Sometimes, a convergence of elements leads you to random thoughts. This one, going back to Super Mario Bros Deluxe, certainly is built on a fluke. It started when I was watching Game Grumps, since I’m a fan of the series. I often found inspiration in their videos, but never wrote it down.
Anyway, while watching them play the original Super Mario Bros, they discussed doing a speed run for the game. Even though I own and finished the game a dozen times, it never occurred to me to actually play it as fast as possible. I usually take the scenic route. That brought me to the nearby 3DS version, which recently added Super Mario Bros Deluxe to the virtual console and handed it out to anyone who registered a Nintendo Network ID. I figured it was a good way to both test my endurance and the Deluxe version I never tried before. Things didn’t go as smoothly as expected.
Again, the normal version of Super Mario Bros is a cinch by now. It takes about five minutes to head down to the last area, level 8-1. There are three more levels after that. Easy enough, right? No, Super Mario Bros Deluxe doesn’t make it easy. In fact, it makes it nigh impossible. Here’s a breakdown:
Super Mario Bros is a nearly exact replica of the original, but touched up. Graphics are smoother, glitches have been taken out and it has the ability to save progress. Those are good things. It also zooms in, to focus more on Mario and remove dead space. This is a bad thing. Essentially, it does the Netflix cropping thing. Instead of a full area, you get the focus of it, but that often leaves out vital details. In this case, those details get you killed.
A lot of Super Mario Bros revolves around momentum. Its platform elements are a little harder than today’s standards, but they make sense. As long as you stay moving and you take the right cues, it’s possible to fly through any level with relative ease. In Deluxe, however, cues are often left off-screen. Sometimes it’s a leap of faith that’s otherwise visible, other times it’s an incoming enemy. Adversely, it leaves Mario’s back exposed as well, since that portion is also cut short. Unlike the original, where the back part of the game disappears, the extended version of the game in Deluxe still exists. It’s like the cropped movie; the outer, invisible part is actually still there.
Especially when hitting the later levels, it makes progress impossible. Jumps require precisely hitting one block more and more, while enemies are also more frequent. Worse yet, Mario can’t make use of the shield kicking option, since audio cues that happen off screen nearly always arrive too late to anticipate the returning projectile. By zooming in like this, Super Mario Deluxe ruins the entire dynamic of the otherwise carefully calibrated game. What I thought would take me fifteen minutes at best ultimately lead to a struggle for survival. Goombas to the back of, cannons to the right; there I was, stuck in the middle of a nightmare. I just wanted to finish the game I completed a dozen times.
Now, Deluxe offers ways to cope with its zoomed in screen, but they don’t solve or even mitigate issues. By scrolling either left or right, it’s possible to view another portion of the screen, at the sacrifice of the counter side. Since the game is played left to right, the only sensible option is to always have the game edging to the right, so you can see what’s ahead. You can’t jump on what you can’t see. Doing so, however, your back could now at any point be subject to attack from enemies. You’d need to kill every enemy meticulously and just gun it on sections where objects spawn infinitely; with bullets, for example. That also doesn’t help for enemies thrown from above, since they could land off-screen and make their way back. It’s impossible to judge.
It’s said that this model adds a “difficulty” level to Deluxe, but what it really does is destroy the game’s balance. Super Mario Bros is pegged as one of the most formative games in the platform genre; standardizing almost all its elements for any of its peers. It’s hard to imagine Nintendo could mess up its own baby like this. Alternatively, Deluxe has different challenge modes, achievements and so on, but none do any justice over the fact that it ruined one of the most established platform games of all time.
It’s not even really a Game Boy ratio problem either, since other Mario games were released just fine and the original had the same scope. More than that, it’s a bad port job that shouldn’t receive an extended lifespan. Luckily, the Nintendo 3DS does also have the original Super Mario Bros. Stick with that, because no extra content in the world is worth running through Super Mario Bros Deluxe. It’s unbelievably heartbreaking.