One evening, Mario had a strange dream. He dreamed of a long, long stairway leading up to a door. As soon as the door opened, he was confronted with a world he had never seen before, spreading out as far as his eyes could see. When he strained his ears to listen, he heard a faint voice saying "Welcome to Sub-Con, the land of dreams. We have been cursed by Wart and we are completely under his evil spell... Please defeat Wart and return Sub-Con to its natural state. The curse Wart has put on you in the real world will not have any effect upon you here. Remember, Wart hates vegetables. Please help us!" (p. 3)
The game continues on to tell the tale of Mario, along with three of his closest friends (his brother Luigi, Toad and the Princess) stumbling on a cave and entering the world that Mario saw in his dream. For the duration of the game's play sequences, the player is able to control any of the four characters. After several battles, the player is finally pitted against Wart and is forced to beat him by throwing vegetables. At this point, the characters celebrate and the camera pans away to reveal Mario, asleep in his bed, dreaming the whole thing. It is a strange circumstance to put the player in on a number of levels, and by using Sigmund Freud's tactics of dream analysis it may be possible to illuminate exactly what the goals of the Super Mario Brothers 2 plotline may have been.
It is important to note one fact before moving on. Mario, and Mario alone is under the player's control. It is through the eyes of Mario, and Mario's subconscious that this tale is woven.
In an interesting twist we are now given the opportunity as players to control a character's subconscious (or as the game prefers, "Sub-Con"). We as players are afforded the ability to see through the eyes of a character and observe both how he views himself and how he views those closest to him. Inside of Mario's subconscious it is revealed that he holds the Princess in high regard, as she can float further than any of the others, making her jump longer and farther. However, she is also looked down upon in a way, as the rest of her statistics reflect (she has two stars for speed and power, and three for jumping, compared to Mario's "balanced" four stars for each). It is clear that Mario harbors contempt for the Princess, as well as women in general, as her abilities do not come close to his own. He also views himself as being better than both his brother and Toad, as Toad is unable to jump high or far, and his brother's neurotic footwork keeps him from being useful for anything. Mario views each of his friends as being lesser than himself in most respects, although each possesses one quality that makes him or her useful at certain points.
As mentioned earlier, Mario can change identities throughout the game. He can switch between being in control of himself, his brother, Toad or the Princess. Although it might be argued that each character might possess a certain prowess or ability that would make the completion of a level easier, it is also clear that Mario's abuse of his own leveling system makes him the only character he'd want to possess. When Mario controls the Princess, an interesting twist on the castration complex occurs. Mario wants to be inside of the Princess, he wants to be her, but he also feels that his control over her is what makes this possible. Though the manifestation of himself is much stronger and quicker than any of the others, his manifestation of the Princess is one of a loving, nurturing woman who slowly glides to the ground by the lift of her dress. The dream-content leads the player to believe that Mario's view of the Princess is of a divine creature, able to walk on air, and most importantly, Mario believes that she and he could be one in the same person.
This is displayed effectively by the game's mid-boss sequences when the player has to fight the cross-dressing Birdo. According to the game's manual, Birdo "thinks he is a girl and spits eggs from his mouth" (p. 27). The displacement of Mario's own feelings about gender, as well as his feelings for the Princess are manifested in Birdo. The character, who appears regularly throughout the game, must repeatedly be destroyed, much like Mario's own concerns regarding his gender. He is unclear as to what his motives toward the Princess are, whether he simply wants to be with her, or to literally be her - he recognizes this as an evil trait that must repeatedly be destroyed.
Although we as players have to accept much of this based solely on Mario's own dream-state, it is clear that Mario's view of himself and his closest friends discerns itself throughout Super Mario Brothers 2. Mario's unconscious reveals to the player many of his concealed wishes, and in the end produces a means for the player to exercise their own subconscious desires. Super Mario Brothers 2 manages to portray a cross-dressing creature as well as a main character whose subconscious confusion puts him in control of a woman, in a softened, socially acceptable way. It is hidden behind the dream ending, but the dream ending is what makes it all possible.