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Mario Bros. (Apple II) artwork

Mario Bros. (Apple II) review

"There are new elements from one set of stages to the next. In the early areas, your enemies are turtles. Those fellows fall easily to your bumping technique. However, as you'll soon face the lobsters (they take two hits to disorient), the flies (they bounce about) and even natural hazards such as ice monsters that freeze ledges and the icicles that like to break loose and fall on your head from time to time."

What was Mario like the first time you met him? For me, he was a plumber who wore overalls and rushed around a single screen with his brother Luigi, bumping turtles, lobsters, fireballs, ice monsters and flies from underneath, then knocking them into oblivion. He wasn't the portly plumber rushing around the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Toadstool, in 3D or otherwise. He wasn't 'super,' either; he was the Mario from the game known simply as Mario Bros.

Before Nintendo was involved in the video game industry as a hardware developer, it began its programming days working on arcade titles. Those were sometimes ported to home consoles. In the case of Mario Bros., the porting was done by Atari. Their representation of this classic title was nothing short of stunning for the time, and remains one of my favorite games that features the affable plumber.

The goal of the game is about what I described in the first paragraph. Mario and Luigi are two brothers who are working to clear unwanted pests out of a massive world of pipes and ledges. Presumably, the levels are to represent the back room in some restaurant, but the details of the setting hardly matter. What matters is the way you achieve your objective. Instead of running through some fantasy world, the two brothers stay on a single screen. There are four pipes in sight, one on each corner of the screen. The way things work is that monsters emerge from the top left or right pipe and march (or hop) toward the pipes in the lower left and right corners. Your job is to prevent them from reaching their goal. If for some reason that scum slip by you (and they will, if only once in awhile), they come back faster and stronger than ever.

So there Mario and Luigi are, fighting an onslaught of vermin. They can't touch them directly, for fear of personal injury. So instead, they bop the creatures from below. This will temporarily render the monsters defenseless. At this point, one of the plumbers can rush over to the enemy and knock it out of sight. Each time this happens, a coin will emerge from one of the pipes above, and of course that coin is worth collecting for the score boost.

Another element worth noting is the 'Pow' block, which appeared here before it did in Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES. Such blocks can sustain three direct hits, and when they do, anything touching ground at the time receives a single bump. This is good if all your enemies are upright, but it's bad if you happen to have some turned upside-down at the time; they'll flip back to their feet. Careful use of this block is therefore very important. After three hits, it will disappear until you get the opportunity to regenerate it.

This basic concept is repeated throughout the entire game. When you defeat all the enemies in a given stage (called a 'phase' in this edition of the game), it's onto the next. Once in awhile, this is broken up by bonus rounds where you can rush around and try to collect all the coins before the timer empties. Then it's back to the old grind with the 'Pow' block back in place. There are new elements from one set of stages to the next. In the early areas, your enemies are turtles. Those fellows fall easily to your bumping technique. However, as you'll soon face the lobsters (they take two hits to disorient), the flies (they bounce about) and even natural hazards such as ice monsters that freeze ledges and the icicles that like to break loose and fall on your head from time to time. You'll even encounter vanishing ledges.

What all of this means is that things get quite frantic as you reach the higher stages. And since the only extra life you get is the one obtained at 20,000 points (something that happens pretty early in a typical run), you have to be really careful if you want to progress very far. The good news is that if you're the sort to cheat, the title will let you start as late as the twenty-third stage. This is neat, but I personally like to start at the very beginning and go from there. The variety the game offers is mostly available in the early phases. Get to the later ones and the only challenge is endurance and the high score you can attain.

Of course, there's a lot of charm to the game. For one, you can play it with a friend. I used to have a lot of fun convincing people to play as Luigi. The computer I used had a joystick, which the other player always wanted to use. This was fine, though, because the keyboard works just fine. Your plumber will run in the direction you press and won't stop unless you quickly tap the same direction twice in a row, but this control scheme actually works just fine. The space bar jumps, and that is equally intuitive. Few games on the Apple II controlled better.

Few that I can recall looked better, either. If you hunt down this game to play it on the NES, you'll be disappointed to find that it has lost some of the detail and vibrance. On the computer, the plumbers are quite a bit larger, and the enemies more detailed. But that's not all; there are more enemies, more natural hazards. In short, the computer version offers more of just about everything.

As far as sound goes, there's not a lot to talk about. For the time, though, it was quite pleasant. Each stage begins with a catchy little jingle, and from there sound effects take over. Knock an enemy off a ledge and there's a satisfying sound as it falls. The lobsters make noise as they skitter out of a pipe, and there's a nice clinking sound as you collect coins. All things considered, the sound here is probably some of the best there was at the time.

The same can be said about the game. Though I had plenty of other games on hand, Mario Bros. was the one to which I constantly returned. It also was easiest to talk others into playing that one. It's immediately accessible, it's great fun, and I recommend it very highly.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 12, 2003)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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