The Arcade Archivist, Part 2 - Mario Bros. and Pirate Pete
By Craig • 18 September 2022
Mario. Everyone knows Mario. If you ask someone what a video game is, there’s probably a very good chance that they might say, “You know, like Mario.” A good majority of people might even know that Mario got his start as “Jumpman” in the original Donkey Kong from 1981, before making a villainous appearance in Donkey Kong Jr., the following year. But from there, I bet things get a little bit fuzzy.
Because of the enormous success of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Mario Bros. may be responsible for creating a magic mushroom induced haze in a lot of memories. But before they were super, didn’t they probably have to start off as regular old Mario Bros.? The game, originally released in 1983, then released on Switch as part of the Arcade Archives series, September 27, 2017, returns Mario to his heroic role. He is now tasked with cleaning a variety of little beasties out of the Japanese sewer system, it seems. Or could this actually be the Mushroom Kingdom? Let’s not do that. As someone who grew up watching Godzilla movies in ultra small town America, I prefer to think that there really are turtles (tortoises?), crabs, hopping flies, and slippery ice golem things in Japanese sewers. A magical, yet dangerous place for the uninitiated. Because there are also fireballs! Yeah, fireballs that bounce around and chase you in the sewers! And of course, Japanese sewers are also filled with money. I mean obviously. If you manage to eliminate some of these critters, some mysterious benefactor tosses a coin down one of the pipes to reward you. Probably an elderly person who was tired of getting pinched by crabs emerging from the toilet in the middle of the night, trying to avoid slipping off after ice creatures frosted up the seat.
But wait. Isn’t this game supposed to involve brothers? You’d better believe it! Mario’s brother Luigi makes his video game debut here, unless you count the Mario Bros. Game & Watch LCD handheld game, which was actually released a few weeks before the arcade game. Other than his stylish green duds, Luigi is identical to Mario, and would not get his own distinct pixelated appearance until the American Super Mario Bros. 2 in 1988. Due to the fact that Luigi is player two in this game, you may think that it makes him kind of an afterthought. But the two-player mode is one of the things that truly makes Mario Bros. shine much brighter than those dingy old sewer pipes. Many arcade games of the era featured two-player modes, but many of them were players alternating turns. Which, let’s face it, if one player was much better than the other, you may be waiting a long time between turns, just watching their game unfold. But certain games, like Joust (released by Williams Electronics, the previous year), got the multiplayer formula correct. Two-player simultaneous action! That’s right. Both Mario and Luigi, working together or competing against each other for the highest score, and all of those spinning coins in the bonus rounds. It truly is an excellent multiplayer game, something that I don’t believe Nintendo really tried again in a Mario platformer style game until the New Super Mario Bros. series, many years later. Unfortunately, the Arcade Archives version features “couch co-op” multiplayer only. No online multiplayer. Luckily, Brian and I can enjoy the NES port of Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Switch Online service, which is almost as good as the arcade version. Even the Atari 2600 port was pretty solid in the 80s, when I had no other options!
Again, Mario Bros. really is about the high score chase. You’re not going to find eight worlds, with multiple sub-worlds here. You’re plumbers, in a sewer, cleaning up vermin for the glory of the high score. But that’s okay. Because while my personal best is comparatively terrible on the “High Score Mode” scoreboard, even after failing to beat my own high score numerous times, I habitually keep going back for just one more game. The simplicity of the gameplay just delivers such an appealing, addictive quality. So I’m not surprised when I get hung up on playing this game nightly for months on end. You know what I do find surprising? That Japanese sewers appear to be completely free of rats. American pop culture has informed me that rats are just constantly pouring out of sewers. But there is one other key element that is missing from this game. Just imagine, you get too close to one of the four pipes, and an alligator suddenly emerges, devouring Mario or Luigi in one gruesome bite! Such a missed opportunity. That would have been much more exciting than that sneaky fireball burning you to a crisp, for the fifth time.
Brian actually made me aware of Pirate Pete, a Nintendo Switch Arcade Archives release on June 10, 2021. Pirate Pete? Wait. What is that? Well, it turns out that it is actually a variation of Jungle King. Or is that Jungle Hunt? Okay, so they’re all kind of the same game.
Jungle King was created and released by Taito (developers of the original Space Invaders) in the summer of 1982. The game features a long-haired character in a loincloth, swinging through the jungle on vines. If this sounds vaguely familiar from a pop culture standpoint, the Tarzan-like yell that your character delivers at the beginning of the game should kind of seal the deal. As you can imagine, since the game is somewhat unscrupulously titled Jungle King, this is not an officially licensed Tarzan product. And it seems as though the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs may not have been particularly pleased. While there were already enough arcade cabinets of Jungle King out in the world to make it a very successful machine, Taito made good by releasing an altered version of the game. Instead of the Tarzan knock-off, you now played as a jungle explorer type in a pith helmet, minus that famous yell, of course. Retitled Jungle Hunt, that machine, too, became a huge hit, and was the version that was eventually ported to home consoles in the 80s.
The Atari 2600 is where I first had the opportunity to play through the game, with the experience being quite refreshing, at the time. Many games on Atari’s Video Computer System tended to seem very simplistic in design. One screen affairs, like their version of Space Invaders, where you might eliminate all of the enemies on one screen, before advancing to a nearly identical screen, albeit with the difficulty likely to be a little more challenging. Rinse and repeat. But Jungle Hunt not only had four different stages to each level, but it also had three very different types of gameplay. First, swinging through the jungle on vines, using timing to advance. In the second stage, you’re swimming in a river. But the river is full of crocodiles. And all you have is a knife to defend yourself. You also happen to be a mammal, so you need to surface to breathe before your air meter empties! It’s a lot to manage. The third stage has you back on land, running to the left, either leaping over rolling boulders, or ducking under any of them that happen to be bouncing along the jungle floor. Thankfully, none of them are quite as large as that gargantuan rolling stone at the beginning of the 1981 film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which had to have been the inspiration. Finally, stage four, where you must continue to utilize that leaping ability, this time by high-jumping over a pair of cannibals! Of course the ultimate goal is to escape the cannibals and rescue a lady love, which allows you to clear the level, awarding bonus points for any time remaining. If you do not manage to leap over the cannibals, I can only assume that they eat both you and that poor damsel in distress. It’s so 80s, isn’t it? But infinitely more enjoyable than watching the shot-on-video dreck, Cannibal Campout from 1988. And this is where the rinse and repeat begins, as you continue on another level with those same four stages, featuring an obvious increase in difficulty.
Jungle Hunt seems like it would have been the obvious choice for a version ported as an Arcade Archives game. But no! Hamster, publishers of the Arcade Archives series, decided to surprise everyone by using another variation of the game. Pirate Pete was released into arcades, again by Taito, in late 1982. Perhaps Taito saw the success of Jungle Hunt, being an almost exact duplicate of the original Jungle King, and decided that they could do an even more elaborate graphical overhaul, and sell more machines! Taito would be swimming in gold, me hearties! Because of the pirates. And ahoy indeed, Pirate Pete does have you controlling the titular character, with a number of other alterations. Rather than swinging through a jungle on vines, you now swing across a pirate ship on ropes. And this is clearly the longest pirate ship of all time. I’m talking at least the length of an aircraft carrier. And if you fall off one of the ropes, I mean, so what? Aren’t you simply going to land on the deck of the ship? Is the floor lava or something? I guess the idea is that maybe you’re swinging across the ship of rival pirates. But there certainly are no visible threats. It seems like it would be much easier to just run across the ship and dive off into the ocean. Which leads us to stage two, of course. It’s essentially the same as the previous versions of the game, but the crocs are now sharks and other really angry fish. Stage three is the boulder roll, but with an added challenge. Maybe this happens in later levels of Jungle King and Hunt, as well, and I’ve just never advanced far enough into those games. But you have to time your jumps very carefully here, as constricting snakes emerge from the trees above! Jump too high, and one of them will grab you, dragging you up into the jungle canopy, with you becoming a delicious pirate dinner. And speaking of dinner, those cannibals from the previous games are replaced. Kind of. In their place are pirates. But these pirates seem to have very little interest in a trip to Long John Silver’s, as they still have your lady friend hanging from a rope above a boiling pot. They’re still going to eat her! Cannibal pirates! What a horrifying twist, matey!
Overall, it seems that Pirate Pete is really just a more challenging version of the previous games. Elements that seem to be reserved for later levels in Jungle King or Hunt, are introduced early on in Pirate Pete. Like the snakes in the trees in the third stage, I’m assuming, along with a knife-throwing pirate who stands on a ledge above the cannibal pirate cookout. The play control for all three arcade versions of the game seems to be identical. I’ve never been too excited about trying to use the knife in the river section, preferring to swim around crocodiles, rather than attempting to stab them to death for points. Not because I’m necessarily opposed to defending myself if something is trying to eat me, but because the hit detection always seems a little suspect. The idea is to try to stab while their mouths are closed. But in Pirate Pete, these fish make that even more daunting. You just know that they’re going to open their gaping maw at any second, reminding me of the nightmare images of gulper eels that I used to see when I was looking up horrors of the deep sea in encyclopedias as a kid. Not to mention that the game seems to throw even more difficulty your way on later levels, depending on the amount of lives you have remaining. Including what seem to be heat-seeking swordfish, that are nearly impossible to outswim! I guess that if you’re going to rely on your not-so-trusty knife, that must be the time to do it.
Other than the Tarzan yell in Jungle King, the sound effects are really nothing special in any version of the game. However the music, though repetitive, is pretty catchy. Let’s face it, the real reason to play any of the three games these days? Cannibals. Specifically pirate cannibals in this version. And I wondered if the reason that Hamster chose to release Pirate Pete, rather than Jungle Hunt, was because calling someone a cannibal is considered to be insensitive these days. Maybe they hoped the shadow of the Jolly Roger would disguise any thoughts of human-flavored stew in that final stage. Has cannibalism been canceled? If it has, I will not be volunteering to tell the cannibals that they are a thing of the past. Thanks anyway.