When you think of Mario, chances are always high that you instantly think of the Super Mario Brothers franchise. If asked to pick other game that our beloved plumber was in, you will almost always say as a second game, Donkey Kong. If you needed to try again, you might say the original Mario Brothers title. A different one? Super Mario World! Wait, that’s not it? You don’t mean Wrecking Crew or Hotel Mario, did you? No? Good. Oh, you mean portable? Super Mario Land! It’s gotta be! No? Okay, I give up. What? “Mario Clash” for Virtual Boy? You’ve got to be kidding! No kidding. This week, we are going to be taking a look at a game that is simple, lots of fun to play, but never got the recognition that it deserved based on format.
Mario Clash was released for the Virtual Boy on October 1, 1995 in the United States, and a few days previously, on September 28, 1995 in Japan. It was the first game in the Mario franchise to be three-dimensional, and was developed by Nintendo R&D1, the same group of people who were responsible for the development of the Virtual Boy console itself. The team made the Virtual Boy system solely because they felt that the public was not ready for the next generation of consoles at the time, with the failures of systems like the CD-i, Jaguar and 3DO formats. Something revolutionary was thought up: A console that created 2D images in a 3D way. The team needed to make some software to show off the new technology, and this game, along with Mario Tennis, were the final outcomes. Chances are however, that even if you have never played Mario Clash, or even if you never owned or touched a Virtual Boy system at all in your lifetime, that you have actually played Mario Clash at some point. See, Mario Clash is nothing more than a port of the original Mario Brothers title from 1983. Of course, there are a lot of differences between the two titles, with the technology side being the culprit this time around.
For those that never played the original Mario Brothers game, allow me to give you some insight. The object of the game is to knock all of the enemies off the screen. On the original Mario Brothers arcade game, you did this by stomping on them, and then kicking them off the screen. On this title however, you jump on the enemy, pick it’s shell up, and then throw it at the other enemies to accomplish this task much faster. While the original Mario Brothers did this with an elevation method (different horizontal levels), this game takes it a step further and introduces a foreground and a background level, which are connected by going through the pipes. You can hit enemies from the opposite side of the screen by throwing the enemy shell across the way, or by throwing it down the pipes and having it appear on the other side of the screen. The games only power up that is to be seen this time around, however, is a mushroom, which will initiate a power up called “Fever Time”, which is when the shell will defeat any enemy it can touch, regardless of what it can do to defend itself. There is also, as typical in almost every Mario game ever made, the ability to collect coins for extra points at the end of the level.
So what we are looking at is a recreated version of the original Mario Brothers, and one of the things that, for the most part that was completed correctly, was the old “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” aspect. The R&D1 team pretty much followed that rule, however one of the most famous parts of the original title (and one that was used in the US version of future games in the Super Mario Brothers franchise), was the POW box. On the original game, hitting a POW box would cause a minor earthquake of sorts, and cause every enemy to vanish from the screen. Sadly, this little sprite never made it to this game. All I can ask is, “How come?” The POW box became practically a trademark with Mario in a way, especially in the 2D era of gaming. Why wouldn’t it have been ported along with everything else? It just seems sad to me, because what this would indicate to me, is that the developers either weren’t real hardcore gamers looking for complete reproduction accuracy, or it could have just slipped their minds during development. I could imagine that the entire screen could have been shaken in all 4 directions, causing a fantastic effect. (Or maybe they thought that since the game console itself could have caused eye strain already, that it wouldn’t have been good to include it?) Either one of them, as far as I am concerned, is no excuse for its exclusion.
Also missing from the game is a save feature. I know that save features were not all that common especially on a “portable” console back in the day, but incorporating one could have been a very nice touch. You could have been able to save your high score on the cartridge, so when your friends come over to play Virtual Boy, they can see just how epic you were with playing the game. (That is, if you could get your friends to even play the console in the first place.) The game offers 99 levels in all, but it will allow you to start anywhere you want in the game! That is, as long as it’s between levels 1 and 40. Why not offer starting the game at any level you wish? Another reason that the lack of a save feature didn’t help the game, is because you could have been able to continue right where you left off. This way, there would not be a need for picking a level at all. And if the programmers were cool with letting you start anywhere, why did they stop at 40? And why level 40? Is there something about level 41? (Actually, there was something about Level 42, as the song and music group says.)
The Virtual Boy system was known for having crisp graphics, even if all you saw were the glorious colors of back and red shades. (The screen grabs throughout this review are nowhere near as crisp as they could be. It’s just difficult to get graphics from the Virtual Boy to a computer screen.) The original system was supposed to be able to produce color, but it was too expensive to manufacture as such, especially as a “filler” console until Nintendo 64 was released. The graphics on this title, despite the limitations of the console, were no exception. If you had the console focused properly, the sprites are incredibly crisp. The main problem however has to do with the actual background of the screen. With all of the red going on throughout the game, I think that having a plain black background would have been a better choice. Especially since the game is supposed to be taking place in an underground world. Again, the original Mario Brothers title had a black background, and it was not brought over for this one. With a console that asked you to take frequent breaks, I think that something simple like the plain background would have helped immensely.
The sound on the game is typical for any other Virtual Boy game. You’ll have nothing special to expect, unless you expect the music and sound effects to have Game Boy like tones. The sounds are very tin like, almost like you are playing the game in a can of soup. However, for a game like this, that could actually be somewhat of a good thing. Back in arcades in 1983, the sounds and background music was very much simplistic. And the music played for this title is very similar to what music would sound like at an arcade at the time. In fact, if you close your eyes, you may even find yourself digging in your pockets looking for a yet another quarter to insert. However, with the history of the other parts of actual development, it makes you wonder if this was intentional, or created as such based on the limitations of the sound chips on the console. Regardless, I think that it fits the game well, and truly will take you back to a better time in your life.
The controls are simple enough. The R or B buttons will allow you to jump. Pressing left or right along with the A button will cause you to throw your shells either to the left or to the right, and pressing up or down along with the A button will allow you to throw your shells to the foreground or background. Nothing extra fancy here, pretty standard stuff. The response time for the game is more than a little bit lagging however. This is due to the time it takes for the sprite to change views before doing its function. This will sadly bring you to a lot of frustration at the start. When you first start playing the game initially, you will almost always lose a life. Once you get the hang of the lag however, you’ll learn how fast you need to be to get the game to do what you want. But again, for a console concept that was supposed to be the future of gaming, it just wasn’t good enough.
This was an excellent homage to our beloved plumbers roots. Nearly any gamer by this point in the history of video games has played the original version of this title, and at some point in their lives, enjoyed it. If nothing else, it was a way to get someone who has never used a 3D console (which was everyone at this point in time) to get a chance to try the technology by playing a game that was familiar. (Which is exactly what I said in my Mario Tennis review a while back.) It’s a very simple game that is very addictive, and features characters that we all grew up with at the time. It’s been said by many people, that this game wasn’t terrible, it was just on “the wrong console”. I couldn’t agree more. If the game had been released or at least ported to the Super NES (which more than likely could have supported a game like this), I think it would have been very successful. But, since so little people owned a Virtual Boy since everyone was waiting for it, this title just got pushed aside. If you can get a copy of this game, pick it up, and enjoy it. Don’t plan to play it for hours, but for a good “time waster” as it could be called, it’s an enjoyable time once you get the hang of it.