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The Lost Super Mario Trilogy

Super Mario Bros. SpecialWhile the Super Mario franchise is one of Nintendo's crown jewels, the company occasionally licenses out the characters to other developers and publishers for cross-promotional or creative potential.  One of the earliest occurrences of the Mushroom Kingdom being loaned to a neighbor began in 1984 when Hudson acquired the rights to create new versions of the Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. titles for Japanese computers such as the PC-88 and FM-7.  Three titles came from the arrangement and Hardcore Gaming 101 has taken a look at them all.  They look a little familiar, but actually play quite differently than you'd expect.  Consider the case of 1986's Super Mario Bros. Special, for instance.

The most ambitious of the three games, and as a result the one with the most problems. This tries to be a remake of Super Mario Bros on the NES, and while it has a greater level of depth and variety than the two previous titles, the limitations of the hardware can make it frustrating to play.  It’s also an exercise in masochism. The designers at Hudson seem intent on punishing you for playing it in the same way as the original SMB, which ironically means it’s great for retro enthusiasts to examine now, but would have defeated the purpose of creating such a port back in the day.  It was presumably to appeal to computer owners who wanted to enjoy what their console-owning friends were playing, so the utterly absurd and at times surreal design changes would have alienated anyone expecting a true Mario game. This goes beyond what the original Lost Levels attempted, in terms of subverting Miyamoto’s original vision, and I can imagine hundreds of Japanese children angry with frustration at just how punishing and strange it is.

The big difference is that the screen doesn’t scroll smoothly, but instead flicks across. Annoyingly you can see part of the next area, meaning the screen flicks across before Mario reaches the edge, totally destroying any sense of timing for precise jumps. Plus, turtle shells will bounce off of scenery even if it's on a subsequent screen, threatening to kill unsuspecting players. The fact the screen doesn't scroll can, in some cases, make this appear as if turtle shells are bouncing off open space.  Then there are pipes in strange places implying a secret warp but leading nowhere! Meanwhile invisible coin blocks are placed at the most infuriating of places, so as you launch into what appears to be an open jumping areas, said block appears and sends you hurtling down a hole. It's like Hudson was intentionally trying to mess with your mind. There's also cameo appearances from the Hudson bee, plus enemies from Mario Bros and Donkey Kong (Mario can even grab a DK hammer at one point).

There are some interesting gameplay mechanics in use here that could stand to be revived in modern-day remakes (but not ports - these titles have aged terribly) such as Punch Ball Mario Bros.'s tossable ball and other such things.  If you're really itching to try Super Mario Bros. Special on reliable Nintendo Entertainment System hardware, you could always check out a hack that turns Nintendo's actual 8-bit classic into a remake of Hudson's attempt.  If nothing else, it's an interesting look into one of gaming's dusty corners.