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It's-a Mario Time Again!

It’s-a Mario Time! Once again, we’re warping into the world of Mario to celebrate another Mar10 (or "Mario") Day. If all kinds of corporations can milk this property year after year, then why can’t we return to the Mushroom Kingdom for some more tabletop inspiration? This year though, instead of talking about Super Cereal or Mario’s details, why don’t we take a look at a comeback of sorts - Super Mario Bros 2. The game actually has a complicated history, but don’t you panic, some of the best games do. Starting here might give us a sound footing in this sidescroller, though the plot itself is a bit mysterious, as well. Somewhere in there, we’re sure to find a few gems (or coins) of inspiration. So without any further loading time, let's select our player and start the level.

Life is but a dream

Unless you're a video game history scholar, the words "Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic" probably don’t mean much to you... at least not in that order. That, however, is the original game that would eventually become the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 that most of you know and love, not to be confused with the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, eventually known to us in the West as Super Mario Bros. the Lost Levels as part of the SNES remake collection Super Mario All-Stars (phew!). Depending on who you ask, the Japanese follow up to the best selling Super Mario Bros. was either too difficult for American audiences or too similar to the first game. (Or, to quote Nintendo of America's spokesperson and superstar gamer of the day, simply "not fun".) This takes us back to the Dream Factory of Doki Doki Panic. Ironically, the game actually started life as an attempt at a Super Mario Bros. follow-up:a two player top-scrolling throwing adventure, but the limited hardware of the Famicom (as the NES was originally known in Japan) and lack of a single-player mode resulted in the project being shelved in favor of one that was essentially a new set of difficult levels for the original Super Mario Bros. But when Nintendo was asked by Fuji Television to make a tie-in "advergame" for their Yume Kōjō ("dream factory") festival, the abandoned prototype was adapted into Doki Doki Panic, starring the festival's mascots. While that game ended up being a success in Japan, it was never released in the West... making it the perfect candidate for conversion into the American Super Mario Bros. 2, with the festivals mascots protagonists becoming Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach. And it worked - Super Mario Bros. 2 would become the fifth-best selling NES game of all time... finally working its way back to Japan as Super Mario USA.

The Plot Thickens

Along with the character and gameplay modifications, the plot would need to change as well. What was this new Mario game all about anyway? According to the game:

Mario has a dream of a staircase leading to a mysterious door to a mysterious place. A voice identifies the world as the dreamland of Subcon, and asks for Mario's help in defeating the villainous frog named Wart, a tyrant who has cursed Subcon and its people. Mario suddenly awakes and decides to tell Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool, who all report experiencing the same dream. The group goes on a picnic, but discovers a cave with a long staircase. Through a door at the top, they are transported to Subcon, revealing their dreams to have been real. After defeating Wart, the people of Subcon are freed and everyone celebrates. Mario suddenly awakes in his bed, unsure if these events were a dream. He soon goes back to sleep.

So it was all just a dream... possibly from some factory of some sort. Or was it? In the original, the whole thing takes place inside a book that tells the story of a dream machine that's been twisted to produce nightmares. Maybe if we pulled back a bit, Toad could have  been reading Mario a bedtime story. While dreams are often been used in tabletop games as methods of going on adventures, books are all too often left to the sideline. They're featured as literary tools in…well, books… along with movies and the aforementioned video game example. This could become an especially handy tool for characters who might already be focused on books. That's not the only tabletop inspiration we can garner, though. We have yet to talk about gameplay.

Player Select

While still a platformer like the original Super Mario Bros., there were a lot of changes to the gameplay. It'd be hard to ignore the player select screen and the choices between Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach. Each choice has its own advantages and disadvantages from jumping power, strength and the ability to float. You’re not even stuck with this one pick as the game will give you opportunities to change it up. That's a concept we should use in our own tabletop games more often. Even world-saving heroes might need some lower level allies to run part of a mission. There's no reason your ongoing game can’t take a week off and accomplish just that. It can give everyone a break from the dire stakes of a longer story and offers a chance for players to try out new things. Another gameplay change is in the ability to pick up and throw items, including enemies. While different systems will account for improvised weapons in different ways, it's a good idea to remember the attack potential of all the things occupying the players' space and encourage them to think outside the (weapons) box... even if you usually aren’t a fan of the "Rule of Cool." Consider this: are your players more likely to remember and recount tales of the time they knocked the prison guard out with a nondescript melee attack... or when they knocked him out with a leg of their prison bed, fashioned into a makeshift club? I can’t speak for all groups or players, but I’m more likely to remember the times they improvised in their own ways. Especially if someone's taking out an enemy with what appears to be a gigantic white radish.

You can probably find your own inspirations in the game in addition to these suggestions, especially with something as strange and unique as Super Mario Bros. 2. Hopefully, using books within your stories, allowing improvisational combat, and occasionally changing out to someone new and give your normal characters a short rest are all good starting points. If you don’t have a tabletop game going on, though, you can always pop in a copy of Super Mario Bros. 2 in whatever format you have at hand, and see if you can jump onto the flying egg a birdie's spat at you, and throw it right back at the creature. Dreams are weird. Until next week, folks, enjoy your gaming, get out there and a-break some a-dice.


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