Chasing Ghosts: One Quarter at a Time

Who is that guy in the red hat? Vs. Super Mario Bros. boggles my brain

The following is part of a series about my past experiences with arcade games and running them in MAME. I will only write about games I remember playing in an actual arcade, not games I only discovered through MAME.


There’s nothing like a Christmas surprise when you’re a child

I can’t remember much about the Christmas of 1989, except for the fact that my two-year-old sister JoBeth bit my cousin Amelia for absolutely no reason at all, except for the fact that they were on camera (Amelia telling everyone what she was thankful for) and my sister felt the need to put on a show. Oh, and I got an NES for no reason at all. As we’re finishing opening gifts on Christmas Eve, my poppy went to the hallway closet and brought out two NES Action Set boxes, one for me and one for my bitten cousin.

Our minds were blown. We had no idea this was coming our way. I don’t even remember asking for a Nintendo that year, but even now, I can still recall the sights, sounds and smells of opening that box. If I could relive one gaming memory, it would be that moment.

My uncle had gotten the NES the previous year, which was my second introduction to Super Mario Bros. The first? It was a trip to St. Louis in the summer of 1988 to see a Cardinals baseball game (I hate the Cardinals now, but enjoyed them as a child because that’s what you do when your entire family is cheering for that stupid team). This was back when you could find an arcade cabinet in a variety of places. Convenience stores, restaurants, laundromats, the list goes on and on. Nowadays, you’ll find a claw machine and one of those God-awful hunting games, and MAYBE a Galaga/Ms. Pac-Man combo if you’re lucky. But what I enjoyed about arcades from being a child is the variety of games you’d find in places.

Front cover of Vs. Super Mario Bros. Flyer

Front cover of Vs. Super Mario Bros. Flyer


In the lobby of this hotel sat a machine called Vs. Super Mario Bros. It looked magnificent. The vibrant colors of the marquee and the detailed drawings filled my imagination with joy. Why was a monster coming out of a green tube? What did Bros. mean? Who was the guy in the red overalls and hat? I think we take the original Super Mario Bros. for granted, but as a kid who was only playing Pac-Man on the Atari 2600, the visuals in this were mind-blowing. It was an extremely colorful game in the mid 80s. I’m not sure how wide my eyes got while watching that, but it remains one of my favorite arcade games to this day just for those memories alone.

And sadly, I didn’t get to play it because my Uncle Brett was playing it instead. The way Mario jumped and ran across the screen was fantastic to watch. There was such a spirit of adventure to this man running across the screen with blue skies and trees behind him. I do fondly remember Brett getting bit by the piranha plant and my grandma yelling at him that it was time to go. Way to go Brett! And it wasn’t even a normal Piranha plant either. It was the one that appears when you exit an underground stage. Meaning the only way you could die at it’s hands is if you turned around and ran right into it.

I jest, as I probably made the same mistake as well. But the trip to St. Louis remains the only time I’ve seen that cabinet in person, which adds to it’s charm.

And a story about Super Mario Bros. wouldn’t be complete without the highlight of my NES-flavored childhood. That flagpole. That darn flagpole. For a year or so, I’d play the game and try hitting 5,000 points, the maximum amount if you jump and reach the top of the flag pole. For the longest time, it was 800, then I started hitting 2,000. But that one fateful summer day at my grandmas, on level 2-2, I made a run for it, jumped…….and was ecstatic with my results. Five thousand. Five thousand big ones. I ran outside to tell my uncle Brett, who had a bunch of friends over.
“UNCLE BRETT! I GOT 5,000 POINTS! I GOT 5,000 POINTS!” I think I embarassed him. But made him proud at the same time.

Playing it in MAME.

I had a slight bit of trouble running it MAME version 0.148, having to download a few different roms to get it to run. So don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t work for you immediately.

While joystick controls are fantastic, after playing this game for years on the NES, it really takes getting used to. Especially tricky is sliding, which you need in level 1-2 if you are big Mario. It took a few days for me to get it right. I imagine not everyone would have as much trouble, but as someone who has beaten the game in 11 minutes, I like to think I’m somewhat skilled at Mario games.

Also, this version of the game is slightly more difficult than the original NES game. There are some spots where you’ll have four goombas instead of two, for instance. Mario Wiki has a complete list of the differences, many of them negligible (bricks missing in 1-2 to avoid the Minus World) but a few of them are huge (replacing level 6-3 with 4-3 from Lost Levels), making the game feel more like a remix than a port of the NES version.

My Wife Plays Vs. Super Mario Bros.

I had to get used to the controls, especially the running. I’ve been practicing the running, and it’s a lot easier to control Mario’s running and jumping using your thumb like on the NES gamepad instead of using your fingers on arcade pushbuttons.

It still holds up really well. It’s a lot of fun, like an old classic book. You can always go back to games like this and Tetris. It’s probably something I’ll keep playing for a long time.