The greatest trick the hedgehog ever pulled was convincing the world Mario was slow.
People naturally think in dualities. For every light, there is darkness. For every day, there is night. For every god, there is a devil. It happens over and over again throughout history, and, frankly, it kind of makes sense. We, as human flesh bags, pretty much only experience life in binary extremes. Everything is perfect and shiny and happy until the very minute allergy season hits and oh my God this is the worst I have ever felt. Or there’s the ever popular climate control thing: consider all the different temperature variances on Earth, and then consider that human beings are only comfortable in a range of, what, about five (Fahrenheit) degrees? Everything else is either scorching hot or freezing cold. The middle is an illusion… or at least our silly ape brains believe that.
So when Sonic the Hedgehog debuted in 1991 under the advertising campaign of “blast processing” and “gotta go fast”, it was naturally assumed that the other end of the aisle was slow. And, if you were reading Nintendo Power at the time… it was kind of hilarious. Much like during a recent election that seems to stick in my memory for some reason, Nintendo unnecessarily devoted a lot of time to defending the speed of its system and mascots. Did you know that there’s no such thing as blast processing? Did you know that there’s a game for SNES featuring Road Runner, and another starring Speedy Gonzales? They’re the fastest creatures on Earth, and they’re on the Super Nintendo! Come back, lucrative and finicky soon-to-be-labeled tween demographic! We’re Nintendo! We’re still hip!
But the future refused to change. Even after Mario buried the Hedgehog deep under the planet Saturn, the idea that Mario equals slow persisted. To this day, the average person sees Mario as something of a slow, roly poly mascot, and not the amazingly athletic plumber that actually appears in any given Mario game. Good job, Sega, you permanently marred a gaming icon.
Which is a shame, as Mario has always been about speed. Okay, maybe that isn’t quite accurate, Donkey Kong doesn’t include so much as a run option, and Mario Bros. has something of a “speed kills” moral, but Super Mario Bros, the game that practically invented a genre, is all about that B button. Yes, you don’t have to run during any of SMB’s stages, but once you start learning the game and where you can run, well, there’s a reason the princess can be rescued in twelve minutes. And SMB begat SMB2, a game where Toad can take off at Mach 2, thus making him the fastest fungus in gaming. And then Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World? These are games where Mario can move so quickly, he literally flies. Usain Bolt can’t brag about pulling that one off, and neither can a certain hedgehog.
But, as time went by, Nintendo didn’t exactly emphasize Mario’s speed. Super Mario 64 is an amazing game, but nobody is impressed when our hero outraces a turtle for a star or two. And this would be about the era when Mario RPGs started making their way into the release schedule, and, as much as those games might be fun, they do nothing for Mario’s speed records. By about the time that Mario was shooting around the galaxy, it seemed like the world at large might never even remember that Mario could once soar with only the power of his own two legs (and maybe a magical leaf).
And then we received New Super Mario Bros. 2, and Mario was back in the fast lane.
Granted, some credit should go to New Super Mario Bros. (1). The first complete 2-D Mario game in what seemed like forever introduced the turtle shell power up. This quickly forgotten item allowed Mario to “become” a koopa troopa shell once he hit top speed, and, with this marvelous invention, the player could see exactly how long they could keep Mario spinning before inevitably dropping into some nearby lava. It was a noble effort of a “new” ability for a new Mario in New Super Mario Bros, but it did pale in comparison to the raw destructive power of the mega mushroom. Probably thanks to its mammoth fun guy brother, the turtle shell never saw a Mario game again… but it seems like its legacy lives on in Mario’s (kinda) next “new” adventure.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is supposedly about coin collecting. Well, technically it’s about princess rescuing and turtle smashing, but the gimmick du jour is established pretty early as “Mario wants to buy a boat”. And, frankly, with all these gold coins lying around, I’m pretty sure Mario is going to be able to put a down payment on a planet by the time he finishes Special World. But the actual act of collecting free floating coins is secondary to NSMB2’s greatest innovation: the coin block hat (there’s… probably a better name for that). Once Mario is wearing that coin block… things change.
It’s a simple concept: when Mario is a blockhead, he earns coins for every second he is moving at top-Mario speed. While this may seem like something that wouldn’t make much of an impact (oh boy, a whole fifty coins, wow), something changes in a Mario player’s brain when that “coin get” sound activates. Good things are happening! Good things need to keep happening! I need to gather more coins! I need to move as fast as possible! I need to hear that precious 1-up sound right now or I am going to die! And so, from the first moment that block appears, Mario suddenly has a constant, driving reason to move as quickly as possible. And, luckily, somebody at Nintendo knew damn well that would be the first thing that would happen, so many (sorry ghost houses and underwater stages) NSMB2 levels are designed around speed. And, thus, Mario has imperceptibly regained his overlooked speed.
Unfortunately, it probably won’t stick. New Super Mario Bros. 2 was well received by the general gaming public (fifth bestselling 3DS game!), but it was released around when we received an embarrassment of riches of Mario games, and NSMB2 was considered the least essential of the bunch. Couple this with handheld releases being continually (and unjustly) forsaken for their console counterparts, and we’re probably looking at a generation of gamers mistakenly remembering this title as something from the Wario franchise in a few years. Mario running around with a coin block on his head? Did that really happen?
So, sorry Mario, the hedgehog wins this one. It was a noble effort, but, even though Sonic’s next game will probably contain 80% standing around talking furries by volume, you’re the slow one. White is white, black is black, Sonic is fast, and Mario is slow.
FGC #277 New Super Mario Bros. 2
- System: Nintendo 3DS. Luckily, this game doesn’t use the dual screen or 3-D too much, so we might see some kind of adapted port on future systems.
- Number of players: There is technically two player co-op in this title! Unfortunately, I say “technically” because your buddy needs to have a 3DS and a copy of the game, too. That rarely happens randomly.
- Favorite Koopa Kid Boss Battle: The answer is always Roy. Roy, as they say, is our boy.
- Favorite Stage: I would play an entire game that is just Mario shooting coin fireballs at blocks like Special World-1. Even more than “Mario likes to run”, I think I want to play a game that is “Mario wants to destroy entire levels”. See also: Mega Mushroom.
- Did you know? Apparently the Koopa Kids, who premiered in Super Mario Bros. 3, did not have names when they were first introduced, and Nintendo of America was responsible for their monikers. That kind of explains Wendy O…
- Would I play again: I actually wound up with a physical copy of this game and a digital version thanks to Club Nintendo. Since that translates to this game technically always being available on my 3DS, that leads to a lot of extra Mario time. This also means yes, yes I will play it again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus for the SNES! Oh man, that game is so amazing, I can’t even breathe. Please look forward to it!
And that’s how the dinosaurs went extinct
New Super Mario Bros. 2 might not get the respect it deserves as a handheld game overshadowed by other NSMB titles, but if we’re talking Fast Mario there’s still New Super Luigi U. Game’s designed with stages meant to be cleared in less than 100 seconds so you gotta go fast, and it was in one of the Wii U bundles as a 2 in 1 disc with its easier more mellow big bro.
But you’re right, Sega was full of shit. Mario was not slow in his 2D platformers. A big part of the fun of replaying SMB1 and (if you’re masochistic) Lost Levels is tearing through the stages as fast as you can, timing jumps just right to avoid or stomp enemies and clear gaps. NSMB2 and NSLU get that.
Also it was nice to see proper flight return, however briefly. The propeller and flying squirrel suits were good fun, but they’re limited by a game design that has to take into account the possibility of there being four simultaneous players. One person flying off the screen and killing the other three is a great way to end friendships.
As for the blue shell, it wasn’t completely forgotten. In Super Mario 3D World, you can steal a Koopa Troopa’s shell and ride inside it for a little while by ducking while holding it.
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