Mario Bros.

Developer: Nintendo
U.S. Publisher: Nintendo
Original U.S. Release: June 1986
Virtual Console Release: November 19, 2006
Genre: Arcade
Format: 40-Kilobyte Cartridge

Based on: Mustachioed Italian building manager, throwing your money down a sewer.

Games | Nintendo Entertainment System | Virtual Console | Mario Bros.

Article by M.Nicolai | August 15, 2007

What sold me on the Wii, above Twilight Princess or the promise of future Metroid or Smash Bros.? games, was its Virtual Console. A way to play and, importantly, own the classic games of my youth. The Virtual Console's launch window offered a wide but shallow selection of five NES games: Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros., Pinball, Soccer, Solomon's Key, and Wario's Woods. I grabbed Mario Bros. without thinking twice about it, a decision grounded firmly in my own nostalgia.

When I was in high school, my best friend had a Mario Bros. machine. The thing was in pretty sad shape. The cabinet was trashed and the screen looked like it had been used to store spare magnets. But in 1992, the idea of playing an arcade perfect game from the comfort of home was still pretty novel. And the game is a classic. This isn't the "Jumpman" of the Donkey Kong games, this is Mario on the cusp of stardom, like Harrison Ford in American Graffiti. Both former carpenters just one project away from becoming household names.

In Mario Bros. you play as one of the eponymous Brooklyn-based plumbers, clearing stages of pests such as turtles, crabs, and flies. I've lived in Brooklyn, and I've seen things lurking on the subway tracks that would eat turtles, crabs, and flies for breakfast, but I suppose in Japan they have their own sanitation concerns. The stages are arranged with a series of platforms (similar to Joust) and the game introduced many elements that would become signatures of the Super Mario Bros. series. Busting blocks from below, knocking turtles out of their shells, collecting coins and the use of pipes to move around a level. The most distinct difference (outside of the scrolling levels) is the jumping. Mario cannot change direction in midair, making the controls seem sluggish in comparison to later games.

It's still a great classic arcade title, but when I played it on my Wii for the first time I was immediately disappointed. This was not the arcade version at all! This was the inferior NES port! Many of the NES launch titles were ports of current Nintendo arcade titles, and most were good conversions; but given the limitations of the hardware, none of them could be expected to be arcade-perfect. Frustrated with my own exuberance and poor recollection, I shunted Mario Bros. to the far right screen of my Wii menu, banished but not deleted; it would serve as reminder to do my homework before buying Virtual Console games in the future.

And it sat there, untouched (its only company was Space Harrier II) until I sat down to write this. And the more I played it, and the more research I did, I came to realise that it's not the worst arcade port ever. It's not even the worst port of Mario Bros.! This game had been ported to nearly every home platform the eighties produced, and the NES version still comes out on top. And it was still the best up until the Game Boy Advance era. The version of Mario Bros. included with every entry in the Super Mario Advance? series is an enhanced remake including four-person multiplayer, download play, and, most importantly, the traditional running and jumping mechanics that made the Super Mario Bros. series such a joy to play.

I've made my peace with the NES Mario Bros. I've learned to appreciate it for what it was instead of shunning it for what it wasn't. And it's earned a rightful place on my Wii menu, next to its more super offspring (Space Harrier II, however, is S.O.L.) But I cannot in good conscience recommend it as a purchase. Those NES arcade ports were great for their time, but their time has passed. And every purchase sends a message to Nintendo that their minimal effort is good enough. Besides, the GBA version of Mario Bros. offers far superior gameplay. Take that five dollars and put it towards a copy of Super Mario Advance 4? instead.

Images courtesy of VGMuseum