Twenty-five years ago, Nintendo debuted its staple franchise: Super Mario Bros. The initial offering was a crude, 8-bit side-scroller wherein a love-sick Italian plumber (who was originally supposed to be a carpenter, like Jesus) traversed eight worlds in search of a kidnapped Princess.
Too often, Mario was, instead, greeted by an obnoxious mushroom-headed dwarf. The game sold 40 million copies and held the title of best-selling game of all time until 2009, when Wii Sports stole its own crown.
But the original game has nothing on its sequel—for which Japanese developers must have gobbled fistfuls of jimson weed and washed it down with black-market absinthe. They created a trippy dreamscape that upended gaming conventions and confused Mario loyalists.
Unlike other games in the series, which were programmed from the ground up, Super Mario Bros. 2 is based on a throwaway Japanese platform named Doki Doki Panic. That game was certainly bizarre, but since it was independent of a popular series it was immune to the head-scratching public reaction that Super Mario Bros. 2 received.
Super Mario Bros. 2 differed from its predecessor in lots of ways: you kill enemies with vegetables and explosive TV sets; you can choose between four different characters with various strength and jumping abilities; mice attack you with bombs; you can ride ostriches and magic carpets; etc, etc.
It was an all-too-brief period when Nintendo was ditching formulaic rehashes and trying to innovate with each new iteration. Since then, new Mario games have been essentially the same with a few modifications, and since Mario started speaking offensively skewed Italian, they’ve become more and more annoying, grating, and kid-centric.
The best part about Super Mario Bros. 2—released in 1993—is its exploration of alternative sexualities. Here’s a description of Birdo, one of the game’s bosses, in the original instruction booklet: “He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called ‘Birdetta.’”
Birdo went by the name “Catherine” in some Japan-only versions of the game. Nintendo realized it was in taboo territory and removed that reference from the manual. Since then, Birdo has become a female. Perhaps she finally got the operation she desired?
A friend of mine once said that a fondness for Super Mario Bros. 2 over all other Mario games indicated faulty wiring in one’s childhood brain—a deep-seated yet imaginative psychosis that may or may not have afflicted adolescent growth. Of course, that statement has no scientific basis, but I’d say it’s true.
I’d also go so far as to suggest—without proof—that Mario 2 fans were more likely to experiment with drugs at a young age. Or maybe I’m just reminiscing on my own twisted upbringing.
Either way, although Super Mario Bros. 2 won’t turn 25 until 2013 (the game’s birthday is unlikely to be celebrated as much as the original’s), it represented an important milestone in gaming, as it came so early in the popular adoption and cultural influence of video games.
That, and Super Mario Bros. 2 (though geared towards kids) showed a kind of forward-thinking maturity in the industry, almost an adult-edge, unlike some of the other “adult” games, like the Custer rape one.