Out of all of the stories I have playing Atari 2600 games, this one may be the longest. Indulge me, however.
So it’s the summer of 1986, and I am in deep envy as some of my friends got the new Nintendo Entertainment System and were enjoying titles like Excitebike, Zelda, and — of course — Super Mario Bros. The second I got my hands on SMB over the previous Christmas at a friend’s house, I was absolutely head-over-heels in love with its design and platforming fun. I played it at anyone’s house who had it and in the occasional arcade or Pizza Hut (although those versions were tougher).
But we weren’t getting an NES, at least any time soon, so my options for home Super Mario Bros play were limited. However, I thought I might have a shot, because I saw that the Atari 2600 had “Mario Bros” on a game shelf at my local toy store, and so I asked for it for my birthday.
Now, keep in mind that I didn’t have the internet or even magazine reviews. I just was hoping that, like some other arcade ports, Atari was able to come up with a crude but workable version of Super Mario Bros. There was a lot of denial in my head — even the titles were different — but I clung to hope. I celebrated my birthday in Florida at my grandparents’ home and unwrapped Mario Bros there… which did me no good because the console itself was back up in Indiana.
But I had the manual, at least, and once again tried to fool myself into thinking that this may be Super Mario Bros even as the very game documentation said otherwise.
When I got back home, the truth finally settled in: This was no Super Mario Bros. But after I got past that crushing disappointment, I found that this was actually a fun game in its own right. Mario Bros is a one-or-two-player game on a static screen where you try to flip critters, kick them to their doom, and grab the occasional flashing rainbow cube-thing for extra points. There was a yellow power bar that could be smashed to knock over all critters on the screen, or else you could jump underneath them and flip them that way.
You did have to watch out for a fireball that would go back and forth between the tiers. There was also bonus stages where you could grab lots of coins within a time limit.
Unlike Super Mario Bros, there were no power-ups and no jumping on top of critters to kill them. But it was decently fun, especially when someone else joined you. It was a frantic race to see who could get the most points — and also who could betray the other. You see, you could un-flip the critters through the power bar or jumping beneath them, so if your opponent was closing in on the critter, you could un-flip it and kill your friend that way.
Anyway, it wasn’t that complicated, but I always liked the design of Mario, Luigi, and the crab and turtle dudes. Maybe it wasn’t the game I’d hoped for, but fun was had even still.
P.S. — Many years later, some fan actually made a fairly decent SMB port for the 2600, which is so impressive that I can’t believe it actually works.