The Nintendo Switch has seemingly reinvigorated a stagnant videogame landscape content to churn out yearly entries to big name franchises. While the indie scene is where gamers can dabble in more quirky efforts, it seemed mainstream gaming was forever lost to the dude-bros with their Call of Duties and Maddens with their fancy hi-res graphics.
Although the Switch had a dominant first year, releasing (arguably) the best Mario and Zelda titles in their respective franchises, many gamers wonder if Nintendo has already blown their proverbial wad on their faces, leaving them encrusted with semen until the next generation blows it away.
I’m not a student of history. I spent most of my time checking out whichever chick’s ass happened to be in front of me instead of how So-and-So blah-blahed in who-gives-a-fuck game. However, I do know that when Nintendo first had to follow up their successes on the NES, a number of folks claimed Nintendo crapped the bed. So now we have jizz on our faces and feces in the sheets.
Reminds me of my honeymoon.
Link To The Past
The direct sequels to the original Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda have not been held in nearly the same regard as their predecessors. While the first entries regularly swap places on The Best Games of All Time Lists, the next installments fall further down the list, if they show up at all.
Is that entirely fair, though?
Climb into my windowless van as we explore these less loved titles to see if they were indeed missteps or, like so many geniuses, just misunderstood.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Hey Smart Guy In the Comments, everyone already knows there is a separate Japanese sequel to the original Super Mario Bros. that came out on the Famicom Disk System and the American Super Mario Bros. 2 is a reskinned version of another game Shigeru Miyamoto worked on called Doki Doki Panic. Thanks!
So…yes, the American Super Mario Bros. 2 did not start life as a Mario game, but what we got stateside is ultimately more interesting than what the Japanese received. Later released as the Lost Levels on Super Mario All-Stars, the Japanese sequel plays like homebrew levels of the original game. While the difficulty is ramped up, with poisonous mushrooms and warps that take you back to earlier levels, there’s nothing much this game offers other than more Mario 1 style levels.
The American Super Mario Bros. 2 accomplishes the impossible by both feeling like a Mario game while also not feeling like one at all. Mario and Luigi return as playable characters, along with Princess Toadstool (she will always be Toadstool to me!) and Toad, in his only useful outing in his entire existence. Unlike the previous game, the characters are more than palette swaps, and each of the four have their own strengths and weaknesses.
The biggest adjustment in the gameplay style is the option to pick up and throw items and enemies. It’s odd that squashing enemies by jumping on them is absent from this game since it was the primary method of taking out bad guys in the previous entry. Other than that, the platforming is still as tight as ever and offers some unique landscapes for our heroes to traverse.
Visually, this game is superior the original and, depending on your aesthetic preference, surpasses the third game in some areas. The game really grabs the player by the balls and/or tits in the first few levels to let them know the NES ain’t fucking around.
Of course, this game cannot be discussed without bringing up the M. Night Shyamalanesque twist that the whole game was a dream!
In the paradox that is this game, this reveal is both a strength and a weakness. It helps explain all the incongruities between the first game and this one while also being a cliché. In taking into account the stage play theory of the third game, it leaves the original game as the only one where Mario goes on an actual quest during the NES era. For the mascot of the system, having only one true adventure on the flagship system seems kind of dumb.
Like Robocop (2014), or even Ghostbusters (2016), modern audiences might be more receptive of this game if it was called anything other than Super Mario Bros. Having grown up with the game, I just can’t remove myself from the nostalgia.
I hate to invoke the binary argument of Beatles versus Rolling Stones, but I think it’s an apt comparison. Ultimately, I think most gamers will enjoy the technical superiority of Super Mario Bros. 3, but for those seeking a more offbeat platformer that retains a bit of the Mario look and feel, then this is the superior title. Ultimately, which side you come down on will determine your enjoyment of this game.
Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
Whereas the enjoyment of Super Mario Bros. 2 can be chalked up to personal preference, Zelda 2 is a less interesting entry into the Zelda franchise. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Growing up, I never had a damn clue what I was really doing in either game, but the mechanics of the sequel made it easier to follow.
Players nowadays applaud the open world of the original Legend of Zelda, but to someone who was in Kindergarten playing this game, it amounted into simply wandering the fields of Hyrule and fighting moblins until I died or turned the system off.
There was a linear quality to The Adventure of Link that made it a much more straightforward adventure. Instead of having the complete map immediately available, players could only go to certain points until they had obtained whatever magical doo-dad was necessary to open the next gate. This may feel restrictive after having all the freedom in the first game, but it nicely segments the game while providing the player with a feeling of accomplishment once they’ve finally unlocked the entire map.
While the game plays along the lines of “Go to Point A, get item, Go to Point B, repeat,” there are side quests requiring completion in order to progress. In each town there’s some old fart hanging out in his basement who’ll give you some new magical ability. In order to get to him you usually have to find some esoteric item and give it to his wife or daughter. Unless you specifically know what you’re looking for, this can be kind of WTFy, but thankfully we live in the age of the internet, so it’s not an issue.
While the adventuring aspect of Zelda 2 is toned down a bit, the combat aspect is notched up. Instead of merely slashing or firing projectiles at enemies from a top-down perspective, this game allows Link to learn the upthrust and the downthrust which makes him a more accomplished swordsman. It also explains why he’s standing over Zelda’s sleeping body at the start of each game.
The biggest criticism I hear about the game is its shift from the top-down perspective to the 2D side-view, similar to Mario. Personally, I don’t mind this ,as it freshens up the gameplay and gives the player a more in-depth view of the dungeons and enemies within.
The lack of a bow and arrow is disappointing in this entry, but Link can turn into a fairy. I’ll call it a draw.
The game shines brightest in its boss battles, especially the latter ones. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more accomplished as a gamer than when I finally beat Gooma’s big hairy ass.
That bitch-ass blue knight on a horse from a previous dungeon? Yeah, he shows up as a sub-boss in a later dungeon, so be on the lookout for that. To my shame, I’ve never beaten Dark Link without the “kneel in the corner and slash his knees” trick I saw the Angry Video Game Nerd use.
I prefer Zelda 2 to the original, but I am not immune to its faults. Perhaps the most telling insight comes from creator Shigeru Miyamoto: “All games I make usually get better in the development process, since good ideas keep coming …” However, additional research shows that the plans they had for Zelda 2 on paper ultimately became the game; therefore, it is lacking in that creative spark that comes in the middle of the development process.
This game is far from the excrement I use to make my morning coffee, but it’s also too bare bones. For a Zelda game, that is the last thing it should be. That said, while the developers may not have made a good Zelda game, they made a pretty damn good game overall.
Thanks to the next sequels returning to the series’ roots for both franchises, neither has strayed terribly from the formula since. Each have put in their own twists and innovations for certain titles, and they have achieved varying levels of success with each. While Nintendo has shown to be open to new ideas, they have yet to significantly re-haul one of their top two franchises, with one notable exception possibly being
Super Mario Sunshine.
Now that these franchises are firmly established, these two sophomore titles will forever be known as the black sheep of the franchises. Being different is not a detriment, and these titles should be judged based on their own merits rather than the legacies they are unfairly forced to conform to.
For more video game revisionist history, check out my look back at Donkey Kong 64.