We all know that Genesis does what Nintendon't, but sometimes it also does what Ninten-do. Nintendoes? Whatever, feast your eyes on Gamtec's unholy retooling of Super Mario World, now appearing in bold, garish colour on your Sega Genesis or Megadrive!
That's right, everyone's favourite plumbers - unless you have a plumber for a parent or significant other, I suppose - are making an appearance on Sega's 16 bit console in classic bootleg game fashion. How exciting! Now Megadrive owners can finally experience the wonder of Super Mario World, a game which, let's be honest, is leagues better than any Sonic the Hedgehog game.
Or maybe it's the original Super Mario Bros.? The game can't seem to make up its mind. Either one would be fine, because Super Mario Bros. is still better than any Sonic the Hedgehog game. That's not meant as a knock against the early Sonic games, they're all right, but these two Mario games are bona-fide classics that the altered the landscape of console gaming forever. I'm sure Gamtec will have treated such a masterpiece with the respect and care that it deserves. I mean, that's a fairly decent recreation of Super Mario Bros' title screen, even if Mario himself is looking a little more portly than usual.
Well, that settles it, this is Super Mario Bros. No, wait, I recognise that formation of blocks, this is based on The Lost Levels, isn't it? An interesting choice, but whatever, I'm playing Super Mario on the Megadrive, the bitterness of the 16-bit console war a distant, faintly embarrassing memory. There's a Koopa Troopa, I've located the jump button, so all that remains is to jump on that turtle and rip him from his shell... except you can't do that. Oh, you can jump onto the Koopa Troopa, but all that'll happen is that Mario will lose some health. That's lose health, not revert to a smaller, mushroomless state. It seems that Super Mario World is much less faithful to the original that it appears at first glance, and not being able to defeat common Super Mario enemies by jumping on them takes a lot of getting used to. You don't know how hard-wired the mental connection between a turtle's shell and the soles of Mario's boots is until you play a game that looks like Super Mario but doesn't play by the series' rules. It's instinctive, like shooting a boss' glowing weak-point or Dragon Punching when someone jumps towards you, and it wasn't until late in the game that I finally stopped seeing Mario fall feet-first towards a monster, the cry of "oh, balls" on my lips.
I never thought I'd have to explain the mechanics of a Super Mario game, but it looks like this one is going so far off-piste that I'll have to. I know how Super Mario works, you know how Super Mario works, but apparently Gamtec didn't, or if they did they couldn't be bothered with trying to recreate it. Instead, much of the action revolves around Mario picking up crates, which you can then throw either horizontally or straight upwards to dispatch enemies. You can carry the crates around with you, but sometimes they have power-ups underneath, so it's worth your while to pick up every crate you see even if there's nothing to throw it at.
If this gameplay mechanic seems familiar to you, that's probably because it was ripped wholesale from Capcom's NES game Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Super Mario World: Wonky Genesis Edition isn't even a first-pressing knock-off, oh no: it's a Nintendo-themed reskin of Gamtec's previous bootleg title Squirrel King, a game which starred Chip and Dale despite them being neither squirrels nor kings.
Gamtec couldn't even be bothered to replace these collectible crystals with the traditional Super Mario coins, which tells you all you need to know about the quality of the game. You want to travel down that pipe maybe? Well tough, none of the pipes in this game "work," they're all just decoration. There isn't even a flagpole at the end of the stage, Mario just hits a certain point and the screen fades to black like our hero has suffered an unexpected brain embolism. At least that is recognisably a Goomba, and the classic Super Mario theme is playing in the background, although it is very strange to hear Mario music coming out of a Megadrive sound chip.
After a couple of gentle stages spent throwing crates at turtles in the great outdoors, Mario finds himself in one of Bowser's castles, where he does much the same thing with the added wrinkle of trying not to fall into a pit of lava. Well, they keep the central heating bill down, don't they? As you can see by the way Mario has firmly wedged himself into the ceiling, this is not a game that gives much of a shit about collision detection, to the degree that you can't smash blocks with your fist. That's right, a Mario platformer where you can't break blocks by jumping underneath them. If you do that, you simply travel through the platform and then land on top of it. Thus, there are no power-up blocks and no super mushrooms or fire flowers. Not that Mario needs a fire flower, because he can shoot a fireball across the screen whenever he likes so long as he has one in stock, as indicated by the glove icon in the status bar. Hang on, does that mean Chip and / or Dale can shoot fireballs from their fuzzy little paws, too? That doesn't seem right.
And then Bowser appears, determined as ever to get right on Mario's wick in whatever way he possibly can, be it kidnapping princesses or smashing him with a blue shell just as he's about to cross the finish line. In this case, he runs along the upper or lower level of the screen, pausing every now and then to breath fire at Mario, before jumping to the other platforms and repeating the process. I'm not entirely sure how this is supposed to work, given that Bower is quite clearly too large to fit between the levels of this boss chamber. The cramped quarters and unimaginative battle set-up must be weighing heavily on both Bowser and Mario because neither of them seems particularly engaged in the fight, as though they are ashamed to be appearing in such a low-rent title. You can see the same effect if you play Mario is Missing, both games have the same tired air of "going through the motions" that hovers over a mandatory team-building exercise at work.
As for the fight, use up all your fireballs for a few free hits and then avoid Bowser - not difficult, as you can switch between levels freely - until a crate falls into the room from above. Grab the crate, smash it into Bowser's face, repeat until Bowser leaves, probably muttering under his fiery breath about how he used to have standards.
Oh look, its stage 1-2 from the original Super Mario Bros, kind of. Here you can see me yet again on the verge of jumping on a turtle. I still hadn't learned, even on my second run at the game.
So Super Mario World isn't really a Mario game, but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. There are plenty of good games that aren't Super Mario games. Sadly, this isn't one of them. Gamtec have produced what is possibly the most perfunctory platforming experience I have ever encountered: enemies bumble along haphazardly-placed routes, every jump is easy to make and even the physics are incredibly basic, with no real sense of weight or momentum behind them. On the other hand, they're not bad enough to provoke you into a frothing rage or anything. The biggest problem with the mechanics of the game comes when you need to make a series of quick jumps. It can be hard to tell when you need to jump because, if you look closely, Mario's feet never actually touch the ground while he's doing his running animation and so figuring out whether you're on solid footing is more of a hassle than it really needed to be.
Mario meets a Koopa Troopa in a narrow corridor, but Mario has a crate which will sort things out nicely. Just look at their eyes, both combatants wide-eyed and fearful. I don't know what Mario has to be scared about, he's got a full health bar and a wooden box. Maybe it's the adrenaline working. I'd say it's all the mushrooms he's been eating, but, y'know there aren't any in this Mario game.
It's Bowser again, and the fight is the same, again. My main gripe with it, aside from it being slow and boring, is that Mario can't duck under Bowser's fireballs despite it looking like he should definitely be able to, and in the situation pictured above Mario will take damage. It's possible he's been wearing his hat so long that it's fused directly into his nervous system. In fact, now I think about it I don't think there's any attack in the game that Mario can duck under, because his crouching and standing hit-boxes are about the same size. Combine that with his inability to travel down pipes and at least you're going to save some wear on your d-pad's down button.
Super Mario Bros? Forget all that! It's gone, man! After a couple of stages, Gamtec grew tired of their efforts to bring Nintendo's classic to the Megadrive and instead padded the rest of the game out with a bunch of levels in the typical jungle-fire cave-industrial zone mould. I suspect they figured, probably accurately, that no-one was going to bother playing past the first couple of stages so they might as well recycle the worlds from Squirrel King. If people did continue the adventure - sad, miserable people with nothing better in their lives - then so what, they've already bought the game and everyone at Gamtec knocks off for an early lunch. You're still playing as Mario, but nothing else in the game from here on out is Mario-related. The gameplay is still the same, which is the bigger disappointment.
I suppose you could argue that this monkey is some member of the Kong family. Shitty Kong, perhaps.
The jungle is home to Super Mario World's only interesting bit of platforming: these slabs of rock slide away along their fault lines when Mario stands on them, and they're quite good fun to negotiate so it's a shame they only appear in about four of the game's screens. They're still a little juddery and don't move in quite the directions you'd expect, but then this is a pirate hack-job so it's a miracle they work at all.
The boss of the jungle is a giant flying pig with a helicopter backpack who attacks by dripping one drop of liquid at a time towards Mario's head. Basically you're doing battle with Porky Pig after he lost his mind and set about implementing the least-practical version of Chinese water torture he could imagine. Okay, so maybe it's not Porky himself, but look at that pig's face and tell me that's not the face of true madness.
As with all the fights in the game, it boils down to avoiding the boss while you use up all your fireballs, and then avoiding the boss some more while you wait for what feels like a long and deathless aeon for a throwable object to fall into the arena. They seem to be water canteens, in this instance. Mario must be trying to kill the watery pig through the power of sheer irony.
The next stage has a less strongly defined theme, although "rock formations and the chasms they create" are a big part of it, as are these well-coiffed rat-foxes who throw projectiles at Mario. What are those things, anyway? Oversized push-pins? I think they might be the swords that bullfighters use, actually. There's nothing in the rule book that says a floppy-haired rat-fox in a life vest can't be a bullfighter! I'm sure that will be fixed next time they update the rule book.
Then it's into a volcano, a place that platforming heroes love to visit even though it's inside a volcano. There's more of an emphasis on platforming (as opposed to crate-bashings) here, and as Mario leaps between tiny platforms suspended over a sea of lava while small fireballs leap up in the gaps, for a moment it almost, almost feels like it could be from a proper Mario game. It's got me wondering what the next boss is going to be. Will it just be Bowser again, an endless stream of Bowsers stretching from here until the end of the game, or will Gamtec have put in the slightest bit of effort and come up with something new? Something that's probably not Mario-related - nothing else in the game seems like it's going to be - but something interesting, at least?
Okay, you got me. I'm interested. I defy anyone to not be interested in a hard-hat wearing ostrich riding a cross between a steamroller and a unicycle. Full marks for imagination, Gamtec, although you'll lose some points for making the boss so big that it doesn't fit into the arena properly. It's head reaches well into the top level, but Mario can stand up there without having to worry about the ostrich's head slamming into his feet. The hard-hat is for Mario's protection too, obviously. The ostrich will probably end up being glad of the hard-hat, because he's going to fall off his contraption at some point. He can't even hold on to it properly, his stubby wings struggling to reach the frame of the vehicle. You just had to combine the practicality of the road-roller with the irritating whimsy of the unicycle, didn't you? Above a lava pit, no less. Hopefully when you fall into the lava it will solidify around you, providing future archaeologists with, if not a puzzle, then at least a good laugh.
After all that lava, Mario cools off with a stage that seems to have been created when the developers reached into a sack labelled "Platformer Background Ideas" and pulled out "waterfalls" and "oil drums." Forget that, though, and check out the ostrich at the bottom of the screen. No uniroller for him, he runs back and forth, getting the way and providing artists with a valuable lesson: don't draw your ostriches flesh-coloured, because their wings look like disgusting flaps of loose skin and their head looks a bit like a ballsack with eyes drawn on.
Why are you wearing a bow tie, Mr. Snake? Where are you going that has such a strict dress code? Tarzan's wedding? Ooh, you think you're so much better than me, don't you, just because I'm wearing dungarees. You wouldn't be so smug if I had a crate in my curiously spherical hands.
If you've already ripped off two franchises, my not make it a triple? That seems to be the motto that Gamtec lives by, because the music in this stage is very familiar. Familiar if you've played Donkey Kong Country, anyway, because it's the main theme from Donkey Kong Country with a bassline that sounds like it's being played on a robot with severe intestinal problems.
Where the previous stages were all flat, horizontal affairs, this one is all about climbing upwards, using lifts, logs that bob in and out of the water and the backs of friendly turtles. "Friendly turtles" is a pretty alien concept to Mario, who is simply relieved to have found a turtle in this game that he can jump on without taking damage.
Having to take the upwards path is a welcome change of pace, and even with the unengaging, momentum-free physics it's not too bad an experience the occasionally flirts with becoming enjoyable... but just as it does so you start to feel the stage dragging on. Every waterfall you climb feels like it should be the end of the stage, but they just keep on coming, the same jumping between platforms arranged in layouts almost identical to the ones you've climbed before, a Sisyphean punishment in which the eternal boulder is replaced by Mario's fat gut. Super Mario World isn't a long game - you could probably finish it in an hour or so - but by god it feels long.
It doesn't help the game's feeling of being over-stretched that all the boss fights are fundamentally identical, even if they are against a military rhino stuffed into a tank. Shit just got serious for Babar. The boss lost his legs in the vicious Rhino-Elephant war, but he didn't see it as a handicap - he saw it as an opportunity.
Then every suddenly switches to a horror theme, with Lovecraftian trees - I think they might be junior versions of Shub-Niggurath from Quake - and the ghosts of dogs. Dripping, green, ectoplasmic hound spirits, forever cursed to wander the mortal realm in search of the bones they buried. If they can't find their bones they'll be happy to take Mario's, or at least they would be if they weren't so susceptible to a crate in the muzzle. Who ya gonna call? Crate-throwers!
Joking aside, those trees are really creepy. They don't attack or anything, they just silently watch as Mario makes his way through wherever the hell this is supposed to be. It's weird seeing crosses in a Mario game, too. If you ever hear anyone saying "I'd like Mario games more if they weren't so childish and cartoony," give them a slap. Then make them play this.
What is this, Castlevania? I hope Dracula is waiting at the top of this tower, or at least Bowser in a cape.
Nope, it's a buffalo genie. Sure, why not. Nothing could be more appropriate for the horror setting than a buffalo genie that makes bells fall from the sky. I'm certainly horrified. I wonder what vessel the buffalo genie lives in? It can't be a lamp, surely. My guess is a cheap tobacco tin decorated with a "native American" scene, of the kind you can find in god-awful tat shops and cheap market stalls the length and breadth of the country.
As for the fight, there isn't one. The boss doesn't do anything except float around at the top of the screen. He moves in such a way that I suspect he's supposed to be throwing projectiles, but he isn't. This is either down to emulation problems or Super Mario World being really badly made. Seems like a fifty-fifty call to me.
The final level is set in a factory. A videogame factory, where all they make is awkward platforming and the layout consists of conveyor belts over pits and randomly-placed girders. You've seen it all before, both in this game and many others, and there aren't any new enemies or gimmicks beyond the conveyor belts, which I suppose you could class as both.
It's Barnett's factory, if this logo is any clue, and Barnett is depicted as an elephant who is shocked and appalled to be looking at the end of his own trunk. "Eww, gross, I sprayed water on my friends from out of there!"
This must be Barnett himself. You look much less adorable than on your company logo, sir. Please stop trying to sit on me, I am but a humble plumber trying to smash as many animals with crates as possible.
Barnett takes his combat tactics straight from (appropriately enough) Bowser at the end of Super Mario Bros. 3, in that he jump in the air and tries to land on Mario's head. You don't have to lure him into smashing through the floor and falling to his death, of course, because that would require Gamtec to make some tiny amount of effort to change things up. Instead you just avoid his backside and throw fireballs / mallets at him until he's had enough and fades away into nothingness. It's very easy, and frankly I'm glad it is. I did not want to have to attempt this fight multiple times. I'm more than ready for Super Mario World But Actually A Little Bit of Super Mario Bros. Plus Some Unrelated Stages: Totally Legit I Swear Sega Genesis Edition to be over, and now it is.
As a reward for your endeavours, you're shown a bunch of the game's enemies - but not the bosses - and a selection of names, There is not relation between the enemies and the names. This bee isn't called Chip, surely? They just didn't change it from Squirrel King's ending. That also explains why there's an enemy called "Candle" and it isn't the monster shaped like a candle. He's called Dick, apparently.
And the meaty ostrich is called Wang. Dick and Wang, huh? Well, you can get a good juvenile snigger out of the ending, so there's that.
Super Mario World is possibly the most pointless videogame I have ever played. There's almost nothing to it beyond remembering to carry a crate with you as often as possible. The vast majority of the platforming is so basic that you might as well be skipping through a very flat spring meadow, and the only time I managed to lose a life by falling into a hole was because I was attempting over-ambitious jumps between moving platforms in an attempt to hurry the bloody thing along. Brief arse-clouds of an idea are introduced, barely implemented then immediately dropped, like the switches that activate moving platforms - switches that only appear in one stage and are always right next to the platforms they operate. I think my favourite example of this was when the game gave me an invincibility power-up immediately before a long corridor with no enemies, no holes and no way to take damage. The net effect? It was the same as regular gameplay, except now Mario was flickering in an annoying way. It's not even bad enough to get enjoyably worked up about, either. It's Tesco brand baked beans, it's Antiques Roadshow, it's getting socks for Christmas as an adult. I'm sorry if I offended any Sonic the Hedgehog fans at the start of this article but hey, Sonic is definitely better than this.