Friday, 30 January 2015

Mario Bros. (Arcade)

Super Adventures is four years old today, and yet somehow in all that time I never did play a proper Super Mario Bros. platformer for the site. I looked at the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong a while back and that had a bit of jumping in it if I recall, but otherwise I've stayed well clear of the classics. I figured that I'd have nothing to say about the games that hadn't been analysed and argued about a thousand times by now, making my trivia trite and all my observations entirely pointless. But that excuse is four years old now as well and I've grown bored of it, so I decided to kick off Super Adventures Year Five with a month-long MARIO MARATHON, showing off the top titles from the iconic plumber's first 10 years in the hero business! I'll also throw a few non-Nintendo requested games in there as well, because too much undiluted Mario could drive anyone crazy.

Also, if you scroll up you'll see that I've made the site a brand new, slightly more dynamic hand-pixelled logo for its birthday! Kinda starting to wish now that I'd baked a cake instead though.

Mario Bros Arcade Title Screen
Developer:Nintendo|Release Date:1983|Systems:Arcade, plus a couple of others.

Wario Bros? Ohhhhh...

Today on Super Adventures I'm having a quick go of the original Mario Bros. This was Mario's third role I believe, after Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr, but the first to feature his name in the title. Nintendo were still exclusively an arcade developer at the time this was released (if Wikipedia is to be believed, and I trust them implicitly), but this only lasted about... say a day or two longer before the Famicom was launched on 15 July 1983. Only a lunatic would decide to launch their début console right in the middle of the great American video game crash of '83 though, and that's why Sega launched their first console on the same day!

Mario Bros. didn't quite make it onto the new console as a launch title in Japan, but I suppose they had to get some money out of the arcade machines before letting people play it at home. Two months later Mario Bros. though was able to join the rest of the Mario Trilogy as the sixth ever Famicom game.



Oh that's a point, I should mention that the game's called Mario Bros. because it introduces Mario's brother Luigi for the first time, so that player two can join in as an ally or antagonist. I'm sure it's purely coincidence that Mario's wearing Superman's colours while Luigi dresses like Lex Luthor in dungarees... but I feel like I'll be safer playing single player for now.

Actually this might not technically be Luigi's first appearance, as Mario was already hanging out with his identical twin in Donkey Kong Jr. the year before:

Donkey Kong Jr. (Arcade)
Could this second Mario be Luigi? I'm going to say... probably not, as the probability of Luigi having anything but green in his wardrobe is considerably less than the probability that there's other people on this construction site who look a bit like Mario if you reduce them to 16 pixels in height. Personally I reckon the clone is Jumpman from the Japanese version of Donkey Kong teaming up with his American cousin Mario to deal with the ape who keeps stealing their girlfriends.

Hey I just noticed that Mario isn't even wearing his proper gear! He's got his colours mixed up, wearing red dungarees and a blue shirt. Though he's got his proper cap on here, which he then swaps for a blue one in Mario Bros. just to be wrong again! Clothes are so confusing.

I'm so sick of these modern arcade games pandering to idiots with their unskippable tutorial sequences!

Actually this is cool, and was probably much appreciated back in the day when the platformer genre was only a couple of years old and basically nothing had players punching the ground underneath an enemy to knock them off their feet. I mean it's not all that intuitive as gameplay mechanics go.

Shellcreepers though? C'mon mate, that's obviously a Koopa turtle. Or even just a regular turtle!

Mario was actually the villain last time on his previous appearance in Donkey Kong Jr., as you play as Kong's son instead, but he's back to full hero status in this. Well he's the protagonist at least, I'm not sure how heroic it is to kick ordinary turtles into sewer water.

Someone has to get these reptiles out of the New York City sewage pipes though, and since Mario quit his jobs as a construction site carpenter and part-time gorilla jailer to follow his dreams and become a plumber, that means it's up to him.

Oh man, this is more awkward than I expected, and not just because I'm constantly having to fight the urge to jump onto the walking turtles. Lead developers Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi still hadn't quite worked out how Mario should move around by this point, so the guy seems to take forever to stop and switch direction and he jumps like he's in a Castlevania game. I've got no control of him once his feet leave the ground, and I need to be pulling in a direction when I hit jump or else he'll just throw himself straight up into the air.

Apparently even these limited super-human acrobatic skills are actually greater than Miyamoto had originally imagined, as Yokoi had to talk him around to the idea of letting him survive a fall of any height. That doesn't really ring true to me though, as I don't remember him taking falling damage back in Donkey Kong. I'm curious about this now, so I'm going to have to check.

Donkey Kong (Arcade)
Well I was wrong. Mario can't even fall his own height in Donkey Kong without cracking his ass and doing the spin of death! And let's face it, he's not the tallest video game hero at the best of times. He can just about jump high enough to clear a rolling barrel and that's probably for the best, as any higher and he wouldn't survive the landing.

Okay now Mario Bros. doesn't feel so awkward to me any more. This is a real step up from the platforming in the earlier titles.

These turtles are bitey little assholes aren't they? If I get too close they go straight for the crotch with enough force to send Mario screaming to his death. Fortunately a Smash Bros. style platform is on hand to lower our hero back into the fray... so I can immediately drop him right onto another turtle like an idiot. Hang on, I just need a second to write 'don't jump on enemies' onto a Post-it note.

At least I've figured out what's going with the enemy colours now. If I knock a turtle over but don't kick him off in time, he'll get back to his feet and storm around just a little bit faster as an angry purple turtle. On the other hand if I kill all his friends, he'll turn into a furious red turtle and run around at top speed. All good reasons to be careful about what I'm doing.

Crap! I was so distracted by the fireballs that I didn't think to look over at what was happening at the other side of the level. The turtles will carry on walking off screen and end up on the other side, but the fireballs bounce off, so I need to pay attention and figure out where things will be or else I'll get my dumb ass trapped.

You can see here though that where you hit the ground beneath an enemy determines which way he's going to get flung around, so if I time my jump right I can knock the turtles into the gaps and down to my level to save myself some work.


THREE STAGES INTO A NEW GAME.


Aw shit those are some shiny coins. This is the first of the series to introduce Mario's thirst for wealth, and his love of money would go on to be a recurring element in his platformers.

You know, I haven't even mentioned the POW block yet! It's a little flashing brick designed to get in my way when I'm trying to finish a bonus stage. It also serves the secondary purpose of flipping every enemy on screen at once, which is handy if I'm getting overwhelmed, or if Luigi's about to get kick something off and I want to flip it back to its feet so it'll kill him instead. I only get the three uses though before it disappears, and who knows if it ever comes back.

"Okay Mario you done good, but I got another job for you. Seems that we've got an infestation of sidesteppers in the pipes and I need you to get down there and clear them out."
"Sidesteppers...?"
"Yeah, you know, little red things with a shell! They walk sideways, hang out down the beach, and they got these two claws."
"You mean... a crab?"
"I know what I mean, now get your ass down that ladder and start punching crustaceans. Just remember, you gotta make them mad first before you kick them to death."

A few stages later and I'm fighting flies as well. These things can only be hit when they're touching the ground, but otherwise they're just like the turtles.

Oh by the way, there's something else I need to keep in mind: if an enemy collides with a coin or another enemy it'll turn around and start going the other way. So it's not quite as easy to predict where these things are going to be as you'd expect, and predicting where things are going to be is kind of important when I lose all control every time I jump.

And that's pretty much the game I think. It's turtles, crabs and flies all the way down and the stage layout never changes. Donkey Kong at least threw in four different stages, this just changes the paintwork and hopes that no one will notice. I got GAME OVER'd again shortly after this shot, so I'm turning it off now.

I'm not quite done here yet though, as I haven't even talked about the ports!


PART TWO - MARIO'S HORRIFIC BRITISH DOPPELGĂ„NGER

Mario Bros. has always been a strange game to me, one that's never really been 100% compatible with my perception of reality. I remember the first time I came across it, I was at a friend's house digging through a shoebox full of old games he had for a system he likely hadn't played on in years. I flipped through and found the words 'Mario Bros.' staring out at me from a cassette box... which was a little strange I thought, as Nintendo don't release games on tape and they definitely don't put their exclusive mascot character on the ZX Spectrum.

Mario Bros ZX Spectrum Title screen
ZX Spectrum
But there you go! It's real, it exists, and it's officially licenced. The ZX Spectrum computer really does have a Nintendo game on it starring Banana Mario and the ghost of Luigi.

Every aspect of Mario's character was designed with the purpose of making him readable as a tiny 16 pixel tall sprite on a system with severe graphical limitations, with the cap added to hide his hair, the sideburns there to give him ears, the moustache in place to hide his mouth and define his nose... so it's a bit of a mystery to me how ZX Spectrum Mario ended up looking like that.

Well okay the port was probably made in a weekend by one guy with the bare minimum of reference material to work from (and it's a miracle to me that anyone can make games work on these 8-bit machines at all), but all you really have to do to make him work in two colours is trace the original sprites and put a bit of outline around the dark bits. There's no need to bring out the dithering here, surely.

The ZX Spectrum conversion isn't the only Mario Bros. port to escape the NES though. Not by a long shot.

Look at them all! Apparently an Apple II version was finished as well and never released, but I think we've got enough already. They've each been reworked to suit the capabilities and limitations of their hardware, so they all look pretty unique, but I gave them five minutes each and they basically play the same as the arcade game. Plus they have the same layout, the same enemies, and wherever I went I was still stuck in a sewer.

Though I did like how Amstrad CPC Mario was a master of disguise, turning into a clown or Santa Claus after getting hit. That's a nice feature they accidentally put in.

I'm sure that if I played them further even I would start noticing what had been cut out or imitated imperfectly, but most of them do a pretty reasonable job of replicating the feel of the original... and that's kind of a shame as I didn't find it a particularly fun game to start with.

Commodore 64
They're not all winners though. You don't ever need to play the Commodore 64 version by Ocean for instance, as Mario's put on a bit of weight and really struggles to get up to speed and stop again. There's another conversion for the system by Atarisoft that's a little better, but that has the disadvantage of never having been released due to the video game crash.

But on the other hand there's a couple of more interesting ports like Kaettekita Mario Bros, released exclusively in Japan on the Famicom near the end of 1988. The system already got a port of Mario Bros. over five years earlier, but this new version came out on an FDS floppy disk instead of a cartridge and included...

Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
... advertising! Mario and Luigi have totally sold out to promote a brand of pixie dust that makes your sky flowers bloom.

I don't know what they're actually selling here, there's no way I'll ever be able to read that text, but I do know that those Mario Bros. probably wish they'd eaten some super mushrooms and put on a bit of height before turning up for this skit. That guy could stand on his head and they'd still only be up to his chin.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
When I finally got to the game bit I found that there's two major differences between Kaettekita Mario and the original Famicom/NES port.


1: Mario has learned out how to steer in the air and controls more like he does in the Super Mario games. He seems to come to a stop quicker too! I'm still punching the same platforms and jumping over the same fireballs here, but getting around isn't a frustration any more.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
2: I can actually finish some of the bonus stages now! I'm pretty much just repeating the first difference again though, as this is all down to the improved controls. They change this from a dated repetitive arcade game to a dated repetitive arcade game that's bearable, bordering on entertaining even!

The graphics have also been tweaked a little, with more detail on the pipes and new-look turtles. These improvements were carried on to another NES port released in Europe during '93 called Mario Bros. Classic, which dropped the adverts and put back the tutorials. I stuck a screenshot of it in the slideshow comparison gif a few pictures back if you're curious about how nearly the same it looks.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
See, I'm doing so well with the improved jumping that I've reached the final enemy type this time. These harassed looking ice blocks aren't something I need to catch, but every one that slips by me will eventually mean another frozen platform to deal with. If I keep screwing up like this the whole level will be iced up, and then I'll be skidding around like I'm playing the arcade version again!


EVENTUALLY.


Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
Well I screwed up again, but this time I found this mysterious message waiting for me after my GAME OVER. It's got a rose border and pink text, so maybe I did something right this time! I'll run it through Google Translate and see what it thinks.
Congratulations Yoyu Dakun
100,000 was heaven clear.
Well I couldn't save Mario's life, but I least I finally got him to heaven. He has been absolved of his gorilla-imprisoning sins at last.

Actually this message might be telling me that I've reached enough points to get a code that I can mail in to be put into a prize draw for Mario playing cards. Get 200,000 points and it's Super Mario Bros. 3 for grabs. Sadly the promotion ended in 1989, so I'm about 26 years too late to enter or claim my free Mario keyring.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
Kaettekita Mario Bros. is also the only version I'm aware of that ever lets you continue from the same level when you run out of lives. But you have to win your resurrection from this slot machine, and you only see it once a game.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
'Hey Mario Brothers, you look exhausted! Why don't you recover you energy with a nice bowl of sand?'

Did I mention the game has adverts? Oh, well okay then. I guess I'm done talking about the original Mario Bros. ports now. If I missed any out, please don't let me know as you'll only make me cry. The arcade game is obviously best if you're after authenticity, but Mario Bros. Classic on the NES is the one I'd actually choose to play. You know, if I wanted to be stuck in a sewer level forever.


PART THREE - SOMETHING SPECIAL

Though one thing you might have noticed about the ports I've been looking at, is that aside from the Famicom/NES games, they've all been released for American and European machines. As far as I know, Japanese 8-bit systems like the MSX, PC-8801, Sharp X1, and FM-7 had to live without a Mario Bros. to call their own. Well... mostly.

Punch Ball Mario Bros. (PC-8801)
You see Hudson Soft apparently got the licence to produce a couple of Mario Bros. follow ups exclusively for Japanese home computers, both released in late 1984.

Punch Ball Mario Bros. came out first, and basically plays as it sounds: it's Mario Bros. except you hit enemies by throwing a punch ball at them. Then you walk over, kick the enemy off screen and pick the ball back up. It's simple enough, though there's two main flaws with this game in my experience:
  1. The jump button is the same as the throw button. You can't throw while moving and you can't jump without moving.
  2. Who wants to throw a punch ball at turtles anyway? Punching ceilings and trying to get enemies to land where you want them is far more entertaining. Well, moderately more entertaining.
Mario Bros. Special (PC-8801)
And then there's Mario Bros. Special, which doesn't seem to have punch balls or enemies. The gameplay here is actually very similar to an old ZX Spectrum game I used to play called Jumping Jack, which involves getting to the top of the screen through moving holes. The catch is that the holes on each floor are scrolling both ways at once, so they often collide and give you nowhere to go but down.

Then when you get to the top you've got to turn all the switches on by tapping them twice. They're on a timer though, so by the time you get the last one flicked, the first one's turning off and you have to run back and hit it again. Gotta keep hitting them switches! Hitting switches forever. Nothing but switches for the rest of your life.


EVENTUALLY.


Mario Bros. Special (PC-8801)
Whoa, there actually is a level 2! This seems a bit more like the Mario Bros. I know, with the twist that I can't hit the platforms from below, only from above. It's like I'm bouncing turtles off a trampoline.

And now I can't even do that any more because I just lost all my lives and I'm back at the switches. There's only one switch I care about right now and that's the off switch.

So now I can add the Sharp X1, PC-8801 and FM-7 to my collection of Marios. I knew for sure that the guy had escaped to the ZX Spectrum and Phillips CD-i, and that Charles Martinet first voiced the character in Mario's Game Gallery on the PC and Mac, but I had no idea that Nintendo's exclusive mascot character had made an official licensed appearance on half the systems produced in the 80s! Well half of the 8-bit ones anyway. Not literally half. He's gotten around is what I'm saying.

And that's the end of Mario Bros. The series turned Super after this and introduced new concepts like scrolling and mushrooms, and everyone forgot about the little fixed screen game that started it off. The end.

Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Famicom)
Oh right, I knew there was something else I needed to mention...


PART FOUR - BATTLE MODE


Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
Mario Bros. wasn't really forgotten, and it never will be as long as Nintendo keep throwing it into their games as a bonus mode. The Super Mario Advance games on the GBA for instance all include the same updated version of Mario Bros. Classic, but Super Mario Bros. 3 started the tradition back in 1988 by letting Mario and Luigi fight it out if you put them in the same square on the world map in 2 player mode.

The platforms are much chunkier, the pace is more laid back, the turtles have anti-Mario spikes on them, and it's been upgraded with Mario 3's player movement, but this is still recognisably the arcade Mario Bros. game. This time though the Marios are competing to be the first to reach five coins, and it doesn't look like co-operation gets you anything.

Speaking of looks, I didn't realise this at first but Mario and Luigi receive a retro makeover while in the battle mode zone, losing their Mario 3 outlines. It's amazing to think that Super Mario Bros. 3 could look any more retro, but there you go.

Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)
It can look a little less retro too. Here's me in the SNES remake posing with a fly and throwing up the victory sign two coins early because Luigi got his dumb ass killed. You only get one life in the battle mode, and win or lose you're still kicked back to the map afterwards.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
The SMB3 version also throws in some bonus stages every now and again, like this coin and fireball pipe fountain. When I first saw it my eyes lit up and I thought of all the extra lives I could amass... but nope, it kicks you out after collecting five coins just like the battle mode.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
C'mon Luigi, kick some of these boxes over already! Man, I'm starting to think that he doesn't even want to play these dumb minigames I've been dragging him into.

It would've been nice if the arcade game had broken up the game with more bonus levels like this every now and again, but they're not really a substitute for the gameplay, and this version of Mario Bros. is far too easy to be any fun as a single player experience.

On the other hand, it has music! Catchy classic Mario music! Here have a youtube link. All you get in the original Mario Bros. are some melodic footsteps and the occasional jingle between levels, and how can that compete with this? So I'm going to call it a draw. And then I'm going to stop talking about Mario Bros. bonus battle modes and remakes while I'm still one foot in the 80s, because else I could go all the way up to 2013 with these things.


CONCLUSION

Mario Bros. isn't the deepest game in the world, as it's just the same screen with various combinations of the same handful of enemies strolling through it, repeated for all eternity... but it's got some charm to it I reckon (and the versions with modern movement have considerably more of it.)

At first I really wasn't impressed by the arcade game, but having another look at Donkey Kong definitely helped put in context, and playing a thousand slightly inferior ports revealed the skill and care that had gone into making it. Plus spend a while hitting five timed switches over and over again to try to get a door open and even an endless sewer level will seem like unlimited joy by comparison. I'd rather be travelling the world and rescuing Princesses for sure, but as monotonous repetitive grinds go, this really isn't so bad.

It's the Mario Bros. Classic versions I'm giving the Gold Star to though, as I honestly can see myself voluntarily playing them again some day. I'll do it right now in fact.

Congratulations on making it down this far! Hey, while you're here why not leave a comment? You could share your opinion on Mario Bros. or leave me some feedback about my site, or even make a guess at what the next game is going to be. Good luck with that though.

4 comments:

  1. The GBA version is pretty nice.
    Also, the new logo looks like the title for a super-edition cyberpunk fighter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I reckon you should write in for the free keyring anyway. Because it's Japan I can imagine that there's a man sitting at a desk in one corner of Nintendo's office whose job it is to respond to ancient competition entries.

    Also, I am an idiot because I never knew about the minigames in SMB3. How could I have missed those?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Happy Birthday Super Adventures! This would also mean I first stumbled across this site about a year ago today.

    Time, such a cruel mistress, wither did my life go? Reading blogs about video games it seems.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes happy birthday indeed and my favorite Mario games are Mario Bros 3 (NES) Super Mario World (SNES) and Super Mario Land 6 Golden Coins on Gameboy.

    ReplyDelete

Semi-Random Game Box