Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. in 1985, making a lot of people very happy due to the superb platforming action it provided and selling a lot of NES systems in the process. Numerous sequels have followed, but that first game has remained available on various machines over the years, sometimes adding things like updated visuals (SNES) and extra modes (Game Boy Color). The original NES version has seen release on Game Boy Advance, GameCube (Action Replay permitting) and all three Virtual Console services. Now you can buy it on Switch, but Arcade Archives VS. Super Mario Bros. is a bit different to what has come before.
Arriving in arcades the year after the home console release, VS. Super Mario Bros. at first appears to be the same as regular Super Mario Bros. with the same tight controls, visual appearance and Koji Kondo’s awesome music playing in the background. As an arcade release some changes were made to provide a tougher challenge and to gobble up more money from players – although for this eShop release credits are simply added at the press of a button. Unlimited continues does not make the game a pushover, however, as using one sends you back to the first level of the current world.
Continues functioned the same way in the original version of the game (albeit hidden behind some button holding), but with its added difficulty VS. Super Mario Bros. features more moments of frustration. Sure, starting from 6-1 may be preferable to starting from 1-1, but if you’d struggled through to 6-4 and then got stomped on by Bowser, it’s disheartening to be thrown back a few levels that must be replayed before you can get your revenge.
There are some small changes that create some of the added challenge with a few extra enemies, less powerups and in some cases smaller platforms for you to land on. Towards the end of 3-1, the Koopa Troopas on the staircase have been replaced with Goombas and consequently the famous 1-up trick is impossible. Another change is that some bricks have been removed above the exit pipe in 1-2, making the minus World inaccessible and the warp zone slightly trickier to reach; misjudge your landing and your momentum will carry you off the ceiling and towards the regular way out. Find your way to the later warp zone that previously granted access to Worlds 6 to 8 and your inner speedrunner will be disappointed to discover that only the sixth World is accessible.
Other changes include World 2, where levels 2 through 4 are the harder versions that originally appeared in Worlds 6 and 7. A few other levels have also shifted around including the castles to Worlds 4 and 5, which have now switched places. A more significant change comes with the first castle that has been replaced with a new tougher level, featuring extra lava pits to jump and firebars to avoid. In fact there are six new levels in the game that feature tough platforming challenges; one particularly tricky moment requires you to bounce off a Koopa Paratroopa at just the right moment to reach the platform. Oh, and you can’t see the Paratroopa when you begin your run-up.
It should be pointed out that these new levels would go on to feature in The Lost Levels, a game that despite initially only seeing release in Japan has since had numerous western releases, and so they are not the fresh challenges they originally were. These new levels and other changes also make things a bit disorientating when an expected level turns out to be something else, or a jump has to be approached differently to what you’d do in other versions of the game.
If you’d like to make things a easier for yourself, the only thing you can do is adjust the lives you get when continuing; increase from three to four. The other options in the settings menu all make the game tougher: decrease your starting lives to two, require up to 250 coins for an extra life and speed up the timer. Elsewhere there are HAMSTER’s usual options for remapping buttons and adding scanlines to the image should you wish.
Two player mode operates exactly as you’d expect (players changing upon loss of life, player 2 is Luigi), but the Hi Score and Caravan modes are fun alternative ways to play. A standard feature of HAMSTER’s retro releases, these give you one credit to try and get as high a score as possible, with the Caravan mode also limiting you to five minutes of playtime. There’s online leaderboards for you to try and move up and trying to improve your score makes for a different gaming experience.
Play through intending to just clear the game and fireworks are a fun celebratory moment you sometimes trigger, but go chasing after a highscore and there’s disappointment when you hit the flagpole a second too late and miss out on the points bonus. During the rest of the level do you try and collect everything and stomp every enemy? Do you rush through, collecting what you can but aiming for a bigger time bonus? Then there’s the bonus rooms. You can drop down the pipe to collect plenty of coins, but does it compensate for the part of the level you’re skipping? There’s a lot to consider as you contemplate how best to go about pushing that score up.
Super Mario Bros. being playable on a Nintendo system is not particularly surprising, but that it should first appear on Switch in its VS. incarnation is a welcome bonus. The excellent gameplay, catchy music and a large chunk of the levels are still present, but the new stages make for a different feel that muscle-memory won't get you through. Those levels may have since appeared in The Lost Levels, but their inclusion here alongside changes to existing levels (including a different solution to a multi-path puzzle) make for a still enjoyable but tougher alternative way of playing, with highscore chasing also adding to the fun thanks to the online leaderboards. Even if you can play through the regular version of the game in your sleep, VS. Super Mario Bros. is an excellent - and challenging - choice for platforming fans.