Super Mario Bros. 2 Creator Kensuke Tanabe on Super Mario Maker's Missing Piece

Super Mario Bros. 2 Creator Kensuke Tanabe on Super Mario Maker's Missing Piece

Does the director of the oddball NES classic feel snubbed over his game's absence in Nintendo's upcoming game design tool?

Super Mario Maker has evolved from the pleasant, simple foundation for designing Mario levels that Nintendo showcased at last year's E3 to a deliriously insane jumble of ideas that span the entirety of the series' history in two dimensions. Takashi Tezuka and his team have retrofit any number of latter-day Mario concepts into the style of games dating back 30 years, then empowered players to smash everything together into a sort of Mario fever dream.

"The accumulated nostalgia of all their Starmen and Mushrooms will foam up about their waists and all the journalists and YouTubers will look up and shout "Super Mario 2!"... and I'll look down and whisper 'No.'" [Image source]

And yet, there's one chapter of the Mario saga conspicuously missing from SMM's (almost) all-inclusive sandbox: 1988's Super Mario Bros. 2 for NES. And that's no small oversight; for a great many American Nintendo fans, SMB2 represents a sort of inflection point for their fandom. It was the Mario game that arrived right as the NES hit critical mass in the U.S., and it graced the cover of Nintendo Power issue 1, a magazine that showed up in millions of mailboxes around the country. As brilliant as Super Mario Maker looks, the fact that the only SMB2 element that appears to be in the game is the trademark red doors has been something of an elephant in the room for many fans.

As it happens, I had the opportunity to interview Nintendo's Kensuke Tanabe last week at E3. Tanabe was there to discuss Metroid Prime: Federation Force, but I did sneak in the question that had been on my mind all week: Where's Super Mario Bros. 2?

Tanabe laughed when I pointed to the Mario Maker poster on the wall of our interview room and asked about the apparent oversight. "Super Mario Bros. 2, as you know, when we created that game in Japan, it didn't have Mario as the main character," he said. Tanabe directed the original Japanese version of the game, a tie-in with a Fuji Television promotion that was reworked to become a Mario adventure when it came to the U.S. "Probably because of that, it's been overlooked for Super Mario Maker."

I asked if Tanabe had ever discussed the inclusion of his contribution to Mario canon with Super Mario Maker with producer Takashi Tezuka. "I didn't talk to Mr. Tezuka at all about it, actually," he admitted. "It does seem sort of unfortunate."

Still, Tanabe says there's still hope for the future, perhaps in the form of a SMB2-style version of Mario Maker. "If I ever have the chance, yes, it would be interesting to work on something like that," he said.

Of course, there's probably a more fundamental reason SMB2 didn't make the Mario Maker cut: It's a very different game from the rest. The original concept behind the level-creation project was to unify the mechanics of all Mario games, conferring uniform physics and skills across all titles included in the tool kit. There is, however, some uncertainty as to whether or not Tezuka's team has abandoned that plan for the final game.

Anyway, it still looks pretty great, even without fan-favorite SMB2 in tow.

Even so, while it would seem relatively straightforward to find a happy medium between the slightly slippery, inertia-heavy controls of the original Super Mario Bros. and the floaty wall-jumps of New Super Mario Bros., the unconventional mechanics of SMB2 would surely make for a massive headache as part of the Mario Maker sandbox. It featured a number of skills not seen in any other Mario adventure, including plucking, lifting, and heaving enemies and items; it's the one Mario title in which jumping on foes doesn't register as an attack, which represents a massive fundamental difference in play mechanics. Its rules would be completely incompatible with those of, say, Super Mario Bros. 3, which also included the ability to carry and throw objects, but in a completely different fashion from SMB2.

At the same time, SMB2 isn't some black sheep; Nintendo has happily incorporated it into Mario canon. The game was reissued in Japan as Super Mario Bros. USA, appeared in Super Mario All-Stars, and appeared as the launch title for the Game Boy Advance in all territories. Many of SMB2's enemies have become mainstays in Mario spin-offs (e.g. Shy Guys and Birdo) or even in the "core" Mario titles (e.g. Bob-ombs).

Tanabe himself still holds a certain fondness for the game and hopes for an opportunity to revisit it; perhaps as a direct follow-up to SMB2, or maybe in a completely different title. "I do still feel like the game mechanics — especially pulling things out of the ground — that's something I can still make another game out of," he mused. "It's just that I've been busy with all the other projects I'm working on.

"Even back [in the NES era], I was interested in creating another game in the style of Super Mario Bros. 2, but I never had the opportunity. But you never know. If you look at something like Federation Force, for example, it's something I had in mind for 10 years, but it's only now I've been able to realize the game idea!"

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3 NES Classic Edition: Tips, Hints, and Warp Locations

How to find warp locations and other hints and tips for Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3 on the NES Classic Edition.

The Long Journey West: 8 Japanese Games that Took Their Time Making it to America

Final Fantasy Type-0 isn't the only game to linger for years in a state of uncertainty. Now with video!

Nintendo's All-Time Greats: Our Comprehensive Guide to the Best NES Games

A comprehensive video guide to the best games of the NES, from 1985 to 1994, with helpful advice on where to find these classic masterpieces legally!

Five Divisive Video Game Sequels

Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, one thing is clear: These strange sequels really made a name for themselves.

Halo: Reach is Still Great—But Its PC Port is Missing Some Key Features

The magic of Halo coming to Steam is marred by a barebones port.

More Interviews

The Guilty Gear Strive Interview: Why a Cult Favorite is Starting From Square One

The goal of Strive is to make everyone feel like a "newcomer."

Persona 5's Katsura Hashino on His Favorite Characters, Japanese vs. Western Storytelling, and Anxiety

"So many people are getting carried away with their anxiety that they’re losing touch with what’s really going on."

Interview: Lara Croft GO's Indie-Style PS4 Development

Antoine Routon, Lead Engineer at Square Enix, and Bronson Zgeb, Director of Design at KO_OP, talk about the small-team development behind the PS4 version of Lara Croft GO.

Ghost Recon Wildlands: Building Bolivia By Brick and Biome

A look into Ubisoft's work in crafting the South American landscape of the newest Ghost Recon.

More on NES

USgamer Holiday Gift Guide 2019: For the Nostalgic Gamer

If you're shopping for someone who still finds beauty in cartridges and pixels, have we got a gift guide for you.

Make a Statement At Your Next LAN with This NES-Inspired Mouse

You'll probably come in last at whichever game you're playing, but you'll look good while losing.

What's Your Favorite Sports Game?

COMMUNITY QUESTION | Deadspin forever.

Three Classic Letters That Show How Much Easier It Is to Be a Video Game Fan in 2019

The gaming community knew nothing in the '90s, and frankly, neither did a lot of publishers.

This Weekend's Tetris World Championships Showed Why Classic Tetris is Thriving

As the NES Tetris community grows, newcomers and hyper-tapping players are rising to the top.

Return of the Obra Dinn's Creator Reminisces on Getting Its Iconic Style Just Right

"After working on non-graphical stuff for so long, I took a moment to reflect on what I had with the visuals. It wasn’t great."