In an odd turn of events, my regularly scheduled editorial will be replaced by a special feature. I’ve reached out to a staff writer at Pitchfork (who wishes to remain nameless), and he expressed interest in writing a review. We’re honored to have such an infamous site lend us some of its unique flavor.
Her name was Sally. She had short blonde hair tied up in a bun, knee-high boots and eyes like daggers. She was smart, pretty, and most importantly for a blossoming forbidden romance, two years my senior. It was 1985.
I remember vividly… in English 10, 5th period. She slipped a note into my pocket. I unfurled it in secret, and found something foreign but immediately alluring: a crude sketch of a cartoon mushroom, and a portly plumber standing beside it.
She spoke about things I didn’t believe; a kingdom of fungi, a flower made of fire, warp zones and flag poles. I was more focused on her lips than the sounds she made with them, until a final suggestion brought my heart screeching towards something not unlike orgasmic ecstasy.
“You should come over some time and check it out.”
The original Super Mario Bros. was a virtuoso effort, but I’m not here to wax nostalgic. Instead, I wish to remind you all of a specifically heartbreaking bastardization: the Duck Hunt/Super Mario Bros. combo cartridge.
Like the first drop of pollution tainting the Cuyahoga river, this travesty marked the start of developer Nintendo’s descent toward hell-fire. Proper sequels could never match the raw intensity and effect of their creator (excepting, of course, the masterful nouvelle vague entry Super Mario Bros. 2), and the most recent entries are crass, superficial affairs. Mario with all the shiny lights and no soul.
I somewhat begrudgingly give this concept cartridge (though what asinine concept it wants to display is unclear) an average score, because the parts of brilliance are still here, even if they’re completely lifeless. This repackaging is akin to switching around the track placements on The Beatles (known as The White Album to the proletariat); thoughtfulness becomes an exercise in chaos and tone-deaf ramblings. The main reason for this is the inclusion of Gunpei Yokoi’s brainless and deceitful Duck Hunt, which promises an accurate simulation of its eponymous sport, but never delivers the goods. The game is most famously played by sticking the grey (orange in later runs, which is another sign of Nintendo’s abandonment of authenticity) plastic gun peripheral directly on the surface of the screen, spraying bullets wildly to complete every challenge. Such a design flaw is impossible to overlook, even as future generations may find it endearing, or god forbid, “kitschy.”
The box art, too, is insulting. Here the masterpiece of Super Mario Bros. must share equal real estate with the game-that-shall-not-be-named, and to what end? Greater sales? To try and lure the enthusiast duck hunting audience toward purchasing a deficient product? The Nintendo of 1985 wouldn’t partake in such tomfoolery.
It’s a great shame, because there was serious potential here. If only the recently-revealed hack Miyamoto had taken the time to improve his creation. Perhaps he could’ve added a couple extra worlds, or new warp zone aesthetics. Not to mention the fascinating, dadaist Minus World, which has been repeatedly shunned and ignored since its discovery. This combo cartridge teaches us a valuable lesson about how even a once great artist can fall out of his own genius and dilute what made his previous work so memorable.
For the dedicated Mario connoisseur, there are gems to unpack here. World 1 remains the prime example of inspiration through purity, though it is followed the disappointingly water-level filled World 2. Even in the weaker segments, the game is saved by its deeply impactful, cyclical boss battles against King Koopa (known as Bowser to the proletariat). These levels move as fast as a jet engine, and you can never go back to where you started, in an almost ham-fisted thematic reference to the Orpheus myth.
The game continues to impress with its creativity later on, introducing literal flying fish that move almost randomly, and a demented little cretin who sits atop a cloud, cackling and throwing impenetrable enemies upon our hero. The allusions to the flaws in a capitalist system don’t stop there, as the Hammer Bros. jump frenetically between two high perches. As Mario climbs the tower of blocks and dispatches them both, one may subconsciously feel the call of true anarchic revolution.
But the Duck Hunt/Super Mario Bros. combo cartridge remains a poor facsimile of the real deal, even as one’s senses pull towards nostalgia. To laud this title when it is such a paralyzing moral turning point for Nintendo would be too easy. I stand against the waves of so-called “true fans” who tell me it’s the “same game.” It’s caviar with a side-helping of gruel.
If no one else stands up and denies our storied Japanese game developer this satisfaction, then the responsibility must fall on me. Consider this a call to arms. I’m close to changing the world, and you, dear reader, can too: by writing reviews exactly like this.