—THE LEGEND OF MARIO—
THIS MULTINATIONAL plumber began his voyage into the gaming world all the way back in 1981-but under a very different name. Originally known as both ‘Jumpman’ and ‘Mr.Video’, Mario was in fact named after American businessman and real estate developer Mario Segale. These days, Mario is a household name, the star of a great deal of Nintendo games, and the head of the best selling video game franchise of all time. Over the years, his appearance has been drastically altered from his initial debut in Donkey Kong, something that reflects how far technology has come since the 1980’s. Mario transitioned from a pixellated 2D sprite to the much smoother, 3D rendered version that the world was first presented with in Super Mario 64, a trend which would continue in future Mario games like Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 3D Land.
Shigeru Miyamoto’s brainchild officially celebrated his 25th birthday in 2010, was the ambassador for the wildly popular Mario Kart 8, and featured in the recently released Mario Party 10. As many readers know, there have also been countless Mario spinoffs on a variety of gaming platfroms, many of them fan-made. Today, I’d like to reminisce about one in particular. Developed by Mike Wiering in 1994, the Mario game I grew up with in MS-DOS is described as a “Super Mario Bros. clone”. It would be years later when I would discover that it was a hacked version, consisting of only four levels as opposed to the six originally planned for the game. This hacked version contained a continuous loop on level 4 which forced Mario to go back to the start of the level, thereby making success impossible. However, that same factor produced an interesting side effect—curiosity. I loved this game as a child. Countless hours were devoted to exploring its intricately designed levels with utter joy, and the unquenchable hope that there was in fact a secret exit in level 4 that I merely hadn’t discovered yet. If the hallmark of a good game is one that is able to elicit such level of intrigue within a player, Mario & Luigi has it in spades.
*Note: This review is based on the complete version of the game and not the hacked version.
The action begins on the soothing, grassy plains of level 1, where players have the choice of playing either as Mario or Luigi. The level design starts off simple, which is important for drawing the player in and allowing them to acclimatise to the controls, the inevitable increase in difficulty level and so on. Something that I would like to point out at this stage is the lack of narrative in this game. Unlike Super Mario Bros for NES, there is no Princess Peach to save, and no Bowser to defeat at the very end. Does this negatively influence the game’s enjoyment value or longevity? I appreciate that views on this matter will vary, but in my opinion it doesn’t. Not one bit. The precise art style, neat, thoughtfully designed levels and simple controls are certainly enough to make this game enjoyable. As is the case for most Mario games, jumping into question marks produces either mushrooms or flowers, which will allow Mario to power up from ‘Small’ Mario into ‘Medium’ and ‘Flower’ Mario respectively. Medium Mario is able to smash bricks, and Flower Mario has the additional ability of blasting fireballs from his fingertips. On the top of the screen, there is a tally bar that keeps track of Mario’s lives, player score, number of coins collected, and the current level. You can toggle this on and off by pressing the ‘S’ key, but leaving it active will cause the game to lag-so make sure it’s deactivated when you’re playing. Mario moves with the arrow keys, jumps with Alt, and runs fast with Ctrl-this is simple to remember and simple to execute. Musical note boxes that were not in the hacked version add a nice touch, serving as a springboard. In comparison to the other levels, Level 1 is the easiest to run through and introduces you to the basic enemies of the game: mushrooms, red and green turtles and piranha plants. There are also some flying fish, however they are unique to this level-which I suppose boils down to the fact that only level 1 has waterfalls. Immediately after the first waterfall, you’ll notice a couple of pipes. One of these acts as a shortcut, which also gives you a few extra coins to collect. This creates a sense of anticipation within the player, and encourages them to seek out more hidden areas at the prospect of similar rewards. The angry, spitting lava bursts of Level 2 signal an immediate change of atmosphere from the tranquility of the former level, as do the red piranha plants. Unlike the green piranha plants, which do not resurface if Mario is standing on the pipe, these ones show no mercy. Similarly to level 1, there is a shortcut to be found here as well, but there is also one tunnel that leads to a ‘dead end’. For all I know there is a way to escape this extra area, but until someone finds it I’m going to assume it is s case of curiosity killed the Mario. Level 3 feels like being transported out of the underground into a beautiful sky world with pretty clouds. A world where red turtles fearlessly take strolls at impossible heights, comforted by the fact that they are never going to fall off the edge of the platform, a world where dangerous porcupines drift towards you at agonisingly slow speeds, a world with a second, invisible exit point. Did I say this game lacked narrative? Let me make a small correction. Mario & Luigi does have elements of narrative, if you’re willing to look beyond the surface. Sometimes, it’s not what you see-it’s how you see. Imagination is everything, or, as Shigeru Miyamoto puts it, there is much more to the world than we think:
This is the lens that I view Mario & Luigi through. It’s like reading a novel. Each time you re-read a certain passage, aren’t you returning to that same ‘place’ your mind invented the first time? Or when you play a piece of music, isn’t it like putting colour and life into a sheet of paper with lifeless black notes scrawled all over it? Books and music are like secret doors to other worlds, and so are games. In level 3 of Mario & Luigi, green piranha plants return, along with a sole green turtle at the end of the level. Or what seems like the end. That turtle, while it might not seem like it, is in fact there for a reason other than to kill you and prevent you from progressing onto level 4. A reason that you can find out by watching the video at the end of this review, if you so choose-but my advice is to try and find it for yourself.
Beyond this point, it was uncharted waters for me. Never having had the luxury of playing through the complete version of Mario & Luigi, I remember feeling totally stunned the moment I first saw the real level 4. In terms of appearance, it’s quite similar to level 5 bar the background, brick, and pipe colours. Some parts of the level-particularly the sections with three red turtles in a row standing on bricks-are a clever throwback to official Mario games. This is especially true of the section at the end of the stage, which has the bricks positioned in such a way that they increase in altitude a little each time, truly reminiscent of the classic ‘flagpole’ ending. There are far more pits in level 4, narrowly constructed, and very easy to fall in. However, the level design could have benefited with a more distinct personality, which I feel would make level 4 more memorable. For example, a secret beanstalk-like the one that you discover by chance in level 2 of Super Mario Bros for NES, or a underwater section within one of the tunnels.
As I mentioned earlier, Level 5 feels a bit too similar to level 4, but the variety in level design is spiced up a bit: the musical boxes reappear along with the porcupines, and (I believe) there is one tunnel that will take you back to an earlier section of the level-a nice twist, and thankfully, not as cruel as that tunnel in level 2! The ending is also a minefield of danger, with two deadly porcupines patiently awaiting your arrival. Pass by successfully, and you’ll enter your final destination-the fiery, jail-themed dungeon of level 6. And if you thought the previous levels were hard, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Update: I have literally just discovered secret passageways in both levels 4 and 5.
Razor sharp spikes. Falling ledges. Death-defying jumps. All that and more can be found in the frightening finale of this epic adventure. Especially difficult for Small Mario, level 6 is a good example of hard fun; it is undeniably frustrating when you lose, but it isn’t so hard as to extinguish all hope for beating it. In fact, there is even an extra-life mushroom at the end of a more challenging route, rewarding you for your efforts and effectively keeping you in the game. At one point, you must bounce upon a turtle’s back to evade some spikes, but the real kicker is a narrow drop towards the end of the level. It’s terrifyingly easy to fall to your doom, and should you somehow scrape your way onto the platform, two turtles, a porcupine, and a mushroom that will damage you are all very eager to make your acquaintance. If you can dodge them, carefully sneak your way along the top of the stone pathway, and enter the penultimate tunnel, you will be but inches away from reaching the true ending of Mario & Luigi. Or are you?
I loved this game growing up and I still love it today. Its pretty art work makes it a joy to gaze upon, and its tight, simple controls, and multiple secret areas to explore and discover make Mario & Luigi a shining example of strong gameplay and level design. But if there’s one thing I want you to take away with you after reading this review, it is the power of games as a digital medium to elicit our curiosity. Dare to look beyond the surface, and dare to let your imagination run wild. You never know what you might find. -kkatlas
Why you should play it:
- You are a fan of Mario games
- You like 2D platformers
- You are a retro gaming enthusiast
- You kept on having to repeat level 4 and want closure
- Simple design
- Fun to play
- Faithfully rendered artwork
- Effectively incorporates Mario level design staples
- Full of secret areas
- Lets you play as either Mario/Luigi
- Slows down when you activate life/coin tally
- Short playthrough
Take note that since it is a DOS game, you’ll need DOS Box in order for it to run. Happy gaming!:)
A quick playthrough of Mario & Luigi from its developer Mike Wiering:
1. Mario history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario
2. Tanooki Mario: http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/fantendo/images/4/4e/New_super_mario_bros_2_tanooki_mario.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120814133125
3. Mario arcade gif: http://www.polygon.com/features/2014/1/20/5227582/the-rise-of-the-jump
4. Super Mario World gif: http://gallery.mobile9.com/f/621064/
5. Super Mario Bros NES animation: http://imgarcade.com/1/gif-animation-mario/
6. Mario 64 gif: http://supermarioglitchy4.wikia.com/wiki/File:Mario_Sprite_Ani_-_Super_Mario_64.gif
7. The Evolution of Mario: http://www.noupe.com/inspiration/showcases/the-evolution-of-mario.html
8. New Super Mario Bros U Mario: http://newsupermariobrosu.nintendo.com/power-ups/