Super Mario is the longstanding flagship character of the Nintendo brand and many of their video games, but before he was Super on consoles he had a couple arcade titles first. The 1986 release of Mario Bros is a port of the Mario Bros arcade cabinet from 1983.
In this true arcade-style high-score-seeking contest, one or two players attempt to clear stages by defeating a certain quota of enemies. This is a platformer, though it does not scroll, so the Left and Right buttons on the directional pad move the protagonist(s) left and right respectively, while the A button jumps. There are three vertical levels that character may travel back and forth upon, with various gaps distributed throughout for either jumping up or falling down. Foes are defeated when Mario or his brother Luigi jump into the block they are standing on from below, thus bumping the floor and flipping the enemy. The enemy will right itself after a few moments, so a final blow must be landed by walking into the flipped-over foe, thus permanently dispatching of it.
There is also a POW block, which can be used up to three times, which flips all on-screen enemies that are currently touching the ground. Otherwise, the challenge is provided by deftly having to navigate the environment to flip and kick enemies while avoiding others, since one-hit deaths are in effect. The creatures arrive in varying types, from the crabs that must be hit twice before flipping to Freezies that can be killed instantly without kicking; but, left to do as they please, will cover a platform in ice to make it slippery.
Savvy NES players may remember a modified version of Mario Bros appearing as a two-player minigame in Super Mario Bros 3. Mario Bros is an interesting snapshot of Nintendo history, since it is not quite as old as Donkey Kong, but still marks a very similar type of static-screen platformer arcade-style gameplay for Mario to star in before his side-scrolling adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom began.
As an arcade port, Mario Bros is actually not as challenging as most others, such as Joust or Pac-Man. That is not to say that it cannot be tricky or difficult at times, but careful players can advance quite far with minimal risk, as long as they watch out for the deadly fireballs that float across the screen if the player is taking too long to beat an area. The physics for running and jumping are a bit different than what Super Mario Bros players might be used to, but are quickly gotten used to, and the screen-wrap ability to appear on the other edge is appreciated during tense moments.
Mario is in full 8-bit iconic glory here, very recognizable and smoothly animated. There are some flickering issues with the sprites, even if only two or three are on screen at a time, which is odd. Beyond that, and the blank-black background of these early games, the elements are colorful and whimsical. Mario-universe mainstays such as Koopa turtles and bright green pipes are present, along with strange bouncing bugs and the nice touch of changing the platform colors and overall theme every couple levels. This is, by no means, a graphical powerhouse. That being said, it is easy on the eyes.
While music is largely absent from the gameplay, the title track is non-threatening enough, and the first movement from Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik is used to start the turtle-bopping festitivities. The sound effects are fantastic, managing not only to oscillate and modulate with great quality for early chip effects, but many of the noises heard in Mario Bros would be used in other games for years to come, including the pause sound for Super Mario Bros games. Much like the gameplay and graphics, what is here on the soundtrack is not robustly in-depth, but it is enjoyable, if quaint.
Mario Bros is the perfect game for those who do not desire a deep, involving gameplay experience, but do not want to kill time with the harder, more difficult arcade-style high-score games. As a competition title, it has merit, as scores can be stretched quite far; as a solo title, some will like this trip down the pipes to control Mario in a lighthearted early iteration. This is a prototypical video game, a classic with few flaws, that served to help lay the groundwork for platforming masterpieces to arrive on the scene at later dates.
Overall score: 3/5 stars.