Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#61 – Section Z

Even if I never found the real Section Z, this early NES title is an intriguing blend of genres.

Plain screen with good music!

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 10/10/17 – 10/16/17
Difficulty: 5/10
My Difficulty: 5/10
Video: Section Z Longplay

I never realized just how many NES games are arcade conversions until I started this deep dive into the library. Here we have another one with Section Z. This conversion differentiates itself from many other ports by significantly altering the style of the game from the arcade to the NES. The changes in the NES game make Section Z more suitable for home play as opposed to a quarter-munching arcade experience. Reading impressions from other players around the web gives me the consensus that the NES version is the better game. Let’s take a closer look to see if these changes make Section Z on NES fun to play.

Section Z began as an arcade title released in December 1985. It was both developed and published by Capcom. The game was first ported to the Famicom Disk System in Japan in May 1987. This version of Section Z is also developed and published by Capcom. The NES port was released shortly thereafter in July 1987 in North America. Europe had to wait until September 1989 before Section Z on NES was released there. Many years later, the arcade version was re-released in a few different Capcom arcade game compilations, so you can play it on PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox, or Xbox 360.

Section Z is a side scrolling shoot-em-up. You play the role of Captain Commando and you are tasked with entering the enemy base of Balangool. The mission is to destroy L-Brain, who is located in Section Z of the enemy base. Defeat L-Brain and escape Balangool to beat the game. It’s a shell of a story and premise, but it’s all you really need.

Fly in there and fight!

In the arcade game, you automatically enter the base and begin at Section A. Your character looks like an astronaut with a gun. He can move in all directions but can only fire directly left or right. You use the joystick to move around and you have two action buttons, one to fire your gun and the other to turn around and face the other way. Therefore, you can face one way while moving in another direction. You also drop bombs anytime you fire your gun. Play progresses linearly from Section A alphabetically to Section Z. You find upgrades to increase both your speed and the strength of your gun up to three times each. Every five sections or so you fight a boss, and after that the game scrolls in a different direction for the next set of sections.

The NES version changes things up by having a completely different level structure. For starters, the sections are numbered, meaning there is no Section Z at all in the game! The sections themselves are arranged in a giant maze that you explore via branching paths. The game begins with the approach to the base in what the game calls Section 00. Play scrolls to the right in this and every other section in the game. After this short action sequence, you descend directly into Section 01 for more shoot-em-up action. At the end of this section, you are presented with a pair of teleporters and you decide which way to go. Most sections in the game have these branches at the end, and you don’t know where you’ll end up until you pick one for yourself. Each section is numbered to help you map your way through the maze. Furthermore, the whole base is logically broken down into three areas, each its own self-contained maze.

The controls are almost like the arcade game. You can move your character in all eight directions with the D-pad. Instead of having dedicated fire and turn buttons, pressing B fires to the left and pressing A fires to the right. This is much more intuitive control. You do not drop bombs when you shoot like you do in the arcade version. If you press both A and B together, you will generate special weapons. Start pauses the game, and Select uses a powerup.

It only looks like a standard shooter at first.

The top of the screen displays your score, the current section number, your current energy, maximum energy, and the powerup selection. Section Z utilizes energy in a few different ways, but mostly it acts as your health. You begin the game with 20 energy. Each time you get hit by an enemy bullet, you lose one point of energy. The game is very forgiving when it comes to bullet damage. Also, you may freely touch walls with no issue, and even your character stands on the ground if you land. You die if you get crushed by the screen scrolling, run out of energy, or make direct contact with an enemy. You lose a life and five energy points, but you get to resume at the start of the current section. You get three lives in Section Z, but they are immaterial. At Game Over, you are given the option to continue your game or restart from the very beginning. The only loss from continuing is your score goes back to zero, and Section Z has infinite continues anyway. Dying with no energy remaining is the steepest punishment, sending you all the way back to the start of the current area with 20 energy.

Enemies will occasionally drop powerups when defeated. Regular enemies can drop one of two powerups. One restores three energy points, and the other labeled with the letter S increases your speed. There’s no indication to confirm, but I believe you can increase your speed twice. The weapon powerups come from a specific enemy called a Metal Eater. This looks a metal blob attached to the wall. When defeated, it drops one of three powerups: The Flash Buster, the Megasmasher, and the Barrier Shield.

On the top-right of the screen, you may see up to four letters that indicate which powerups are available. L is for the default laser, and F, M, and B represent the three weapon powerups. Collecting the weapon displays the letter on the status bar and you can arm yourself with whichever one you want at any time. You move the special weapon selector arrow during play by pressing Right on the D-pad, and then press Select to use it. The controls are really bad for equipping weapons on the fly, and you can’t pause the game and select a weapon which seems like an oversight to me. As it is, your best bet is to equip weapons at the end of a section prior to hopping in the teleporter.

Thank you Metal Eater for the gift you will soon give me!

Here’s what the powerup weapons do. The Flash Buster gives you a three-way spread shot, but the bullets themselves are short range. Also, firing another round of shots removes any bullets still on screen. The Megasmasher replaces your normal shot with a large V-shaped bullet. The barrier shield sits in front of you and can absorb 32 bullets before being depleted. You can also get a combination of both the Flash Buster and the Megasmasher, but it’s a bit complicated to acquire. It just seems to happen when you keep grabbing powerups as you play. This is how I believe it works. You must have one of the two base weapons in use, as well as have both weapons in reserve, and then grab a powerup of the other weapon. The combo weapon has the spread and range of the Flash Buster with the bullet type of the Megasmasher. It doesn’t have an official name, but I’ve seen it called the Megabuster in two separate FAQs, so that name seems appropriate to me!

Sometimes the sections have hidden rooms. You have to fire at specific locations to reveal a white warp portal, then fly into it to be taken to the hidden room. There are several kinds of special rooms. You may find a warp room which presents you with two more exits to different sections. An energy refill room looks like the warp room except the teleporters restore some energy. The metal eater room is for finding weapon drops. Finally, you may find permanent upgrades for two additional special weapons in the game. Each of these special weapons is called a Special Transmissions Shell, or STS.

The STS is the special weapon you activate by pressing A and B simultaneously. Pressing the buttons together will display the STS temporarily in the middle of the screen and you must collect it if you want to use it. Collect it first, then press one of the fire buttons to deploy it. Grabbing the STS costs four energy points, so keep that in mind. There are three types of STS. The default one you start with is a Megamissile, which fires a heavy, straight shot. Next is the Flash Bomb which damages all enemies on screen. The last is the Crash Ball that orbits your character for a few seconds and damages everything it touches. You can cycle through available STS by revealing and ignoring the ones you don’t want. I found myself not bothering with STS because of the energy cost and the cumbersome method of equipping them.

Make sure the path you want is unlocked first.

Sometimes at the end of a section, one of the teleporters is a red beam of light instead of the normal white beam. Touching the red beam instantly kills you, so obviously avoid them! There is a generator somewhere in the maze that you destroy to replace the red beam with a normal one so that you can pass. You have to seek out the section that contains the generator and then blow it up. Generators act like a mini-boss battle and halt the screen scrolling when you approach one. They are stationary but fire both aimed shots and tracker bullets that follow you around the screen. With enough firepower, you will destroy the generator, leaving behind an energy capsule that increases your maximum energy when acquired. Backtrack to the previous section with the red teleporter, and if you destroyed the correct generator you will see it transition from red to white and you may now take this new path forward.

The end of each of the three main areas ends in a boss battle. You are awarded with another energy upgrade when you defeat a boss. Exiting this section brings you to a major checkpoint. Here you get a small cutscene which awards you bonus points as well as displays your maximum energy and all STS you have acquired. Unless you turn the game off or reset, you won’t have to go back and replay major areas completed.

Section Z was a game that I rented once as a kid. We had two rental places in my town right across the street from each other, Gentry’s TV and Video and Main Street Video. Gentry’s had moved to the next town over and not long after that Circus Video opened a few blocks further away. I mostly remembered Circus Video for their SNES and N64 games later, but early on they had NES games and I only remember renting just a few of them, including Section Z. I have vague memories of the game, but I know I didn’t understand the game at all and was left unimpressed. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I discovered Section Z was both a shooter and a maze exploration game. This is really suited to my tastes in gaming, and now I can give the game its proper understanding and appreciation. I was very excited about giving Section Z a try with this fresh perspective.

The boss fights are pretty neat, but they do have issues.

My approach before even starting the game was to map out all the paths. Rather than draw an actual map, I drew up a table that connects each exit in a section to its corresponding section. I made sure to revisit each section and take each exit to make sure I didn’t miss any connections. The idea was that I would completely map out the game and take my time exploring, and then go back and figure out the most straightforward way through the game to complete it efficiently on my final attempt. The sections themselves are short and most are not too challenging. The main problem I had was that I ended up going the right way accidentally and couldn’t go back to trace alternate paths. My only options were either to continue on or to run out of energy intentionally to get sent back. I beat the game twice before I felt I had the game sufficiently mapped out, having all primary branches accounted for and only missing a few optional secret areas.

With my completed chart in hand, I traced my complete route and set up to record my final run. I’m really pleased with how my longplay video turned out. I don’t think it’s obvious from watching the video that I was moving through the maze based on just my notes. I beat Section Z without taking any wrong turns and I even beat it without dying. It’s one of the cleanest runs I’ve captured thus far.

My biggest complaint about the game is that the hitboxes for the bosses are incredibly small. You have to be lined up just right to do damage. This is made more difficult in several ways. It is much more difficult to get the necessary pixel precision with both speed upgrades. Missed shots bounce off bosses to neat effect, but it’s detrimental because you must wait for those repelled shots to vanish before you can fire more. The three-way shot makes this even harder. Also, the hitbox is off-center from what you would expect, so you often miss when it appears you are making direct hits. Switching up weapons while dodging enemies or bosses is very cumbersome, and I often chose the wrong weapon by mistake in those situations.

Sometimes the action can get a little hectic.

Section Z has a reputation for being a difficult game, but I would give it an average difficulty rating. Infinite continues, the energy system, and mild setbacks from death ease the difficulty considerably. Keep a map or a table like I did to streamline exploration. Most of the sections are brief and progress from section to section is consistent. Don’t worry too much about avoiding bullets and focus on avoiding enemy collisions. The boss battles are the most difficult part of the game, and much of the difficulty can be mitigated by stockpiling energy and winning through attrition.

Section Z is a neat mixture of shooter and maze exploration that kept my enjoyment throughout my playthrough. I was right that this would be a fun game for me. However, as an early NES game, it suffers from several issues. The boss fights are problematic as I already mentioned. There are graphical glitches that appear visibly in between screens. Sprite flicker is not handled properly, and in some spots the enemies at the end of a long row are completely invisible. These are not exactly minor issues, but Section Z is better in other aspects. The graphics are good for its time, and the music is catchy in almost all instances. There is just a tiny bit of slowdown, but the game performs well even with many enemies and bullets on screen. The boss battles have clever concepts and would be a highlight of the game with a little tweaking.

It’s hard to say if I would recommend playing Section Z today. The NES got a better shoot-em-up and exploration hybrid in The Guardian Legend just under a year later. I can’t decide which aspect I like more: The gameplay or the act of mapping out everything. I do like that Capcom tried something different with the game instead of a more direct arcade port, and the glimpses of quality here paved the way for Capcom’s later NES efforts. What you will get out of the game depends on both your personal taste and acceptance of common quality issues found within early NES games. If any of this sounds appealing to you, I think you should at least try Section Z.

#61 – Section Z


#43 – Spelunker

This cave exploration game has depth in more ways than one.

There is very foreboding music here that is completely opposite in tone from the main theme in game.

To Beat: Reach the Ending Screen
To Complete: Complete 6 Loops
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 12/16/16 – 12/26/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Spelunker Longplay

Derek Yu’s Spelunky is one of the most popular indie games of the last several years. In Spelunky, you descend through a series of randomly generated caves trying to seek out the grand treasure at the end of the adventure. The game is a favorite of mine that I have not given near enough time to playing and learning. Naturally Spelunky was inspired by the classic game Spelunker, and when you dive into the game you can clearly see how the indie title leans on the classic game as its base.

Spelunker is a computer game developed by MicroGraphicImage. Designed by Tim Martin, it was released on Atari 8-bit computers in 1983. Broderbund primarily published later ports of the game. The Commodore 64 version was released in 1984, and the arcade and Famicom ports were released in 1985. The MSX got a port in 1986 and Spelunker came to the NES in 1987. There was a Famicom-exclusive sequel named Spelunker II: Yūsha e no Chōsen also released in 1987. Spelunker has also appeared on Virtual Console. There are a few modern versions too. Spelunker HD was a PS3 downloadable game from 2009 that features 100 brand new levels. Spelunker World is a 2015 PS4 and Vita game, and a brand new game based on Spelunker World is set for release on the Nintendo Switch in 2017.

Spelunker is a side-scrolling cave exploration platformer. Your task is to find the great treasure hidden in the deepest reaches of this cavern. You begin the game on an elevator you control with several paths you can take. The idea is to look around and figure out a way to the bottom. The game consists of one giant level that is broken down into four sublevels separated by checkpoints. You win the game when you reach the final sublevel and locate the stash of treasure.

The initial elevator is as safe as it gets.

Like most platformers, you use the D-Pad to move around. You can use Left and Right to walk as well as climb ropes and ladders with Up and Down. These controls also move the elevator vertically at the start of the game. The A button is used to jump and the B button uses your items. If you just press the B button you fire an air cannon that takes out the ghost enemies. Hold Up and press B to fire a flare upward. These take out the bats, but you only have a limited amount of them. Hold Down and press B to drop a bomb. These are limited just like the flares. Use them to blow up tall rocks that stand in your way, but make sure to stand away far enough from the blast because it can kill you.

The first thing you notice while playing Spelunker is that your tiny adventurer is awfully fragile. You will die if you fall even a tiny distance, and there are many opportunities for this to occur. On the very first screen of the game, you can miss the jump off the elevator and fall to your doom. Past the main elevator is an auto-scrolling elevator. The side closer to you moves downward, so if you try and hop on too low it will kill you. If you can get on the other side, be careful not to ride the ascending side too high while passing through or that fall will also kill you. Spelunker is quick to teach you that death is swift and careful play is necessary.

There are a few enemies and traps in the caves that should be avoided. Ghosts will randomly appear on occasion and they can move freely through the walls of the cavern to hone in on you. Even if you don’t see the ghost you will know it is coming because the music changes as it approaches. You can defeat it by waiting until it is nearby and firing your air cannon. The other recurring enemy is the bat which guards an area with its deadly droppings. Firing a flare will temporarily remove the bat so that you can pass by. There are also stationary traps such as holes in the ground and geysers that spray periodically.

Ghosts emerge from the sides of the screen.

The cavern is littered with ropes for climbing, and these are notorious among Spelunker players for being problematic to deal with. Mastery of rope navigation is a crucial skill to beating Spelunker. When you jump toward a rope, you will automatically grab on to it. You can climb up and down, but you can also move left and right a small amount when on a rope. There is a narrow range of horizontal movement that lets you stay on the rope, so it doesn’t take much lateral movement to fall off the rope leading to instant death. To properly jump off a rope, you need to press Left or Right and the jump button at the same time. If your timing is off, you will either miss the jump or slide off the rope and fall to your doom. Moreover, if you are jumping from one rope to another, you want to take your fingers off the buttons mid-jump so that you auto-grab the center of the next rope. There are several places in the game with multiple rope transitions where you also need to adjust your position vertically in between hops to properly make the jump. There is a feel to good rope movement that is easy to lose the hang of in the middle of a game. Practice makes perfect!

Another important game mechanic is the air meter. As you play your air meter slowly dwindles away, acting as a timer. Firing your air gun to ward off a ghost will also deplete some of the air meter. If you run out of air, you lose a life, but you also start again with a full air meter. There are also items you can find that restore your air.

Speaking of items, Spelunker has several. The most important items for progression are keys. There are blue keys and red keys, and there are corresponding red and blue doors that you can open with them. There are additional flare and bomb pickups. The air meter refill item looks like a stack of rings and fills you up to the max. There are money bags and coins that just give you points. The most interesting pickup is the miracle item. It resembles a snowflake and when you collect it you get a random award. Sometimes you only get points, but other times you may get a flare, a bomb, or an air meter refill. They can also give you an extra life which is most appreciated!

I find it worth going out of my way for the Miracle just in case.

There are also some special hidden items. You reveal them by jumping at certain spots in the cave. These places are often tucked out of the way and more challenging to reach than the normal path. When you trigger one of these spots, you hear a chime and the item will appear somewhere else visible on the screen. These item drops are random and are unique from any other item in the game. You can find the x2 item to double your score for a brief time. Another item either looks like a potion or a shoe, and it doubles your movement speed for a little while. The next one looks like a bracelet and it makes you temporarily invincible from enemies. Finally, the Spelunker head gives you a valuable extra life. There are also hidden diamonds that boost your score, but you find them from bombing specific walls inside the cave instead of jumping. I never knew about these while I was playing so I didn’t collect any.

I found it challenging to pin a difficulty on Spelunker for several reasons. The game has a reputation for being difficult and I can certainly agree with that. The main issue is that the game has touchy and particular physics, so it takes some time to get the feel of the controls and understand your limits with the jumping. Spelunker also introduces a few unique setpieces and obstacles throughout the adventure that I had to fail a few times before getting it down. On the other hand, the game length is quite short. It only takes 10-15 minutes to get to the end. I waffled between giving Spelunker a 7 or an 8 in difficulty before settling on 7 due to the short game length.

This is one of the few times I don’t have much interesting to say about my history with Spelunker. This was my first time attempting a run through the game, and I have no idea where or how I ended up with the cart. The game is common and not very expensive, but the copy I have in my collection is the only one I’ve owned. I suppose I have spent so little time looking at the game that it hasn’t made an impression on me until now!

So near, yet so far!

Spelunker proved to be an interesting game to run through. At the start, it took me a few days of practice before I could reliably get deep in the game. I don’t know how many attempts it took to beat the game but it was probably a 20-30 times. Beating the game one time was a pretty standard experience, but the real fun begins when you start playing subsequent loops of the game. You quickly catch on that something is different the second time through because the cave walls change to a completely different color. As it turns out, Spelunker has six distinct difficulty loops if you want to be considered a master. I was able to beat all six loops in one attempt which I believe very few people have done.

Here is the breakdown of what is different in each loop of the game. If you want to try the game and figure it out on your own, consider the next paragraph a spoiler. The first loop of course is the standard game with golden colored cave walls. The second loop changes the cave color to a dark forest green and also introduces invisible keys. In all the loops, the keys are in the same locations, so once you realize what’s happening this time through is not too bad. The third loop has gray walls and invisible keys along with a new key collection method. This time you must jump where the keys sits to collect it. It’s important to memorize the exact positions of the keys here because you won’t grab them unless you are standing directly on top of them. The fourth loop has yellow walls and this time to collect the invisible keys you must fire a flare while standing on top of the key. This loop is very tricky because if you run out of available flares and miss just one key you must reset and start all over. Also, the gameplay shifts significantly where you should learn how to get past the bats without using a valuable flare. The fifth loop is the same as loop four except the ghosts move much faster. The sixth and final loop is the most devious of them all. To collect the invisible keys, you must jump and fire a flare at the same time. The timing for this maneuver is precise and it is easy to accidently waste a flare by firing it without jumping. The geysers spray faster too. From here the game continuously repeats the final loop’s difficulty and you can keep playing if you want to keep boosting your score.

Spelunker was not very well received in the US, but it gained much more popularity in Japan. There it gained a reputation as a “kusoge,” which is a Japanese compound word that literally means “shit game.” It received that classification due to the slippery controls and the high level of difficulty. Still, there is a subset of people that really get interested in a game like this, and I too thought Spelunker was a fun game. Certainly, it is a product of its time with the controls, physics, and primitive graphics. It’s the kind of game that can grow on you if you are willing to put some time in and see it for what it is. I like that the level design is structured around the movement and limitations of the player, so with that in place I can better appreciate Spelunker for what it offers.

#43 – Spelunker

Super Mario Bros. 2 Box Cover

#33 – Super Mario Bros. 2

Jump into the Mario game of your dreams!

You can already tell the game play will be a bit different!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/9/16 – 10/10/16
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
Video: Super Mario Bros. 2 Longplay

I was pleasantly surprised to see Super Mario Bros. 2 at a mere 33 games into this project. This is also the first sequel covered on the blog! Despite significantly changing the style from the original game, this one is a classic NES game and a must play for anyone who may have passed on it back in the day.

Normally I would refer to the Super Mario Bros. post to recap the history of this game and series, but I went pretty skimpy on the words in that original entry and so it’s time to make up for it here. Nearly everyone knows about Mario and many people in all walks of life remember the groundbreaking NES platformer Super Mario Bros from 1985. Mario originally debuted in the arcade smash hit Donkey Kong in 1981, though he was known at the time as Jumpman. He joined with his brother Luigi in Mario Bros in 1983, but it was Super Mario Bros that really put Mario in the limelight. The iconic plumber has more or less been the mascot for Nintendo ever since. Mario is the star of around 20 platformer style games but has also been the poster child for the Mario Party series, the Mario Kart series, several sports games, and more. Include the spinoffs games from all the supporting characters and there are dozens and dozens more games based around the universe of the one and only Mario.

Nintendo designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka quickly set out to create a sequel to Super Mario Bros, but this is not the sequel that we know of in the US. Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Famicom Disk System was released in 1986 and expands on the concepts of the original game. Luigi is a playable character here with a higher jump but slippier momentum on the ground. The game is perhaps best known for its high level of difficulty compare to its predecessor. Nintendo deemed it too difficult for American audiences and decided not to release it in the US. They instead decided to take one of their other games, Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, and update it into a game with Mario characters. This became our Super Mario Bros 2.

No goombas here!

The series in both Japan and the US would converge again with Super Mario Bros. 3 which was identical between the regions. Nintendo would eventually embrace both Super Mario Bros. 2 games in all regions. The original Super Mario Bros. 2 on FDS was eventually released on the Super Nintendo as part of Super Mario All Stars. Here it was named Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. The American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on the Famicom in 1992 and renamed as Super Mario USA. Super Mario Bros. 2 also made it to handhelds in 2001 as the Game Boy Advance launch title Super Mario Advance with a few more enhancements.

Now let’s talk about the NES title! Super Mario Bros. 2 is a side-scrolling platformer game. Mario comes across a land named Subcon in his dreams that he eventually discovers is real. He brings along Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool and they set out to save Subcon from the evil frog Wart.

At the start of each level you may choose from any one of the four playable characters. Once a character is chosen you must use that character until either the level is cleared or you lose all your lives. Each character has different traits and abilities that come in handy depending on the situation. Mario is the straight average character. Luigi jumps the highest with a slow, loopy flutter jump but he is a bit weaker than Mario. Toad is both the strongest and the fastest –especially when carrying an item — but he has the weakest jump. The Princess is the weakest character but she has the very useful ability to float in midair for a few seconds during a jump.

The princess’ float ability is very useful!

The game has standard platformer controls. Use Left and Right on the D-Pad to walk. Press Up and Down and climb ladders or vines. You can also press Up to enter doors and press Down to duck. The A button is for jumping and the B button is for running when held down. The B button also lets you pick up an item or an enemy. You can carry it around for awhile and later throw it with the B button. There is also a special move called the Power Squat Jump. Press and hold down to duck and after ducking for long enough you will start to flash. Jump while flashing to perform a very high jump.

In this game you cannot defeat enemies by simply jumping on them. In fact most enemies can be ridden safely with no damage to either you or them. When riding on an enemy you can pick it up and toss it into another enemy to defeat both of them. You will find grass on the ground all over the place in this game. You can stand on top of the grass and pluck it out of the ground to reveal an item. Most of the time this will be a vegetable that you can throw into enemies, and these come in ripe and unripe varieties. Other times it will be a useful item. You can find turtle shells that slide along the ground when thrown killing enemies just as in the original Super Mario Bros. Bombs will detonate after a few seconds so you need to get rid of them quickly, but they are useful for destroying crumbled blocks to open up passages. Occasionally you will find a Bob-Omb enemy that explodes almost instantly. You can also find 1up mushrooms that give you an extra life. If you happen to pull four ripe vegetables in a level, the fifth one will be replaced with a stopwatch that freezes all the enemies in place for a little while.

The most important item you find from a plant is a magic potion. Throw it into the ground to create a door leading to Sub-space. This is a shadowy, mirrored version of the current screen where the scrolling is locked into place. Here is where you will sometimes find a large mushroom that expands your life meter when you pick it up. You start each level with two points of health and there are two mushrooms in nearly every level that help increase your maximum health to four. These mushrooms are always in the same location when you play so you will need to enter Sub-space near where the mushroom is hidden to be able to grab it. Also in Sub-space any plants you pull up will reveal coins which I will explain what they are used for a little later. You can collect coins in Sub-space only twice per stage. Sub-space ends on its own after a short while unless you go back through the door, returning you back to the normal level to continue your journey.

Some places have both a mushroom and a lot of coins.

There are other useful items that are out in the open. Cherries can be found floating all over the levels. Collect five of them to spawn an invincibility Starman which rises up from the bottom of the screen. For every five enemies you defeat, a small heart will appear that restores one point of health. POW blocks shake the entire screen when thrown on the ground defeating every enemy touching the ground. Mushroom blocks can be thrown over and over again. You can use them to defeat enemies or stack them on top of each other to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. There are also keys that will unlock a nearby door, but beware of Phanto chasing you around whenever you carry the key.

At the end of each level, you must grab a crystal ball to open the mouth of a giant bird head. Usually the crystal ball is carried by the recurring mini-boss Birdo, but in some cases you find it alone. Proceed through the open bird mouth to clear the stage. It’s definitely weird the first time! Here you get to play a bonus chance slot machine game to earn extra lives. Each coin you collect in Sub-space gives you a chance at the slot machine. If you match three of the same icon you get an extra life. Cherries show up here and they award a little differently. If you get a cherry in the first slot you get one life, if you get cherries in the first two slots you get two lives, and if you get all three cherries you get five lives. It is possible to skillfully stop the slots in order to get the best prizes, and if you play well during the game you will have dozens of opportunities to try.

The last level in each world contains a boss battle at the end. There are five bosses in total. Mouser is a large rodent that tosses bombs at you. Tryclyde is a three-headed fire breathing snake. Fryguy is a floating plumb of fire. Clawgrip is a crab that throws rocks. The final boss Wart is a giant frog that shoots deadly bubbles at you. You won’t attack these bosses directly but fight them with the means given to you inside the boss chambers. The fights can be difficult but I find them to be interesting to play.

Fight fire with … mushroom blocks?

There are 20 levels in Super Mario Bros. 2 over 7 different worlds. Each world has an overall graphical theme but the levels themselves often deviate into other caves and areas. There are three levels within each of the first six worlds, and World 7 only has two stages to round out the 20 levels. You start the game with three lives and you are only allowed to continue twice if you run out of lives. The game is pretty long with no passwords or saving, though there are four hidden warp points that will bump you ahead in the game if you are able to find them. The lack of lives and continues does make the game pretty challenging overall, though this is mitigated by collecting coins and getting either skilled or lucky at the slot machine.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of the earliest NES games I had growing up, so I have spent a lot of time playing it through the years. I have a relatively good memory of the game overall aside from many of the mushroom locations, but I am good enough at the game that I can get by without them. I knew this one would be pretty easy for me to clear once I sat down to play it.

To spice things up for my run of the game I used a random number generator on the side while playing to help select the character for each level of the game. It made things a little harder as some of the levels are best suited for one particular character. I ended up getting the Princess the most often though each character got a few stages of play. It was not a great run of the game for me as I feel I died far too often, but I managed to spread those deaths out enough that it wasn’t too repetitive. I captured footage of my playthrough and decided to edit out a bit of the backtracking after some deaths for my upload to YouTube. It really wasn’t necessary and maybe only saved a couple of minutes overall on the video.

Toad is not the best suited for tiny jumps like this.

I had a couple of interesting things happen during my run worth pointing out. During the Fryguy boss fight, we both defeated each other at the same time. I got the exit door to spawn during the death animation which was kind of cool. I had to do the battle over again though. I also triggered a glitch that I wasn’t aware of. In the second to last level, I managed to throw a mushroom block inside of a ladder. When that happens the mushroom overwrites the ladder tile but the color palette for that location stays intact, so the mushroom is the same color of the ladder until it is picked back up. I almost got it stuck in a spot where I couldn’t get through. That would have meant replaying the game from the start but I avoided that. A little further ahead I got another mushroom block stuck into the top of the ladder where I could pick it back up. I got it all captured on video!

Super Mario Bros. 2 provided a lot of new characters that persisted in future Mario games, such as Birdo, Shyguys, and Bob-Ombs. It also gave new life and personality to Luigi, Toad, and the Princess. Each of those characters has starred in their own game as well as had major supporting roles in other mainstream Mario titles and spin-offs. This game really left a lasting impression. I don’t think that it is publicly regarded as well as it should be and if true that’s a shame. Super Mario Bros. 2 is not just a good Mario game but a good game period and it’s one that should not be missed.

Super Mario Bros. 2 Ending Screen

#33 – Super Mario Bros 2.