Everyone remembers Super Mario Bros. It’s a classic, and for good reason. It also spawned Nintendo’s biggest franchise, which is still going strong to this day. But, at least anecdotally, I’ve noticed a surprising amount of people who aren’t aware that Super Mario Bros. isn’t the first game in the Mario series. That would be Mario Bros., an arcade game that came out in 1983 and was itself a spinoff of Donkey Kong. The game was also released on the NES, which is the version that I played.Like most 80’s arcade games, Mario Bros. is fairly simple in concept. Enemies appear from pipes at the top of the screen and then run down a series of platforms before they reach the bottom, enter a pipe, and come back out at the top. You play as Mario (or Luigi if you’re the second player) and it’s your goal to defeat every enemy in the stage. You do that by jumping and hitting the platforms below where the enemies are currently located. This will knock them on their back, making them vulnerable, and then you run into them, which kills them.
Despite seeming pretty basic, the game does a lot to keep things interesting. If you fail to kill an enemy while it is down, it’ll pop back up and return to running its pattern, however it’ll be a lot faster this time. Also, when you get down to one enemy remaining, it’ll change color and suddenly start sprinting at full speed. Staying in one spot and waiting for your foe to come to you is a pretty sound strategy for dealing with all this, but the game thought of that too. If you stay in one place for too long, a fireball will come bouncing across the screen, forcing you to move to a new location.
The enemies come in a variety of forms, which also helps increase the challenge of the game. Your most basic enemy is a turtle, most likely the inspiration for the Koopa Troopas in later Mario games. There’s nothing special about these guys, they just run in a straight line. A few levels in, you’ll get introduced to crabs. They also run in a straight line, but take two hits to knock onto their backs. Next is the Fighter Fly, which are big insects that hop around the stage. They only take one hit, but because they’re jumping, it’s a little harder to line yourself up with their patterns.
Like most other arcade games of this era, your goal is to get a high score. The game helps with that by including bonus stages every few levels. These require you to grab coins on the stage in short amount of time. You get 800 points for each coin you grab, plus a massive bonus if you manage to get all of them. I’ve never been a big fan of high scores, I’ve always cared more about how far I can get in a game. But, if you’re into that sort of thing, these bonus stages are a fun way to increase your score.
Nintendo is known for its excellent control in its games, but unfortunately, Mario Bros. doesn’t really hold up to that standard. Mario has a way of sliding around the stage, always going a little further than you mean for him to. Jumping is also an issue, as you have almost no control once you leave the ground. Most of my deaths would have been easily avoided if the controls of Super Mario Bros. were present. But, I suppose that’s kind of to be expected from an arcade game that’s more out to take your money than to be balanced and fair.
Mario Bros. is a fun and often forgotten little gem on the NES. Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing it with my siblings and always had a good time. If you just want a good time waster and don’t mind it being fairly repetitive, you should definitely give Mario Bros. a shot.