Review by ImperialScrolls

Reviewed: 10/05/18

The Original!

Following his initial simian escapades -- but before he was truly "super" -- Mario found himself in an eponymous arcade hit. Mario Bros. cabinets first appeared in 1983. Like several other early Nintendo classics, this one was heavily ported. In addition to the Famicom & NES, Mario Bros. also found a home on various second generation systems and home computers. The game ostensibly marks the first appearance of little bro Luigi (assigned to player 2, naturally) though the pedant in me is here to remind y'all that the brothers shared a completely different (but identically named) Game & Watch title prior to this.

Mario Bros. is a single-screen platformer, with static scenery but an ever-changing arrangement of villains. In contrast to similar platformers of the era (including Nintendo's own Popeye and Donkey Kong) the goal here is not to reach an exit or collect an array of items, but to clear the screen of all enemies. Attempting to foil Mario (and/or Luigi) are a trio of creatures. Shellcreepers, seemingly the ancestors of Koopa Troopas, are basic slow turtles, shuffling mindlessly forward. Speedy crabs, known as Sidesteppers, race forth with impunity, requiring a double-hit before expiring. Rounding out the triumvirate are the Fighter Flies, hopping insects who are invulnerable while airborne. Additionally, "hazards" appear in the later stages, including bobbing fireballs and icicles that transform a given platform into an ultra-slick surface.

Those accustomed to Super Mario Bros. and, uh, most every Mario game released since will need to adapt to the "combat" system of this one. There's no "hop and bop" here; making any contact with an enemy is an instant life deduction. Instead Mario must "punch" enemies from below. This flips them over and stuns them momentarily. Within this small window they must be kicked off-screen, lest they respawn faster and meaner as ever. Mario Bros. features the debut of the iconic POW block. Hitting it from below will stun all enemies onscreen. The block depletes over time, though will eventually respawn after a cluster of levels is completed. Coins materialize, one for each enemy defeated, for additional points, and coin-filled bonus stages are available for the occasional intermission.

As with most successful early platformers, Mario Bros. appears simplistic on paper but possesses an almost undefinable addictive quality. This is a very good game. It moves quickly, and the constant punch/kick skirmishes are ever so satisfying. Difficulty increases gradually and subtly. Never does the game seem unfair. Completing that first "loop" will take even a seasoned player a few attempts -- after that it's pure high-score chasing for bragging rights. The experience becomes doubly fun with a second player, where Mario and Luigi can bump each other and compete for coin-hoarding domination.

Visuals are exactly what one should expect from an early NES game. Black background, big chunked-out pixels. The pipe backdrop gives the game a subterranean vibe. In fact, Mario Bros. pushes the "plumber" motif harder than any sequel to follow. Music consists of rudimentary jingles, coupled with the occasional cha-ching sound effects and persistent beat of the brothers' footsteps. As for the controls, they're an acquired taste. It's a bit like Ice Climber, movement feels paradoxically rigid and slippery at the same time. Mario seems to move a touch too fast, sliding all over the platforms (do not let these get icy). In contrast, jumping lacks the finesse of Super Mario Bros., expect instead to leap in fixed arcs.

It's worth noting that this is one case where the NES port ended up better than the arcade original, which suffers from "cheaper" difficulty and slightly inferior controls. There really wasn't much of a graphical downgrade when Mario Bros. transitioned to the NES, and the missing "cutscenes" are but a small price to pay. While Mario's future exploits are undoubtedly more enjoyable than this crusty old black label romp, skipping right over this would be unwise. It remains one of the strongest titles to grace the earliest days of the NES.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Mario Bros. (US, 06/30/86)

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