Mario Bros. The game that really started it all for Nintendo. Back in the arcades in 1983, this sort of spin off of the hugely popular Donkey Kong, lead to Mario as we know him to this day. Taking a career shift from carpentry to plumbing, Mario is more like the Mario we know today. But, if in all unlikelihood you’ve never played the original Mario Bros before, then you may be in for a shock as to how completely different he still his.
Be warned. Mario Bros is not Super Mario Bros. They are completely different games, something which muddled me up as a child growing up. Mario Bros is well and truly an arcade game that shares its gameplay far more with Donkey Kong than Super Mario Bros.
As a plumber, Mario makes his way through different screen stages with the goal of taking down every enemy. Super Mario experts may claim this an easy task what with the moustachioed plumber’s famous stomping ability, but actually, Mario hasn’t quite mastered that technique just yet. Your reflex reactions to jump on Koopas will harshly result in you loosing one of your precious arcade lives.
Taking out enemies in Mario Bros is very tactical and surprisingly precise. The idea is to hit the platform below the enemy to knock them over, run up to them and finish them off with a kick. There are four enemy types and while they’re not all dealt with in exactly this way, you get the idea. As an early arcade game, it’s really quite the challenge even from the beginning. Enemies come thick and fast, cascading their way down the platforms to the bottom to the warp pipe which transports them back to the top. If you take too long fireballs will start appearing to make things more difficult. As an assist, the bottom platform holds a Pow Block which will instantly knock over all enemies that are touching the ground. It’s useful but you can only use it a few times before it disappears for good.
The gameplay loop is fine arcade action, something I’ve grown to appreciate more and more as I get older. The main problem I have, and no doubt many others will have is with the stiff, archaic controls. Jumping and movement is very rigid and it lacks the subtlety we’re used to from games that bare the Nintendo brand. Every input your perform is a commitment and a jump or walk can’t be backed out of. Mario skids to a halt in far more time than you would like and jumps can only be performed in the direction you’re facing, so quick precise movements aren’t the easiest. 90% of deaths in Mario Bros comes from the controls and I fear many gamers will not get past that.
Single player is fun enough to try and beat your own high score but Mario Bros really shines in its co-operative multiplayer where a second player controls Luigi to battle the pipe dwelling creatures together. I highly recommend playing it this way.
Unlike other Arcade Archives games, Mario Bros doesn’t allow you to choose between Japanese or International releases, but that’s no big deal considering they’re just the same. They do have Caravan mode and Hi-Score mode which actually suit Mario Bros very, very well. Hi-Score mode is where you have one credit to rack up the highest score as you can, Caravan mode gives you five minutes to get the highest score. I think this mode by far the best and it really rushes you to take out enemies as fast as possible. For all of the modes you can submit your score online which is nice, although as always, I find the implementation a little confusing.
Like HAMSTER have always done, they’ve given you options to customise your experience. Sadly there’re not as many as usual. You can’t change the difficulty but can change the amount of lives, the amount of points it takes to earn an extra life and so on. It caters to the gamers and it’s very welcome although I don’t know if it changes much for this game.
While an important point in Nintendo’s history, Mario Bros was never really that successful at the time, even though I do much prefer its gameplay style to Donkey Kong. This faithful emulation of the original is commendable even though for some it could be wildly outdated thanks to its jumping and momentum. I personally enjoy it as a score attack game, as well as being a curiosity but I feel I may be in the minority here. It’s not for everyone for sure. As it is though, it’s certainly the best way to get the definitive arcade experience without owning the actual cabinet and HAMSTER have done a great job with the port and options. It’s a good start for what we can expect in the future.
Game purchased by the reviewer.