When Super Mario Bros. came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, many players were entranced by its platforming greatness, though some thought it was a bit of a pushover compared to more challenging fare, like the soon-to-follow Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels. These players probably forgot that there was an arcade version of the game released about a year later, under the name Vs. Super Mario Bros.
While that game keeps most of Mario’s general rules intact, it shifts things about greatly, with more challenging levels introduced later on, along with a few other tweaks to make it just as tough as Lost Levels – which makes sense, since that quasi-sequel features some similar designs that players might have missed out on.
But for those that never played the arcade version, good news. It’s now available as a download for the Nintendo Switch, thanks to Hamster’s Arcade Archives collection, which previously introduced Mario Bros. to the system a while back. And while there are more arcade gems to come in 2018 (including the original Punch-Out!!, which never saw a home release), Vs. Super Mario Bros. is a wonderful evolution of the series, especially for those looking for a fresh challenge after the holiday season.
Anyone who’s played a classic Super Mario Bros. game in their life will become quickly used to the controls. They’re perfect, from timing your jumps successively to hit several Goombas with jumps, to mastering long leaps of faith across what appear to be incredibly difficult gaps. If you screw up, it’s actually on you this time, as Nintendo has faithfully recreated the arcade experience of Vs. Super Mario Bros. (There are also configuration options available, in case you feel like moving buttons around in the spirit of the old-school.)
That said, those of you who beat the original Mario without breaking a sweat will be put to the test here. A number of changes make this game quite difficult, especially once you get to around world 6 or so, in which you’ll have to master pinpoint jumps and watch yourself for suddenly appearing enemies. And don’t expect warp pipes or continues to help you, as you’ll have to start at the beginning of the stages and start your run all over again. That may be a bit of a heartbreak if you get to world 6-4 and nearly conquer the run in Bowser’s castle, but hardcore fans should get used to it.
The game’s visuals and audio are faithfully recreated from the game’s original arcade coding, right down to the side-scrolling format. You can even play it vertically if you wish, though the screen does get a bit more scrunched this way – but the option’s there if you’re crazy enough to try it. Honestly, though, it’s a great looking game after 30+ years on the market, and still an iconic classic. Plus, it’s a nice game to turn to if you need a break from your Moon hunting in Super Mario Odyssey, which you should own if you don’t already. (Take it from our review.)
Where Vs. Super Mario Bros. shines is with its replay value. Along with the general mode, which is hardly a pushover as it is, there’s also a five-minute Caravan mode, asking you to score as many points as possible in that time frame; and a High-Score mode, where you try to rack up as much as you can on one measly credit. Both of these are supported with leaderboards, and while they’re not highly detailed, they’ll motivate you to keep pushing forward, even during the most heinous of challenges in a stage.
For eight bucks, Vs. Super Mario Bros. feels like a no-brainer. Sure, it’s different from the home release you conquered years ago, but that makes it all the better, as you can try out new territory and see just how good your skills are. The presentation is as authentic as you can get, and the controls are pinpoint, no matter what method you prefer. Finally, the extras are icing on the cake, especially if you’re looking to set some speedrun records – which, I assure you, will take some time.
Vs. Super Mario Bros. is the perfect post-holiday package to get you back up to gaming speed, and a nice little one-two punch when combined with Odyssey.
WWG’s Score: 4.5 out of 5.