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Mario Bros. (Arcade) artwork

Mario Bros. (Arcade) review

"For every time that I adapted to a situation, the game established new methods to disturb my equilibrium. For instance, it introduced new opponents like flies and crabs, the latter of which required two bumps to incapacitate. Dealing with those two, though, wasn't nearly as challenging or frustrating as navigating icy floors, which made the already-slick control response more difficult to work with."

Have you ever experienced that awkward moment when you see a friend at his workplace? In such a case, you usually find yourself in a strange setting surrounded by unfamiliar people. The one person who recognizes acts peculiarly, like he's trying to maintain a professional alter ego. You try to say something cool or funny to break the tension, only to realize you've achieved an opposite effect. Your friend continues his charade, shrugs off what you've said without even a giggle, and returns to work. You know, though, that once he clocks out he'll shed the persona, but you'll still be wierded out by the exchange. This has only happened to me a couple times, but I can think of no more profound occasion than playing Mario Bros. for the first time.

It was a terrific moment at first, spotting a familiar face on an unfamiliar cabinet. I didn't bother to watch the demo screen because the name was a big enough selling point. As I dropped a shiny coin into the slot, I laughed to myself because I thought I'd had this game in the bag. After all, what title did I play religiously previous to trying out this one except Super Mario Bros.? And that game was super! This version--this non-super version--couldn't possibly be any harder. Never mind that the single-screen sewer environment was uncharted territory. I knew Mario well and I was acquainted with his mechanics. There was no way I could lose.

A heartwarming introductory fanfare played and I sent Mario after our first victim, a simple koopa. We flew through the air with Mario's bariatric bottom aimed for the koopa's shelled back. In my mind, I formulated my next few moves. I'd kick the koopa out of his shell, launch the empty carapace into the fiends behind it, and laugh at my own brilliance. Unfortunately, that's not how the scenario played out. Rather than shelling the foe with the cute WHOOMP that I was used to hearing, Mario died. No, he didn't just die. He turned to face the fourth wall and peered directly into my soul, saying, "Why did you do that? That's our special trick! OURS! Don't show that to these guys. That's supposed to stay between you and me!" He flailed his arms and plummeted off the screen as an uncomfortable silence fell between the two of us.

Mario Bros. screenshotMario Bros. screenshot

One rotten experience didn't abate me, though. Unlike meeting other friends at their workplaces, I returned to Mario's alternate occupation multiple times because I was determined to cut through the tension and become acquainted with it. So, quarters in hand and brother by my side to give me pointers, I returned to the cabinet with renewed vigor.

I challenged the sewers bravely, learning how to time Mario's jumps appropriately while taking into account his slippery mechanics. One by one, I bumped the platform beneath each opponent and flipped them all onto their backs. With sharp kicks, I sent the temporarily paralyzed goons cartwheeling into the murky, untreated waters below. As I played, I learned to eliminate my targets more efficiently. Eventually, the first few stages became boring in comparison to the later, greater challenges. Even then, I wasn't afraid, and actually felt like a pro thanks to my training.

The game wouldn't have any of that, though. For every time that I adapted to a situation, the game established new methods to disturb my equilibrium. For instance, it introduced new opponents like flies and crabs, the latter of which required two bumps to incapacitate. Dealing with those two, though, wasn't nearly as challenging or frustrating as navigating icy floors, which made the already-slick control response more difficult to work with. Before long, I found myself surrounded by vicious creatures and deadly traps. Fireballs manifested and chased me into foes, while icicles fell from frozen platforms. This proved to be especially irksome when I was occupied with other dangers, usually while being pursued by a crab. That's when I'd fail to notice an icy dagger fall, penetrating my Italian skull within seconds.

Irritating though it was, that's when Mario Bros. was most enjoyable. It was during moments when I could scarcely find a safe haven and I'd have to run like mad, leap numerous times, spend the POW block at the bottom to temporarily debilitate all enemies, all while constantly weaving from platform to platform passing creature after creature that I would find myself in a state of bliss that I can only associate with early-80's arcade games.

I appreciated as well that the game didn't start me out in the deep end. It kicked off with a simple stage, then progressively upped the nastiness with each subsequent level. The shift in difficulty from one stage to the next was smooth, as if the game wanted me to mature, hone my skills, play for longer periods, and addict myself to the mayhem, thereby causing me to cough up as many quarters as possible. Well played, Mario Bros. Well played...

Mario Bros. screenshotMario Bros. screenshot

Unfortunately, there's a little magic that's been lost between Mario Bros. and me. It's mainly because I can no longer view it, or any arcade game for that matter, the same way I did circa 1988. Back then, almost every new game was mysterious and wonderful, terrible and frightening. I had played so few games then that I still viewed fresh rule systems and mechanics with youthful ignorance. This game will never feel cutting edge again, but at least I can take solace in knowing that this game created unforgettable memories like the awkward yet incredible moment when I first discovered the game. Sure, I can never experience that again, but maybe that's what makes the memory special.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 30, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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