Skip to main content

Mario Bros.: Plumbers' pest program

The original Mario Bros. arcade game holds a special place in my heart because I played it once when very young at Chuck E. Cheese. It had already been succeeded by Super Mario Bros., but it still seemed so cool to me.

Mario Bros. introduced Luigi and established the brothers as plumbers (in Donkey Kong Mario was a carpenter). This is shown through iconic green pipes in the corners. The goal of the game is to clear the screen of "pests" by jumping and hitting them from below, then kicking them away before they flip back over. There are three main enemies: Shellcreeper (a turtle, the predecessor of Koopa Troopas), Sidestepper (a crab), who becomes fast when hit and must be hit again, and Fighter Fly, who jumps. Each time you clear a pest, a bonus coin appears. Fireballs also bounce around the screen. A POW Block can be hit three times to flip over all enemies (except Fighter Flies in mid-jump), collect coins, and elminate Fireballs. You can't rely on this, however, as it only refreshes after the bonus stages.

Shellcreeper, Sidestepper, and Fighter Fly

The simple platforming holds up well, as evidenced by the game's repeated incorporation as a mini-game into later Mario games, most notably Super Mario Bros. 3. In SMB 3, it's only available in two-player mode, which is indeed when Mario Bros. is at its best. The fact that the two players can choose to try to help or hinder one another is great fun. Even when working together, you will at least compete for the coins!

The arcade game has 35 unique "phases" (stages), five of which are bonus stages in which you try to collect ten coins in twenty seconds. The NES version has only eleven unique stages. Like Pac-Man, the layout never changes, but the number and combination of enemies does. In the first phase you need only defeat four Shellcreepers, but things get trickier quickly. In the ninth phase, Slipice is introduced, which freezes platforms. Frozen platforms are slippery (duh) and drop deadly icicles.

The game's main shortcoming is stiff handling. The jumping and skidding is similar to Ice Climber, but not nearly as bad. This was presumably by design, but all remakes of the game have improved the controls to make them smoother. Another downside is that it has no background music (just jingles between levels) and mediocre sound effects. The visuals, however, are a textbook example of early 80's goodness. The cast of creepers is delightful. Unfortunately, the NES sprites are smaller and less colorful than their arcade counterparts (but see below).

They also removed the cute animation of the Shellcrawler exiting its shell, kicking it right side-up, and getting back in. Gone as well are the cut-scenes between some phases, explaining how to defeat the new enemy. One aesthetic change was also made: the original changed Mario's hat to blue, but the NES version reverted it to its iconic red color. Maybe it's just me, but I like the blue hat! Although the arcade version is superior, the NES port is still very good, and I can't imagine anyone at the time having complained. The only problem, perhaps, was it probably felt a bit dated by 1986.

Left: arcade; right: NES

Interestingly, Europe got another NES port in 1993 under the banner "Classic Series." This one is a nearly perfect recreation of the arcade version, but with the ability to change directions in mid-air (and Mario's red hat). This version is better than the original NES release. In fact, it's arguably better than the arcade original, thanks to the smoother controls. It was a brilliant example of updating a then-10-year-old arcade game while remaining faithful. Too bad it didn't come to the U.S.!

European Mario Bros. (Classic) NES cartridge

The goal of Mario Bros. is to get a high score (mine is 95,160). As with the Donkey Kong games, the NES version is easier, especially on mode A. A couple tips for getting a high score: If you can knock out two enemies right in a row, you get an extra 800 points. Hitting a red Fireball from below gets you 1000 points. The world record is a whopping 5,424,920 points, set by Steven Kleisath in 2015. If you want a heart-warming pandemic story, you can read about how Kleisath and the #2 record holder, Stephen Boyer, scored more than one million points playing the game cooperatively over the internet.

I still love playing Mario Bros. in 2021. Truly it is a Nintendo classic.

Grade: B (European: B+)

Gameplay: Hours of fun for almost anyone (20/20)
Theme: Compelling, well designed concept and characters (20/20)
Controls: Controls are solid, if occasionally irritating (12/15) (European: 15/15)
Difficulty: Too easy, little challenge (unless you're a high score chaser) (12/15)
Graphics: Beautiful, well designed graphics (15/15)
Sound: No background music and sound effects are annoying (5/15)

Linked Reviews
"Unlike the famous plumbers’ far more successful adventures, Mario Bros. simply doesn’t hold the same level of depth, precision or replay value."
— Martin Watts, NintendoLife, 4/10

"The game is fun in its own way, but it doesn't quite dig its hooks into us the way Donkey Kong did before it, or Super Mario Bros. did afterward."
— Philip J. Reed, NintendoLife, 5/10

"It's not my favorite arcade game by any means, but it's fun and challenging."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo Guide to the NES Library, 3.5/5

"It's a pivotal title in the Nintendo pantheon. But by the time the NES version reached the U.S. and Europe, Mario Bros. was yesterday's news."
— Jeremy Parish, NES Works

"The versus play is simple and even repetitive, but it holds up today."
— Mark Ryan Sallee, IGN#91 of Top 100

Stats
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer
Arcade release date: 1983
NES release date: June 1986
Extend: 20,000
High score: 95,160

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja: A whimsical adventure in Japan

Growing up, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja at my best friend's house (though I was bad at it), and I had been looking forward to trying it again. It's an unusual, fun adventure game. I recently learned that in Japan Legend of the Mystical Ninja was preceded by three Famicom games and followed by three more Super Famicom games, none of which were localized for the West! The Japanese name of the series is Go for It, Goemon! It's based on a 1980 Japanese arcade game called Mr. Goemon. The emulation community put out fan translations of the Famicom games between 2009 and 2017. Surprisingly, no translations of the Super Famicom games existed until 2020, all three created by the same people . The series takes places in early-modern Japan. It has a light-hearted anime aesthetic. The titular character is a spiky-haired kid named Goemon. If a second player joins the simultaneous action (highly recommended), Goemon is assisted by an older, overweight ninja named Ebisumaru.

Mario Kart 64: 25th anniversary

Mario Kart 64 brought the fun of go-kart simulator Super Mario Kart into the 3D age. A few chunky polygons notwithstanding, Mario Kart 64 still holds up, even alongside sequels like  Mario Kart 8 Deluxe . MK 64 doesn't alter the fundamental formula laid down by Super Mario Kart. You still choose one of four circuits (Mushroom, Flower, Star, or Special) and an engine speed (50, 100, or 150 CC), then race against seven other racers, trying to place at least in the top four. Whereas the SNES allowed only two players, the N64 was built with four controller inputs, and MK 64 happily can use them all (though the music shuts off with more than two). Battle Mode returns as well, in which players attack one another with items, trying to pop all three of their opponents' balloons. This is always a blast when playing with friends. Lastly, there is the Time Trial mode, in which you race alone trying to set the fastest time. Is this the origin of the "Trollface" meme? MK 64's

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts: 30th anniversary

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is an SNES-exclusive sequel to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, itself a sequel to Ghosts 'n Goblins . Like its predecessors, its claim to fame (or infamy) is being ridiculously hard. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts follows the formula of Ghosts 'n Goblins to a tee. You control a knight named Arthur who must rescue Princess Guinevere by battling endless hordes of monsters and demons: Zombies, Ghosts, Weredogs, Bats, Red Arremers, and even Mimics (the D&D monster that disguises itself as a treasure chest). He picks up various weapons along the way but can only hold one at a time. Some of them (especially the torch) are worse than the throwing spears he begins with. Three new weapons are the crossbow, scythe, and tri-blade. The crossbow is good because it shoots two arrows at once, at about 45 and 30 degree angles upward. I avoid the scythe because Arthur can throw only one at a time and the ability to arc it downward by holding ↓ does not compensate for this. The