OK! Time to put in the disk and start our masterful challenge! And if we're challenging a Mario game the first thing we have to think about is how to get lots of lives. In the first game you had to run all the way to 3-2; here the designers made it easy and gave us an opportunity right at the start. When you get to this section in 1-1, clean up all the enemies, stomp on one of the paratroopas, but don't kick him - instead, run down and next to the staircase. The rest should be obvious - as in the pic, repeatedly kicking the shell off the staircase results first in points, then in effectively infinite lives. Just watch you don't exceed 128 lives, or your life count will turn negative.

This still being a Mario game, there are naturally warp zones lying about as well. Unlike the first game, they're far more varied in where they show up and where they lead you. World 1-2 contains no less than three warp zones, each one leading to a separate world. Instead of merely climbing above underground worlds, warp zones can be found in pipes and on top of vines. Too much experimentation can have its bad points, though - as you can see, some warps are evil, created by the evil Bowser to screw around with so-called "Power Players" who always think secret exits lead to good things. "WELCOME" my ass. At least he was nice enough to provide a pit to commit suicide in instead of waiting for time to run out.

The rules for fireworks at the end of levels have changed, with an added twist. This time, whether or not you get fireworks depends on both the time remaining and the number of coins you have. If the ones digit of time and the ones digit of the coins match, you've got them coming. If the number is even then you get 3 fireworks; if odd, six.

As you can see, you can also get a 1up every stage from the flagpole if you count your coins. If your coin count is a multiple of 11 (ie. 11, 22, 33, 44, etc.), and the ones digit matches the ones digit of remaining time, then you're all set. The only troublesome bit is getting the timing just right for this..

The first half of the game was hard enough... but the second half, starting with 5-1, introduces wind to the picture. Leaves start blowing around (I didn't realize there were trees in the Mushroom Kingdom - all we ever get to see are freakin' 'shrooms..) and Mario gets pushed back or forward, depending on the wind direction. Of course, when the wind starts up there just happen to be jumps that are impossible unless you jump with the wind flow. It's very embarassing to end 5-1 with a jump off the final staircase against the wind, landing in the pit just before the flagpole. Don't practice in front of your friends, ok?

After getting over the wind, the game throws out every challenge in the book at you. Castle mazes that require you to become Regular Mario to finish only to fight Super Hammer Bowser, giant rotating fire-columns in water levels, wind and Lakitu at the same time - and it's impossible to finish 8-2 without jumping off a flying turtle, hitting a vine block with your head, over a pit. Look out.

After all this struggle, you are rewarded with this charming end screen. The Princess is quite nicer looking this time around, I'm sure you'll agree. If you did that 1-up trick back at 1-1 prepare to sit for a very long time as your score shoots into the millions.

But wait! We're not done yet! If you were a real Power Player and went straight from 1-1 to 8-4 without warping, you will get a new challenge - the fabled "Fantasy" World 9. If you don't mind I'd prefer to try 9 World with several hundred games! After going this far, reducing me to only one life is murder!

And here it is - the amazing World 9. There definitely isn't any Minus World in this SMB2, by the way - you can do the trick, but it simply leads to the pipe next to the end flagpole. If you try the Minus World trick on the Disk System version of SMB1, you'll find that it leads to a lot of neat new stuff...

Although World 9 is pretty silly and reminds me of SMB after a Game Genie code or two, there's yet another bonus - the Challenge levels, Worlds A through D. To get there you need to finish the regular game at least 8 times. You notice how when you finish the game, a star appears on the title screen? When you have 8 of those stars, hold down A and press Start, and prepare for the hardest SMB levels yet...

And here's the "real" ending, so to speak. Oh, I think I am going to lose it and cry right here. We sure did see that Mario staff again once or twice, though...