I’m sure most of you know that the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 started out its life as a game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, roughly translating to Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic (the “doki doki” part being onomatopoeia for a beating heart). The characters featured in it were members of a family who were mascots for a Fuji Television promotional event.
While certainly not the only game based on characters from advertising, this one sounds way too specific for the game to have a particularly long life, regardless of its quality. It’s no wonder it was adapted into a Mario game, and it’s not like it didn’t already include elements from previous games featuring the pasta-pounding plumbers. The star that grants invincibility reappears from the first SMB, and the POW block from the original Mario Bros. According to the Wikipedia article, there were plans to make it a Mario game BEFORE the Fuji characters got involved, so maybe SMB2 is closer to the original intention than DDP. The mushrooms and turtle shells, on the other hand, were new to the American adaptation. They actually replaced creepy masks, which were everywhere in both the Fuji promotion and the original game. The one that became a turtle shell was, embarrassingly enough, a blackface mask.
That kind of thing apparently isn’t frowned on in Japan as much as it is here. I believe the dream world theme was also a reference to the promotion. Drew Mackie recently bought the game and took a look at the instruction book, and a comment reveals that the Land of Dreams was initially called Muu, which literally translates as “dream space.” I have to wonder if there’s a link to the Buddhist concept of mu, which basically means “non-existence,” or to the lost continent of Mu. Of course, a one-syllable word can be linked to just about anything, but I think the former is likely, if only in the development of the Japanese word “muu” itself and not with Doki Doki Panic specifically. The lost continent, as per the book on Atlantis and similar legends that I read several years ago, was actually based on a mistranslation of a Mayan document. While maybe not intended to be linked with Asian terms, “non-existent” and “dream world” both sound pretty appropriate for a land that isn’t there anymore.
The location of Mu in this map also matches that of Aliahan in Dragon Quest III.
The English name for the game’s setting is Subcon, short for “subconscious.” It also features areas known as subspace, a term for a mathematical concept I can’t say I understand that was later used in science fiction as sort of an alternate space that could be used as a shortcut between distant locations. Since the concept of warp drive in Star Trek is linked to subspace, it’s no surprise that warp zones sometimes turn up in the game’s subspace.
One motif in DDP that was sort of incompletely carried over into SMB2 was that the whole thing took place inside a storybook. Imajin and Lina’s younger siblings Piki and Poki accidentally ripped a page out of a book about Muu, which meant that the villain Mamu (possibly meaning “demon muu,” and renamed Wart for the American release) was never defeated. He kidnapped the twins, and the rest of the family had to go in after them.
The idea of a monster coming out of a book reminds me of Edith Nesbit’s story “The Book of Beasts,” but that’s certainly not the only time I’ve seen it used.
The ripped page, by the way, is supposed to explain why the final world has only two levels instead of three, although it doesn’t entirely make sense because the story in the manual says that page was about Mamu’s surrender. Doesn’t seem like that would make for much of a level. Maybe the scene where the rescued Muu/Subcon fairies throw Mamu/Wart out of the picture can count as World 7-3. Anyway, SMB2 retains the introduction to each level being represented as a page in a book, but never explains why. The English manual has Mario and his companions entering Subcon through a door in the mountains, not a book.
As far as what’s canonical, well, the Mario canon is pretty loose as it is. Still, there’s no reason why Imajin’s family and Mario’s gang couldn’t have BOTH taken on Wart at different times.