Super Mario Bros. Deluxe

Developer: Nintendo (EAD Division)
U.S. Manufacturer: Nintendo
U.S. Release: April 1999
Format: Game Boy Color Cartridge

Based on: The realization that if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.

Games | Game Boy | Super Mario Bros. Deluxe

Article by Jeremy Parish | August 6, 2009

Mario?'s first few adventures on Game Boy? were fine little games that succeeded on their own termsóbut they weren't exactly authentic recreations of the NES experience. With the advent of the Game Boy Color, which was essentially a portable NES, Nintendo finally decided, "Alright, now we can do this right." And thus, Super Mario Bros. DX -- the closest thing to a perfect NES-to-Game Boy port the world ever saw.

DX fits uneasily into the larger world of the Mario ports and/or remakes that Nintendo likes to line its nest with. Unlike Super Mario All-Stars and the Mario Advance series, DX's graphics and audio are taken straight from the NES games. Despite the unchanged visuals, though, the versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Lost Levels presented here aren't just slavish ports. Where All-Stars on Super NES aspired to near-exact reproductions of Mario's 8-bit adventures with beefier visuals, DX makes considerable tweaks to the games. That's "considerable" -- not necessarily "substantial." Level layouts, control physics, enemy behavior: they're all the same in DX as they had been on NES. At the same time, Nintendo performed a bit of chicanery through reprogramming: Yoshi's Island-style red coins were added to both games, five per level, and Luigi? was adapated to be more than a mere Mario palette-swap in the original Super Mario Bros.

If all of this sounds similar to the Mario Advance series, that's perfectly fitting. Super Mario Bros. DX is probably best regarded as Super Mario Advance Zero, the prototype for the Game Boy Advance remakes that would arrive in the following years. There's a reason the Advance line skipped the first Super Mario Bros. and its Japanese sequel, and that reason is because they had already been released on GBC.

And no question about it, DX was an impressive sight to behold. For all that people complained about Nintendo's seeming complacency in launching the GBC as a modest upgrade to the original system, having a portable version of such an iconic game in portable form -- looking and sounding so absolutely perfect -- was the sort of thing to make a die-hard NES fan giddy. Granted, it also highlighted the system's shortcomings; as with so many direct NES ports, DX chafed at the restrictions of the GBC screen. Nintendo did make an effort to compensate for the screen cropping by giving players the ability to scroll up and down while standing motionless, but the feature was completely useless when it was needed most, i.e. when Mario was moving at breakneck speed. The later stages of Super Mario Bros., which required running leaps of faith the length of the NES screen onto tiny targets, were especially unforgiving. And The Lost Levels, already a grueling labor in its original incarnation, could be downright infuriating.

Even at its most frustrating, though, Super Mario Bros. DX was a concentrated dose of videogame happiness, a welcome sign of things to come. It was by far the most impressive Game Boy conversion of an NES game anyone had ever seen, and while playing console games on portable system wasn't precisely unheard of by that point, handheld consoles such as Nomad and Turbo Express had been unreasonably expensive. Here, though, was a faithful console conversion on the humble Game Boy -- a harbinger of far more impressive ports that would appear on subsequent portables.

Yeah, sure, most of Game Boy Advance's 16-bit remakes were lazily-programmed garbage, but that's just the nature of the medium. Super Mario Bros. DX spoke of handheld gaming's blossoming potential... and it was pretty fun on its own terms, too.

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