Vs. Super Mario Bros. (Arcade, 1986)


In honor of Super Mario Bros.’ 35th anniversary, the Archive is playing every single release, re-release, port, and remake of the original Super Mario Bros.


The original title for Vs. Super Mario Bros.*


The game we all know and… love?*





RELEASE DATE: April (?) 1986 (US)

ALSO ON: Nintendo Switch


The Nintendo VS. arcade system was a brilliant way for Nintendo to repurpose Famicom/NES games for the arcade. These games both acted as advertisements for Nintendo’s then-new console and allowed the company to not strain development resources. Instead of devs working on separate console and arcade titles, they worked on Famicom/NES games, which were then ported to the arcade.


Most of these ports have minor tweaks that slightly differentiate them from their console counterparts. Some feature extra colors and animation, like in Vs. Duck Hunt or Vs. Pinball. Some of them have slightly different background music, like in Vs. Ice Climber, or even added music like in Vs. Stroke & Match Golf.


Ain’t she a beaut.*


At first, Vs. Super Mario Bros. only provides subtle changes. A couple extra goombas here, a removal of a question block there. Makes sense. Nintendo’s trying to get your quarters by making levels slightly more challenging. But as you progress, Vs. SMB‘s level design shifts considerably from its home counterpart. Entire levels go by without a single mushroom or flower. Increasingly large gaps separate tiny platforms. Multitudes of Hammer Brothers, Koopas, and Goombas appear in inconvenient locations. The further you get into the game, the more you understand the MO behind Vs. Super Mario Bros: Nintendo wants your money. All of it.


“The ground! She is-a gone!”


Here are three significant changes Vs. Super Mario Bros. makes to the original SMB experience:

  1. Six of the game’s levels are brand new: 1-4, 3-2, 6-3, 6-4, 7-2 and 7-3. These levels were later reused in Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, though their level placement has changed.

  2. The warp zone in Level 4-2 only lets you warp to world 6; the warps to worlds 7 and 8 have been removed entirely.

  3. There are only four possible 1-Ups available in the game. Three of them are invisible and will only appear if you’ve collected a certain amount of coins in previous stages.


I do believe it’s Super Mario time.


According to Wikipedia, Nintendo released Vs. Super Mario Bros. in April 1986 in the States. Whether that release month is true or not is unknown, but the game was definitely released in 1986. Given how new the NES was in the States at that time, there’s a good chance many fledgling gamers experienced Vs. SMB before the home NES version. Imagine getting good at Vs. SMB before you get an NES and the original Super Mario Bros. Would you find the latter too easy, or would the different level layouts trip you up?


Some things never change.


Once you get familiar enough with Super Mario Bros. level layouts, you can soar through them with relative grace and ease. That’s never the case with Vs. Super Mario Bros. Even if you were to play the latter over and over again, the rhythm and flow that players are able to tap into in SMB is just lacking here.


Then again, rhythm and flow are absolutely not the point here. Vs. Super Mario Bros is designed to suck the quarters from any kid who just wants to see the next level, then the next, then the next. To wit: coin operators could decrease Mario’s lives to 2, speed up the timer, and even set higher coin limits for extra lives. Dastardly? No doubt. But quarters are quarters, and these machines needed to pay the rent.


This is not Mario’s beautiful World 5-3.


Vs. Super Mario Bros legacy – such as it is – is one of confusion and frustration. Super Mario Bros. and the NES revitalized an entire industry. Vs. Super Mario Bros. is a more difficult arcade version of what could be enjoyed at home (and at home you don’t have to insert more quarters into your NES). Also, for better or for worse, Vs. SMB‘s increased difficulty certainly inspired the most devious Mario adventure of all time, Super Mario Bros 2 a.k.a. The Lost Levels. Mixed feelings there.


Under a stark black sky, Mario ponders his fate.


If you love the original Super Mario Bros. but have memorized its nooks and crannies and want an additional challenge, Vs. Super Mario Bros. has worth. The game’s “not quite a ROM hack, not quite a sequel” identity helps it stand out in Mario’s crowded catalog.




*images courtesy of FlyerFever and Super Mario Wiki.

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