While we Switch owners continue to cross our arms and stamp our feet as we wait impatiently for the merest sniff of news regarding a Virtual Console service, it’s worth noting that Nintendo has given the nod for something that could be of greater importance to those with a keen interest in the company’s past.
Hamster Corporation, the Japanese studio responsible for filling your eShop with lovely Neo Geo arcade titles, has been handed the keys to Nintendo’s own coin-op collection and seemingly given free reign to work its magic there, too.
This means that – for the first time ever – Nintendo’s arcade games are available to buy to anyone who isn’t an arcade owner living in the 1980s. And the last time we checked, nobody’s one of those anymore.
The first offering is Mario Bros., the third game to feature Mario (after Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.) and the first to include his brother Luigi. And while it’s a little dated these days, there’s still a degree of fun to be had here.
For those not familiar with it, Mario Bros. consists of a bunch of single-screen levels in which Mario (and Luigi if you decide to play in co-op) has to rid of enemies. They appear from pipes at the top of the screen and it’s up to the player to kill them: not by jumping on their head, believe it or not, but by using the other tried-and-tested Mario method of hitting the platform they’re standing on from underneath. This flips them onto their back, giving you time to run over and punt them off the screen before they gather their thoughts and flip back over again.
As you progress through each stage, a few new enemies are introduced which require fresh strategies to beat: Sidesteppers are crabs that need to be hit twice to flip over, Fighter Flies jump and so you can only flip them when they’re on the ground, and the Slipice turns platforms icy.
It’s fun enough, but modern Mario players will take a while to get used to the controls. Since this was pre-Super Mario Bros., the more familiar 2D Mario platforming mechanics it introduced aren’t in place yet, meaning Mario’s jumping feels completely different. It’s so clunky, in fact, that most of the time the challenge isn’t in defeating the enemies but doing so with a character that’s difficult to properly control.
It seems this was deliberate, mind you: this would explain the bonus stage in which all you have to do is collect a bunch of coins before a time limit runs out. There’s no more obvious way of saying “yes, it’s hard to control him, so your task here is to literally do just that.”
Spend some time with it though, and eventually you’ll begin to master Mario’s new (well, old) feel. And as you do, the game begins to get more and more entertaining despite its basic nature.
This is helped by Hamster’s decision to include the same front-end that features in all its Neo Geo titles. This means that as well as the normal arcade game, you’ve also got a Hi-Score Mode (where you get one credit and have to score as highly as possible) and Caravan Mode (where you have to see how many points you can get in five minutes), with both featuring online rankings.
Caravan Mode in particular works pleasantly well; there’s enough going on in the first five minutes to make for a wide variety of possible scores, meaning each time you play you genuinely feel like you have the potential to beat your personal best, rather than feeling that you can’t improve any further and making the mode redundant as a result.
If you already own one of the many releases of the NES version of Mario Bros., you may be wondering what exactly is different about this one. Most notable is the wider range of animations; for example, when you knock over a Shellcreeper (the turtles that definitely aren’t Koopa Troopas), they’ll flail about for a bit before leaping out of their shell in their undies, kicking it over so it’s the right way round, then jumping inside so they can start walking again.
Those not familiar with the arcade version of Mario Bros. may also be surprised by how muffled the music sounds. We can assure you this isn’t an emulation problem: that’s legitimately how it sounded back in the day and to old farts like this reviewer, there are some happy memories to be had when listening to sound this bad.
Mario Bros. isn’t the best game Nintendo ever made, but the optional Hi-Score and Caravan modes force you into playing it in a way that (surprisingly) makes it far more entertaining. Arcade games of this type were always designed for short, five-minute bursts of play, so the Switch’s handheld nature makes it the perfect platform for this. More importantly, this is a chance for retro Nintendo fans to play and own a flawless rendition of the arcade version for the first time ever, for far less than the hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars an old cabinet would sell for these days. Bring on the rest, Hamster!