Atari 7800 Review: Nintendo on Atari: Mario Bros.
By Brian Thomas Barnhart |
Hey, what is up everybody? Welcome back to 7800 Avenue! Carlos, “The Super Retro Mexican” is with me, along with Armando, the owner of Pixel Vault Games in Ontario, California. These guys are our resident NES gurus and we’re playing Nintendo games on the Atari 7800!
So today we’re going to be playing Mario Bros. on the Atari 7800! Not Super Mario Bros. MARIO BROS.! This is the original arcade Mario Bros., with the POW and the crabs, brought home in arcade-like quality on the Atari 7800. Let’s do it!
The first thing Armando and Carlos noticed about Mario Bros. was the jumping. It’s a pretty intense jump. Especially compared to what you’re probably used to in most Mario games. “Whoa! What’s up with the jump?” said Armando. “It’s just like.. wow! It’s not slow at all. You want to jump? We’ll make you jump! He’s wearing Air Jordans right there, look at that.”
“Just think, the game that would come right after this would change the world of video games. Super Mario Bros. This was it right here. This was where it started.”
– Brian Thomas Barnhart
Armando reflected on his first console: “You know, my mom couldn’t afford an NES. She was a single mom, just working. We wanted an NES so bad! So our first console was a ColecoVision. And in it was Donkey Kong. I mastered the Donkey Kong game on the ColecoVision.”
I bet Armando didn’t go “Man, I wish it looked like this..” because ColecoVision was pretty darn good back in the day. My version of Donkey Kong that I had was on the Intellivision. And it was terrible! It was the worst version of Donkey Kong that I’ve ever played.
“Well I mean, everybody grows up with something!” says Armando.
“You know, I think if you were kids that didn’t have a Nintendo and you had a chance to play Mario Bros. on Atari 7800 I don’t think you’d be complaining with this.”
– Brian Thomas Barnhart
Mario Bros. was a pretty cool arcade game. It has fun characters, rewarding bonus levels for collecting lots of coins, a cool “POW” block that knocks out all of the enemies on the screen at one time, and the game does a good job of increasing the challenge.
The game also introduces you to the story of Mario & Luigi for the first time, working together to fight these baddies. Along the way you’ll meet Shellcreepers, Sidesteppers, and Fighterflies. In later levels, Slipice the Iceman will turn the screen into an ice level, making the platforms slippery and making the game much more challenging to play.
“Mario the carpenter and his brother Luigi are at it again! This time they must rid their house of crawling pests! These bizarre creatures have names like Shellcreeper, Sidestepper, and Fighterfly. Test your skills as you bump these pesky bugs off brick floors into the water below. But beware of Slipice the Iceman. You must stop him before he covers the floors with a treacherous layer of slippery ice!”
– Mario Bros. Manual
Mario Bros. feels like a cross between Donkey Kong, with the levels and platforms and avoiding dangerous sprites coming at you, and Super Mario Bros., with the turtles and pipes and different characters. You can definitely see the seeds being planted for what would become the World of Mario.
“I’m liking how this game is playing right now. It looks good on the 7800.” says Carlos. “And Mario’s got a big nose. He’s got a sausage nose. That’s like a sausage right there, look at that! That’s a big nose!”
Armando also pointed out the artwork. “And the artwork! WAYY better artwork!” This is one of those rare instances where the 7800 can be proud of its cartridge labels, and where the artwork might actually be better than their NES counterparts.
“Look at the artwork. It’s awesome artwork on the cartridges. It’s just like on the side of the arcade cabinet. I still love the original Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior arcades. Those colors are just so vibrant” says Armando.
The artwork for Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Mario Bros. are all really, really good. They look a lot like the original Nintendo arcade cabinet artwork and are so full of vibrant colors that just make you want to pick up and play the game.
So let’s talk about this Nintendo NES-style controller for Atari. What better weapon of choice for playing Nintendo on Atari than the Atari 7800 Control Pad? The Atari Control Pad was released in 1987, and was Atari’s 2-button d-pad controller, similar to what Nintendo had on the NES. It has a cool design with removable thumb stick in the center of the d-pad that feels like a short throw joystick.
The Atari 7800 Control Pads were mostly sold in Europe where they came packed in with the system. Unfortunately the 7800 Control Pad wasn’t available in the United States despite being shown in “Atari Advantage” posters.
In fact, even if you called up Atari and tried to order one, they weren’t available at all. Not in the U.S. This has made them pretty uncommon in North America. An Atari 7800 “Action Set” with two Control Pads, Start/Select buttons, a Light Gun and two pack-in games including Barnyard Blaster would’ve gone a long way to making the 7800 more competitive.
In fact, he first batch of Atari 7800 Control Pads were imported into the country by this website, back around 2000 when the site was brand new and included a store that sold new Atari merchandise. Around that time other Atari vendors began to import the Atari 7800 Control Pads, finally making them available to gamers in the U.S. However after many years, the remaining Atari vendors are depleting their stock making your search for a 7800 Control Pad more likely to end up on eBay.
“So how do you compete with Nintendo, and not bring bring out the Atari 7800 control pad? That’s insane.”
– Brian Thomas Barnhart
There’s a huge lesson in Atari’s failure to package the awesome Atari 7800 Control Pad with the Atari 7800 system in the U.S. A controller should never be treated as a pointless necessity. It should be respected for what it can potentially be: an incredibly effective tool linking your mind to the action on screen. Many times, a good controller can be all you need. For many poorly designed game systems, however, a good controller is all they’re lacking.
In this episode we also got sidetracked into talking about video game kiosks, and sharing memories of how the Toys ‘R’ Us video game aisle used to be so legit. “Remind Carlos about how Toys ‘R’ Us used to be pretty cool with the video game section, you remember that?” said Armando.
The Toys ‘R’ Us video game aisle was a defining experience for anyone of that generation. It was a land of wonder. It was like every video game system you could dream of at the time was on display and lit up inside of a glass wall that you’d press your face to. NES with the Power Pad? YES! Sega Genesis? You got it! TurboGrafx-16, TurboExpress and TurboDuo? Bingo! Seriously, it was heaven.
You go down the aisle. You pick a tag, you pick a yellow piece of paper that had the game. You go to the little orange and blue wooden area, and you hand them the ticket. They’d open it up, and you’d look inside and see all the games and be like “oh my god!” And they’d come out and give you your game. This is the stuff Fridays were made of, folks. “That was the REAL Vault, right there!” says Armando.
So, what did we think of the game? Well, I love Mario Bros. and it plays really well on the Atari 7800. Looks good, plays good, and it can go head-to-head with the NES version any day. Armando and Carlos liked it too. “It’s good. The weird thing though is the jumping. You get used to it” says Carlos. Armando agrees, “The game is impressive. I’ll tell you that!”
He continued: “The jumping was actually impressive, I’ll tell you that! I’ll give you an example. On the Nintendo version, Mario jumps kinda like he’s on the moon, in a way. He’s kinda floaty. It’s like BOOP and that’s it. But on this one, on the Atari 7800 version, if you jump? He jumps! He just SHOOTS! At first I was like, ‘wait, wait!’ It’s a bit of a faster pace.”
I really want to thank Armando and Carlos for showing up and playing some Nintendo on Atari. We just played some of the biggest titles for them at the time, on an Atari. Thanks guys, I appreciate it! And if you’re looking for retro games, you gotta go check out Pixel Vault Games in Ontario, California. That’s where you gotta go.
And if you go into Pixel Vault and mention to Armando that you’ve seen the show, he’ll give you a pretty good hook up. He’s the king of the hookups though man. That’s really generous, thank you Armando! You can check out Pixel Vault Games on Instagram, and Carlos on Instagram too! We’re just gonna get together and play some games, sound good?
I hope you guys love Mario Bros. on Atari 7800. I know I do. Join us next time on 7800 Avenue! And check out Lynx Lounge and Jag Bar, those are great shows and we do it all here in the new studio and talk about some really great Atari games. See you on the next episode of 7800 Avenue!
The original Mario Bros. was created by Shigeru Miyamoto at Nintendo. Mario Bros. was released by Atari for the 7800 in 1988.
Brian Thomas Barnhart is a classic gaming aficionado, retro pop culture connoisseur, and a Senior Fellow at Atari I/O. He is host of The Jag Bar, Lynx Lounge, 7800 Avenue, and the Atari I/O After Hours Podcast. Brian is a Moderator in the Atari I/O Forums under the name btbfilms76. You can follow him on Instagram and at his YouTube channel.
model # CX7850