If you've ever been curious about Mario and Luigi's actual credibility as plumbers, you'll want to look all the way back to 1983's Mario Bros., the game which established pipe-cleaning as their true vocation and served as something of a bridge between arcade sensation Donkey Kong and early platforming masterpiece Super Mario Bros.
Mario Bros. itself is a fun enough game, but upon release it wasn't as well-regarded as either its predecessor or its successor, and it's easy to see why. It's a clunky experience without the sense of progression associated with either of those other two games, and it also hasn't aged nearly as well. Of course, as part of Mario's history — and, fittingly for this year in particular, the video game debut of Luigi — it might be worth a spin, but unless you're a die hard fan it won't stay in your rotation for long.
The concept is simple: enemies crawl or hop out from pipes, and you need to bop the platform beneath them in order to render them vulnerable to a kick. The action transpires throughout a single wrap-around screen, and a handy POW block serves as a sort of panic button, flipping over any enemies that are touching the floor when you hit it.
That may sound simple, but...actually, disregard that. This game is simple. You bop enemies from beneath, kick them over, and run around grabbing coins. Rinse, repeat.
As a relic of the early arcade era, the simplicity makes sense; sessions were competitive, gamers didn't have an opportunity to master complicated controls and concepts, and a few minutes' worth of play (or less) were all that anyone expected in exchange for their pocket change. On a home console, however, the experience rings pretty hollow, and there's little reason to keep coming back.
The simultaneous two-player mode gives Mario Bros. some potential replayability if there are two fans in the family, and it can be fun to go head to head in a frantic scramble for the highest score, but that's about it. Gamers playing alone will have even less incentive to invest their hours here, as there's not enough in the way of challenge or inventiveness to help Mario Bros. stand out today.
It's a part of Mario's history, but by now the odds are good you've played some variation on it at some point (it's been repurposed as everything from a battle mode in Super Mario Bros. 3 to an inspired room in New Super Mario Bros. 2's DLC), so it's not a landmark that particularly calls out for a special trip.
Interestingly enough it did eventually have a spiritual sequel of its own on the Virtual Boy, in the form of Mario Clash. The fact that the Virtual Boy installment is arguably the better game says a lot more about Mario Bros. than it does about Mario Clash.
Mario Bros. doesn't hold up as a particularly addictive score-attack experience, but there is still some fun to be had in its competitive multiplayer mode. The game is fun in its own way, but it doesn't quite dig its hooks into us the way Donkey Kong did before it, or Super Mario Bros. did afterward. On its own merits it might serve as a decent diversion, and we doubt many gamers today will find it to be much more than that.