Doki Doki Panic: A North American Review

Ah, yes. Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic. The game that seems to be the go-to retort of many an Internet troll whenever someone mentions Super Mario Bros. 2, which just so happened to be the killer app of 1988 that made everybody lose their shit.

While it’s true that the latter used many of the elements that appeared in Doki Doki Panic, from enemies to unique character traits, they’re hardly the same game.

With no other recourse for North American gamers but to go back to where it all started, let’s take a look at what garnered all those favorable Famitsu reviews, and what makes Doki Doki Panic unique from Super Mario Bros. 2.

You Can’t Run in Doki Doki Panic

Regardless of what character you select, one thing becomes immediately apparent: a casual amble is all that you can muster. It doesn’t matter if you know where all of the shortcuts are, or that a single millimeter higher or further will get you there safely. In short (heh), not all secrets in Doki Doki Panic are created equal.

In order to find everything, it’s up to the player to use every character’s unique abilities. It doesn’t matter how hard you hold down the B button; your character will only walk. Unfortunately, this reduces jumping to a relatively pedestrian action, where the maximum height of each jump is predetermined. And crossing cliffs? Forget about it!

Luckily, you can still perform a double jump after taking damage, which can come in very handy at times.

GIF

This by itself is not a game-breaking phenomenon. In fact, it encourages the player to get the most out of every character to facilitate full level exploration, whether it be using Papa’s mad digging skills in the sand levels or using Lina’s floating ability to reach the shortcut to Birdo in World 1-1.

And since we’re on the subject of using different characters in tandem…

All Unique Character Abilities are Still There, But Out of Order

For those who’ve played Super Mario Bros. 2 extensively, you know that:

  • Mario is the most well-balanced character in regards to jumping, speed, and strength.
  • Luigi is the highest jumper, but this is greatly hindered when he’s carrying an item.
  • Princess Toadstool (Peach) can float, but has poor-to-mediocre jumping, speed, and strength skills.
  • Toad has the highest strength and speeds stats out of everyone, but is the poorest jumper.

These abilities were carried over from Doki Doki Panic, but for those not familiar with the characters, trying to find the one that best suits your abilities isn’t as simple as placement memorization.

First of all, the character select screen in Doki Doki Panic looks like this:

doki doki panic character select

From top to bottom and listed from left to right, the characters are:

Imajin
Lina
Mama
Papa

For those just starting out on Doki Doki Panic coming from Super Mario Bros. 2, the unique character traits are as follows:

Imajin = Mario

Lina = Princess Toadstool (Peach)

Mama = Luigi

Papa = Toad

In short, Imajin is balanced, Lina can float, Mama is the highest jumper, and Papa is strong and fast but a poor jumper.

And after viewing the character select screen above, we’re sure you have some additional questions. It’s time to let you know that…

You Have to Beat Wart with All Characters to See the True Ending

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The character select screen for Doki Doki Panic serves another purpose: map progression. Once a character is selected, you’re stuck with them until the world is completed. Once the world boss is defeated, the player can choose a different character if they like.

However, simply tanking through Doki Doki Panic with your favorite character will not net you the true ending, where Mamu (Wart) is defeated, the Muus (Subcons) are freed, and the twins, Piki and Poki, are rescued.

In order to achieve this ending, all of the characters have to defeat Wart. It doesn’t matter if warps or shortcuts are used; accomplish this, and you’ll be met with the glory of 8-bit fanfare. But wait! That will take awhile, right?

When all lives are lost in Doki Doki Panic, the player is given the choice to continue or save. Though unlimited continues are available, progress can be saved and picked up at a later time. Seeing how a traditional run of Super Mario Bros. 2 using no warps can take the average player up to two hours, this is a welcome feature that wasn’t available to North American gamers.

Just be aware that once you die, you’ll be taken back to Level 1 of whatever world you happen to be in. Maybe there isn’t that many differences between Super Mario Bros. 2 and Doki Doki Panic? Oh wait…

Everything’s Different in Doki Doki Panic

Aside from the overall aesthetic, Doki Doki Panic is completely different from Super Mario Bros. 2. To keep it simple, let’s break it all down into categories.

Sounds

Whenever you hit an enemy in Super Mario Bros. 2, your ears are met with a satisfying, low sound that signals their demise.

So what do you get in Doki Doki Panic? A tinny, scratchy sound that’s akin to someone stepping on a Game Boy running Pong. The fun starts at the 0:29 mark.

In fact, I encourage you to loop that video back to the beginning to hear all of the sound effects that are present in Doki Doki Panic. When emulation made it possible for North American gamers to finally play it, some of them flooded forums asking why the sound effects were so distorted, even though that’s how they originally sounded on a Famicom Disk System.

The reason they sound so different? The reduced number of pins present in the NES compared to the Famicom Disk System. So…less is more?

But wait a minute. Wasn’t Super Mario Bros. 2 supposed to be a straight-across reskin of Doki Doki Panic?

Music

To name one, the widely familiar Starman theme is nowhere to be found here, even though the power-up appears in-game. So what do you hear when you finally collect this elusive power-up?

With every single Mario fan I’ve come across, the answer’s always the same: you want to run after collecting the Starman. So not only can you not run in Doki Doki Panic, but you also have to endure the above soundtrack, which is not bad in itself, but vastly different and hardly one that instills that classic sense of urgency.

And the overworld theme? Here’s Super Mario Bros. 2‘s iteration.

Familiar. Charming. Mario-esque, right?

And here’s Doki Doki Panic‘s.

Aside from sounding slightly rougher, the whole last 10 seconds of the former’s overworld theme was not present in Doki Doki Panic. The latter’s shorter duration could have you scratching your head as you begin to whistle the last few bars to yourself only to find that it has looped back to the beginning.

It also appears that the boss themes have been sped up with a lower tempo from their North American counterpart, which is slower but more high-pitched. These differences are not game-breaking by any means, but something to bear in mind when playing Doki Doki Panic for the first time.

Bonus Chance

Right about now, you’re probably wondering why a mini-game is getting it’s own section. For those who’ve played Super Mario Bros. 2, the Bonus Chance screen is a fun way to earn 1-Ups with coins found in-level, and is reminiscent of a 3-bar slot machine.

super mario bros 2 bonus chance
“Yes, children. Gamble. GAMBLE!”

While it’s true that Doki Doki Panic also sports a Bonus Chance mini-game, it looks rather different.

doki doki panic bonus chance

With modern technology making anything possible, one can only imagine the chicanery that could be had when a stark green backdrop is used.

bonus brasel
That’s a rough Brasel the Gamer T-Shirt concept, by the way.

All in all, the Bonus Chance in Doki Doki Panic still serves its purpose of providing the player with a fun, engaging way of earning 1-Ups, but can be quite jarring to look at for those who played Super Mario Bros. 2 first.

Power-Ups and Items

Though the Starman is a shared power-up between the two, that’s about where the similarities end. To create a door to Subspace and those sweet, sweet coins and Mushrooms, you have to find a potion. In Doki Doki Panic, you get what appears to be a genie’s lamp.

And Koopa shells? They replaced whatever these things are.

It should be noted that this particular change was made for Super Mario Bros. 2 for fear of being construed offensively as blackface. Functionally, it’s identical to the Koopa shell, of which the rightful owners, the Koopa Troopas, didn’t even make a live appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2.

And 1-Ups? The familiar 1-Up Mushroom replaced the disembodied head of whatever character is currently being played.

And lastly, that iconic Mushroom that grants you an additional life point? It replaced a heart.

Functionally, all of these items serve the same purpose, but their appearance is different enough that new players may not know what exactly what they do. Consider yourself learnt.

Cutscenes

The attract mode in Super Mario Bros. 2 tells the story of Mario’s dream, where he climbs a stairway and finds another world, where a voice admonished him to free them from a spell. Entering a nearby cave, he sees the exact same staircase from his dream.

In Doki Doki Panic, a pair of children are reading a book when all of a sudden, a green claw comes out and snatches them from inside the book!

This is where our heroes come in. Mama, Papa, Lina, and Imajin are called into action, and jump into the book after the children. In effect, even though the Muus (Subcons) are still present, the entire storyline involving the twins adds a sinister twist that wasn’t present in Super Mario Bros. 2.

Environments

Though the overall aesthetic is still present, there are some minor and not-so-minor differences that you’ll note while trekking through the land of Muu.

Those hawk masks that you wander into after defeating the sub-boss? They now look like this:

doki doki panic mask gate
“Get in my mouth.”

Meandering waterfalls have now become the fast-paced eyesore of your worst nightmares.

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And remember those earlier screenshots of the plants? In Doki Doki Panic, they’re black instead of red. For the most part, potions and 1-ups are exactly where Super Mario Bros. 2 veterans would remember them being. There’s just enough visual differences between the two that remind the player that this is a whole different experience.

Enemies/Bosses

And lastly, the baddies. When I started getting towards the end of World 5 on stream, some of my viewers and I were excited to fight Clawgrip, the giant crab boss who like to hurl boulders. So who did we encounter at the end of World 5-3?

That’s an albino Mouser, with Clawgrip nowhere to be seen.

Quite a disappointment for me personally, seeing how I’ve always tended to skip World 5 when using warps and have only faced Clawgrip a handful of times prior. However, this time around, Mouser is much more dangerous and unpredictable.

Aside from randomly moving from side-to-side at a higher rate of speed, the player also has less room to maneuver and toss bombs. Not only are there spikes to account for, but also the close proximity of the wall, which offers a relatively spartan 2 blocks of solid ground between it and the first set of spikes.

Trying to gain enough momentum to toss the bomb onto Mouser’s platform is easier said than done without taking damage from either the relentless torrent of bombs or the spikes. All I’ll say is bring your A-game.

Short of that, here’s a few more tidbits to take note of:

  • Phantos are less ominous and only start attacking after the player leaves the room with the key. Other than that, their attack pattern remains the same.
  • Wart only takes 4 hits to kill, and behaves/looks exactly the same as he did in Super Mario Bros. 2.

Doki Doki Panic is Doomed to Obscurity, While Super Mario Bros. 2 Lives On

Due to negging legalities, none of us will ever experience a fully fleshed out rerelease of Doki Doki Panic. Not because it’s a terrible game or anything like that, just those damn legalities coupled with good, old-fashioned obscurity.

The characters Imajin, Lina, Mama, and Papa are the intellectual property of Fuji TV, and were merely used to promote their Yume Kojo ’87 event, nothing more. A year-long promotional campaign was all the face time the main characters of Doki Doki Panic got. If you were hoping for an old-new anime to peruse, you won’t find one here.

Yume Kojo ’87 was highly successful, with over 5 million people total attending, and its unfolding had a profound effect on the Super Mario series, whether it knew it at the time or not.

The video above was produced by GTV, and outlines the complex history of Doki Doki Panic. What started as an inspiring trip to Carnival in Rio De Janeiro led to the framing of Yume Kojo ’87, an ultimately successful outdoor event that showcased new technology, targeted towards the children who would become the first adults of the 21st century.

Due to the one-off use of Imajin and company along with licensing issues, you’ll never find Doki Doki Panic as part of an official offering, whether it be a re-release, an HD remake, or inclusion on microconsoles. Outside of emulation, the only way North American gamers will ever experience Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic in all its glory would be to own an original Famicom, the Disk System accessory, and the original disk, all of which command an average total cost of $200 or more.

Click either one of these if you think I’m playing…

Sounds like a lot to go through to play Doki Doki Panic, huh? Bluntly put, legalities can be a bitch sometimes. Which brings me to my last point…

Super Mario Bros. 2 is a Vast Improvement Over Doki Doki Panic

From a technological standpoint, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a highly refined version of Doki Doki Panic, and most anybody who hasn’t experienced the latter first will feel like they’re taking a step backwards.

To sum up:

  • Sound effects are more tinny and high-pitched,
  • the characters can’t run,
  • waterfalls move at an eye-melting pace,
  • the amazing Clawgrip has been replaced by a punishingly difficult albino Mouser,
  • the casino-like Bonus Chance has been replaced by a blank, bright green background, and
  • you have to beat the game with all four characters to get the true ending.

Despite the save feature, that last one may rub some players the wrong way, and it could be seen as an attempt to artificially increase game length.

Is Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic still fun to play? Absolutely. Would I choose it over Super Mario Bros. 2? Absolutely not. Could my extensive experience with the latter have flavored this review? I’d say no, but those dissenting Famitsu reviewers from the third paragraph seem to think it would.

If I were to make a suggestion to anybody who hasn’t played either one of these games, I would suggest starting with Doki Doki Panic first before popping in Super Mario Bros. 2. Quite honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone deeming Doki Doki Panic as superior over Super Mario Bros. 2, given the differences listed above.

If you’d like to see Doki Doki Panic in action for posterity’s sake, my complete run is below.

 

If you feel like Super Mario Bros. 2 gets a raw deal from Internet trolls, read about the time when a news reporter’s boss ask him to get a copy for his kid because it’s an awesome game!

Who’s your favorite character to play as in Super Mario Bros. 2? Mine is Luigi!