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SUPER MARIO, THIS IS YOUR LIFE - March 1992

So there you go - Super Mario Bros 2 reviewed, and all your gaps in the history of everyone's favourite videogame hero well and truly filled in. Or are they? Haven't you ever wondered just where our cute little plumber man and all his weird friends actually came from in the first place? No? Well push off then, because we're going to tell you anyway...

EMPIRE STATE HUMAN

Mario (a plumber of Italian descent from the Brooklyn area of New York) was first introduced to the world in 1981, courtesy of a Nintendo (obviously) arcade game called Donkey Kong. A revolutionary game, Donkey Kong was the first coin-op to introduce the idea of platforms and ladders to jump and climb along, and hence spawned the game style which we see more of today than any other. The idea of the game was for Mario to rescure his sweetheart, who had been kidnapped by the giant ape Donkey Kong (the game's unusual title comes from a Japanese word meaning crazy or stupid) and taken to the top of a building site. Across four (yes, four) single screens of action, Mario had to contend with rolling barrels, flaming fireballs, moving conveyor belts and deadly bouncing metal beams as he struggled to reach the top of each section of scaffolding, only to have the girl cruelly snatched away again by Donkey Kong and carried further up the building. Finally, on the fourth screen, Mario got to knock away the beams supporting the massive beast and send him tumbling to the ground, re-uniting our hero with his chick until the game started all over again on screen one, but this time around harder and faster. Despite the repetitive and limited gameplay, Donkey Kong was hugely popular and successful (it was probably the single most-copied game in the fledgling computer market of the day, as every company under the sun tried to get in on the act with versions for the Spectrum, Commodore 64 and various even older machines), and soon spawned a sequel.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

In the 1982 follow-up, entitled Donkey Kong Jr, the players suddenly found the roles reversed. After defeating Kong in the first game, Mario had captured and imprisoned him and put him to work in a cruel circus act. Desperate to save his father from such a horrible fate, Donkey Kong's son (we never get to see Mrs. Kong, but one must exist somewhere, we guess) sets out to rescue his dad from Mario's evil clutches. The game format was basically the same, with four screens of platforms and ladders (well, vines and chains in this case, but the idea's the same) to negotiate until, in a deeply ironic final scene, Donkey Kong Jr collapses the floor from underneath the cage where his dad is being held, leaving Mario to plunge to his doom while Donkey Kong Sr is safely caught and rescued by his plucky offspring. While arguably a better game, Donkey Kong Jr wasn't as successful as its parent, and the most interesting feature of the coin-op was the bug which allowed clever players to get infinite lives and play the game all day for 10p.

HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY BROTHER

After the relatively poor success of Donkey Kong Jr, Mario disappeared for a while, seemingly into the Home For Retired Video Game Characters along with all the other one-game wonders of the age, content to eke out a living from the occasional appearance in Game-And-Watch handhelds. In 1983, though, he made a sudden and unexpected comeback in the game which introduced us for the first time to his brother Luigi. Mario Brothers saw the near-identical pair in a factory plagued by various beasties which the brothers had to dispose of by the unusual method of headbutting the floor beneath the bad guys, and then jumping up and kicking them off the platform while they lay there stunned. While the scenery and enemies changed throughout the game, the whole thing was basically played on one screen, and although it was a fun and addictive game it didn't really grab the imaginations of the arcade-inhabiting public and soon fell into obscurity. You can look in a thousand arcades today and not find a single Mario Brothers machine.

SUPER, SMASHING, LOVELY

...which made it all the more surprising when the Mario Brothers sequel turned out to be probably the biggest videogame phenomenon since the days of Space Invaders. Super Mario Brothers was a huge (well, relatively) and enormously playable scrolling platform game, which we won't go into in detail here because almost every single one of you should already own a copy. (Indeed, it's probably true to say that the entire success of the NES console is due in very large part to the fact that it came bundled with Super Mario Bros, and that - because Nintendo wised up over licensing - the NES was the only machine on which you could play Super Mario Bros in your home.) This is the game responsible for a recent American survey which showed that a greater percentage of the US population knew who Mario was than could identify George Bush, the country's President! It's also the last true Mario game to appear in amusement arcades (unless you count Mario 3 and the Super NES's Super Mario World which have showed up on those naff 'Play Choice' multiple-game machines which have time limits instead of lives), so at that point we'll leave the history of Mario and take a look at his exploits on the NES...

 

MARIO ON THE NES

DONKEY KONG

Donkey Kong appears on the Donkey Kong classics cartridge (25), which also includes Donkey Kong Jr. (see below). For some utterly inexplicable reason, though, the NES version only includes three of the original game's four screens, missing off the second one entirely! Also missing, for no immediately obvious reason, is the cute little cartoon intro where Donkey Kong climbs to the top of some scaffolding with Mario's girl clutched in his hairy hands and then jumps up and down, shaking the platforms around to form the distinctive shape of the first screen, and the little between-stage screens showing lots of Kongs stacked on each other's heads to indicate the level you're on, with the famous challenge 'How high can you try?' Apart from these niggles, NES Donkey Kong is practically indistinguishable from the real thing, but the missing level spoils the appeal considerably and the game quickly gets boring.

RATING: Two mushrooms

DONKEY KONG JR

Also on Donkey Kong Classics, Donkey Kong Jr is a more successful attempt at capturing the coin-op. All four screens are present and correct, but once more the little cartoon cameos which provide the game with a lot of its atmosphere and humour have been removed, and it leaves things feeling a little illogical and characterless. Still, a near-perfect replication of the arcade gameplay.

RATING: Three mushrooms

MARIO BROS

The availability of this one is a bit of a hazy area, but it was certainly produced on the NES and if you scout around you should be able to get a copy eventually. This time nothing's missing from the original game, although it's maybe a fraction slower than the real thing.

RATING: Three mushrooms

SUPER MARIO BROS

Currently supplied with all but the most basic model of the NES as part of the bundle, Super Mario Bros is identical to the arcade game for the very good reason that the arcade hardware was basically an NES in a cabinet. A perfect conversion of a brilliant game, this is still one of the very best NES titles there is - it's not hard to finish, but it's so playable you just keep on coming back to it anyway.

RATING: Five mushrooms

SUPER MARIO BROS 2

For all the biz on this sequel-to-a-sequel-to-a-sequel, check out the review on the previous pages.

RATING: Three mushrooms

SUPER MARIO BROS 3

Returning to something much closer to the style of the first Super Mario Bros, Mario 3 is a gigantic and gorgeous game with possibly the best gameplay there's ever been on any console anywhere ever (phew!). It scored a massive 98% in our first issue, and with the possible exception of its big brother on the Super NES (see below), it's still perhaps the best game in the world ever. The most interesting thing about it, though, is that if you play it in two-player mode, it's also got a complete version of the first Mario Brothers game hidden away inside it!

RATING: Five mushrooms

 

 

 

 

 

OTHER SIGHTINGS

Mario hasn't restricted himself to platform games entirely, though. Nor has he been confined solely to the NES and arcades. He's also featured in traditional platform-style games in Super Mario Land on the Game Boy (brilliant stuff which scored 94% in issue one, and is still the best Game Boy game around) and Super Mario World on the Super NES (a staggering 98% in issue four), as well as strange Tetris-type antics in Dr Mario (59% in issue one on Game Boy, also available in slightly more pleasing colour-graphics NES version), an arcade puzzle game which doesn't really have any connection with Mario other than his name in the title and a little graphic of him throwing tablets onto the playing area.

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MARIO IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD

Nowadays Mario is strictly Nintendo product (although the character will soon appear on some home computer formats in a series of educational titles from Mindscape), but in times gone by he's been seen on the 8-bit home computers in official licences of Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers. A game on 8-bit and 16-bit computers by the name of Great Giana Sisters from Rainbow Arts also put in a brief appearance, but as it was a near-total clone of Super Mario Bros, Nintendo stamped it out quickly. Our hero also stars in a US cartoon TV series (Captain N) and is set to be the subject of a movie featuring Danny DeVito in the leading role, as well as having a range of merchandising unrivalled by even the WWF or the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Tomorrow, the world...