If you fancy playing some classic Mario, there are plenty of ways to go about it. You can buy a tiny NES or SNES Classic, for instance, or subscribe to Nintendo's Switch Online service. There's also Super Mario Maker, legally grey emulation and, of course, the original cartridges if you own a NES, SNES or modern console equivalent like the Analogue Super NT. In the not-too-distant future, though, there might be another way to get your fix of Nintendo nostalgia: a beautiful fan game called Super Mario Flashback.
The 2D platformer will reinterpret levels from many different Mario games. These include the original Super Mario Bros. and three-dimensional adventures such as Super Mario 64. Some platform and enemy layouts will be familiar to people who have played the original games. Others will be subtly tweaked or completely revamped to surprise players or provide a different challenge.
The big draw, though, is the visuals. Super Mario Flashback has some truly gorgeous pixel art that is both distinctive and faithful to the portly plumber's original adventures. The latest demo, presented at the Sonic Amateur Games Expo (SAGE) in August, is a brilliant blend of green pipes, Goombas and bouncing Koopa Paratroopers. Every asset, including Mario, has a fresh but recognizable look that truly pops on screen. The overhaul won't be for everyone (my colleague Mat Smith isn't a fan) but you can't dispute the detail and consistency across each level.
Flashback doesn't just look different -- it plays differently, too. Mario has a three-segment health bar, similar to the pinwheel in Super Mario 64, rather than the usual mushroom system that grants a one-hit shield. Mario can also jump and slide down walls, granting safe access to higher-placed platforms, stars and question-mark boxes. These moves are possible in modern Mario games, such as New Super Mario Bros., but not the original NES titles.
Flashback has two obvious parallels: Sonic Generations and Sonic Mania. The first was an ultra-glossy platformer that revisited almost every game in Sonic history. The second, more successful title celebrated Sonic's roots with remixed zones and pixel art inspired by the Genesis classics. Flashback feels like a blend of the two, with its updated sprites and assorted levels inspired by Mario titles new and old. The big difference, of course, is that Generations and Mania were official Sega titles; Flashback is being made by a bunch of indie developers for fun.
The fan game was conceived by a 20-year-old student known as Mors online. He grew up in Turkey and discovered Mario at the age of six through a knock-off NES console called a Famiclone. It came with an impressive '10,000 games in one' cartridge that included the original Super Mario Bros. "That was probably the first 'real' game I played," he told me over Discord. The year was 2004, though, and the PlayStation 2 was the king of consoles. Mors played Sony's legendary system at a friend's house and soon persuaded his parents to buy one, too. Unsurprisingly, the youngster "kind of forgot about Mario" for the next few years.