Monday, January 27, 2014

Retro Game Review -- Mario Bros. (Atari 5200)

SystemAtari 5200
PublisherNintendo by way of Atari
Year: 1983
Ranking: Three Quarters

Before Mario starting dating Nintendo exclusively, he was open to relationships with all sort and sundry video game consoles. In the mid-1980s the first eponymous Mario game, Mario Bros., was released in the arcade and on the BBC Micro, the ZX Spectrum, DOS, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Commodore  64 (two versions!), all major Atari systems (2600, 5200, 7800, and 8-bit computers), and, as one would expect, the NES. This can be compared to Super Mario Bros., the second eponymous Mario game, which was only released in the arcade and on the NES. I'd like to think that Mario's libertine youth is what ultimately lead to him to finding true and lasting love with Nintendo.

Mario Bros. was not the first game Nintendo published featuring its world famous mascot. That honor resides with Donkey Kong, a game more famous for its antagonist than its protagonist. In fact, Mario didn't even have a real name in Donkey Kong. He was only referred to as Jumpman. He wasn't even a plumber. He was a carpenter, ostensibly due to the fact that he was chasing Donkey Kong though a construction site to save his beloved Pauline. In Mario Bros.Mario and Luigi are trying to clear pesky pests out the pipes in their house so that they can take a relaxing bubble bath. Owing to Mario's potent pipe cleaning proficiency, Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario's legendary creator, said in a 2010 interview in USA Today that this was the game that decided his career. Interestingly, all three Atari home system manuals for Mario Bros. list Mario's occupation as carpenter. The NES manual is surprisingly silent on his occupation. This implies, to me, that the decision to make Mario a plumber was a bit of a retro-fit. If anyone can find primary source material from the mid-1980s (e.g., manuals, press-releases, etc.) that mention Mario was a plumber, please post a link in the comments below! 

Mario Bros. is a one or two player game. Players can choose between going it alone with Mario, or opting for a cooperative or competitive game with Mario and Luigi. The game play is very similar to Midway's classic Joust. Players are confronted with a single battle screen. Enemies swarm down the screen, and Mario and his brother need to eliminate them before they themselves are eliminated. Enemies are familiar, but are referred to by obscure names. Koopa Troopers are Shellcreepers, Crabbies are Sidesteppers, and Freezies are Slipices. The one exception is Fighterflies. They retain their moniker in later games. The familiar mechanic of raining death down from above is replaced by punching destruction up from below. Pipe clogging pests must first be flipped onto their backs and then kicked off the screen before they have a chance to flip themselves over. Shellcreepers require one punch to flip over. Sidesteppers require two punches. Fighterflies also only require one punch to flip, but it has to be carefully timed to coincide to when they are touching the ground. Defeat an enemy and a coin with exit from one of the pipes. You can collect it for bonus points. Take too long to defeat your enemies and two fireballs will start roaming the screen looking to roast Mario and Luigi. You can either choose to avoid them, or attempt to punch them from below for big points. If you get frustrated and there are just too many enemies on the screen, you can hit the "POW" button to flip over all the enemies touching the ground. Be judicious though, you can only hit the "POW" button three times before it disappears until the next bonus screen. Bonus screens come along every so often and are filled only with coins. You'll get extra points for collecting all the coins within a prescribed time limit. 

Mario Bros. was the only Mario game released for the Atari 5200. The game play is solid and the difficulty increases at an enjoyable rate. While the single player mode is entertaining, the game really shines with two players. Although it is possible, I suppose, to play a cooperative game, the real fun is trying to bounce a Shellcreeper onto your opponent. My only complaint is that the colors are a bit murky. I would have preferred to see the bright, lime green pipes we have come to know and love in more recent Mario games. Mario may have married Nintendo, but I am sure glad that he went out on at least one date with the Atari 5200.

Atari 5200 Mario Bros. start screen. 

Shellcreepers (Koopa Troopers) and Sidestepper (Crabby) descend upon Mario in the Atari 5200 version of Mario Bros.

Retro Game Rankings: No Quarters to Four Quarters. It should be noted, that although the going price of an arcade game was a single quarter when many of these games first came out, I feel that true retro game fans would be willing to pay a little bit more to capture the glory of playing some of the truly great ones one more time.


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