Region: PAL-A, PAL-B, Famicom Disk System
I have been called upon to clean up some unfinished business – there’s another PAL-exclusive NES game I didn’t know about. I’m already excited! It’s a Nintendo-developed platformer released in 1993, and it’s called: uh… Mario Bros? What exactly is this doing here?
As it turns out, there are two separate releases of the game in Europe. The version released in 1986 is the same as the US and Famicom versions, but the game was tweaked and rereleased for the Famicom Disk System two years later, a version that also appeared in Italy and Germany in the system’s waning years. Oddly enough, they’re both equally difficult to find, as many early NES games, especially Black Box, flew under the radar due to the lack of popularity of the system in Europe, which only became more profitable in the later years. The most important question is: how is it any different?
The original Mario Bros. arcade game expanded on Donkey Kong’s groundbreaking jumping setup (jump up, jump left, jump right) to have variable horizontal speed for Mario and Luigi’s jumps, but it wasn’t until Super Mario Bros. that they really got it ‘down’, by including the ability to jump to player-determined heights and change direction in mid-air, two features not included in Mario Bros. in the arcade or the first NES port. The jump in the 1993 port is still a fixed height (except when bashing the floor from below), but the ability to change the horizontal trajectory with the D-pad makes the game a lot easier to play and have fun with.
As with the most basic arcade games, it’s Left, Right, A, Start and you against the world. Mario can’t attack creatures that are moving, so he has to flip them over by head-butting the floor directly beneath them. Cutscenes showing how to deal with the enemies return from the arcade after being absent from the first NES version, as do some elements of animation like the turtles (“Shellcreepers”) getting back into their shells to warn the player to stay away. The graphics are closer to the arcade version, with slightly larger and better-looking enemies, although it was pretty accurate to begin with. There’s some depth to the game and tricks to master, such as controlling the trajectory of a knocked bad guy, creating clusters of paralysed enemies to knock off together for more points, and especially the amount of co-operation a 2-player simultaneous round would entail.
While the much-improved controls improve the experience, every other beat of the game is familiar territory: three lives and no continues with extra lives hard to come by, three uses of the ‘POW’ block to hit every enemy on-screen, questionable platform detection, walking through the side of the screen to appear on the other, fireballs to avoid, endlessly repeating levels past the eleventh. I’m honestly not sure why Nintendo released this as late as 1993, with the landscape having shifted as much as it had in the intervening seven years. Nobody was going to pick this over Kirby’s Adventure or Mega Man 5 anyway. Affection for this improved version of an arcade classic will depend on fondness for quarter-suckers and Nintendo’s early work, but as for me: I respect you, Mario Bros., but we’ll never be best friends.