Monday, September 23, 2013

The Terrible PC Version of Super Mario Bros.

(PC-8801 version)
Nowadays, you'd never imagine that Nintendo would release an entry of their beloved Super Mario Bros. series on a PC or anything that wasn't their own console, but it turns out that they have in the past. They let good old Hudson Soft take a crack at bringing the hit Mario game to the NEC PC-8801 and Sharp X-1 and the result was the 1986 game, Super Mario Bros. Special (and actually, two games based on plain old Mario Bros. as well). Never heard of it? That's probably because it took everything great about the NES version and took a messy dump on it. The controls and physics are terrible, the levels are poorly designed, the graphics are poopy, and in general it's one of the worst Mario games I've ever played. This is one of those times when "special" is just a nice way of saying "severely handicapped in every way compared to its older brother".
The hammer and barrels from Donkey Kong make an appearance.
Also, this screen lags terribly. (PC-8801 version) (img source)
What you've got here isn't really a port of Super Mario Bros., although some parts do resemble the original, but more like a crappy sequel. For the most part, the levels are new, but follow the same themes as levels in the original (overworld, underground, underwater, tree tops, castles, etc.). It has a few weird quirks here and there that make it feel out of place however, like a pool of water in the overworld that you can stand in or bonus areas in castle stages. There are also some new items like the hammer, which works similarly to the hammer in Donkey Kong, and a wing, which allows you to swim in air for a short time. To go along with these items are some new enemies, which are actually old enemies from Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. such as barrels, sidesteppers (crabs), and fighter flies.
Sure would be nice to know what's after that platform... (X-1 version)
All that new stuff would be pretty cool if it wasn't for the incredibly awkward controls and poor level design. It's difficult to explain what's wrong with the controls, except by saying that they all around suck. Inputs are delayed, jump height and distance are hard to predict, and every surface feels slippery. Then, there's the huge detail that the screen does not scroll until you reach the edge. That means that, to be safe, you'll want to slow down at the edge of each screen so that you don't accidentally run off an immediate cliff on the next screen or bump into an unexpected enemy. There are many times where you're forced to make blind jumps from one screen to another and just hope that there will be a platform to land on when you get there. Since a game over sends you all the way back to the beginning of the game, dying due to the trial and error of figuring out how to make the blind jumps isn't cool at all. Bouncing on koopa shells for infinite 1-ups is pretty much essential if you want to have any hope of finishing this game. Besides not adequately accounting for the screen transitions in the level design, there are also trap pipes that send you back to the start (probably to your death, since the timer runs out fast). There's no way of knowing whether a pipe will be a trap or a bonus area or both, so it's safer to just ignore every pipe. There's also a part where, inexplicably, a required platform will not appear unless you break the "pulley platforms" on the previous screen. Trust me, it's bad.
Click to enlarge.
Graphics comparison via hardcoregaming101
The quality of the graphics varies between the X-1 and the PC-8801 versions, but both are inferior to the graphics of Super Mario Bros. on NES. Of the two, the PC-8801 version is worse, containing less colors and way too much orange. And if you have the gall want to have both Mario and a background object in the same place, you're gonna have to deal with a graphical abomination that looks something like a regurgitated Cheez-It. But don't worry about the PC-8801 not being able to display the color green; it's not like Luigi or any kind of multiplayer is in this game anyway. In both versions, the game and music speeds way the heck up when fewer things are on-screen, but then drops down to a crawl when more than a couple enemies are visible. In some areas where two or more fire bars are on-screen, the game lags so badly that the hit detection actually stops working and you can lag right through a fire bar.
Mario, in regurgitated Cheez-It form (via MrPodoboo)
I like Mario games as much as the next guy, but there's a good reason why Super Mario Bros. Special isn't a famous classic like most other Mario games. It outright sucks, and the only fun it has to offer is the sick "fun" of looking at this circus freak of gaming and realizing how lucky you are to have other, good games to play.

To see the game in motion, check out MrPodoboo's series on youtube or play it yourself. Also, check out these other things from Nintendo that seemed like they had to be jokes.
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