Saturday, March 3, 2007

Pseudo Mario, Then and Now

or "mo-buigi?"

While browsing Kotaku today I saw a post about Mobario, a cell phone game developed by Aquajava. Let’s be extremely generous and say that Mobario is an homage to the Super Mario games. The story goes as follows:
Mobario is a classic jump and run game. The story is quite simple: Mobaria, the girlfriend of Mobario was kidnapped by the evil Pavo. You have to rescue Mobaria from Pavo's Castle, but you have to get there which is not easy. The land, the sky, the caves and even water are filled with nasty enemies waiting for you. In Pavo's Castle, fireballs make your journey more difficult. And at the end you have to fight Pavo, who is really strong, and you have to beat him 10 times, but take care with jumping on him.
Lord knows where “Pavo” came from. (I have to admite it took me a few to realize that Mobario’s name, which more-or-less sounds like an oppish translation of our favorite chunky plumber’s name, is a neat little portmanteau of "mobile" and "Mario.") It’s interesting that the description of the game I found here includes a note that the game includes a “submarine journey waterlevel,” which sounds like a call-back to the Marine Pop stage in the old Game Boy Super Mario Land.

As these screenshots indicate, the backgrounds seem to be pulled directly from Super Mario World, with the sprites varying from the Super Mario All-Stars version of Super Mario Bros. for the four-on-the-floor Koopa Troopas and the Shyguys from Super Mario Advance. (Curiously, Mario seems to be able to stomp them in this game.)

Below is a video of a nice British man explaining the game.

It’s interesting that he notes in the video that the game actually plays well. I’d assume it would blow, just judging by how much of a bite it looks like. Seriously, they even mimicked the classic Mario font. Then again, if you're going to steal an idea, I suppose it makes sense to steal a good one. Though I doubt I’ll be playing it anytime in the near future, news of Mobario makes now as good a time as any to discuss other Mario rip-offs I’ve heard of over the years.

Foremost is Great Giana Sisters — another obvious Mario rip-off, though this one is ever-so-slightly more less obvious. Released by Rainbow Arts in 1987 for the Commodore 64, Amiga and Atari ST systems, the game stars Giana and Maria, two Milanese sisters who enter a strange mushroom-populated world through the very Doki Doki Panic method of dreaming. Because the basic set-up, method of play and even design of the stages mocked that of the NES Super Mario Bros., Nintendo threatened a suit against the game's developers that effectively pulled it and any planned ports to other platforms off shelves.

giana herself, looking entirely too much like princess peach in modern dress.

look familiar?

Here’s the set-up, at least how a Great Giana Sisters tribute page puts it.
One night, when little Giana from Milano was fast asleep, she has a strange dream. Everybody dreams weird things at night, but no one will have experienced situations like little Giana is about to.

Giana suddenly finds herself in a strange mysterious world, where everything is completely different. Gravity has almost disappeared - sometimes one feels like flying away - and everywhere there are unexplainable buildings and structures. Old grottos and deserted castles seem to hide lots of secrets, and frightening and hideous creatures appear. This wouldn't be too bad, except that Giana can't leave this world unless she finds the magic, huge diamond. So she starts searching for this wonderful jewel.

However, she is not totally alone, for her little sister Maria can dream, too.
To its credit, the game would seem to have a more complex item system that the game it imitates. In addition to Super Mushroom and Fire Flower substitutes — a spinning orb and a lightning bolt, respectively — the Great Giana Sisters also features a more powerful fireball upgrades, clocks to put enemies to sleep and the like. Perhaps best of all, the spinning orb item doesn't just make Giana bigger, but morphs her hair into a mohawk that she can use to break overhead bricks. Gorgeous.

powered-up, punked-out and less peach-ified cover art for great giana sisters

According to the Wikipedia page for Great Giana Sisters, a new version of Great Giana Sisters became available for cell phones sometime in 2005. This page for British Jamster has a few screenshots, as well as an apparent method for downloading. It also has new character art, looking less punk, more anime.

is that the fresh prince of bel-air font?

The below video purports to be taken of an illegal Nintendo DS version of Great Giana Sisters, about which I can find very little information.

Still, it doesn't look terrible. Music is appropriate blippy and strange. Graphics bright and verging on uncanny in the way they seem very familiar but still somehow twisted into something new.

A while back, Retro Junk ran a feature titled "The Worst Rip-Offs in Gaming." While they didn't mention either Mobario or Great Giana Sisters, they did introduce me to a game I've not been able to find information about anywhere else: Super Mario World — Chinese Version. The article dings this unauthorized Mario for biting the Mario franchise as well as Capcom's Street Fighter II and their old NES Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Seriously.

above two images taken from Retro Junk

From what I can tell from the two screenshots provided, the game uses a wholly new Mario sprite on backgrounds borrowed from the Super Mario All-Stars remakes. Says Retro Junk:
From beginning to end the game shows a fundamental lack of understanding in terms of what constitutes a Super Mario game. That said, this game qualifies for the list simply because it rips-off so many things on so many different levels. The title screen looks like Super Mario World, the backgrounds look stolen from Super Mario All Stars, the fireball attack seems like a special move from Ken or Ryu, Bowser looks like Concept art for the Super NES, and the throwing box/crate concept in this game is stolen from Disney's Rescue Rangers for NES! I really was almost amazed at their CREATIVITY in plagiarism.
If nothing else, I suppose we should take away from the "Hong Kong hack" that there's something to be said for ingenuity in plagiarism.

Finally, random internet browsing led me a while back to YouTube videos for a Hudson-produced game titled Super Mario Bros. Special. Unlike the other games on this list, Super Mario Bros. Special was actually licensed by Nintendo as a sort of semi-sequel-remake-thing to the NES Super Mario Bros released in 1986 for the Japanese NEC PC-8801. The Wikipedia page for it describes the game as having been all but forgotten by the gaming community until being "discovered" by U.K. games journalist Stuart Campbell in 2003 and written about in PC Zone magazine.

YouTube user powerfulnana has posted a wealth of videos from Super Mario Bros. Special in motion.

As you can see, the game doesn't exactly fit the label "side-scroller," as the background moves by one unit of screen at a time. Also, the Wikipedia article notes that Luigi doesn't appear, despite the "Bros." mentioned in the game's title. In spite of these glaring faults, Hudson designed the game with a few innovations — the inclusion of baddies from Mario Bros. for one and the hammer from Donkey Kong for another. Mario can also find the Hudson Bee, which allows him to continue after a game over. (The Hudson Bee later appeared in the Adventure Island games in a similar manner. I find this appropriate since the I always considered the Adventure Island games to be a sort of cousin series to the Mario games, given their similar play mechanics.)

Anyway, that's what I've got. I'm sure there are scads of other hacks, rip-offs and pale imitations — and for good reason. Drop a line if you hear about any other notable knock-offs that I didn't mention here.

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