What can I say about Super Mario Bros. that hasn't been said before by minds more intelligent and insightful than mine? Nothing, that's what, so instead I'll be taking a slightly different approach. Super Mario Bros. may be a masterpiece, a colossus on which much of videogaming is founded and the catalyst from the rise of home consoles, but some people still think that Nintendo's classic contains room for improvement. Thanks to the power of ROM hacking, the original Super Mario Bros. has been altered, reconfigured and had crude joke plastered all over it countless times, and these hybrid freaks are what I'll be looking at today: a random selection of SMB ROM hacks, a concept that promises strange new vistas, warped versions of the Mushroom Kingdom and probably a few dick jokes, because one thing that SMB sorely lacks is the "edgy" humour of a fifteen-year-old. Let's get started, shall we?
Super Link Bros.
Probably the most common type of SMB hack is the kind that simply replaces the graphics with something else - in this case, Link from The Legend of Zelda. Seems it was too difficult for the author to swap "MARIO" with "LINK" on the title screen, but aside from that this is a fun little conversion.
The game plays exactly the same as the original, as SMB hacks tend to do, and the layout of the levels is unchanged, but the cosmetic shift from Mushroom Kingdom to Hyrule is thorough and nicely detailed. Goombas become Octoroks, you collect rupees instead of coins and picking up a sword lets you shoot smaller swords out of your sword. I know that's not strictly accurate to the Zelda games, but it's much more useful than if Link fired energy beams horizontally like he does in Zelda II. You'd never be able to hit anything, the enemies are so small that you'd constantly be firing over their heads. I suspect that the bouncing path of the Fire Flower's projectiles is the reason that there are surprisingly few SMB hacks that give Mario a gun and have him embark on a bloody rampage. I honestly thought there would be loads of hacks like that because, as I mentioned, "edgy" teenagers.
Replacing Bowser with Ganon works surprisingly well. I guess there's a lot of common ground between "magical bipedal turtle-monster" and "magical bipedal pig-wizard." I find it difficult to take Ganon seriously as a villain, though, and Super Link Bros. is only making it even harder: not only does Ganon keep getting foiled by a literal child, in this appearance he's wearing tiny red wellington boots. I can't feel threatened by someone wearing the same shoes as my two-year-old nephew.
Super Mario Bros. for Hardplayer
The other most common type of SMB hack is the kind that offers the player a bunch of new levels, usually extremely difficult ones that are pitched at the Super Mario expert. That's why I tried SMB for Hardplayer. I am a hardplayer. I play hard, and I play hard.
I'm lying, I don't play hard. I'm the gaming equivalent of a microwaved marshmallow, and I haven't been good at SMB since I was seven years old. Still, SMB for Hardplayer seems like it has a good balance between increased challenge and demanding that the player replace their entire nervous system with cutting-edge cybernetic upgrades, and I had some fun trying out a few of the stages. I didn't play through every level - this article would have taken many months if I'd played every single stage of all these hacks - but what I did play was pretty good.
I stopped playing this one here, where I attempted to jump over this pit only for Mario to smash into a previously invisible block, causing him to fall to his death. From out of the block that killed me, a one-up mushroom appeared. That's irony, that is.
Luigi is often given a chance to shine in these hacks, presumably because it's easy to alter Mario's sprite into a leaner, greener form. Here he is in Crazy Luigi.
Well then the title of this hack is grossly misleading, isn't it? The craziest thing about this hack is Luigi's proportions when he's in non-super form. His head doesn't change size, leaving his giant noggin balanced on a tennis ball of a body. Eating a mysterious fungus that can transform your physical body is going to affect each individual differently, I suppose.
That actual hack is a nicely composed set of new and fiendishly difficult levels, but that's of minor importance when compared to the fact that the springboards have been replaced by squishy Toads. It's nice to see Toad getting more involved in the grunt work of saving Princess Peach, and because SMB doesn't have any synthesised voice clips you can crush Toad beneath your boots without having to hear the godawful noises he makes in more recent Mario games.
Gothic Mario Bros.
Ah yes, nothing says "gothic" like pastel blues and pinks. An extremely basic hack, this one replaces Mario with Eric Draven from The Crow, changes the Piranha Plants to befanged monsters that'd fit right in to Soft and Cuddly and gives the player one linear underwater stage to traverse, clearly based on the famous scene in The Crow where the avenging undead vigilante swims through the ruins of a lost civilisation.
Super Bald Bros.
In this hack, Mario is bald. That's it. He still has his trademark moustache, which is why it isn't called Super Alopecia Bros.
This hack takes place in the same underwater stage as Gothic Mario Bros, and there are an awful lot of SMB hacks out there that take place in this very same stage. I don't know whether this is because one person was cranking out all these low-effort SMB modifications and they just used the same level every time or it it's a "Minus World" style area that appears as a consequence of hacking the game, but I do know one thing - make sure you take the bottom path when you get the choice because otherwise you get stuck in a dead end and have to wait for the time to run out before you can lose a life.
Great Super Mario is Our Hero
I think that title is supposed to be sarcastic. "Who is our hero? An overweight plumber who gets his strength from mushrooms. Great."
Far from the peaceful greenery of the Mushroom Kingdom, Great Super Mario is Our Hero takes place in what I'm convinced is the depths of Mario's tortured psyche. The intense mental strain placed upon him by being solely responsible for the safety of a woman who is kidnapped more often than UKIP candidates make embarrassing gaffes has shattered Mario's mind, trapping him in a black void filled with Princess Peach, almost nothing but Princess Peach, where she makes up the very world around Mario in the form of the platforms he must climb across but also as a pack of floating clones that hunt him down relentlessly.
Just as there is no escape from his duty, there is no escape from the overwhelming Princess swarm for Mario apart from the black embrace of death.
Super Fucked Up Bros.
I thought Super Fucked Up Bros. was going to be about the Krays or something, but no, it's just a version of SMB where the graphics are messed up. I wouldn't even say they're super fucked up, it's not like the glitches spell out words denying the Holocaust or something.
Mario Had Died
Luigi takes centre stage once again in Mario Had Died. I like that you can choose between "Luigi Game" and "Luigi Game." Because Mario had died, you see. Whether "Mario Had Died" is a typo and it should be "Mario Has Died" or if Mario died but later recovered from being dead is a mystery I fear I shall never uncover, because I won't be playing all the way through this one.
That's mostly because it's really hard, and completely removed from the usual SMB gameplay: in Mario Had Died, Luigi is transformed from cowardly sidekick to flying, fire-breathing agent of divine punishment. Luigi flaps around in the sky, launching fireballs out of his face in a horizontal manner, making this hack more akin to Gradius than SMB. A stream of hearts constantly drifts out of Luigi's body, which is a sign of his boundless love - you see, Luigi is now an angel. Between the flying, the hearts and the cloud-formed landscape, I cannot imagine any other scenario than Luigi having being imbued with the powers of the heavenly host, becoming an 8-bit Archangel Michael and balancing the compassion and mercy of the Almighty against his desire to burn Goombas to death. It's the Super Mario Bros. sequel no-one saw coming!
Mushroom Nightmare is a fairly standard rearrangement of SMB into a fresh batch of challenging levels, but I'm only mentioning it for the music - a transposed version of the classic Mario theme that has, to my ears at least, an almost Russian feel to it.
If there was a Soviet-era clone of Super Mario Bros. - Super Stalinist Comrades, if you will - then this is what I'd imagine it'd sound like. Familiar, yet strangely grim, heavy with the notion that while you may be enjoying a cartoony adventure now, crushing misery is waiting just past the next pipe.
Mario Is Erotic
Mario Is Erotic! the title screen shouts, like a maniac who has spent too long browsing internet "art" sites. This is a lie, of course. Mario possesses all the eroticism of an angle-poise lamp.
The creator of Mario is Erotic seemed to realise this early on in the hack's development, and the game ends one screen in with an impassable wall that blocks the player's path. This is a cruel joke to play on all those desperate and deeply damaged people who wanted to see Mario in erotic situations such as performing a fan dance or, I dunno, eating mushrooms seductively while wearing nothing but a Racoon Suit.
There is a "naked Mario" hack, though. Of course there is. Naked Mario has prominent nipples, but fortunately we can't see, erm, "little Mario." You know, his plumber's mate, his Bullet Bill. His genitals, I mean. I am thankful that they were not included in this hack. I fear it would colour my enjoyment of subsequent Mario games had I previously seen his pixelly penis flapping around every time he took a running jump.
I'm honestly surprised that there aren't more hacks dedicated to filling the world of SMB with sexual content, violence and depravity. There's always that faint human instinct to besmirch that which is innocent and pure, which is why it's so much fun to walk over pristine, freshly-fallen snow or to dress a puppy up like Jason Voorhees, and I has assumed the colourful, carefree world of the Mario games would have fallen prey to this instinct many times. Instead, I mostly got other fictional characters and settings crudely jammed into the Mushroom Kingdom.
Mario Gear: Mushroom Eater
Speaking of which, here's Mario Gear: Mushroom Eater. I would have gone with 'Shroom Eater, personally. It fits better with the original title.
So, this is Mario Bros. mixed with Metal Gear, and if you're thinking "those two games would mix about as well as NWA and the Ku Klux Klan" then you would be mostly right. Mario Gear consists of one short stage where Mushroom Snake must get past the enemies, a task made more difficult by the fact he can only jump one pixel high. The real danger comes from the creepy eyes in the background: if you walk past them while they're exposed, you're killed immediately.
It's not much fun, and the mental shock of controlling Mario but not being able to jump is difficult to overcome, but I enjoyed this "SNAAAAKE!" message that's displayed on-screen when you die. Which you will. Because Mario can't jump. Solid Snake can't jump either, but then again he can just shoot the bad guys out of the way.
Super Atario Bros.
Atario Bros. has a simple yet extremely effective concept: all the graphics are swapped with ultra-low resolution replacements to recreate the look of an Atari 2600 game. It still plays the same as the original SMB, so you get the 2600 aesthetic without the unfortunate side-effect of having to play an Atari 2600 platformer. I think Atario Bros. looks great, and will no doubt have the developers of retro-inspired indie platformers across the world wishing they'd thought of it first.
It's SMB starring Princess Peach. Peach is such a bright and cheerful character that I'm sure the monochrome title screen is merely an attempt to add some class to this hack and not an indication that the game will be in any way gloomy or morose.
I know, I didn't fool you for a second. You knew as well as I did that there would be nothing jolly in this one, and so it proves. A pipe at the beginning leads to an inescapable room. The only other way to go is right. All that awaits you there is an empty black void: all there is to do is to cast Peach down into this void and grant her the sweet release of death. Super Mario Sunshine it is not.
Bowser vs. Wario
Bowser vs. Wario is another total conversion of SMB, and a very well-made one at that, with all-new sprites and stages waiting to be conquered by Bowser as he fights against Wario in what I assume is a contest to decide who gets the right to defeat Mario. I can't imagine it being about the Princess, because Wario is only interested in hoarding gold, not women who are helpless in the face of repeated abductions thanks to their sheltered royal upbringing. Wario's lust for gold makes him seem normal when compared to Bowser's raison d'etre, and if you make Wario look normal then you have some serious personal issues.
All that is moot however: I couldn't enjoy Bowser vs. Wario because the fact that Bowser has to collect a power-up before he can breathe fire was constantly rankling me. Bowser shouldn't need a special item for that, breathing fire should be as natural to the Koopa King as, well, breathing.
Finally for today, here's a hack called Vs. Airman. What, Airman from Mega Man 2? Because that does look like Airman's stage.
Yes indeed, this one is about Airman, one of Mega Man's most treacherous foes, a robot designed by Dr. Wily after a strange incident at an aquarium where he saw a manta ray trying to eat a desk fan.
The content of this hack should come as no surprise after that introduction - it's a recreation of Airman's stage from Mega Man 2, only with the Blue Bomber replaced by Super Mario himself... and it works surprisingly well! A lot of effort clearly went into getting this one right, and the two styles are melded so gracefully that you could easily see it as a Mario hack of a Mega Man game rather than the other way around. Enemies can still be jumped on from above to defeat them, but they can drop power-ups like Mega Man enemies, and because Airman's stage is focused around platforming it's a good fit for Mario's jumping skills. There's even a chiptune version of the "Can't Beat Airman / Airman ga Taosenai" song that plays while you're Mega Mario-ing it up. It's a tough stage to get through as Mario - Mega Man has a gun for a hand and he still struggles - but it's not particularly unfair or anything, and once you realise that (as is almost always the case for a Mario level) the best way to progress is to run through it as fast as possible it's an enjoyable experience.
Does Mario hover through the doors to the boss' chamber if you jump as you go through them? You best your ass he does. 10 / 10, best Mario hack ever.
Naturally, the stage ends with the battle against Airman, who fights much as he does in Mega Man 2 - by firing tiny localised tornadoes at the player. I quickly realised that being Super Mario is something of a liability here, because he's too big to fit in the gaps between the tornadoes, but that doesn't really matter because you'll be back to small Mario soon enough. Then it's just a matter of hopping through the waves of wind, waiting for Airman to leap towards you and then bouncing on his head to damage him. Repeat this a few times and Airman will be defeated. Sadly Mario does not get equipped with the Air Shooter, but I had fun regardless.
It left me wanting to play some other Mega Man-themed levels as Mario, something I certainly didn't expect to happen when I first loaded it up, but if there are any out there they will have to wait for volume two of my Super Mario Bros. hack chronicles. I may well actually do a volume two at some point, because this article barely scratches the surface of the vast catalogue of rejigged Mario adventures out there, hacks with titles like Super Catholic Bros. and Rage Mario that I didn't get around to playing for this article. I think this will do for today, though, because if I play through the first stage of Super Mario Bros. again I think I may lose my fucking mind.