn down the chance to fly around levels? (And this was before I had developed my ungodly fear of having to “fly” in video games. I’m still not all okay with gliding in Arkham City.)
Like many platformers, in SM3 you navigated Mario around a series of levels in several themed worlds – grass, desert, snow/ice, giants, sky; you get the idea. Like all Mario games, your goal was to defeat Bowser (and this time round his children) and save Princess Peach. You had the familiar controls of jumping, stomping, and dashing, as well as flying and swimming. In addition to being able to fly via the raccoon suit, there were other power suits, such as the frog suit that allowed for better swimming, and the tanooki suit (probably the closest Mario will ever get to being a furry, I’m guessing) that not only allowed for flying but also gave Mario the ability to turn, like any tanooki surely, into a statue. There was also a suit that turned Mario into something like a Koopa, and I think he could throw hammers. (Damn you terribly memory!)
If you’ve never played this game, really, you must. It’s very strong visually, has great game play, and it so totally super sweet – from the smiling clouds to the seemingly-never-unhappy-yet-always-slightly-annoying enemies that we all know and love. The controls worked remarkably well, I remember, though they were never that precise — both flying and swimming were relatively easy. After I beat the game, I couldn’t help but play over and over…and over again.
But then, just a few years later, we got our first Super Nintendo. And what game came with it but Super Mario All Stars. Do you know what a revelation this was to my gaming-numb mind?? I mean, this one single cartridge contained not one but four (FOUR!!) Mario games: Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario 2, Super Mario 3, and Super Mario: The Lost Levels. And each had been tooled or re-tooled in glorious 16-bit color (SO PRETTY!). All my Mario-driven dreams had finally (FINALLY!) come true.
Super Mario All Stars is the one where I finally beat my not-so-bad nemesis, Super Mario Brothers. I also continually played Super Mario 3 until my eyes bled gold coins and raccoon suits. However, it was also my first introduction to Super Mario 2. Since I had never heard of it before, I gravitated right to it upon first play.
I had never loved and hated a game more. I became inexplicably drawn to its weird landscapes, its difficulty, and its Shy-Guys like some terrible mutant moth that’s only drawn to the flame of 151 on top of a shot.
Super Mario 2 was a game that I had to play and yet, in my heart of hearts, knew I could never finish. The first bit of awesomeness about it was that you could choose your player. No longer did only Mario and sometimes Luigi rule the worlds, but you could also play as Princess Peach and little Toad. And yes, I first picked the princess because at least this time she wasn’t stuck in another friggin’ castle.
The mechanics of the game were similar but different. Running and jumping were the same, but gone was stomping on enemies. Instead, you had to throw vegetables at them that you “harvested” from the ground. Or occasional POW blocks appeared that when thrown would defeat a whole screen of enemies. There was fruit to collect and hearts gave you life. And each character, Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad had a unique special ability. Peach, for instance, could “glide” with the help of her voluminous skirt.
The sucky thing about SM2 was that it was just soooo damn hard! (That’s what she said.) I have bad depth perception, aiming, and timing, three key points that made for the most gloriously frustrating play ever and three key abilities that were necessary to excel in the game. Every platform felt “slippery” or seemed just out of reach. I couldn’t throw a rutabaga to save my life. And I swear at some point the Shy Guys just mocked me. Speaking of which, those Shy-Guys, well…fuck. They were kinda cute and all in their odd Jawa-meets-Jason faces, and they are my favorite of all Mario enemies, but man, they seemed to be all over the place. In too many places. And in too many ways.
But despite all the reasons why I should have just stuck with SM3, I couldn’t not try to play SM2 over and over…and over again. And like my experience with Super Mario Brothers, SM2 was not a controller-throwing game, but one I just had to keep trying for no good reason except that it existed. Plus, it was really nice to look at. Being the middle child, its graphics were better than the original SM but not as complex as SM3, but it was still bright and shiny and different.
Super Mario 2 stands out as the black sheep of the Mario family, but that doesn’t make it any less of a Mario game. It goes with saying that I never got anywhere near the end of the game, but those few levels that I did get through are still quite memorable and enough to make me want to try it again someday. True, I might have a better chance of “retrieving” cherries from a Vegas slot machine, but that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen.