The Many Faces of . . . Mario Bros.
By Alan Hewston

In 1983 Nintendo gave Mario the spotlight he deserved, after first retrieving his girlfriend from Donkey Kong, and then fending off Donkey Kong Jr. Originally a carpenter, Mario is now joined by his brother Luigi and as plumbers, try to rid an underground sewer of several pests. In this classic "platform" game, the pests arrive from the large pipes on the top of four platforms and move L/R until they fall off the edge of a platform, drop down to the next level, and eventually exit the bottom via another pipe, only to re-emerge from the pipes at the top. The pests are turtles (Shellcreepers), crabs (Sidesteppers) and fireflies (Fighterflies). There is also Slipice, who can turn an entire platform into an icy (slippery) surface, and 2 types of fireballs that will burn you up. Mario can play solo, or be joined in a two-player game by his partner Luigi. You can either play cutthroat and let the pests knock off your brother, or you can work together and protect each other's back - which is helpful in achieving really high scores.

The pests head the direction the pipe is facing and continue until they bump into anything and then change directions. This can make for quite an impressive traffic jam on the screen, as the slower objects (fireflies), and any critters turned over will make everything keep reversing directions, all while more critters enter the screen from above, or fireballs arrive. There are smart fireballs that can move up and down and fake you out as well. The dumb fireballs simply cross the screen and then disappear. You can only stop critters and fireballs in 2 ways. First, punch them from below (ie jump up and hit the ceiling above you); or by hitting the POW block at the middle of the bottom level - which upsets everything on a platform floor. If a critter is upset, it either disappears (fireballs, Slipice), or falls on its back, where you then have a few seconds to knock them into the water before they right themselves. Once righted, they move even faster than before. The crabs take 2 hits to upset them on to their backs. The fireballs and fireflies do not come in contact with the floor very often, so it is only then that they can be punched from below. You get double, triple or quadruple points for each successive pest knocked off at the same time. The POW can only be used 3 times and then disappears. Bonus coins come out for each pest eliminated, and then there are bonus coins rounds where the screen is filled only with coins, but you only have 20 seconds to collect them all. During every bonus round (8, and every 5 rounds thereafter) the POW gets reset to have 3 charges again. The game continues to speed up with faster and greater numbers of pests per round, not to mention more frequent Mario-seeking (smart) fireballs. Extra lives are earned typically at every 20,000 points. I wish that I had my favorite "Partner" to play each of the 2-player simultaneous versions.

Mario Bros. was fairly popular just as the video game crash arrived, but Mario's fame skyrocketed when he became "Super" Mario, in 1986. Mario is generally more well-known world-wide, than a certain rodent residing in central Florida. This innovative "punch-the-ceiling-from-below" attack made for a new paradigm and spawned many more sequels using this somewhat non-violent attack to break bricks, kill enemies, and to find coins, warp levels, power ups, prizes and all sorts of neat stuff. Mario Bros. also made it onto many systems following the classic "Joystick" era.

[C64 version is a treat]

Arcade Game Designed in 1983 by Nintendo master designer Shigeru Miyamoto

Classic Platforms: Atari 2600, 5200, 7800, Atari 8 bit, Apple II & Commodore 64

I was unsuccessful at finding credits for any of the programmers - too bad.

Categories: Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

Disqualified: Apple II (N/A),
Like most of you, I do not own an Apple II or any other disk-only system - which is the sole reason for the disqualification. Atarisoft did make most of the arcade blockbusters on diskette for the Apple II. It appears to be a pretty good version from screenshots and other internet sources and may have earned a Bronze.

Have Nots: Atari 2600 (31)
The Gameplay is adequate (4) in that you can tell that this is Mario Bros. but there are many problems, and features missing, making this article long. The Gameplay includes a 2 player version; bonus coin rounds; wafers (bonus coins are actually wafers); Slipice; slippery ice; plus some difficulty options - unique to the 2600 (fireballs on/off making for a nice kids option and number of lives 3 or 5). Here are some of the problems: No head room on top level; cannot land on POW; fall off sides - just from jumping straight up; very bad physics & choppy motion; double death due to almost no delay between a death and the next life (this just takes getting used to); the second? critter on the screen at one time changes direction at the first ledge, and the critters never reverse directions from bumping anything; there is only one fireball, and it is always dumb, but faster than you, and always on the screen, and it comes out right away on round 1; no high score displayed; the bonus timer makes you wait until zero, every time; finally, a crab must be hit twice before exiting that screen, otherwise resets itself in the pipes and must then be hit 2 more times. The Sound is pretty annoying (4), OK just barely adequate. The Graphics are fair enough (5) that you can tell what is going on. Of course, the usual 2600 screen limits, like 2 critters, 2 players and 2 wafers at once. The Controls, despite a fast game play, are most excellent (10). I generously scored the Addictiveness as very good (7) - despite it being so limited, and missing many Gameplay elements, for the 2600, it is a fun game to play.

Have Nots: Atari 5200 (33)
This skill is so challenging, it leaves little room for any errors or response time using the joysticks. The Controls are good enough (6) to play, but as is usually the case, they are the worst feature of the version. For some poor programming reason, the beginning of a new round often starts with the last motion you made at the end of the old round - not necessarily the direction you wanted to go. The Gameplay is pretty good (7) and includes a pause, 2 players simultaneously, bonus coins, start levels, 2 types of fireballs, and Slipice. Drawbacks are that there is no head room above to jump over anything on the top level; each coin is delayed instead of coming right out; both types of fireballs look the same; you cannot punch when at the edge of a platform without getting killed; and no difficulty/start options. Another programming setback is a starting delay - where the music chimes (Do, do do, do do do do do do) one should be able to maneuver Mario onto the offensive, before the critters come out. Not so here, where you sit and wait until the critters come out, putting you on the defensive each and every round, for the entire round. This really stinks, and is not the stick's fault. Then, there is an ending delay - instead of the round ending as soon as the last critter is gone, there is an undesirable 1 to 2 second delay where you could get wasted by a fireball. The Graphics are decent (6), but do little to improve the game. The Sound is very good (7) but could be so much better if ALL of the sound effects and music were included. Too many noises and effect are missing for no reason. Shame on me if this is the result of my 5200 audio chip going bad. The Addictiveness is good enough (6) to bring you back a few more times, but those sticks and the programming make it too frustrating to play. This is definitely not the version to learn this game on, and is the second worst 5200 game that I've reviewed here to date.

Bronze Medal: Atari 8-Bit (36)
Once again, the 8 bit gets a boost over the 5200, due to improved Controls (10), which are perfect. The Gameplay is cool (7) and appears to be identical to the 5200, save for I did not notice a delay at the end of the round, and the pause is a bit easier to use. The Graphics match the 5200 and are good (6). The Sound (6) is good, but seems even more annoying than the 5200. Maybe my 5200 is OK after all, or it IS broken, and I'm missing the annoying sounds that the 8 bit version offers :-) The Addictiveness is pretty good (7), slightly better than the 5200, by virtue of the easier to use controls and pause.

Silver Medal: Atari 7800 (44)
The 7800 has not seen much action in this column, but deserves credit for being a great game. A huge step over those below it, not many games/versions will score 44 and finish second. The Gameplay here is so fully loaded to be considered perfect (10). All the correct features included elsewhere are here and done well, and none of the problems encountered elsewhere. Plus they've included the movement of the floors due to your punch (also seen on 5200 and 8 bit, but not very well). There 2600 unique fireball on/off and starting lives options are not included, but there are 3 start difficulty setting. Just like the arcade, the post-bonus round displaying the coins collected - is only found here - cool. The smart and dumb fireballs are discernable, and work perfectly - but not on any other version. The game speed is a bit fast, but overall has great programming. The Sound is crisp (8), but a bit silly. The music and effects are in place, but the music is annoying, like a corny NES kids game - if you know what I mean. The Graphics are nice (8), but suffer from being squished. Displaying both scores, the high score & logo take up screen space, so everything else suffers - ie, the characters look a bit odd, but this doesn't detract from the action. The Controls are outstanding (9), but could be better if the length of the jumps was more consistent. It could be the Controls interface makes you jump differently, or at different places on the screen, and sometimes you just jump too far and die. The Addictiveness is super (9), but the C64 feels better.

Gold Medal: Commodore 64 (46)
This port is great, and better than the arcade - well only because it is a home version. The Gameplay is outstanding (9), and is only missing a few minor elements: a pause; slippery ice caused by Slipice; and only 1 type of fireball. The Sound and Graphics are both superb (9), the best of the lot, and make the game quite enjoyable. The Controls are perfect (10). The Addictiveness is also fantastic (9), nearly a 10 (I wimped out). I highly recommend this version, provided you can get it on floppy, or via emulation - ie Atari never manufactured it on cart (at least not in the US).

(Come back next month when Atari sweep the medals, as I review the many (OK only 3) faces of Asteroids for the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, and Atari 8-bit. Alan Hewston, who really needs to buy or trade for a 5200 Masterplay Interface, can be reached at

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