A Land of Pizza, Spaghetti, and Rusty Pipes...
This isn't a commentary on the Mario Bros. Super Show or that horrible Mario movie. This is a review of the greatest collection of Mario games in existence. I missed out on Mario All-Stars when it released back in '93, but I've recently been collecting old games, so I decided to pick up this gem used, for a mere ten dollars. It features four excellent Mario games--Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and what is often considered the king of 2D Mario games: Super Mario Bros. 3. Not only does this anthology include four great titles, but they've all been given a 16-bit makeover. The graphics aren't quite on par with what you'll find in Super Mario World, but they're definitely more colorful. It doesn't hurt that each of the games' classic tunes received an upgrade in sound quality. But do these extras really matter? Not really, since you get a king-sized pizza (make that ten king-sized pizzas) of Mario goodness. When I popped in Mario All-Stars, the first game I decided to play was the original Super Mario Bros. Like many other NES owners, it's one of the first games I remember playing. I'm pretty sure I beat Mario back when I was four or five, but I'm almost certain that I made use of the game's warp pipes. This time, I decided to experience the entire game. The graphics in the All-Stars version received a facelift, so the visual experience wasn't quite the same, but the gameplay was just as I remembered it. In Super Mario Bros., Mario controls beautifully, unlike many other games of the era, where the character controls like a wet spaghetti noodle. I felt a deep connection with Mario--every move I made translated accurately on-screen. If I wanted to alter the length of my jump mid-air, Mario would comply. He was a bit floaty in comparison to later Mario games, but it didn't take long to get a-hang of the controls.
Super Mario Bros. has eight worlds of unique side-scrolling levels packed to the brim with goombas, piranha plants, lakitus, and koopa troopas. Each world contains four levels of platforming mayhem. The levels are filled with bricks than can be broken, and they contain numerous secrets. By being creative, players can find hidden exits that will enable them to warp to different worlds. Who wants to play the sissy way though and miss half the game? I decided to play Reggie-style--by kicking ass and taking names. I stomped every goomba, kicked koopas that got in my way, and brought death to aquatic creatures with my blazing fireballs. Of course, I made sure to satisfy my appetite for 'shrooms. I didn't-a-wanna-be-a-crazy, but I-a-needed them to-beat-a-Bowser. Bowser decided to post-up at a castle every three levels, but I managed to outsmart that lazy koopa every time. He would constantly breath fire, move towards me, and sometimes even throw hammers. Each time, I simply had to use my jumping prowess to get around him and touch the axe that would send Bowser plunging into the flames below. Then I would be greeted by Toad who would tell me, "Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!" I had to go through this eight times before I finally found the princess. Then, she had the nerve to tell me that this quest was only the beginning.Like the original Legend of Zelda, the first Super Mario Bros. has a second quest. In the second quest, the difficulty has been ramped-up, but it won't make a grown-man cry like The Lost Levels. What has changed? Well, the enemies are more plentiful, they're more aggressive, and the course layouts have received minor alterations. Not much changed in the second quest, but it was a fun, albeit slightly more challenging Mario experience.
Super Mario Bros. also has some great tunes that you probably still hum to this day. It seems like they're featured in every other Nintendo game, so that's no surprise. But like the game's music, you don't want to forget about the sound effects. Mario's jump has a very distinct sound that almost any human can recall in an instant. Few games' sounds remain in our heads like those of our favorite mustachioed plumber.
Well, if you haven't been able to tell already, Super Mario Bros. is still a lot of fun. It should come as no surprise that Nintendo is still milking the franchise with games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, because 2D Mario games are just so damn fun. If you want a great pick-up-and-play game that even your significant other will enjoy, there's no harm in busting out Super Mario Bros.--but then again, you probably already know that.
Score: 9/10Now, it's time to cover The Lost Levels. Unlike Super Mario Bros., I never got to experience this Japan-only sequel to the original Mario. The Lost levels (aka Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan) didn't come here for a reason: the game is too similar to the original, and it's difficult as hell. This game features far more obstacles, nerve-wrecking jumps, and poison mushrooms that will instantly kill you. Also, enemies are far more plentiful and there are new obstacles like wind and rain. If you thought Super Mario Bros.' second quest was too hard, don't even attempt this game. It's long-winded, and will test the patience of all but the most hardcore.
Like Super Mario Bros., The Lost Levels includes eight unique worlds. If you manage to beat those without using any warp pipes, then you get to experience a 9th world and worlds: A, B, C, and D. Unlike the first Super Mario Bros., you can actually save between each level, so you don't have to start whole worlds again when you run out of lives. This makes the game a bit easier, and I don't believe this feature was in the original Famicom version.
As you can see, The Lost Levels is basically Mario 1.5 with a difficulty level that is exponentially higher than the original. The Lost Levels does have some unique level designs--there are trampolines that will launch you high into the air above the screen and you have to land at the right time on small platforms. You'll also have to deal with wind and rain, but It's a fun game if you're a sadist that is able to avoid Bowser's devious traps. I managed to beat it in a few hours, so it is doable, but if you're a person that has little patience for difficult 2D platformers, you'd be better off playing any of the other three games included with Mario All-Stars.
Score: 8/10Ah...now it's time discuss a game that's a bit easier. Super Mario Bros. 2 is a simpler game than The Lost Levels--but it takes the series in a completely different direction. There's a reason for that, and it's not because Miyamoto was on acid. Rather, Super Mario Bros. 2 was based on an entirely different game called, Doki Doki Panic. Nintendo liked the concept behind the game, and decided to do a character swap. Instead of the Lost Levels, we got this retooled version of Doki Doki Panic in the U.S. Does it feel like Mario? Not really, but it's a lot of fun.
In Super Mario Bros. 2, you don't jump on enemies--instead, you pick up vegetables and hurl them at your foes. The whole adventure takes place in a dream world, and you're able to pick between four different characters that later became name stays of the Mario universe. These characters are: Mario, Luigi, Princess, and Toad. They all function a bit differently; Mario runs and jumps at an average speed and height; Luigi runs like Slippery Pete, but he can jump like Mike, Toad can out run Sonic, and Princess Toadstool can glide. Each character performs better during different situations, but I found them all fun to control.Mario 2 also introduces many new enemies that would appear in later Mario games like Mario RPG. Enemies like Shy Guy and gender-confused Birdo were introduced in Mario 2. You'll also notice that the usual culprit behind the kidnapping of Princess Toadstool is absent from this game. Instead, you get to fight his amphibian buddy, Wart. Wart doesn't seem to want anything from you other than vegetables, so it's nice that you don't have to surrender the princess for once.
So, is Super Mario Bros. 2 as fun as the other games in the series? That's all a matter-of-opinion, but personally, I prefer the other Mario games. Still, I'm glad that Nintendo tried something different, instead of simply giving us a harder Super Mario Bros. Mario 2 is a bit challenging, but it's a platformer that still holds up well in this era of 10,000 BTU consoles.
Score: 8.5Now, it's time to cover my favorite 2D Mario game. I loved Super Mario World, but after replaying both games recently, I felt that Super Mario Bros. 3 had the best level design in the series. First of all, the graphics are a significant improvement over its predecessors. Mario looked like a collection of pixels in the original NES Super Mario Bros., but in Mario 3, he began to take on the appearance that we're all familiar with now. Besides featuring better character models, Mario 3's worlds were significant improvements over the levels found in previous games in the series. Unlike earlier Mario games, Mario 3 has several world maps featuring collections of stages. You don't necessarily have to complete every stage in each world--you only need to tackle the stages en-route to the castle. Each world features approximately ten levels that are all worth playing. Like the first Mario, there are plenty of options to skip worlds (with the handy whistles), but real gamers will want to tackle the whole experience. The worlds contained in Mario 3 are far more diverse than those of previous Mario games. You'll stroll through grasslands; traverse deserts with quicksand, angry suns, and whirlwinds; leap through clouds and rotating platforms; skate across ice; and climb through pipe vaults. Mario's levels are fun to leap through even if you're just plain ol' Mario, but this game plays host to several new power-ups. Not only do you get fire flowers and invincibility stars that were in previous games, but you also get Tanooki suits, Hammer Brother suits, Frog suits, and much more. For the first time, you can also take to the sky and fly through an entire level. Mario 3 is chalk-full of secrets--there is enough to keep most gamers satisfied for weeks.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is home to a memorable soundtrack, great visuals, superb level designs, a plethora of costumes, and it has as many secrets as a castle. There are dozens of unique levels to explore, and you also get to board airships to fight Bowser's Koopalings. If you missed out on the NES Mario games and don't know where to start, Mario 3 is the one to play. Getting the game on Virtual Console isn't a bad idea, but why not make good use of your money and buy all four NES Mario games together in enhanced form with Super Mario All-Stars. You won't regret it.