When I started the “Attack of the Clones” series, I knew it was just a matter of time until I got to the original Super Mario Bros. While the game may seem quaint by today’s standards, it was truly groundbreaking at the time of its release and it laid the groundwork for what would be the quintessential platforming series. Sure, it may not have been the first platformer, or even the first platformer to feature Mario, but it was by far the most successful. The mechanics were solid, the world imaginative, and the difficulty proved to be a challenging without feeling cheap.
Super Mario Bros., oddly enough, did not have that many direct copy cats. What it did, instead, was create a boom in the horizontally scrolling platforming genre. Before its release, home console games didn’t have that side scrolling identity that we would come to associate with 8 and 16-bit games. After Mario, many companies took the core concept and tweaked it in numerous ways. Still, few games attempted to emulate the more unique elements of mario. This includes things such as stomping on enemies to kill them, breakable bricks, and a power up health system. Today we will look at a few games that took more than just a little inspiration from Super Mario Bros.
The Great Giana Sisters (Commodore 64)
Ah, The Great Giana Sisters. If the name sounds familiar to you, it may be because the series had an indie revival with The Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams in 2012. Twisted Dreams has only passing similarities with the Mario franchise. The original game is a different story, though. As mentioned previously, Mario didn’t have too many direct rip offs, but this game 100% qualifies and is likely it’s greatest copycat. The game doesn’t even try to hide its influence, as even the layout of the first level is incredibly similar to world 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. In the game, instead of playing as Mario and Luigi, you take control of sisters Maria and Giana. You break bricks, get power ups from said bricks, and jump on enemies that look suspiciously like Goombas. You collect diamonds, not coins, but 100 of them nets you a one up. Getting hit makes you lose your power up, and getting hit with no power ups results in your death.
As shameless as the game is, though, it’s a actually really good. Like most good clones, it actually improves on its parent game in many ways. The graphics, especially the backgrounds, are more detailed than in Super Mario Bros. and the level layouts veered in a more complex direction as the game progresses. The sisters also had more varied power-ups than just a fire flower, and as The Great Giana Sisters came out in 1987, a full three years before Super Mario Bros. 3., this was a huge step up from Nintendo’s offering. Also, while I wouldn’t say the soundtrack to the game is better than Koji Kondo’s offering on Super Mario Bros., it is still an absolute classic. This game is also a bit of a collector’s item, as retailers eventually the game from the shelves at Nintendo’s request.
Kid Chameleon (Sega Genesis/Megadrive)
Kid Chameleon is in a funny spot, because if someone thinks of Sega’s Mario, they will invariably think of Sonic Hedgehog or maybe Alex Kidd. Kid Chameleon is not as popular or important as the previously two mentioned characters. Mechanically, though, his game is much more similar to Mario than any of Sega’s other offerings. Kid Chameleon released a full two years after Super Mario World, so it had quite a few Mario titles to look at for information. Kid must fight his way through a variety of levels (all virtual worlds in arcade made real, according to the game’s plot) in very Mario-like fashion. Kid Chameleon breaks bricks, collects powers up that transform him into new forms with unique abilities, and jumps on enemies as a form of attack.
Unlike the Great Giana sisters, Kid Chameleon really stands apart from Mario due to its aesthetics. The game has a more grounded and less cartoony look than Mario. That is not to say the game looks realistic, because it certainly does not. It just appears more muted in comparison. The Kid’s transformations are also very unique. While 2D Mario games tend to focus on a small handful of suits, Kid Chameleon has 9 different suits that are closer in function to power ups you would find in a Kirby game than in Super Mario Bros. 3. These range from the Skycutter, a hoverboard that let’s you fly around the stage to the Maniaxe, which lets you toss axes. The game actually has a button dedicate just to the special functions of your suit in addition to the standard run and jump buttons. Overall, this game feels like a Mario title, but it tweaks the formula just enough to make it worth your time to play.
Modern Mario Clones and The Legacy of Super Mario Bros.
I generally like to include a current-gen or last gen game on these Attack of the Clone articles. I found this to be somewhat difficult as there are so few stand out clones of the 2D Mario series being made at the moment. Sure, there are games like Secret Maryo Chronicles, but these tend to be straight clones with very little to make them stand out or to make them worth a playthrough on their own merit. If you want to find something akin to Mario, just check out the Google Play or Apple App store and you will find dozens of them. The issue, again, is quality.
On the other hand, there are many platformers that pay homage to Mario, but are far from clones. Braid is great example of this. Braid has been called “Mario for adults,” and while I find this description to be condescending, I can understand its origin. Braid is a platformer that takes a lot of queues from Mario. There are enemies that act like and bear a close resemblance to Mario enemies such as Goombas and Piranha plants. Tim, the protagonist of the game, can run and jump and climb in a fashion that would make our portly plumber proud. Really though, this game uses the ideas behind Mario as a foundation to create a completely different type of game. Braid is a puzzle game that implements a time travel mechanic as one of its core concepts. And while yes, you are rescuing a damsel from a castle, the actual plot tackles this trope in much more subversive fashion. For this reason, I wouldn’t be comfortable calling it a clone of Super Mario Bros.
This bring us to a larger point, however. Super Mario Bros. is so ubiquitous in the world of gaming that most modern platformers will resemble it in one way or another. The game launched a series that paved the way for the platformer boom of the 80’s and 90’s, and it’s blueprint is still the foundation of the genre to this very day.