Romhack Thursday: Speculative Super Mario Bros. Prototype Recreation

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

Some months ago there were the “Gigaleaks,” huge troves of internal Nintendo files and documents that revealed a lot about abandoned projects and the development history of popular games.

There was so much information in them that people are still discovering new details. One thing that was surprisingly overlooked was source code for the version of Super Mario Bros. included in the SNES remake within Super Mario All-Stars. The source contained quite a lot of interesting commented-out lines and other data, that seemed to indicate that it may have been a hacked-up version of the source to the original Super Mario Bros.

A lot (but not all!) of this has been covered on the Prerelease page for Super Mario Bros. on The Cutting Room Floor. You can go read about it there. There resides information on scrapped enemies and objects, weird modes and behaviors of existing objects, and lots of other curiosities.

For the 38th anniversary of the release of Super Mario Bros., Nimaginendo Games made a romhack that seeks to recreate many of these abandoned elements, and shows it off in a Youtube video. The hack can be downloaded from a link in the video’s description, but only for a little while! I should emphasize that it’s not a real prototype, but a speculative recreation based on information from the leaked source. It even has an older version of SMB’s title screen.

Extra! Did you know that an early working English title for Super Mario Bros. was Mario’s Adventure? And Nintendo of America even made a promotional flyer with that name! These images come from Flyer Fever:

Super Mario Bros. Beta/Prototype recreated in 2023 (Youtube, 8 minutes, link to rom in the video’s description)

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 (romhacking.net)

Super Mario Bros Level Glitches

The Youtube channel Retro Game Mechanics has done a series of three videos on glitches in Super Mario Bros. One involves using the NES game Tennis, which has a certain property of its code that allows you to load all kinds of funky levels in SMB.

They’re all interesting, but the one that floats my particular boat is the third, which turns into a deep dive in the compressed manner that Super Mario Bros. stores its levels in ROM, and uses to draw them during play in real time.

1. Access Glitch Worlds in Super Mario Bros. via NES Tennis (13 minutes)

2. Exploring Glitch Level Pointers In Super Mario Bros. (15 minutes)

3. Super Mario Bros. Glitch Levels Explained (30 minutes — this is the one embedded above)

Princess Peach Through The Years

Wonderful blog Thrilling Tales of Video Games did a retrospective last month that went through all the various versions of Princess Peach there’s been. Interestingly, while Peach’s look largely solidified in the promo art for Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 (the insanely hard one, a.k.a. “The Lost Levels”), before that there were all kinds of takes on the character, ranging from Miyamoto’s own drawing (used in the box art of Super Mario Bros. in Japan) to a variety of versions all trying to adapt her single sprite image from the ending of SMB.

Peach in this illustration was drawn by Shigeru Miamoto himself. (Image from blog)
And this is the first version of modern Peach. (Image from blog)

The post features a whole bushel of Peaches, many barely seen outside of Japan. Recommended highly!

Thrilling Tales of Video Games: A Parade of Princess Peach Prototypes

The Secret of SMB’s Hidden 1UP Blocks

Super Mario Bros. has 10 “1UP” blocks throughout its eight worlds. One of them is in World 1-2, and another is in world 8-2. These are visible (although they appear to be ordinary bricks when hit), and always produce a 1UP Mushroom when hit.

But also, there are a total of eight other 1UP Mushroom blocks in the game. These are hidden, invisible and intangible unless struck from beneath. That causes them to appear and produce a 1UP Mushroom… sometimes.

The 1UP blocks are always in the first level of each world (1-1, 2-1, 3-1, and so on.). They also always appear if you start on that level (say, using the level selection feature unlocked after finishing 8-4) or if the player has just warped to that level. But in other situations, the block usually doesn’t appear.

Image from Stephen Lindholm’s website. Text is from Nintendo’s “How to Win at Super Mario Bros.”

What causes them to appear? Even Nintendo’s guide authors at the time didn’t know. Depending on the source, it either had to do with whether Mario was big when he hit it, or whether he found all the coins in the previous world.

Stephen Lindholm’s website has the details on the true criteria, and you should read it there, but to summarize:

  • There is a flag in the game that is set when a game is begun, when the player warps, or if the player has collected a certain number of coins in the third level of the previous world. 1-3, 2-3, 3-3, etc. That is the deciding factor.
  • How many coins is needed? In World 1-3, it’s all but two. In all the other X-3 levels, you must collect every coin! The game has a short table in its code for the minimum number of coins necessary to earn the mushroom on each level.
  • If you do this, the flag is set. When you get to the following world’s first level, when the 1UP Mushroom block would be generated by the game’s world building code (which operates off the screen to the right of the player’s location), if the flag is set, the invisible block is placed and the flag is unset.
  • If the player dies before collecting it, or never hits it, either way the mushroom is lost.

Romhack Thursday: Vs. Super Mario Bros on NES

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

Nintendo is a company with a long history, having gotten started making playing cards. They jumped into the video gaming market, like a lot of companies, making dedicated consoles that were released only in Japan. It was the release of the arcade game Donkey Kong that started them on the path to becoming the worldwide success they are today.

Title screen for the Vs. Super Mario Bros hack

The sales of Donkey Kong, and successor games like Donkey Kong Kr., Donkey Kong 3, and Mario Bros., put a lot of Nintendo cabinets out there. In the mid 80s there arose a market for upgrade kits, an alternate set of internal components for an arcade machine that could make it into a new game for players to enjoy. Simultaneous with the success of the Famicom and NES, Nintendo sold a kit called the “Vs. System” that their old cabinets could be converted into, as well as dedicated cabinets that used it.

Among the software Nintendo made for their Vs. cabinets, so they made special arcade versions of many of their NES cartridges for it. Many of these are expanded versions of the originals, with new features. We’ve already looked at Vs. Castlevania, a version of Castlevania remixed for the Vs. Unisystem by Konami. One of these updated versions was of Nintendo’s first huge Famicom hit, called Vs. Super Mario Bros.

Hey, that flower’s supposed to be a 1 Up Mushroom!

Vs. Super Mario Bros. seems, at first, a lot like the original game. It’s got a high score screen and some other minor changes. Players familiar with the Famicom/NES version will find that it changes significantly as they get further into it. Many later levels are completely changed, and much harder. When Nintendo released the Japan sequel to Super Mario Bros., they used levels from the Vs. System port to help flesh it out.

Many changes were made to the game to support arcade play. “Loops” where players could farm extra lives were toned down or removed, extra lives in general were reduced in number, and warp zones don’t take the player nearly as far into the game. Another change made was to add operator adjustable difficulty, allowing the cabinet owner to set how many coins were needed for an extra life.

SUPER PLAYER’S

Through emulation, Vs. Super Mario Bros is completely supported in MAME. But for technical reasons, you can’t just play MAME roms in an NES emulator. If you’d like to play it in the emulator of your choice, or have a means to get it running on actual hardware, creator BMF54123 applied all of the play changes of the arcade version back into the NES version of Super Mario Bros., and even added a title screen that allows you to apply the same difficulty settings that were available to an arcade operator.

Expect a number of tricks that would later get reused in the Japanese sequel to Super Mario Bros.

If you’ve never played Super Mario Bros before… then wow, I’m impressed you even found this blog. But also, this is perhaps not the best way to experience the game now. The demands of arcade design make for a much more challenging experience than the original. If you’re very familiar with the home versions, though, it can be an interesting new way to experience it.

Vs. Super Mario Bros for NES (romhacking.net)

Sundry Sunday: Mario Twins

This one’s really going back a ways. The description on this 2012 video says it’s a Newgrounds classic, and I was not a habitué of that site then, I’m sure it goes back to at least 2005.

It is a type of meme video that long time internet layabouts will recognize the irreverent take on some property, in this case Super Mario Bros. done up in a whimsical yet somewhat profane way. The highlight of the audio, though, comes after the introduction, where performers Group X do a voiced rendition of playing Super Mario Bros., including music and sound effects, back by drum and cymbal (and, later, bass). Being a part of gamer culture from that that you can expect some coarseness (like a crude Flash animation of poop being tossed at a toilet). Some people like that kind of thing I hear, I can’t tell you why.

The attributes of early Flash animation are prominently on display, like copious use of tweens. Flash is still around as an animation tool, and I presume tweening is still available, but with the death of browser-based Flash (not counting Ruffle) recall of the unique crappiness of badly-made shape tweens is rapidly fading from internet memory.

Well, there it is. Hey, it’s Sunday, I’m not supposed to be stressing about posts made today!

Hempuli Translates Finnish Super Mario Manual Back Into English

Hempuli is the creator of the brillian Baba Is You, as well as other games. He’s known to tweet from time to time, and lately he translated some of the text from the quirky Finnish translation of Super Mario Bros. back into English, making an effort to retain some of its distinctive weirdness. Here is that thread, unrolled for your convenience. Here’s a couple of highlights:

Hurry Mario and save Princess Chanterelle of Mushroomoom land!
“Willowherbs” is the translator’s attempt to do something with the “field horsehair plants” in the English manual that have mystified players for decades now.
Daddy-longlegs?

Introducing the Gripe Monster

The Gripe Monster lives in a cave on the premises, and hates everything. In its mind, nothing has ever been great, but it always used to be better. It has demanded the opportunity to vent its three spleens here every once in a while. We have agreed, in order to shut it up, and so long as it confines its rantings to occasional Sunday evenings. Take it away, Gripey!

Don’t call me Gripey!

Rarr! I am the Gripe Monster! Fear me! I will talk your ear off if given the opportunity! Do you know how much a doctor charges to reattach an ear? And you can’t sue me for injury, judges think I don’t exist!

But I do exist! I’m not just a piece of pixel art! And I am displeased. This time the object of my formidable ire is a dumb listicle!

In particular my woeful focus is fixed upon an article on a website, titled 10 Games You Probably Didn’t Know Started As Arcade Games! It makes my bile boil, and my blood clog! It upsets all of my monsterly fluids!

Three of the series listed are Tetris, Super Mario Bros., and “Space Wars!” This article, it makes me breathe FIRE! None of these series started in arcades! It doesn’t even get the original name of Space War right! My sensibilities are agitated! They cannot even claim defense due to Mario starting in Donkey Kong, for they list that as a separate series!

I do blame the author, for my anger is indiscriminate, but my wrath is tempered with the understanding that writing is difficult and research is time-consuming, although the histories of these series are by no means secret! Much more, I blame the site that let it pass without question. Grar, I say! Grar and grar again! I swipe at it with my mighty claws, and I bite it with my awful tusks!

If you do not wish to suffer my wrath in the future, please edit your articles with greater care! And get off my lawn!

Management wishes to express that we bear no ill-will towards either the author or the site, although the points Gripey brings up are technically accurate. Mistakes happen!

Stop undercutting my rant!

Sundry Sunday: MST3K & Rifftrax Gaming Clips

You’ve made it another Sunday! For making it this far, why not take a break with some fun things? The whole point of Sundry Sunday is to be a low effort thing for the end of the week, but to be honest I couldn’t resist putting in a little extra work on this one.

It might not be evident on the surface, but the classic riffing show Mystery Science Theater 3000 has roots deeply entwined with video games. The show’s staff were known to spend off hours playing Doom against each other on a company LAN they had made for that purpose. During the show, they produced a clip that was distributed on the PlayStation Underground magazine CDs in which they riffed on some of Sony’s artsy commercials from that time (above).

After the original run of the show ended, some of the cast and crew drifted for a bit, doing various projects. One was a short-lived web comedy magazine called Timmy Big Hands, which we might look at some day. Show leads Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett did a couple of other things together, like a four episode movie riffing project called The Film Crew, before they eventually settled into doing Rifftrax, a project the three of them work on to this day.

While at Rifftrax, they’ve produced at least two game riffing clips. The first was made for sadly-departed gaming site Joystiq, and riffs on Mega Man, Final Fantasy X, Sonic the Hedgehog and, especially, something from the Metal Gear Solid series, which I would think is the perfect fodder for such video merrymaking:

Afterward they made another short clip for IGN riffing on Gears of War 3:

Rifftrax makes their living producing and selling clips making fun of shorts and movies, and one of those is the 1993 schlockfest Super Mario Bros. I call it schlock, but it’s one of those movies that critical opinion has slowly been coming around on over the years since its release. More and more it’s being seen as a competently-made and entertaining kids’ sci-fi fantasy movie perfectly of a piece with the era in which it was made-it’s just not a very good adaptation of the games with which it shares a title.

Rifftrax sells the whole Super Mario Bros. riff, complete with the movie on which it’s based, on their site. I highly recommend it, but IGN presents a nine-minute clip teaser from it on YouTube:

Link Roundup, 4/19/2022

Sega looks to revive Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio properties

On using a serial port SD card reader on a Sega Dreamcast

How a Sonic fanfic writer ended up leading Sonic Frontiers

A roguelite that looks like an 80s Saturday Morning cartoon

Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games could be coming to Switch Online

Old Super Mario Bros. anime restored in hi-def quality and available to stream or download

The anime appears to have the “sucked into gameworld” premise used in Captain N: The Game Master and Bug tte Honey
Cameo by special guest star Gamera!