I gave Mario Bros. a bad rap for the longest time. In my defense, I was first introduced to it by way of its mediocre port on the NES, a jilted and poorly executed version that I had not context for because I didn’t come into video games until platformers were much more refined than their forebears. By the late eighties it just felt tired and old by comparison.
I wanted to like it so badly; by this point I had grown fond of Mario not just because I had spent months mastering Super Mario Bros. because it was the only game I had, but because he was a very endearing character and fell in love with the Mushroom Kingdom. It was also a game that focused heavily on cooperative play; a brilliant way for me to get even more game time in because I could use it as an excuse to play with my brother, which secretly led to many bonding moments unbeknownst to me at the time. But I was looking for something that hewed towards the platformers I know and love to this day and not what I saw as a very basic and clipped game. Where were the levels, the variety, and the secrets? There was no way I was gonna fall for Mario Bros. because I was never going to give it a chance in the first place.
Thank God I’m of an age where I like to revisit older games because I finally figured out that arcade games don’t show you your progress through the stodgy concept of level advancement – they show it by letting your skills grow, which is then proven by the almighty high score. Getting older and by virtue wiser does have its benefits.
Mario Bros. is a good analogy to actual work. Strip away the fact that Mario and Luigi are in fact doing the job of being exterminators (Sure, Nintendo says they’re plumbers, but have you ever hired one to knock a turtle over and then jump on it? I don’t think so.) and what you have is the platforming equivalent to micromanaging and multitasking. Turtles, crabs and the biggest goddamn flies you’ve ever seen come pouring out of these conspicuously placed pipes in the sewers and you have to mitigate which ones to bop first while avoiding others and maybe picking up a spinning coin along the way. Do it too slowly and your pace is hastened by some volatile and bouncy fireballs that keep you moving if you stand in place too long. If it all becomes too much to handle you can give yourself a bit of a reset by smacking a POW block and slowing things back down.
I wish I had a POW block at work, honestly.
Just to keep the work metaphor rolling, playing Mario Bros. collaboratively alleviates a lot of the pressure of doing your job, assuming your partner is on board with helping out. You could theoretically divide and conquer by having one player dump the animals while the other hops on them, but it makes the game feel rather redundant very quickly. What’s more interesting to me is including your partner in the chaos and reacting to the board rather than each of you doing a specific task. Like a lot of cooperative games, Mario Bros. is at its best when you’re setting each other up for success in a variety of situations which, if it clicks just right, brings on one of those rare moments of Zen where you just kind of become one with the joystick and smoothly wipe out all comers.
Even though it has its own kind of jank, it doesn’t feel as detrimental as it does in the NES version. Like Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. it feels more like a stylistic choice that you need to get accustomed to rather than cheap design. As to whether or not it’s either is up for debate. On that same tip, the visuals and artwork align with those games as well, giving it a charming cohesiveness.
Even though I’ve finally kindled an admiration for Mario Bros., I have to admit that it’s a game that is best played under certain circumstances or when I’m in a particular mood. I’d rather be playing it with somebody else, which kind of pushes it out of that realm of pick-up-and-play kind of game. Which is fine and, quite frankly, better than just loathing the game like I once did. Congratulations Mario Bros. you aren’t tired and old – you’re a classic.
RELEASE DATE: July 20th, 1983