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Super Mario Bros. Deluxe: 25th anniversary

A quarter century ago, Nintendo went back to the fountainhead with Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, which brought the original Super Mario Bros. to the recently released Game Boy Color. While playing SMB on a handheld device was a novelty, the game is unfortunately hampered by the Game Boy's small screen.

The GBC was powerful enough to recreate the NES in a handheld form. However, in order to recreate the game perfectly without using shrunk-down sprites (as was done for Super Mario Land), only a portion of the screen can be displayed at once. A "block" in SMB is sixteen pixels a side. The Game Boy screen can show only ten such blocks horizontally at once, and the height is nine blocks, with the top half of the top row being covered by your score, coins, and time remaining. The NES outputted sixteen blocks wide by thirteen high. This means in SMB Deluxe you can see only 40% of what the NES showed! The other 60% is offscreen. As a result, the game looks zoomed in. Enemies, coins, and pits are often off-screen, making the game harder and less enjoyable.

To combat this shortcoming, you can pan the screen horizontally (SELECT) and vertically (↑). While this works fine, it breaks the game's natural rhythm, forcing Mario to stop and look around instead of racing ahead. You have to play more cautiously and slowly. As a result, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is far from ideal as a way to enjoy the game that made the NES the juggernaut it became. In 2005, Super Mario Bros. became available on the Game Boy Advance in the "Classic NES Series." The GBA's higher-resolution screen allowed the full display of the NES game, effectively rendering SMB Deluxe moot.

If this were the entirety of Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, it would be a forgotten novelty. Fortunately, there's more! For starters, the main eight worlds of The Lost Levels (TLL) are included as an unlockable after clearing all 32 levels of the first game. It reuses the sprites and backgrounds from the first game rather than the Japanese version. Those aesthetic changes made TLL look like a ROM hack, so the game looks better here (but not as good as the 16-bit version in Super Mario All-Stars). The annoying wind on certain stages is also removed, which is no loss. The mean-spirited Poison Mushroom has a more colorful sprite, clearly distinguishing it from the beloved Super Mushroom (another improvement!). TLL's five bonus worlds, however, have been left out. Getting both SMB and TLL on a single cartridge is a good deal. TLL works better as an unlockable challenge than a stand-alone game anyway.

My favorite part of SMB Deluxe is the challenge mode. You have the full menu of 32 levels available, and each has three challenges: find five red coins, find a Yoshi egg in an invisible block, and clear a certain score threshold. These challenges are difficult enough to be entertaining, but not so difficult as to be frustrating. They are a great way to get fresh enjoyment out of an old game. Since it becomes a bit of hide-and-seek, the smaller screen size arguably becomes part of the challenge! You often need to stop, look around, and shift the screen to spot red coins. The Yoshi eggs are harder to find, being in invisible blocks. Fortunately, the game includes a hint mode in its "toy box" menu: you are shown a random level and the screen that has the invisible block.

The high-score mode is also fun. To hit the score threshold, you need to finish levels fast, thus earning bonus points for the time left when Mario touches the flagpole. You still want to collect as many coins and hit as many enemies (especially with Koopa shells) as you can for points. Getting the top of the flagpole is a must because of its 5000 bonus points. Timing Mario's jump to touch the pole when the second digit shows 6 earns another 3000 points from fireworks.

If you complete all three challenges on all 32 stages, you earn the prestigious Peach Award. Additionally, the game tracks your total high score from all 32 levels: if you reach 1.16 million (no mean feat), you earn the coveted Toad Award! The other three awards are easier: beat SMB, beat the Second Quest of SMB (where Goombas become Buzzy Beatles), and beat TLL.

The "toy box" menu has four options. In addition to the Yoshi egg hints, there is a round table of Peach and the Toads. Each character, when selected, shows you various sprites, banners, and images, which can be printed with a Game Boy Printer! You can customize the banners by entering text via a keyboard, then print it out! Peach also includes some little jingles you unlock. Another option is a calendar and date book, which can display the calendar for any year between 1 and 9999. You can mark dates with symbols and text. In other words, it's an electronic planner! (I use it exclusively to track my numerous faculty appointments.) Lastly, there is a basic fortune teller, which gives you a card like "Extremely lucky: Kindness given is returned tenfold", "Lucky: Solutions are within your grasp," or "Unlucky: Careless footing causes one to fall"! These messages can also be printed. It's all random and Nintendo-ish. I love it.

There is one more game mode: you vs. Boo. These are eight unique levels in which Mario races against a Boo (ghost). The levels contain special blocks. On some stages, they are switch blocks; on others they turn into spikes when off. Timer blocks count down three seconds before they switch, so you can prepare accordingly. I don't enjoy these races as much as the challenge mode.

In addition, a sticker album shows you all your stickers and awards, with blank spaces for the ones you haven't unlocked yet. Finally, a records menu shows you the top 10 high scores, like on an arcade. My high score is 826,050.

Being able to play SMB and TLL on a single Game Boy catridge was a marvel for the time. However, the "zoomed-in" screen is a serious hindrance, so you're better off playing SMB and TLL on a different system. Nevertheless, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is still worth playing for the challenge mode. It's not a full game, but I had fun completing them. It's a different way to enjoy a game I've beaten more times than I can count. Super Mario Bros. is such an incredible game on its own ("platforming perfection," I called it in my first review) that Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, despite its flaw, is still a good game, too.

Grade: A-
Linked Review
"The newly added features and included edition of Lost Levels give you some bang for your buck, but the decreased field of vision hinders enjoyment of all modes quite a lot."
— Marcel van Duyn, Nintendo Life, 6/10


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