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Special Mario Bros.
August 14, 2012 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Super Mario Bros. Special occupies a strange place in Mario history. It's one of the few Mario games produced for a system other than Nintendo's own, licensed by Hudson Soft for the Japanese PC-8801 computer system. The system was fairly weak compared to an NES, so it didn't scroll; when Mario gets to the edge of the screen, it flips to the next. The game wasn't always designed with that in mind however, leading to a lot of blind jumps. You can play a hacked version of the original Super Mario Bros. designed to recreate this game using the patch found here. And here's a video playthrough of the whole game: World 1, World 2, World 3, World 4, World 5, World 6, World 7, World 8, Last level & ending. And here's a trap room in World 4.
posted by JHarris (45 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Special" is one way of putting it
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:14 PM on August 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


If I'd had this during the months between the first time I saw Super Mario Bros at a pizza parlor and the Greatest Day of my Life (Christmas 1987, I believe - when I got an NES), I'd have played it obsessively. And loved it.
posted by glhaynes at 12:14 PM on August 14, 2012


Love how the musical arrangement was eviscerated to allow the anemic sequencer at least a fighting chance to sound the correct notes somewhere near their designated bars...
posted by deo rei at 12:32 PM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know.... lots of the Mario games don't really fit into the franchise.

I don't think we've seen airships since Super Mario 3?

What the heck were those linebackers doing in Super Mario World? For whatever reason, SMW feels very distinct from the rest of the franchise (and, IMO, is among, if not the best sidescrolling platformer).

What about the numerous characters in Mario RPG that (very regrettably) never reappeared?
posted by schmod at 12:39 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think we've seen airships since Super Mario 3?

They're in Galaxy and New Mario Bros
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:51 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think we've seen airships since Super Mario 3?

They're also in Super Mario World.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:54 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd have played it obsessively. And loved it.

Agreed. I put hours into this terrible C64 version of Super Mario, which was actually a hacked up version of The Great Giana Sisters. It was really bad (though not as bad as this), but the closest thing I had.
posted by Gary at 1:02 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


The gameplay video on the Joystiq article made me feel really, really high. The flickering; the wonky movement; the slow, choppy music... I could really go for some Mike & Ikes right now.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:18 PM on August 14, 2012


Wow that is really awful. It's a great document, really, highlighting how amazing the actual SMB is. All the details that are bad in Special; flickering sprites, bad jump physics, lethargic music. I can almost feel the lag in the controller (keyboard?). Those are all details Nintendo got right on the NES, and without them you have a terrible game.

Here's Wikipedia on the PC-8801. Z80 running at 4MHz, 64KB of RAM, six channel sound chip, even a dedicated 48k of video RAM... It seems a lot closer to a Commodore 64 in power than an NES. What about the hardware made this port so bad? I guess scrolling requires some hardware support, and maybe they were trying to use some limited hardware sprites?
posted by Nelson at 1:50 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


My bad. Total brainfart on the airships.

Still. I want more Mallow.
posted by schmod at 1:50 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Two-player Super Mario Bros on the Commodore 64: accidentally my whole youth.
posted by numes with an s at 2:00 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually there was only one airship in Super Mario World, and it was a wreck.
posted by JHarris at 2:11 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nelson: 48kb of dedicated video memory seems very high for the time, but the screen seems to be entirely bitmap (probably part of the hardware to handle the large Japanese character set), and that would cause scrolling problems. The NES uses hardware tiles in most graphic modes, and in addition to that platform's hardware sprites and scrolling support it's simply a lot less processor intensive to move tiles around than individual pixels. You'll note the discolorations when a moving object passes in front of something in the background? That's because sprites are being drawn using XORs, which means the operation can be undone simply by repeating it, which means the system doesn't have to redraw that part of the screen or save it to a buffer, which is a big time savings.
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Then there was the version of SMB written by John Carmack for the IBM, which they then proceeded to port the whole thing and send to Nintendo. After Nintendo rejected it, Carmack and Co used the same engine to write Commander Keen, and the rest is history.
posted by hellojed at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


For whatever reason, SMW feels very distinct from the rest of the franchise (and, IMO, is among, if not the best sidescrolling platformer).

I dunno, it seems a lot more floaty than Mario 3. I think in terms of 2D Mario games, it's a tie between Mario 3 and the (even less Mario-like) Yoshi's Island for the title of best game.
posted by JHarris at 2:18 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually there was only one airship in Super Mario World, and it was a wreck.

I seem to remember reading something in the game guide that indicated it was a wrecked airship from SMB3. Also the koopalings were a pretty big tie between the two.

Yoshi's Island is the best, though. The DS sequel was surprisingly well done too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:26 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Holy hell.. when I was a kid I inherited a C64 well past its prime with a whole mess of unlabeled disks that I devoured and loved tearing into no matter how questionable they were. And one of those was where I swore up and down was some sort of bootleg Super Mario Brothers to my friends, but they never believed me. And the disk itself died after exposure to a fridge magnet. I never learned the origin of it, until now. Thanks, Gary!
posted by mediocre at 2:28 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know.... lots of the Mario games don't really fit into the franchise.
I like the discontinuity between the games, and I really miss it. For a time, Nintendo were wildly creative. I think they still make good games, and still play with new ideas, but all of their franchises feel pretty "fixed" and, well, franchisey now. There was a time when you could do anything with Mario's world--even if that meant throwing away everything and drawing a whole new world in crayola or setting an entire game in a weird dream.

Or there was a time when I was eight years old. I'll never know for sure.
posted by byanyothername at 2:49 PM on August 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yoshi's Island really is fantastic.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:52 PM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh man, this is so achy and sad -- I think I'm going to have to watch them all. It's delightful.

I played a couple of Hudson Soft games as a kid. The only one I remember owning, and playing the most, was Adventure Island. At the time, I thought it was just a really hard game that took a lot of practice, but I thought it was fun (if kind of creepy) and kept at it. Now that I'm older, I know that sometimes a video game isn't hard to play because you need more practice at it -- sometimes, a video game is hard to play because it sucks. The controls were terrible.

(Also slightly on topic: I am one of the only people I know who really, really liked SMB2. I don't care if it was a strangely altered version of an even stranger and unrelated game. I could have played sequels to it.)
posted by Countess Elena at 3:17 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


SMB2 is great, yes. No argument here!

byanyothername is right too. Nintendo seems a lot less inventive lately, which is a tremendous shame.
posted by JHarris at 3:32 PM on August 14, 2012


byanyothername - I don't know if you've played the Mario Galaxy games but I think they're some of the most creative ever made
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:36 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


My bad. Total brainfart on the airships.

You could have said Tanooki Suit, which was true up until 3D Land where they put one on everything.
posted by Gary at 3:43 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"...must have come out after Japan introduced new, faster seconds..."
posted by Evilspork at 3:57 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man, that looks awful. Thanks for the links, I had no idea about this monstrosity.

I have to say that SMW is pretty great stuff, but SMB3 had the benefit of relative simplicity. I love both, but SMB3 was more refined at its time; SMW had a few too many quirks and extras, and Yoshi's Island, though it's a festival of invention, simply had too much going on, I think. I'm just old school about it. Mario 64 kept it old school, though.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:25 PM on August 14, 2012


Gary: "You could have said Tanooki Suit, which was true up until 3D Land where they put one on everything."

PSA: 3D Land is fantastic. Any Mario fan who can get their hands on a 3DS should play it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:29 PM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


One reason the characters from Super Mario RPG haven't been re-used is that the copyright situation is all mixed up since that game was a collaboration with Square, who immediately had a falling-out with Nintendo following its release (for reasons unrelated to the game). Even including Geno as an easter egg in one of the Mario & Luigi games got a special copyright notice in the credits.
posted by 23 at 5:29 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


byanyothername - I don't know if you've played the Mario Galaxy games but I think they're some of the most creative ever made
I've only watched bits and pieces of other people playing, but I'd like to play them myself eventually. I'm sure they are creative. To clarify, though, I didn't mean that Nintendo's current games are of lesser quality, or that they've stagnated creatively, but the worlds--the characters, creatures, geographies, aesthetics--are more...strictly defined, I guess. Skyward Sword rejuvenated my interest in Zelda and Nintedo games in general precisely because it seemed to introduce so many completely new things. (I still haven't played this, either.)

Nintendo still make things like them, but at one time it felt like Yoshi's Island, SMB2, Paper Mario, Wind Waker, Mario Kart (remember when this was an exciting idea?), Mario RPG--things that shrug off the familiar tropes, try different aesthetics or do a bunch of new things--were the norm. As a kid growing up in that little creative bubble, it made me feel kind of what I feel for something like Adventure Time now--that this is raw imagination, and it's perfectly okay to reinterpret it or to let it inspire me to make things. Most Nintendo games now feel like products to purchase; good, but the contagiousness of the creativity isn't there as much. I'm sure a lot of this has to do with what I've felt to be an overall increased corporatization of culture.

I have no idea how current eight year olds feel about this, though.
posted by byanyothername at 6:37 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The music in this Special version of Super Mario Brothers sounds exactly like the regular Super Mario music, but on ketamine.
posted by metaxa at 1:46 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given the capabilities of the hardware, or lack thereof, I'm impressed with how good it looks. I never would have attempted to develop such a thing.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 9:11 AM on August 15, 2012


things that shrug off the familiar tropes, try different aesthetics or do a bunch of new things--were the norm

I'd add Mario & Luigi to that list; it's been getting better and better and has a distinct style.
posted by ersatz at 10:08 AM on August 15, 2012


(Also slightly on topic: I am one of the only people I know who really, really liked SMB2. I don't care if it was a strangely altered version of an even stranger and unrelated game. I could have played sequels to it.)

You are not alone! SMB2 is my favorite SMB game of all. I love how different the mechanics are from every other SMB game. The potions which led not only to dark alternate realities where mushrooms were found, but were required to find the warp zones, which were well hidden in comparison to the warp zones in SMB1. Actually, the warp zone in the first castle of SMB3 was too easy to find simply because of the memorized locations from SMB1 (Even if one hadn't seen The Wizard). It's also one of the earliest instances that I can remember of the "It Was All Just A Dream" ending. The music of that game also remains some of my favorite music in any Mario game.

And the characters! The fact that you had different characters, all of which could get the job done, but some of which were better than others at things. Playable Toad and Princess? Sign me up! Anyone remember the first time they saw the doorway coming at them instead of opening up? Unexpected Surprise Level-End Boss! That scared the hell out of me the first time it happened. Has anyone else ever accidentally thrown a key off a cliff to save themselves from a Phantos chasing them? And let's not forget Birdo, one of the first transgender video game characters in a prominent role (later version of the instruction manual would revise this history).

And just the history of that game is much more interesting to me than just about any other Mario game (I've seen heated debates as to whether Doki Doki Panic was based on SMB2 or if SMB2 was based on Doki Doki Panic).

So yeah, IMHO, it's one of the greatest NES games ever made, and certainly the best SMB game.

Regarding character usage, I have always preferred Toad, except when I want to get to that one Warp Zone that is much, much easier when you use Luigi. Every girl I know seems to swear by the Princess, despite her being incredibly slow at picking up items. Yes, she can float, but there's only 2 instances I can think of where I find that to be useful.
posted by mysterpigg at 10:34 AM on August 15, 2012


Luigi all the way, in-air wiggliness and all.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:37 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The fact that you had different characters, all of which could get the job done, but some of which were better than others at things.

This is something I wish they would have done with New Super Mario Bros Wii. That game is super fun with 4 people (especially if you have kids around). But having all the characters be the same seems like wasted potential.
posted by Gary at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is something I wish they would have done with New Super Mario Bros Wii. That game is super fun with 4 people (especially if you have kids around). But having all the characters be the same seems like wasted potential.

Oh man, that would have been awesome! I can see why they did it the way they did, because kids and fairness and all that (that game is enough to cause RAGE as it is), but if they had included an SMB2 mode as a main menu selection, it would have been so much fun!
posted by mysterpigg at 10:45 AM on August 15, 2012


SMB2 is my favorite SMB game of all.

Don't forget the background music. When you hit pause, the melody would drop out and leave you with a jazzy bass solo.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


(I've seen heated debates as to whether Doki Doki Panic was based on SMB2 or if SMB2 was based on Doki Doki Panic).

Doki Doki Panic was definitely the predecessor of Super Mario 2/Super Mario USA. It's still a great game though. Although mostly a dead-end in terms of Mario evolution, at least Shy-Guys managed to earn themselves a place in the greater Mario universe.
posted by JHarris at 12:15 PM on August 15, 2012


Doki Doki Panic was definitely the predecessor of Super Mario 2/Super Mario USA. It's still a great game though. Although mostly a dead-end in terms of Mario evolution, at least Shy-Guys managed to earn themselves a place in the greater Mario universe.

Definitely the predecessor in that it was completed first and SMB2 was based on that, but wasn't it in turn based off of a very early SMB2 prototype?
posted by mysterpigg at 12:30 PM on August 15, 2012


What does the word "prototype" even mean? You suggest there were some big Mario 2 project that was turned into DDP, then Mario USA. But during development such distinctions mean nothing. It's just Generic Platformer Thing until it sees release. Plenty of games get skinned differently during development, it matters nothing to the game's engine which sprite data is used.

What we do know, however, is that Doki Doki Panic came out before Mario 2, and that the game we call Mario 2 didn't find release in Japan for a long while after that, not until Mario All-Stars on the SNES, where it was called Super Mario USA.

To me, that doesn't make it sound very likely that Doki Doki Panic was planned as a Mario game from the start, especially since Japan got its own Super Mario Bros. 2, known here originally as Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels (and later as Super Mario Bros. For Super Players for GBC, and finally seeing release in emulated form on Wii Virtual Console).
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on August 15, 2012


Although mostly a dead-end in terms of Mario evolution, at least Shy-Guys managed to earn themselves a place in the greater Mario universe.

Don't forget Bob-ombs! Arguably Toad as an individual & distinct from general Mushroom Kingdom Inhabitant can be traced to SMB2 as well.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:27 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Birdo, too.
posted by Gary at 2:38 PM on August 15, 2012


Is he or she playing it on the original hardware? If not, how do we know the filker isn't emulator induced? Just curious.
posted by Canageek at 6:01 PM on August 15, 2012


So he (or she) was playing that on an emulator; Did it fliker that much in the original? Also, how many of those levels were copies from Nintendo, and how many original? Were any copies?

Also, how did they know it was an XOR operation used to draw the background graphics? Deduction from the bugs?
posted by Canageek at 7:13 PM on August 15, 2012


The discolorations caused by drawing sprites over the background is distinctive of using XORs to draw. There's no reason to draw sprites in such a way that it would cause discolorations unless there were some performance or hardware requirement.

If the background color were depicted by 0 bits in a bitmap, then drawing a sprite on it with an XOR operation would just write the sprite data, but whenever the sprite overlaps a background tile the intersecting regions would depend on the bit patterns, producing the observed weird colors. Still, background tiles are more the exception than the norm, so it doesn't happen too often.
posted by JHarris at 7:37 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I could probably have said that more elegantly, but it's not easy to do without getting into the details of how the bitmath works.
posted by JHarris at 8:46 AM on August 16, 2012


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