A young man plays the original Mario Bros. arcade game in his Super Mario Advance cartridge after getting it repaired, but things become strange and, at the same time, familiar with him...
Hello, people. My name is Paul.
I was born around the years where it was the middle of the NES life cycle, so when I was old enough to take care of responsibilities, I barely knew of the older arcade games that existed before I was born. I had heard from histories of Donkey Kong and the Super Mario Bros from NES onward, but just barely heard about the Mario Brothers arcade game--the Mario game BEFORE they were super.
All I knew is it was the game that introduced the world to Mario's brother Luigi, but other than that, not much else.
So when the Mario Advance games came out for Game Boy Advance, I got to enjoy them--my older cousins of course would explain to me of what the kings were turned into in Super Mario 3 for NES, as opposed to how they appeared in the remakes.
Anyway, one day, I was going to pick up my copy of Super Mario Advance 3--the one with the remake of Yoshi's Island on it. Unfortunately, my step-dad left it on a low platform, and the basement flooded. It was able to pick it up before it got completely submerged, but it was damp enough that I needed to get it repaired or replaced. I was really upset because I had just completed Yoshi's Island and was about to play the old Mario Bros arcade game to see what would be different as opposed to Mario Bros arcade in other Super Mario Advance carts.
I took the game cartridge to a special video game shop that repaired damaged games. The person at the front desk--one I had a very good friendship with--agreed to do what he could to fix it, and told me to come back tomorrow.
I came back the next day, since it was the weekend--it was fall of my Junior Year in high school at the time--and picked it up. The previous cart was damaged, but he was able to save my saved game file--a miracle as far as I was concerned--and transferred it to a new cart. I thanked him, payed the fee, and took the cart home.
I checked out the Yoshi's Island save game, and it was normal, as far as I could tell. But when my attention shifted to the original Mario Brothers arcade, I knew something was odd.
Normally, when a player clicked on the original Mario Bros arcade in any Super Mario Advance, it would have Mario and Luigi speak... it's been a while since I played the other Super Mario Advance games, so I forgot if it was "Mario Bros." or "Lets-a go!" said by both Mario and Luigi. But here, it had two very low pitched voice saying odd sounds.
The title screen showed up far different as it would normally showed. The Mario Bros. Logo had some bluish glow--almost like a bluish fire.
The game started, but instead of the cheerful Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart that usually started the first Phase, it was the ominous first bars of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, similar to what is heard when a player visits one of the Greek gods in "Battle of Olympus".
Instead of "Phase 1", the words "Abandon hope, ye who enter", flashed on the screen briefly, before the game began. The usual Shellcreepers--the predecessors of the Koopa Troopas, if you will--came out, but they had this really evil look, more so than usual. I beat them as usual, saving the POW block for a more dangerous phase.
The next phase showed the words "Shores of Acheron" on them. Again, more Shellcreepers emerged--I had not seen the crabs called Sidesteppers, yet--but the green and red fireballs started to emerge much sooner than I had expected. I was able to avoid them, good thing.
I soon went to the third Phase of the game, which had "Limbo" flash on the screen. I saw what appeared to be Luigi and Pauline--the damsel from Donkey Kong. I was playing a one player game, so it was weird to see Luigi. Luigi said, "What have you done to be sent here?" Pauline said, "Those who come here are lost." The two vanished, and the Shellcreepers began to emerge, as did the Sidesteppers. The Sidesteppers were already in their fast angry form, but their smiles seem gleeful--sadistic even. I quickly made my way to the POW Block and hit it, and kicked off all the enemies before they could get back up. I sure didn't want to let them recover and get me.
Then I made it to the fourth Phase, but the start of the phase had the words "Winds of the Carnal" on the screen at the start. Instead of Sidesteppers or Shellcreepers, clones of Pauline blew about. I didn't want to take any chances so I dodged down, hit from below--which got them stuck and stopped their movement, thankfully--and knocked them off. At first I kinda felt bad, but I didn't want to find out the hard way whether they were dangerous or not.
The fifth phase showed up. The words that started the Phase said "The Gluttonous Suffer in the Darkened Snow." Already, we see ice, as well as the hopping Flies and the Freezies--but I thought Freezies, the ice enemies, didn't show up till much later. Same with icy floors. As cautiously as I could, I knocked out the enemies and kicked them into the abyss below.
Phase Number 6 came up, and the text on the screen says "Greed Weights All Down." I saw the Sidesteppers pushing what looked like Shellcreeper Shells, but they were pale gray--at least as close to pale gray as the GBA palette would allow. When I knocked out the Sidestepper, the shell just crumbled. I didn't know that there could be Shellcreeper shells that were empty. I started to get a bit more suspicious about this game, but curiosity prompted me foreward.
I made it to Phase 7, and the text read "Styx's Waters of Wrath." There was a bit of purplish water at the bottom of the screen, just under the floor below. The Fly enemies started coming out, as did one of the automatically angry Sidesteppers. One of them got a cheap hit on me and I saw a purplish splash, but it was followed up by what appeared to be a pale bony arm. I didn't remember any of the original Mario Bros games having that--perhaps it was a new gimmick in this version, I thought. But when I recovered from that, I was able to knock out the enemies, even getting enough points to get an extra life. It was also at this point I noticed any bonus levels were taken out. It made me more curious, and that curiosity spurred me to play on. I just HAD to get to the bottom of this and find out what was going on.
The eighth phase started, and the phase introduction read: "Welcome to Dis, home of the heretics." Some more Shellcreepers came out, and the red fireballs started bouncing around at the start of the phase. And these fireballs, unlike the previous, didn't dissipate when I hit them from below, so I had to avoid them while trying to knock out enemies when I can. I just barely knocked out the last enemy when the fireball got too close for the old comfort.
Phase 9 began, and the starting text read "Phlegethon--River of Blood". The liquid just below the bottom floor seemed to look like the lava in many of the fortress levels of Super Mario 3. But instead of emerging from pipes, the Flies emerged from the pool, and they looked reddish. Only when they went through the pipes on the bottom did they re-emerge on the top. I quickly knocked them out before they could get a chance to touch me--except the last one, who got a cheap hit on me and I saw a red splash followed by a whisp of smoke, similar to the smoke cloud when a cannonball or Bullet Bill shot out of a cannon in Super Mario 3. But I recovered from that life lost and knocked out the final Fly.
Phase 10 soon began, and I read the words "Forest of Suicides" as the level began. It was finally at this moment that it dawned on me. I remembered a few years back that I had checked out a copy of "The Inferno" by Dante Allegheri. This was a copy of Mario Bros. with Dante's Inferno elements mixed in, even with the GBA limitations. I had to find out why, but first, I needed to see to the end what would happen. There were no enemies popping out, just some greenish fireballs for me to dissipate by hitting them from below.
The eleventh phase of this game began, with "Fiery Sands and Fiery Rain." In this area, again, no enemies emerged from the pipes, but the red fireballs emerged. Unlike other red fireballs in the game, these rained from below, and there was a timer similar to how bonus games were. I just had to dodge fireballs until the timer ran out. I did so, but as the timer neared the end, the fireballs fell faster. The timer finished, and a creature that looked like a large Cobrat with Paratroopa wings--perhaps the game's version of Geryon?--took me to the next phase.
The twelfth phase started, and I read the text: "Beginning of Fraud--Paunders and Seducers". I chuckled when I saw Shellcreepers emerged with stereotypical pimp hats and sunglasses, but then I regained my composure and began knocking them off into the pit below. For a level this late, it seemed relatively easy.
Phase 13 soon was underway, and the phase began with the text reading "The Stench of Flattery." I saw just under the platform a brownish fluid. It only made sense since, in Dante's Inferno, Flatterers were condemned to spend all eternity in crap. I mean, they were full of it in life, so they're in it for eternity. Anyway, some Flies and Sidesteppers emerged. I laughed as I knocked each one of them into the crap below.
I soon made it to the fourteenth phase, and was greeted with the text "Simoniacs' Hot-Footing." The red fireballs didn't chase me, just stood near "candlesticks" that resembled people's feet, similar to how it Simoniacs--those who sold out on their positions in the church--had their feet set on fire as they themselves were jammed headfirst into holes. Shellcreepers and Sidesteppers emerged, and I battled as usual, but kept wary just in case a fireball would start chasing me. Thankfully, none did.
I soon went to the fifteenth phase, with the phase starting out with the text: "Behold the fate of the diviners." I saw some creatures that resembled the Magikoopa in the SNES games emerging from the pipes. But these ones looked like the spriters deliberately had their heads backwards. But then, any reader of Dante's Inferno would know that was the case with diviners. Still, with this setup, the Magikoopas shot magic haphazardly--the magic came in the form of the green fireballs. I carefully dodged them and knocked out the Magikoopas to clear the board, but I had to really take my time here to avoid getting hit by a spell.
The text "Fate of Crooked Politicians" flashed to start Phase 16. Below the bottom floor I saw a darker bubbling "lava". But readers of Dante's Inferno would know that it was boiling pitch. Sidesteppers emerged, and these moved a little faster than angry Sidesteppers usually did. So, I decided to hit the POW Block again to stun them, and kick them off before they could be a serious threat.
It wasn't long till Phase 17 started. I saw on the screen the words "The Weight of the Hypocrites' Wrongs". I paused to take a breather, and then came back. I saw some greyish looking Shellcreepers moving REALLY slow. The grey color scheme is probably to match the lead cloaks that the hypocrites wore in Dante's work. But this slowness made them easy to knock over and kick.
Phase 18 began, and I soon read the words: "Thieves' Fate". I saw Shellcreepers changing to Cobrats and back to Shellcreepers. When I hit their Cobrat forms from below, they couldn't be knocked over. I had to wait till they were Shellcreeper form to knock them back. Eventually, I was able to KO them and get out the Phase--I didn't want to know whether or not the transformation could affect me.
The nineteenth phase soon started, and I saw at the start of said phase the words: "False Counsel Burns Harshly". I knew what it would be, that it would be the punishment of False Counselors--which was each was wrapped in flame. And it was the Sidesteppers and Flies, each covered by a circle of red fireballs. I had to hit them from below twice--once to dispel the fireballs, and second time to stun them and kick them over. I did so quickly, since I didn't want to know whether or not the fireballs would come back to them.
The twentieth phase began, and I read the words "Hear the agony of the Schismatics." Similar to what awaited those types in Dante's work, I saw Shellcreepers, Sidesteppers, and Flies looking like they were cut up--including reddish pixels that seemed to imply blood. But this condition slowed them down, and this allowed me to do the usual knocking them into the pits below.
Phase 21 began with the words "Behold the Falsifiers." Two Shellcreepers were chasing each other on the middle platforms, pecking at each other--resembling the imposters, which were falsifiers of persons. One Sidestepper was still and had a crude GBA-style animation of scratching himself, which was resembling the Alchemists' fate in Dante's Inferno. Another Sidestepper looked very puffed up and had what I assumed a tongue out implying thirst--this was the fate of money counterfeiters according to Dante. And a Fly enemy was showing a face of fever and a hot water bottle for a headache--implying this was a slanderer, in Dante's view of things. With their conditions, I had to plan ahead as I knocked out each of them. After doing so, I saw what looked like a giant Birdo lifting Mario up and dipping him into a large well.
Phase 22 had all icy floors, and the text read "Cocytus--Realm of Treachery." And unlike the other phases, it was four screens total, stacked. Freezies were about, with a Fly enemy inside them in various areas of cover in ice. I had to hit each Freezie to reveal the enemy, hit the enemy, and then knock it off. Since it was larger than a standard Mario Bros. level, I had to work a bit harder, but I was able to do it.
The final Phase of this version, Phase 23, came up, which read "Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni"--the same words Virgil said to Dante as they approached the very heart of the Inferno. There, I saw what looked like Bowser, but Bowser's head was the center, the head of Wart--the enemy of Super Mario 2 USA--is on the viewer's left, and the head of Smithy--the villain of Super Mario RPG--on the viewer's right. "How can I fight this thing?" I asked. But then, I saw some White Bob-Ombs with halos emerging. I hit one from below and kicked one off, and the Mario version of the devil showed looks of pain on all three heads! I knew the secret then, so I went and hit the second White Bob-Omb--but as I continued on, the other heads started spitting projectiles. The Bowser head spat out large fireballs, Wart spat bubbles, and Smithy sent out large spike balls. I lost one of my lives after kicking the third White Bob-Omb in, but I still had lives left. I hung in there until the fifth and final White Bob-Omb was knocked, and the screen flashed for a bit.
When the flash faded, it showed Mario on the grassland, similar to World 1-2 in Super Mario 3. It then zoomed into Mario, who turned to face me, but despite the friendly face, had reddish pupils, and a sinister-sounding voice, almost like a deeper Wario voice rather than Mario's voice, said "Let's-a play again!" I turned off the game. On one hand, I'm glad this was done, but on the other hand, I was puzzled.
The following weekend, I visited the game repair area, and asked who gave him the copy of the game. I showed the first few levels of the game, and it was just as it showed me. The man was surprised, as it looked just like a regular legit cart of it when he got it, according to his account. He then brought in the manager, and he too was surprised at what happened. Then he said, "I have heard rumors of hackers opening up old carts, messing around with code, inserting them back into the carts, reassembling them, and playing them. But thought they were nothing but rumors at the time. I never thought we'd get one of those carts in our possession."
Now, ever since that day, I learned to always have someone check when I need to have maintenance done on some of my older games. If something looks suspicious, friends, say something.