Romhack Thursday: Super Mario Bros. Tweaked

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

The 2D Super Mario Bros. games illustrate pretty well how game design tastes were changing through the NES era. Super Mario Bros. and Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 still follow an arcade-like paradigm, where players are expected to lose many games before they finally rescue the princess. (Obviously, Vs. Super Mario Bros, being a coin-op game and which was released between those two, adheres to an arcade play ethic out of necessity.)

But Super Mario Bros. 2 is more of an adventure, where a skilled player might finish it on their first try, and an experienced Mario master can amass so many extra lives in Super Mario Bros. 3, as soon as World 1-2, as to make finishing it on the first attempt quite possible. Then when we move into Super Mario World we have outright game saving, and the fear of the Game Over screen recedes almost completely. That is the structure that all the later Mario games have followed, where losing progress is fairly unlikely.

I am not here to claim that this is a bad thing, and of course, even Super Mario Bros. offers to let the player continue on the world they lost on with the use of a code. But the code is still a secret, and while it isn’t a bad thing, it is a different thing. Super Mario Bros. with the copious extra lives and rule changes of later games, would be much a different experience to play through, even if all the levels are unchanged.

The romhack Super Mario Bros. Tweaked, created by Ribiveer, makes those changes. The worlds are exactly the same, but many subtle aspects of SMB have been brought into line with its sequels. Here is a list:

• Starmen count the number of enemies you defeat while invincible, increasing scoring, and if you get enough you start earning extra lives. This change alone will earn you tons of extra lives.

• Extra lives over 10 are displayed correctly on the level start screen, and are limited to 99. Mario’s state on the start screen is properly updated based on his powerup state.

• If you hold the jump button down while stomping on an enemy, you get extra height. This happens in Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 as well, of course.

• Consecutive stomps and enemies defeated by shells and Starmen increase the pitch of the enemy defeat noise as points increase, as they do in Super Mario World and later 2D Mario games.

• Taking a hit while Fiery Mario reduces you to Super status. Also, if you make a Fire Flower appear, then take a hit before collecting it and get reduced to Small Mario, collecting the Flower still advances you to Fiery state.

• Reaching the top of a flagpole awards you not points but an extra life.

• Invisible extra life blocks aren’t disabled if you failed to collect enough coins in the previous world’s third level, as explained in our previous post.

• Collecting a powerup in midair no longer ends your jump.

• The conditional scroll stop at the end of 1-2 and 4-2, which is broken in the unmodified game, work now, making it much harder to reach the famous Minus World. It’s still possible to reach it; the patch author promises a surprise if you do.

Some of these changes mean that players get a lot more extra lives, greatly decreasing the game’s difficulty. Consider that now, 38 years after the game’s release, far fewer play Super Mario Bros. than they used to. Someone might dust off their old NES some time, or play it on Virtual Console or through Nintendo Online on Switch, or emulate it by some other means.

But most people now who play SMB are probably people who are at least very good at it: streamers and speedrunners. People who don’t need the game to be made any easier. A patch like this might open Super Mario Bros. up to people who always thought it was too difficult, though.

It does feel a touch fairer, without that expectation that players will lose over and over. If you always found the first Super Mario game too challenging, give this hack a try. The challenges are pretty much the same, but you’ll have quite a few more chances to learn to overcome them.

You can now binge on extra lives as easily as you can in later games
You don’t have to trigger the game’s secret condition to make extra life blocks appear
Oh almost forgot, some of the Cheep Cheeps are green now

Super Mario Bros. Tweaked, by Ribiveer (