So, for no better reason than “Mar.10” resembling Mario’s name, March 10th is widely regarded as being “Mario Day”, a day to celebrate Nintendo’s portly plumber, an overalls-wearing mascot who literally changed the videogame industry forever and shaped the home console market of the nineties. To commemorate Mario Day this year, I’m making March “Mario Month” and celebrating everyone’s favourite Koopa-flattening plumber every Wednesday from today.
Released: September 2018
Originally Released: 9 September 1983
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Also Available For: Amstrad CPC, Apple II FM-7, Arcade, Atari, Commodore 64, Game & Watch, Game Boy Advance, ZX Spectrum, Nintendo 3DS (Virtual Console), Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Wii (Virtual Console), PC-88
Mario made his inauspicious debut in Donkey Kong (Nintendo R&D2/Ikegami Tsushinki, 1983); in that game, the avatar formally known as “Jumpman” would die from the briefest of falls and was originally a carpenter. However, after playing with the concept and exploring other gameplay mechanics, creator Shigeru Miyamoto redesigned Mario into a format where he would be capable of carrying his own arcade title (fitting, considering Miyamoto originally intended for Mario to be Nintendo’s go-to, catch-all character to feature in numerous titles and roles).
Released in Japan on 14 July 1983 and in North America on the 20th, Mario Bros. featured Mario (and introduced his palette-swapped brother, Luigi) knocking over baddies in the sewers of New York. Though the arcade cabinet was only modestly successful in Japan, the NES port sold over 1.60 million copies and, despite the title being massively overshadowed by its NES follow-up, the title has been ported to numerous systems, the most recent of which being the Nintendo Switch, which is the version I’ll be talking about today.
The sewers have been infested by all kinds of creepy-crawlies and only two portly plumber brothers have the jumping skills necessary to clear the pipes!
Mario Bros. is a wraparound platformer in which players take control of either Mario or Luigi and venture through thirty-five largely-similar stages (called “Phases”); the stages are set within the sewers of New York City and, as was popular in arcade games, players and enemies can exit on the left side of the screen and emerge on the other (or vice versa) to endlessly loop around the one-screen stages.
In Donkey Kong, Mario’s only defence was to jump over hazards or grab a hammer and smash them to pieces; in Mario Bros., the hammer is gone and titular brothers still can’t dispatch enemies by jumping on them. The only way to take out the game’s handful of enemies is to attack them from below; as they pass overhead, jump at the platform above you and you’ll either topple the enemy over or deal some damage to get them prepped to be knocked over, and then you can run into them to kill them off and earn some points. Dispatch all onscreen enemies and you’ll have cleared that Phase and can move on to the next; wash, rinse, and repeat.
This is easier said than done, however; one of the biggest complaints I have with playing Mario videogames (especially the 2D titles) is how slippery and unwieldy Mario can be and Mario Bros. is no different. The characters slip and slide all over the place, meaning it’s pretty easy to run head-first into an enemy or miss-time a jump as you fly right past the platform edge. At the same time, Mario’s jump is nerfed; it’s literally like trying to run on ice and jump underwater as the moment you press the jump button, gravity does everything it can to make vertical movement difficult for you. You simply lose all momentum and easily miss a jump even when you’re standing right next to it, which can be frustrating when you’re just trying to make a simple jump upwards or across.
Luckily, Mario and Luigi don’t take fall damage but, like a lot of titles at the time, it’s one-hit kills and there is no health bar or health power-ups. As you might expect, then, the objective is to defeat enemies and collect Coins in order to earn the highest score possible, earning more points for taking out enemies simultaneously. There’s not a lot to the game; Phases remain largely the same but enemies and hazards increase in speed and difficulty as you progress and you are invited to collect as many Coins as possible in the game’s timed Bonus Stages every now and then in order to increase your score.
Graphics and Sound:
It’s hard to get a more classic, pure-blood 8-bit title than Mario Bros.; it belongs in the same conversation as titles like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man (Namco, 1980), and Space Invaders (Taito, 1978) for traditional, 2D arcade action. By utilising a far more stripped back aesthetic and stage layout compared to Donkey Kong, the developers seem to have freed up some space for slightly more detailed sprites and enemy variety but it can’t be denied that it lacks the big, bold sprites of Donkey Kong.
While the Phases don’t change very much as you play, there are far more sprites onscreen at any one time (including two simultaneously playable characters if you have a friend to play with) and much more enemy variety compared to Donkey Kong. Luigi might be a simple recolour but it’s better than nothing and indicative of the hardware limitations of the time. What probably lets the game down the most beyond the lack of stage variety has to be the music as there’s no really memorable tunes here and it’s easy to see why this game would be forgotten compared to its big brother.
Enemies and Bosses:
Mario and Luigi will primarily be faced with little turtles known as
Koopas Shellcreepers; though relatively harmless and predictable compared to the game’s other enemies, they’ll still kill you if they touch you so bump them from underneath to turn them on their shells and kick them out of there! You’ll also encounter Sidesteppers (which are basically just crabs and require two hits before they’ll tip over), and Fighter Flies (which hop around the stages) as you progress through later Phases.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, red and green fireballs emerge from the pipes and sides of the screen, as does Slipice (which slides around and will transform platforms into literal ice unless you shatter them from beneath). Mario Bros. contains no boss battles or primary antagonist to test your skills against; instead, you’ll encounter more and more and increasingly-faster versions of these enemies. Each enemy will react to others or to Coins and change their direction, as well, meaning it can require a bit of strategy and forethought to topple them all when the Phases hit their highest difficulty.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There is very little to aid Mario and Luigi in their quest to clear up the sewers; there are no power-ups to pick up or weapons to obtain, meaning you’re forced to rely on your skills and ability to work with the game’s dodgy physics and controls.
You can, however, attack a “POW” block to flip every onscreen enemy in one screen-shaking hit. The “POW” block can only be hit three times, however, and once it’s gone you’ll have to wait until the next one spawns in after a Bonus Stage so it’s best to save it for the game’s harder Phases.
As a conversion of an 8-bit arcade title, the primary objective of the game is to achieve, or beat, a high score. You can pick from four different modes: two are for a single player and two are for two players but, since I don’t have anyone to play with, I could only play the standard ‘Game A’ game. If you do have a friend, though, you have the option of playing as Mario and Luigi in two player co-op, which I’m sure increases the replay value to the game exponentially. Even better, the Nintendo Switch provides a few extra options to make things easier for you; using the Switch’s ‘suspend menu’ mode, you can create a save point at any time and rewind the game so you can correct any mistakes you might have made.
Mario Bros. is a decent enough port of the original arcade game. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a lot to the game to begin with and the NES version doesn’t really add or improve upon the format very much. However, as fun a distraction as Mario Bros. is and as attractive as the old school 8-bit sprites look, it definitely wears out its welcome a lot faster than Donkey Kong or its follow-up title. Within the first three or five stages, you’ve basically seen everything there is that the game has to offer and, though the game increases in speed and difficulty, there’s just less to it compared to other arcade titles or even Donkey Kong, which requires far more skill to get through. As a videogame, Mario Bros. is much better as a mini game to be included in other Mario titles (as it was on the Game Boy Advance) rather than a full game in and of itself and it’s not surprising that Nintendo was able to improve upon this formula when the bar was set so low.
Could Be Better
Did you ever play Mario Bros. back in the day, on NES or out in the arcade? What did you think to it compared to other Mario titles and arcade games of the time? Which of the two brothers did you always play as and what was your best score in the game? How are you celebrating Mario Day this year? No matter what you think about Mario Bros. or Mario games in general, leave a comment below and pop back next week for another review as part of Mario Month.