Developed by Nintendo R&D4
Published by Nintendo
Played on Wii U Virtual Console
It's a pretty well-known trivia fact for pretty much any Mario fan. The Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was either too hard or too samey for American audiences (even today, both are easy to see as reasons). The solution? Take a completely different game, Doki Doki Panic, reskin the four main characters with Mario character, and release it to America as Super Mario Bros. 2. It remains a controversial decision that can sometimes put the game towards the lower end of people's favorite Mario games, but as a sequel to the original Mario...it actually makes a lot of sense.
It's kind of insane in a way. You're playing a game nothing like the original Mario. The platforming feels slower, the timer is removed, the power-ups are replaced with a basic two-hit health system (three if you can find a hidden mushroom). Bowser and his minions don't make an appearance at all. And instead of jumping on enemies to kill them, you pick up veggies (or, more likely, the enemies themselves) and toss them. Doing a sequel this bizarrely different from the original is normally a way to alienate a fanbase. Here, though...it shows where Mario could go. Level designs became more varied than the original, and required wild tasks. You get used to killing Birdo by throwing her eggs back. You're pleasantly surprised when you have to ride an egg across a level, or steal an enemy's flying carpet. And although there are many, many Birdo fights (one on every one of the game's 20 levels), the end of world bosses are fairly unique, rather than the repeating Bowser fights from the original. They all have to base themselves around the “pick stuff up, throw it” mechanic, but catching bombs in mid-air or dodging Wart's bubbles adds extra excitement. The game is also fairly difficult—the Wii U's save state feature helps quite a bit, as the game can be unforgiving at times. When you figure it out, though, it's magic.
And the game also ended up being hugely influential to Mario. For the first time, Luigi wasn't just a palette swap, he was taller, changing the character perception forever. The four different characters also have different mechanics, with Mario being good all-around, Luigi jumping higher, Toad pulling items faster, and Peach being able to float. The latest Mario entry, Super Mario 3D World, even brought back most of these attributes. The enemies leave a lasting impression, from birds riding magic carpets to hopping Ninjis to the Shy Guys, Snifits, and Bob-Ombs who forever became attached to the franchise (big bad Wart wasn't so lucky—but what do you expect out of a boss that's defeated by eating vegetables?). It's probably hyperbole to say that everything being so different led to the wild changes taken for future Mario games. But then, with the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 being so “the same, but harder”, maybe a completely different change forced major innovations becoming a part of Mario.
It's an easy game to overlook, but Super Mario Bros. 2 is still very fun and incredibly unique. Take it as Mario or as “Mario and the gang pasted over someone else's adventures”, but if you haven't played it, it's worth playing.