Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! and Vs. Super Mario Bros (and NES Super Mario Bros)

Ugh. So yea, these aren’t indies. But I’m currently on a harrowing journey of self-discovery as I delve into the games that existed before my time. And it seems like the arcade is as good a place to start as any. You’ve probably seen those Arcade Archives releases on Switch and wondered if they were any good or not. I mean, for the price of $7.99 for old games, they probably should be, don’t you think? Hell, for that price you wouldn’t be out of line to expect the games to also suck you off. I selected one and chose Punch-Out because I’m such a fan of the series. Ready to have your mind blown? I think it’s probably my personal favorite Nintendo franchise. Yep, I went there.

For the second game, I narrowed it down to four options and let my readers choose. They chose Vs. Super Mario Bros.

What did I ever do to them?

Bull. Shit. There is *no way* someone can score that many points in five minutes in Super Mario 1.

First thing’s first: developer hamster has created a fairly minimal package here. Compared to other retro games I’ll be tackling over the rest of 2018, what you get when you purchase Arcade Archives leaves a lot to be desired. You get the main game and, in the two I bought, a “caravan mode” which is really just a five-minute scoring competition with online leaderboards. I was *blown away* by how far out of my reach the scores were. I’m guessing cheating was involved for the top scores because I can’t for the life of me imagine that you can legitimately score 1.7 million points in Super Mario in five minutes (and the timer doesn’t pause between levels or entering the pipe for level 1 -2). For Punch-Out, I didn’t even do particularly well and finished in the top 200. Oh yea, a top 200 finish for a game that is absolutely fucking shitty.

I don’t often get to use the term “disgusted” with how a game makes me feel, but I am fucking livid at how bad the arcade Punch-Out is on Switch. If I didn’t know this was the original Punch-Out that spawned the console franchise, I would swear it’s a bootleg. The dodge/counter mechanics I love barely seem to have showed up at all, replaced with a mostly mindlesss button masher. One that I couldn’t finish. Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! is barely playable, with possibly the least responsive controls I’ve ever encountered. I’m not exaggerating when I say I would often press a button to punch four times before a punch was actually thrown. The lag is especially noticeable with the blocking move, which is done by raising your gloves up and down. Well, sometimes the gloves needed a couple of seconds before doing the moving. Same with dodging left and right. It’s safe to say Punch-Out!! is kinda busted.

There’s two screens because Punch-Out!! was created as a means to dump excess monitors. Anyway, this is Kid Quick, but really your toughest opponent will be “Button Slow.” Just take my word for it.

I can only review the version I paid for, and so I can’t find a better version and say the game is great. Having said that, I went to watch a YouTube video to figure out what I was doing wrong and noticed some major differences between the version I paid for on Switch and videos seemingly taken from MAME or via Direct-Feed from an authentic coin-op. Most noticeable was on the videos, the referee counted slowly, whereas on the version I was playing, the count was *really* fast no matter if I changed the game’s timer to slow or fast or whatever. I happen to have a pretty sick MAME machine, so I busted it out and booted up Punch-Out!!. It made me realize most of my struggles on Switch were probably the result of bad emulation. On Switch, I couldn’t get past Pizza Pasta, the fifth (of only six) fighters even with the game set to “easy”. On my MAME? Without changing any default settings, I beat the game on my first attempt. It was night-and-day how much more responsive the controls were, and it made beating the back-three fighters (Kid Quick, Pizza Pasta, and Mr. Sandman) kind of easy. On Switch, I most often lost to Kid Quick by running out to time, because it’s hard to beat a guy who moves quick when button response time is slow.

By the way, if you’re curious, I wouldn’t give Punch-Out!! my Seal of Approval even with it working. All the stuff console fans associate with Punch-Out!!’s play mechanics are missing. It really just does feel like a button masher, nothing more. But it still sucks that the emulation is as crap as it is. And, given how short Punch-Out!! is in the arcade (six fighters? are you shitting me?) it really wouldn’t have killed them to have included both the arcade version of Super Punch-Out!! (which includes five more opponents) and Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! spin-off Arm Wrestling (which includes a cameo by Bald Bull) to give players some value for their money. I’d call Punch-Out a rip-off, but then I played Vs. Super Mario Bros. and learned what having a bonfire with your cash is really like.

I never came remotely close to beating Pizza Pasta and I still put up a respectable score. Though I should point out that everyone is placed in the same rankings even if you change the setting to “easy” and the timer to “slow” which seems kinda weird to me.

Vs. Super Mario Bros. was designed to capitalize on the success of the NES game and starts off just like the home version does. But then it slowly starts to warp with remixed levels designed for absurd difficulty. I’ve been told to think of Vs. Super Mario as being somewhere between NES Mario 1 and the Japanese Super Mario 2, which became known as the Lost Levels in the US. And yea, that’s probably a good comparison. Vs. Mario isn’t as insanely unfair in its level design, but there are tons of blind jumps and single-space ledges you have to jump to and from. It’s ridiculous, almost as if it were a modified version of a classic game designed not to be fun but to steal quarters from children one by one. Oh wait..

And it actually controls like ass. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that the original Super Mario was slippery, but Vs. Super Mario Bros. takes that to a new level. Movement feels imprecise and unrefined. It’s very subtle but it’s there and noticeably different from the NES version. I know this because I booted up four different versions of it, for Wii U, for the NES Classic, from the Switch Online’s NES program, and from an actual, authentic NES that we even had to blow on the cartridge to get to work. In all four of those versions, movement was consistent (which actually shows just how good Nintendo can emulate the NES). For Vs. Super Mario? Movement was *this close* to being like the others, but just enough off to be directly tied to a few deaths, especially with precision jumping and those aforementioned single-space ledges. I had my family play it too just to make sure it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just me. Though about half my family said they felt it played better on MAME, while myself and a few others felt the MAME version and the version on Switch using Hamster’s emulator felt identical. We all agreed that the NES versions control better though. And if you knew my family, you’d know we can barely agree on what time to eat dinner, let alone how accurate a game controls. So there’s that.

A lot of the tweaks are subtle in the early stages. In later stages, levels are lifted directly from Super Mario 2 in Japan. Levels made when Miyamoto was on his man-period or something because the game was so prohibitively hard that Nintendo of America asked for a different game.

By the way, while sitting to do this review, it came to my realization that I had never purchased any version of the original Super Mario Bros. before. I was born in 1989 and by time I started playing games, Mario had come a long ways. I think my first time actually sitting down and trying to play Super Mario 1 was on Animal Crossing for the GameCube. This apparently comes as something of a shock to my older readers who hold the title in reverence, but I didn’t like it. I had better Mario options by time I started playing games. I already owned and finished Super Mario Advance 1 & 2 by time I unlocked (via Action Replay cheatery) Super Mario for Animal Crossing. And I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t hold my attention at all. Which, granted I have a short attention span. It took me four days just to finish this sentence.

So actually, Vs. Super Mario Bros was the first time I bought any version of Super Mario Bros. out-of-pocket. I think the one on my Wii U I just got somehow, because I never would have bought it. Not even for a dollar. Some of my fans are aghast that when I finished the Switch Online version of Mario 1 this morning, it was the first time I had ever beaten Super Mario Bros. (By the way, I did it without using save-states!) Some people can’t comprehend that I, a relatively famous indie gaming personality, had never finished what is probably the most iconic video game. But I hadn’t, because it was a “before my time” game. Over the last 72 hours, I’ve had people tell me they’ve legitimately lost respect for me and my opinions on games because I never beat Mario 1, or that all my previous reviews were now invalidated in their mind’s eye. Nobody I respected, thankfully. And besides, I can now say I’ve beaten Mario 1. And hell, I even did the Minus World trick afterwards for good measure. Oddly enough, I don’t feel like my gaming life has been altered now. I’m still the same person I was before. I just have beaten Super Mario Bros. now. I don’t feel particularity validated. Should I be glowing or something? Will I get a membership card in the mail? Will someone show up and teach me the secret gamer handshake?

I don’t get it. Because at no point did I ever say any of them were stupid for liking Mario 1, nor did I take away from what Super Mario Bros. accomplished in 1985. Like everyone else, I probably owe my gaming existence to it. What I’m am saying is that I can’t play the game under the context of it being a new, fresh idea. Because it wasn’t for me. Based on the games I played before I played this, Super Mario had no reverence to me from a gameplay perspective. Controls are sloppy. Level design is basic. Not a lot of strategy really. And those opinions in no way take away from how important the game was for history. But saying Super Mario Bros. is the best game ever or still as good today as it was in 1985 is every bit as absurd as the AFI naming Snow White the greatest animated film of all time. Which they did. That’s why they had to quit making those AFI 100 Years, 100 Films specials. Because nobody can take anyone who would say Snow White has never been topped and is still the best animated picture ever seriously or respect what they think about movies. And honestly, if you’ve played games for the last thirty years and still think Mario 1 is every single bit as fun today as it was when it first came out and the BEST GAME EVER MADE, I respect your belief as much as I respect a Flat-Earther’s belief. Which is to say, not at all.

And that’s basically how I feel about Super Mario Bros. Being important to gaming history isn’t the same as being fun to play in 2018. And Super Mario Bros. isn’t fun to play in 2018. At least for me.

Anyway, Vs. Super Mario Bros sucks and I think even the most drunk-on-nostalgia fanboy would be insane to shell out $7.99 for it or any Arcade Archive title. They might be the worst values in all of gaming. For an extra $12 you can subscribe to Nintendo’s online service for a year, get a better version of Super Mario and a lot of other games. Including Mario 3, which withstands the test of time better and is still genuinely fun today. I paid $8 a pop for these and I honestly I might as well have wiped my ass with the bills instead.

Arcade Archives: Punch-Out!! and Arcade Archives: Vs. Super Mario Bros. were developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Punch-Out!!, Vs. Super Mario Bros.

$7.99 each said “great bitching! You’re an up-and-coming critic!” in the making of this review.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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