Do you remember Super Mario Bros. 2? If you were a gamer in America 25 years ago, you very likely discovered the game in the form of a clay model photograph and massive photo blowout in the first issue of Nintendo Power (which has become a cultural touchstone for millions of kids thanks to Nintendo carpet-bombing the mailboxes of its entire mailing list with a free copy of the issue). And even if you weren't alive back then, it's shown up in a variety of forms since then: In Super Mario All-Stars, as a Game Boy Advance remake, and of course on Virtual Console.
Nintendo doesn't go back to the well on Mario 2 (aka Super Mario USA in Japan) very often; the most prevalent modern-day references to its world have come in the form of character cameos in some of the more offbeat Mario spin-offs, like the crazy variety of masked Shy Guys that appear in the Yoshi's Island series. Yesterday's game reveals by Nintendo therefore came as a pleasant surprise, as two games on display -- Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World -- include features obviously inspired by Mario 2.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the lead designers on Mario 2 yesterday -- Kensuke Tanabe, the producer on Tropical Freeze -- so I asked him about the influence of his classic creation on Nintendo's next wave of software. First, we spoke about his current project, Tropical Freeze.
"The basic core mechanics are pretty much the same [as in the Donkey Kong Country Returns]," Tanabe told me, "but one thing we've done -- and you can't play it on the floor today, but I think you'll find it interesting -- we've added Dixie Kong as a buddy character. Thanks to her ponytail, she can actually travel up in the middle of a jump arc." Despite her more versatile, more maneuverable style, he said, the downside to Dixie is that she's weaker, meaning she's slower to uproot buried items, a new skill Tanabe refers to as "plucking." Just as Mario and his crew could pull vegetables and other objects from the ground to use as weapons (and did so at varying speeds according to their individual strength), DK and his companions can latch onto hooks and other objects in the soil and pull them up to reveal platforms and other secrets.
"I like plucking," says Tanabe. "It's an old-school feature that I brought over from Super Mario Bros. 2. I thought, 'You know, it would be kind of cool to put that into DKC.' It's a great legacy feature."
Meanwhile, Super Mario 3D World marks the return of SMB2's four playable characters -- Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach -- in the same adventure for the first time since 1988. The New Super Mario Bros. games have replaced Peach with a second Toad, but she's back as a proper heroine in 3D World. Each character has slightly different attributes (unlike New Super Mario, where the Toads and Luigi play just like Mario), and unlike in the past all four can tag along simultaneously through multiplayer.
However, despite drawing clear and direct influence from SMB2, Tanabe says he's had zero involvement with 3D World. ("No, just Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong!" is how he describes his worldload.) On the contrary, Super Mario 3D World's features came as a surprise to him -- but one that he seems a little proud of.
"A lot of the guys who are working on Super Mario 3D World are guys who played Super Mario Bros. 2 back then," he mused. "So in a way, I feel like a father -- like my kids are working on these other games."