Mariothon Pt. 4: Super Mario Bros. 2
And here we're talking about the US version of SMB2, because the Japanese version is pretty much... uh... terrible. Miyamoto must have been having a bad year and wanted to take out his frustrations on players, because there's nothing about SMB2 that resembles "fun." It's much too difficult -- and frequently unfairly so -- to be enjoyable.
SMB2, on the other hand, is probably weighted a little too much toward "easy." After spending months (without success) to finish the original SMB, and months unraveling the mysteries of Metroid, completing SMB2 the second day I owned it was something of a shock. But while the experience of reaching the finale was somewhat compressed compared to what I had come to expect in crazy-hard early NES games, it still made for some damn good times.
Drop the key
Keys and videogames: two traditions that have gone hand-in-hand since, uh, Keystone Kapers. Or maybe Super Pac-Man. Or Adventure. Or Zork, I dunno. And SMB2 had them, too. But when you grabbed the keys in SMB2, the game commenced to freak you out by sending a fleet of deadly opera masks after you. That is the sort of thing of which childhood nightmares are constructed, my friends.
Ground control to Major Toad
Pulling up a weed in 4-1 (or was it 4-2?) and having it turn into -- not a vegetable -- not a POW block -- not a potion -- into a rocket ship blew my tiny adolescent mind. It was pretty useless when speaking strictly in terms of gameplay, sure. But in terms of mental impact, it was completely unexpected. Especially coming right after a series of platform challenges which involved running along, uh, whale spume. Who needs realism in videogames? The surreal free-association of a dreambound world is so much more entertaining. And random. Entertainingly random, even.
After being harrassed endlessly by that jackass Lakitu throughout the duration of SMB, it was a relief (bordering on giddy empowerment) to be able to hop onto Pidgit's magic carpet and swipe it right out from under his feet. That's the hallmark of a good sequel: you take an element of the original game, then twist it inside-out. SMB2j did some twisting, too, but in a bad way. Like giving players poisonous mushrooms, where before they were helpful. Our SMB2 did it right, giving players the ability to turn the tables on hazards from the original...
...even if it wasn't technically designed as a sequel.
SMB2's ending still ranks among the best ever simply for its sheer visual impact. OK, so it was just Mario snoring. But there'd never been an image that large, that vividly rendered in a console game before, and it was fun to watch the animation even after the credits and cast had rolled and "The End" was scrawled onto the screen. Mario just kept snoring away until you hit the power or your machine melted.
There's a certain irony to be found (and savored) in the fact that a game which was never intended to have anything to do with Mario has done more to define the series' characters and personalities than any other single chapter. And that is why SMB2 rocked, and rocks.