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

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


Popular posts from this blog

Mysterious Murasame Castle: Non-stop ninja frenzy!

The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a bit of a lost treasure. It's a frenetic samurai-and-ninja game set in feudal Japan. The real mystery is why Nintendo didn't bring it to the West (until 2014), where I'm confident it would have been a hit remembered alongside Ninja Gaiden . Look familiar? This game is a sort of fraternal twin to The Legend of Zelda . Both were made from the same game engine, and it really shows. They both launched on the Famicom Disk System in early 1986, taking advantage of its save feature. However, whereas Zelda is an open-world game with nine dungeons, The Mysterious Murasame Castle is stage-based. You control Takamura through four pairs of two levels each: an above-ground section followed by a castle. The ninth and final stage is the titular Murasame Castle. Although there are branching pathways, stages are mostly linear, like the dungeons in The Legend of Zelda. The Mysterious Murasame Castle Famicom disk The main gimmick of the game is that, wheneve

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

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels: Mario misstep

Given the enormous success of  Super Mario Bros. , Nintendo naturally wanted a sequel. It seems they wanted it so bad that, to quote Dr. Ian Malcom, they "were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Super Mario Bros. 2 landed on the Famicom Disk System in June of 1986, a mere nine months after the original. In English it was later given the name The Lost Levels since it was never released on the NES. The prematurity of the sequel shows as soon as you boot the game. It looks almost exactly like the original, down to the same title screen (with a 2), same sprites, and same backgrounds. There are a few visual tweaks, such as new ground tiles and faces on the clouds, trees, mushrooms, and moving platforms. The game has no new power-ups or enemies (except more aggressive red Piranha Plants). There are a few new elements, but they aren't very good. The Poison Mushroom hurts Mario (or Luigi); Super Springs propel him far ab