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Virtually Overlooked: Punch Ball Mario Bros./Mario Bros. Special


When companies other than Nintendo produce and publish games in Nintendo franchises, the results are invariably freaky. In the worst case, the world ends up with something like Hotel Mario and the CD-I Zelda games: unplayable, amateurish games that would actually harm the console they appeared on if said console were not already doomed to flame out. The best case doesn't actually exist for outside-published games, so we'll say it's when Nintendo publishes a franchise game developed by someone else and it puts a fresh spin on an existing series, like Metroid Prime or Super Mario RPG.

The Hudson computer games, like Super Mario Bros. Special, go somewhere in the middle of that ad hoc scale. They don't irrevocably blemish the franchises in which they're made (I still can't think of Zelda, meanwhile, without WONDERING WHAT'S FOR DINNER), but neither are they good enough to contain any ideas that need following up.

Like they did with Super Mario Bros. Special, Hudson Soft remade the original Mario Bros. (which is becoming somewhat of an obscure title itself these days) for Japanese computer systems. Also like Super Mario Bros. Special, the remake is a bit awkward and contains gameplay elements not found in the original, for no discernible reason. Unlike Super Mario Bros. Special, Hudson decided to remake Mario Bros. twice, with two different new game designs.

Mario Bros. Special pretty much looks like Mario Bros. -- platforms against a black background, turtle enemies, and such -- but it isn't Mario Bros. at all. Instead of knocking enemies upside down and kicking them to clear a level, the levels feature various challenges. The first level, which has no enemies at all, requires Mario to flip switches and then reach the top of the screen before they flip back. The second requires Mario to land on every platform before exiting.

Punch Ball Mario Bros. hews more closely to the original game, but is, conceptually, even stranger than Special. Punch Ball is basically Mario Bros., except each Bro has a big ball on screen that can be knocked into the enemies. For some reason, the idea of inserting one random new major gameplay element into an existing game bothers me than altering the gameplay totally. It's like porting over Tetris but giving each piece its own chimpanzee sidekick. And why a punch ball? And why remake Mario Bros. again?

I don't claim to be an expert on these games -- rather, I claim to be a guy who saw one webpage about them written by a guy who played them for a few minutes. There just isn't much info. But I don't have to be an expert to say that I know that I would happily put money into my Wii for them.

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