Mario and Luigi’s adventures have been nothing short of fantastical over the years, to the point where you could be forgiven for questioning their occupations as plumbers. But despite the brothers’ incredibly varied employment history as doctors, sportsmen and racing drivers — in which they’ve rarely called upon their supposed plumbing skills, let alone proved that they’re qualified enough to do all the other stuff — the story of their origins checks out; 1983’s Mario Bros. is evidence of this.
Originally developed as an arcade game and later ported to NES, Mario Bros. sees everyone’s two favourite plumbers actually living up to their job titles. The whimsical and vibrant sights of the Mushroom Kingdom are nowhere to be found and, instead, the game takes place in a rather mundane sewer that’s in need of a fair bit of plumbing. However, the issue at hand is thankfully not as revolting as it tends to be in real life, with a number of nasty little critters replacing the foul-smelling blockages you would expect.
At the same time, conventional drain cleaner isn't up to the task, which is why it’s up to Mario and Luigi to physically remove the pests themselves. Enemies emerge from pipes at the top of the screen and work their way downwards, only to then enter a pipe at the bottom and re-appear at the top. It’s a never-ending cycle which only our favourite plumbers can break. However, for those that haven’t played Mario Bros. before, it’s worth noting that this isn't done by jumping on them. In fact, this staple of the Super Mario franchise didn't arrive until two years later in the NES instant classic, Super Mario Bros.
Without Mario and Luigi’s trademark move to hand, the only other option is to hit them from underneath. Doing so causes the enemy to flip over, presenting you with the opportunity to then run into them and give them a mighty boot off the screen. Every time you manage this, there’s an undeniable sense of satisfaction, although that’s more to do with the fact that this is actually quite difficult to achieve.
You see, Mario Bros. plays quite differently from the games that followed it, with Mario and Luigi’s movements being — oddly enough — more realistic. For example, if you want to move in mid-air, then you actually have to get a run-up first. While it does inevitably increase the challenge, it also feels clunky and outdated, even when compared to Super Mario Bros. Moreover, you play on exactly the same stage throughout the game, albeit with a different combination of enemies each time.
While the severe lack of scenery is disappointing, there is at least a reasonable amount of variety in the enemy design. Shellcreepers — which bear a striking resemblance to Koopa Troopas — are your standard bad guys, who move at a steady pace and only require one bash from underneath to flip over. As you progress, tougher creatures and other hazards appear which behave differently.
But the difficulty curve alone just isn't enough to hold your attention, and the game’s arcade origins are likely to blame for this. This was originally designed to provide a simplistic experience that was free of complex controls and gameplay, and one which provided a short burst of entertainment in exchange for your pocket money. Playing with a second player is possible thanks to Download Play, and provides a competitive element in which you compete for the highest score, but it's doubtful it'll hold your attention for long. Furthermore, there are other economically sensible versions of this very game, namely the Battle Mode that appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario All-Stars multiplayer — in that case as part of an altogether better gaming experience. You can even try a Luigi-fied version of the game within Super Mario 3D World on Wii U, which will probably be enough to satiate your curiosity before you grow bored of it.
Without a doubt, Mario Bros. is an important part of Nintendo history. It’s a relic of a bygone age, and one which serves as a prime example of how the Mario Bros. series has evolved over time, particularly with the introduction of Super in the titles. This downloadable title is affordable enough to warrant a look-in if you’re really curious, although it is possible to find other, more cost-effective versions, some of which are embedded in more popular Super Mario titles. It’s worth taking this approach, if only because unlike the famous plumbers’ far more successful adventures, Mario Bros. simply doesn’t hold the same level of depth, precision or replay value. It’s better as a competitive multiplayer game, but this is nevertheless a very basic and outdated experience.