Lost in Time: Kaettekita Mario Bros.

I usually shy away from discussing import titles here, mostly because I don’t have a lot of experience with stuff released outside of the US. However, today I’m making an exception because this game deserves attention. Today we’re talking about Kaettekita Mario Bros. for the Famicom Disk System. 

Yeah, this is the box for a European game. We'll get to that. 
Yeah, this is the box for a European game. We’ll get to that. 

For the uninitiated, in Japan there was a disk drive add-on for the Famicom, the Japanese equivalent to the NES. It was called the Famicom Disk System (FDS), and it was where a lot of major Nintendo franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, and Metroid first appeared.  The FDS allowed the Famicom to do certain things the NES alone couldn’t, including some fancy sounds and graphic effects. Also, since the games were on disks, folks could get rewritable disks and download special titles from kiosks, Kaettekita Mario Bros. being one of them.

Now, I’ve always been a huge fan of the original arcade version of Mario Bros. I was desperately in love with the NES and Super Mario Bros. when they came out, but I had no idea that Super Mario Bros. was actually a sequel, and when I first discovered a Mario Bros. arcade cabinet at my local community center, my mind was sufficiently blown. Not only was it an unknown origin (at least to my mind at the time) to one of my favorite things on the planet, but it was incredibly  fun and challenging. When I disccovered that there was a version for the NES, I begged my mom to get it for me. When it eventually was mine, I put that cart in my NES with unrivaled anticipation. Unfortunately, that anticipation was quickly met with slight disappointment. 

Yes, the gameplay was nearly spot on, but the visuals were kind of a let down. for example, when you flip a turtle over in the arcade game, they’ll eventually jump out of their shells, kick them, and crawl back inside before changing colors and running away. Not only did they not do that in the NES game, but they looked much smaller. In fact, everything looked weird. I couldn’t understand why either, because I had been playing Zelda II: The Adventure of Link earlier that day, and if the NES could play games as large and interesting looking as Zelda II, why was their version of Mario Bros., a considerably simpler game, so far removed from its arcade counterpart? The fireballs were tiny, the Fighter Flies looked weird, the Freezies were too skinny, and the intermissions were missing entirely. Of course, I played the crap out of it. It was still Mario Bros. at home. But, it never quite captured the same magic as the arcade version. Little did I know that things in Japan were much better.

Left: Arcade. Middle: NES. Right: Kaettekita.
Left: Arcade. Middle: NES. Right: Kaettekita.

As some sort of weird TV promotion, Nintendo released Kaettekita Mario Bros. for the FDS Disk Writer service, and wow, what a difference. All the character animations were restored, the sprites looked almost exactly like their arcade counterparts, and just for the heck of it, they gave Mario and Luigi the ability to control their movement in mid-air, similar to how they handled in the newer Super Mario Bros. titles. It was lightyears ahead of the game we got here in America. Of course, as with most Japanese exclusive titles, it wasn’t without its own set of oddities. Instead of the arcade game’s intermissions, it had these weird commercial-type presentations. There was a mail away contest where high scores could yield things like special edition trading cards, and the game advertised that, in addition to other things like breakfast cereal, and even Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s incredibly bizarre, but it was a small price to pay for a remarkably faithful arcade port of Mario Bros. to play at home. Of course, being only available through the Disk Writer service, the game is incredibly rare. However, there was also a port made for the European market called Mario Bros. Classic. It’s basically the same as Kaettekita Mario Bros. except without all the crazy intermissions and ads. Instead, they included the intermissions from the arcade game, essentially making it a near flawless port with technically superior controls. 

That's not the weirdest thing in the game. Not by a long shot. 
That’s not the weirdest thing in the game. Not by a long shot. 

Neither of these games have seen release on the Virtual Console, or any type of rerelease at all. They have also never made it to the US, as far as I know. I would also venture a guess that it’s extremely unlikely that they will ever see the light of day. An actual arcade port would be far more likely at this point. Still, there’s no denying that this game is a fascinating release. The NES was clearly capable of so much more than what those original arcade ports had to show, it’s just a shame that this kind of stuff is still so deeply under wraps. That said, if you do find yourself with a PAL NES or a Famicom Disk System (or some other nefarious means of playing games. I don’t know what you do in your spare time) it’s well worth your time. Nothing beats the arcade original, but this version comes darn close.  

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