08 March, 2014

Super Mario Bros. Deluxe [game review]

NOTE: This review originally appeared on Nintendo Life (posted March 2010) and is reposted here with permission.

Platform: Game Boy Color
Developer/Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1999

Extra-packed port of a platforming classic
The original Game Boy received a Mario platformer in the form of Super Mario Land, which in turn received a sequel before Nintendo shifted their attention to Wario. Following the release of the Game Boy Color however, they decided Mario should go portable once more and released Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, a port of the original Super Mario Bros. featuring some extras.

People often debate which is better: Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World (including us in a recent podcast!), but what is so often forgotten is how right Nintendo got it the first time around. The game handles wonderfully: the controls are responsive and sliding your thumb from B to A as you perform a running jump comes so naturally you are often unaware of doing it. Many of the enemies that would feature throughout the series made their debut here including everyone's favourite cloud-riding, spiny-dropping and all-round git Lakitu.

Though the GBC's audio chip wasn't the greatest, Koji Kondo’s compositions still excel, from the fun and exciting main theme to the creepy subterranean music. It’s memorable stuff, free from any grating beeps, and fits the visuals perfectly. Complementing the music are the iconic sound effects: Mario becomes an instrument for you to control and sometimes you’ll find yourself triggering these sound effects to fit the music rather than through any genuine need to perform the actions – jumping on the seventh note of the Super Mario theme is particularly hard to resist.

This isn’t an exact replica of the NES game however, as there are a few changes. The minus world glitch has been removed and each world now has its own map so you can see Mario or Luigi progressing through the game. Other changes include Luigi's overalls (green/brown rather than white/green) and the ability to save the game on any level (three save files). The save feature makes sense for a portable title, but does naturally make the game easier. However your score is reset when you resume a saved game and as an incentive to play well with just the one set of lives there is a scoreboard for you to try and get on.

The original NES version was later ported to the Game Boy Advance where the image was squished to fit the screen, but here a different approach has been taken. Everything is the same size as before, but the viewing area has been reduced. Not being able to see the full playing area could cause trouble, but Nintendo added the ability to look up and down with the D-Pad and tapping Select will reposition the camera so you can see a bit further ahead. Being able to see the full screen would be preferable but this solution works quite well.

Then there’s King Koopa himself: Bowser. Hopping up and down spitting flames, each encounter is essentially the same just a little tougher. Compared to his appearance in later games, he looks quite weedy and in truth he’s never that difficult to beat. However by changing things each time, be it a troublesome fireball, less room to manoeuvre or just a tough journey to get there, the game can cause momentary panic. When Bowser makes his final appearance at the end of New Super Mario Bros. Wii it is an impressive sight, but for inducing terror it has nothing on the moment in this game when he starts chucking hammers.

In addition to the main game, there are some extra modes and features on the cart. “Challenge” takes the same 32 levels from the main game and adds five red coins and a Yoshi egg for you to find, as well as giving you a points score to reach. Searching for these hidden items whilst negotiating the hazards of each level and trying to reach a certain score can prove to be tricky, making for an interesting and fresh way to play the game. “VS Game” is a two player mode, but rather than just being the main game with players taking alternate turns it features 8 new courses where you must race to the finish. Along the way there are switches you can hit to make blocks appear or disappear which can either help or hinder your route.

As well as these modes you can unlock artwork as you play the game. Unlocked pictures appear in an album and can be printed off using the Game Boy printer. Unlocking one of the pictures requires you to trade scores with someone using the infrared link: something that only featured on the Game Boy Color. It’s only one picture but it could prove a slight irritant for Game Boy Advance/SP players if they like to have everything unlocked in their games.

In the “Toy Box” section you will find a calendar you'll never use, a fortune telling application and an option to get a hint as to where the Yoshi egg is hidden in one of the challenge levels. Further artwork and banners can be found here, in some cases allowing you to edit the text. Overall there's a good selection of added content to keep you occupied.

But wait, there’s more! Get enough points and you can unlock two further game modes: a one-player version of the VS game where you race against a Boo and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 that was originally released for the Famicom Disk System. Better known in the west as “The Lost Levels” and titled here as “Super Mario Bros. For Super Players” this sequel provides a tougher challenge for players. Like the first game a direct port was later released for the GBA as part of the Famicom Mini series. As a Japan-only release it requires a bit of extra effort to track down so how does the version here compare?

Like SMB1 there is the addition of the map screen, the ability to save after each level (though there's only one save file) and the reduced viewing area. There have also been some omissions such as the removal of the winds that featured in some levels. Worlds 9 and A-D have also been removed and (unlike the FDS original) Mario and Luigi no longer have different abilities. Removed content is always disappointing but you are still getting an extra 32 levels to play through, providing even more platforming joy and its inclusion is a welcome addition.

It’s easy to see why Super Mario Bros. shifted so many NES consoles back in the day. Tight controls, varied, well designed levels, great music and a variety of enemies make for a classic game that is a joy to play through. With a heap of extras including a (regrettably cut-down) version of the sequel, Super Mario Bros. Deluxe is an essential GBC title.