Retro Review: The original Mario Bros. can stand on its own0 Comments
Reviewed on: Arcade
Also available on: Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 7800
Developer: Shigeru Miyamoto, Gunpei Yokoi
Younger gamers today know all about Mario's first appearance in Donkey Kong and all about the Super Mario Bros. series that came along with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Seemingly lost in the middle is the original Mario Bros., first released in arcades in mid-1983. This is a genuine shame, as this two-player coin-op classic is the actual launch point for almost everything gamers know about Mario and Luigi today.
Mario Bros. is historic for the introduction of Mario's brother Luigi, who exists here as a palette swap for the second player. It is also the game that introduced Mario as a plumber, rather than the carpenter he played in Donkey Kong or the psycho grudge-holding zookeeper he apparently played in Donkey Kong Junior. Numerous other Mario series staples were also introduced within the game, including pipes, enemy turtles, bonus coins, POW blocks and more.
The game supports two players at once, with the left player controlling Mario and the right player controlling Luigi. The ability for players to control both Mario Bros. as the same time wasn't commonplace for many years, making the two-player feature here a bit of a treat in hindsight. The object of the game is to eliminate all of the enemies in each level. This is done by bopping them from the bottom of the platform they are travelling on, then kicking them away as they are stunned. Various stages introduce new enemies with a short introduction scene, a rarity at the time. Each enemy spawns from one of the two pipes at the top of the screen, eventually travelling down to exit through the pipes at the bottom of the screen. They will then emerge again from the top. After each enemy is eliminated, a moving gold coin emerges from the top, also travelling to the bottom in time. Enemies and coins collide with one another, causing them to reverse direction and often cause extra danger to Mario and Luigi.
If you wait too long in any given area, a flying fireball will appear, encouraging you to move quickly. In later levels, icicles will begin spawning on the bottoms of platforms, dropping ice toward the bottom of the screen. The POW block will count as a hit toward all enemies touching a platform at a time. It can be used three times before disappearing. Between certain levels comes a bonus coin stage, where players must attempt to collect all the coins before time expires.
Like the previous arcade hit Joust, Mario Bros. can be played as a team or as a competition between players. This element alone makes it unique, especially in the earliest days of video gaming, where most games simply played off of the element of "man vs. machine" exclusively. It is more fun to play as a team, however, especially given just how many enemies and obstacles exists on the screen at one time during the advanced stages. If you want your quarter to last longer, you're going to need to be a good brother to the other player, as you don't want to be left alone against that many objects at once.
Gamers who only know the adventures of Mario and Luigi from the Super Mario Bros. series will often make the mistake of jumping on turtles or other enemies rather than hit them from below. While this shouldn't count against the game itself, it tends to turn off younger players who are used to having that ability. Those introducing Mario Bros. to newer generations of gamers will want to explain this difference ahead of time if they want the youngsters to enjoy the game.
The original arcade version of Mario Bros. existed in two forms. The widebody cabinet, which was released specifically for Mario Bros., is the best version to play it on. Sadly, due to the North American arcade market's struggles in mid-1983, only a few thousand were made. Most Mario Bros. arcade games were conversion kits sold to convert older Nintendo arcade titles such as Donkey Kong and Popeye, which were struggling to make money in 1983. The control panel space on those more narrow cabinets simply doesn't provide enough room for two adults to play comfortably.
Another small drawback involves the "slippery" aspect of the game. Mario had some serious issues with his shoes back in the day, as they squeaked loudly all throughout the original Donkey Kong. In Mario Bros., they squeak even more loudly, creating a sound effect that can be rather unpleasant during long sessions of play. Also, Mario and Luigi slide slightly, making it tough to reverse directions. This can make the game a bit frustrating, a factor that Nintendo themselves seem to agree with, as later re-releases and ports of the game tweaked the slide factor. At the time, it likely existed as released to shorten player time on the machine, something many arcade games started to do in 1983, even at the expense of quality.
Overall, Mario Bros. is more than deserving of being called a classic arcade game. While there is no doubting the historical importance of the game, it deserves to stand out by itself as a fun classic that is just as challenging and entertaining as it was in 1983. Those unfamiliar with it are encouraged to give it a try in original arcade form if possible. It not, the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy Advance ports are quite well done.
A Legacy of Its Own