Friday, April 12, 2013

Video Game Review: Mario Bros. Classic (Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 [Game Boy Advance])

Mario Bros. Classic is a modern remake of the arcade classic Mario Bros., the second adventure for our red-capped crusader after his journeys into carpentry didn't work out quite as planned. Having failed at keeping Donkey Kong and his son imprisoned as his pets, Mario hung up the hammer and picked up the plumber, taking to the sewers of the Mushroom Kingdom to cut the clot of criminal creepy-crawlies who had taken up residence in the kingdom's water pipes.

Acting as a back-up feature in, I think, five Mario titles on the Game Boy Advance (Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and the Super Mario Advance Quadrilogy), it's easy to overlook Mario Bros. Classic. After all, to most modern gamers it's nothing but an old arcade game. Maybe good for five minutes, but nothing to really invest any time in. Just a product of the past, like Pac-Man, Q*Bert, and Frogger. Oh, you poor, deprived joke of a gamer, you. All of those games are incredible! But of all the arcade games from the era and their remakes, this is one of the best.

The first thing older fans will notice about this remake is just how pretty and modern the whole thing looks. Nintendo really took the concept of this game and rebuilt it, smoothing out all the bugs and making a good slew of simple yet lively sprites to bring it all together. The environments, of which there are actually three, are all nicely animated and vibrant. Despite being such a small game, there really is a lot of life and charm to it. Even Mario's shouts of "Yah!" as he kicks an enemy into the briny depths (there are probably more accurate, more disgusting, adjectives that could have been used. Let's stick with the cliches) adds a distinct and enjoyable level to an already wonderful gaming experience.

Instead of traditional levels, the game is divided into "phases" which can only be cleared by eliminating all of the primary enemies. As far as I know there is an infinite number of phases in the game, with each one making the enemies faster and more numerous than they were before. Enemies are defeated mainly by bumping the platform beneath them, which will flip them over, then leaping up and kicking them off the stage before they can get back up again. In later stages there is barely enough time to get up onto their level before they flip themselves right-side-up, so it becomes a frantic mad dash to come out on top... and stay alive.

There are four enemy types, but only three of them need to be defeated to clear a level, and several obstacles. In the original game we were introduced to the predecessors of the Koopa race, a quadrupedal species of turtles known as shellcreepers. In this remake they have been replaced by spinies, the spiked creatures Lakitu is famous for tossing about. They're the most basic enemy, simply walking in a straight path at an even pace. Joining them are the sidesteppers, a species of crab with anger issues who move more quickly and require two bumps to flip over. Rounding off the ranks are fighter flies, which hop around slowly and can't be bumped except for the brief moments of time that they land to catch their breath. There are also freezies, which can freeze a platform and cover it in ice, but they don't have to be defeated to clear stages. They're more of a nuisance than a target.

Additionally the player must beware of green and red fireballs, frozen platforms, and icicles, all of which will take you out in a single hit. Well, I should correct myself. Frozen platforms won't actually defeat the player, but they reduce the traction almost to zero. This can be a curse for gamers who aren't able to adapt, but a boon for those who can think on their feet. Unfortunately icicles grow off the bottoms of the frozen platforms and make a habit of dropping straight through Mario's soft 'stached skull. Fireballs will also spawn if Mario stands on one of the four platform levels for too long. Green fireballs move in a straightish line along a horizontal path, but the red fireballs will ricochet off any surface and can fall into lower levels.

The three primary enemy types can also become more powerful if their allies have all been lost or if Mario fails to kick them off the stage after flipping them over. The only exception is the fighter fly who will not gain power if he is the last enemy on the stage, but they will get more powerful if Mario fails to defeat them before they right themselves. These power-up stages are generally indicated by the enemy coloring, where red is the primary color, they turn green when they become faster, and if they're blue they're the fastest. Again, fighter flies are an exception as their colors, who only go from blue to a greenish-yellow.

It might look like the odds are stacked against Super Mario, but he's got a few new tricks up his sleeve. I actually didn't know about these abilities until just recently, but the developers added a few abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2 to Mario's arsenal for this game. By crouching and holding down, Mario can charge up a super jump which can help him quickly climb the levels of the arena. Mario can also grab and throw POW blocks to damage enemies, but this seems largely counterintuitive. If Mario does not throw a POW block it can be used three times, while it disappears after only one use when thrown. A POW block will cause an earthquake which will flip over or destroy any grounded enemies. Don't quote me on this, but I think it also shatters icicles which haven't fallen yet.

For each enemy defeated a coin will spawn from the pipes at the top of the arena. These coins serve no purpose other than to award the player with an extra 800 points, which is a pretty generous bonus. If you can grab the coin without any risk to yourself, go for it.

Every few phases there is a bonus round where the player is tasked with collecting coins without having to worry about enemies or obstacles. If you're successful in grabbing them all before the timer runs out, you get a one-up and a nice point bonus. Later bonus rounds feature non-lethal obstacles such as invisible platforms and frozen platforms.

There are also three different environments: your average sewer with water, pipe leaks, and standard platforms, a lethal lava land which really looks to heat things up, and the final area, some kind of water treatment plant which is... interestingly placed in the middle of a frigid reason. The winter environment takes over the game at about Phase 15, and while there the upper two platforms will always be frozen. This assures that icicles will be a constant hazard, and oh boy, they're gonna get you. A lot.

All this to a pretty nice rendition of the classic underground theme from Super Mario Bros..

I was thinking about this game last night, and I almost wrote this review without playing the game again. I had spent hours many years ago trying to get the awards for the high scores, a feat I've yet to accomplish. By hours, I mean that this game was all I played for three weeks straight, for five to six hours a day. I gamed a lot more in my youth (and yet it's now that I'm older and do more things that I get fat...). This game has always been one of my favorites, but I was thinking along the lines of: "Well, it's a simple game. I don't think it really deserves too high of a score."

I am so glad I gave this game another run through before writing this. Not only did I finally break into the forties on the phases, but it brought me clarity. This game deserves the score I'm going to give it. It doesn't matter that it's small, it doesn't matter that it's simple. It's well put together, it's fun, and there aren't any issues with it. At all. In fact, I would call this a perfect game. There isn't much that could make it better, and there's nothing subtracting from it.

This might show my bias, but this is a personal review: it's an entire article of bias.

Mario Bros. Classic has the honor of being my first ever 10-star review. The game might not be for you, it might not seem groundbreaking. But play it at least once. As for me, well, it's one game I'll be enjoying for the rest of my life.

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