That Super Mario Bros. C64 Port Was Too Good For This World

It was foolish to think that the adventure of the Mario Bros. would ever exist outside of the castle walls of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Except for that one time it did. The Hudson Soft company was a close collaborator with Nintendo, and parlayed that favor into being tasked with bringing Super Mario Bros. to platforms beyond the NES. The result of that collaboration would be 1986’s Super Mario Special, a port for the NEC PC-88 line of desktop computers. What ended up on that 5.25″ floppy sounded reminiscent of the Famicom original, but with a grand total of four colors (including black) and not a single scrolling screen in sight; Super Mario Special felt decidedly less than spectacular to play. Those eternally flickering sprites mixed with jarring blank screen transitions would never make it outside of Japan, so for a large swath of the world Mario would remain constrained to a gray plastic cartridge for years to come.

There are no shortage of ways to play Super Mario Bros. these days. Emulation in all of its various official and unofficial forms has taken care of that. Virtually everything with a processor more capable than the NES’s 6502 can play host to the Mushroom Kingdom, however, machines more contemporary with the NES still lacked access to the iconic title.

Enter the 2019 port of Super Mario Bros. for the Commodore 64 by [ZeroPaige]. A culmination of seven years work to port the game onto one of the most prolific computers of the eighties was a clear feat of brilliance and an amazing bit of programming that would have taken 1986 by storm. No pale imitation, this was Mario on the C64. Despite all of the nuance in recreating the jump-and-run model of the original paired with enveloping all eight sound channels of a dual SID chip setup, Nintendo saw fit to stifle the proliferation of this incredible 170 kB of software because they claim it infringes on their copyright.

Please Cease and Desist from Building that Pokédex

The original Commodore 64 came in a brilliant beige case.

Pokémon games have come out on Nintendo consoles like clockwork since their inception in 1996. The development team’s conservative approach to game design over the years has had the adverse effect that sequels feeling increasingly rote to long-time fans. Each new entry in the mainline series has staunchly adhered to the original’s winning formula albeit with diminishing returns. Sales have seen a downward trend inconsistent with the accompanying console’s install base. All the while, mounting feedback from the community of Pokémon players has surfaced one constant refrain, “Please just make the Pokémon MMO”.

Nintendo has long held a reticence to incorporating the connecting power of the internet to their games. Their broadband adapter for the Nintendo GameCube was supported by a whopping seven of the console’s nearly six hundred releases. When it came to their other “online” consoles/handhelds the company opted for the convoluted Friend Code system rather than the simplicity of screen names used literally everywhere else online. This heaping mess of decisions lead to a handful of fan developers banding together to create their own open source Pokémon multiplayer vision, Pokénet.

The mission of the Pokénet project was to create a online game that would allow players to connect to the same server in order to converse each other en mass while traveling across all of Pokémon’s fictional regions. The project pulled assets from multiple official Pokémon releases, so almost as soon as it appeared Pokénet was shutdown after being issued a cease and desist letter from Nintendo in 2010. Before being shutdown though, thousands had experienced what online connectivity could add to the game franchise; only to find that official offerings ignored this “feedback” from its fans altogether. This same cycle has continued to this day within Nintendo, but there are examples of other companies that have explored an alternative approach to bootleg tributes to beloved videogames.

The Taxman Cometh for Sonic Team

Sonic the Hedgehog fandom runs deep. The blue blur character has been a staple in games since the early 1990s, and has received a regular cadence of sequels released to ever-decreasing levels of critical acclaim. The developers of the Sonic games, Sonic Team, sought to return to basics with the announcement of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 in 2010. The game was planned as a classic 2D design to be released episodically, the problem was that no one cared. Panned by critics and fans alike, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 saw only two episodes release before being cancelled. Sonic Team’s grand vision to reform the franchise had failed.

Meanwhile, hardcore Sonic enthusiasts had not forgotten the series’ roots. An online development community called, Sonic Retro, had hosted a number of homebrew game contests dedicated to keeping 1990s Sonic games alive. Christian Whitehead, a.k.a. Sonic Retro forum user [Taxman], took part in one of the Sonic homebrew game contests and gained notoriety for his creation simply known as the Retro Engine. Whitehead went on to pitch SEGA a port of their own game, Sonic CD, for iOS that utilized the Retro engine. It worked. Sonic CD was ported to multiple modern platforms and received high praise from fellow fans in the the process.

After a number of other successful Sonic game ports, Whitehead was asked to helm a wholly original Sonic game in the classic 2D style. This project as Sonic Mania. Released in 2017, Sonic Mania was the highest rated Sonic game amongst videogame critics in twenty five years. It surpassed Sonic Team’s own release that same year, Sonic Forces. The fan made game resonated with Sonic fans far better than anything put out by the folks with the character emblazoned on their official business cards.

The Most Amazing Software You’ll Never See

And that brings us back to Super Mario. There’s a level of skill on display with that Super Mario Bros. port for Commodore 64 that is rarely seen. Taking into account the inherent limitations of microcomputers contemporaneous with the NES shows how expertly that clone was programed. And because of Nintendo’s lawyers, if you don’t already have a copy, you’re going to have to make do with the video below.

“By Commodore 64 standards, this is [expletive] insane. In terms of how well it animates, sounds, and plays…It doesn’t sound like a Commodore, and they put the fireworks in.”

Jeff Gerstmann, Founder of Giant Bomb

There is a canyon between it and the official Super Mario Special, and the difference between the two is the amount of time and passion. Fans possess time and passion in spades, and embracing it has proven to yield incredible results. Maybe instead of seeking to silence those less-than-official projects with a flurry of cease and desist notices that same energy could be focused towards cooperation between copiers and copyright holders. After all, it worked for Sonic.

46 thoughts on “That Super Mario Bros. C64 Port Was Too Good For This World

  1. Just another example of why Copyright needs to go back to its roots before corporations bought enough political favors to get the governments to extended copyrights to absurd lengths. Creators deserve protection and the rewards form their work but at some point in exchange for that protection works should enter the public domain especially when they involve something like software that has a limited lifetime in terms of support where owners often find themselves unable to use what they paid for.

      1. If you follow the roots of copyright, it was made to be hijacked and abused by corporations in the first place.

        Modern copyright originates in the Statute of Anne. Before that, there was the Stationers’ Company which held monopoly to all printing because the state wanted to censor what was being printed. You had to be a member to print or publish anything. The members would buy a manuscript from an author, then register it with the company, and receive a monopoly to print copies. That was the origin of the term “copyright”. This charter ended in 1693 when the British parliament refused to reinstate the monopoly.

        For ten years the Company tried to lobby their monopoly back, without success, so they tried a different tactic and stated saying that the authors of works held a copyright, not the publishers. That worked, the Statute of Anne was written and the first copyright term set at 14 years.

        So what’s the catch? Copyrights could be bought and granted to someone else, so now the publishers simply refused to publish unless the authors sold the copyrights along with the manuscripts, and thus they regained their monopolies back. When the copyright terms started expiring, they simply lobbied for more time, again and again, since the 18th century.

    1. Copyright is supposed to be for a limited time but it’s been extended excessively over and over until now it’s the life of the creator plus 70 years. If the idea is to let people profit off of their works for a time before the public domain gets it, why should someone still profit off of it for 70 years after they die? This is abuse of the system. It needs reformed really badly. We can debate on the specifics but in my view there should be a hard limit of 20 years and once something is no longer sold it should immediately lose protection. 20 years is more than long enough for an original creator to turn a profit on their creation. This would also solve the problems of things being lost to time because they weren’t able to be legally preserved. It would also allow people to make these kinds of passion projects without fear of being attacked for it.

      1. I agree, only difference I would make it 12 years for software, 27 years for media (books, music, movies) (death of original author/s invalidates copyright immediately.) , just so the copyright owners can squeeze a few extra bucks out of people on the 10th/25th anniversary, but the way things are going that ain’t gonna happen, where did I hear that copyright is be extended to 120 years in the U.S., is that right?

        1. I know this is heresy around these parts, but I’m still not convinced by the argument that code is creative speech. Not to say that coding isn’t creative or difficult, but just that it’s nothing like what was originally intended.

          Code is more like algorithms. But at the time that code became “speech” to give it an IP foothold, algorithms (and business practices, and mathematical and medical discoveries) were unpatentable, so they had to go with “speech” and copyright. But since we’ve decided in the mean time that everything anyone can think up can be owned, code would surely make more sense alongside algorithms and business practices in patent law.

          I’m not a lawyer, but surely you know someone. Make it so!

          (And that’ll get you 17 years under patent law. Winner!)

          1. I share your sentiment, Code should not be copyrightable and the language independent algorithm belongs in with patents. The problem is that copyrighting code means that code reuse becomes a complicated endeavor. Oh, you wanted to reuse part of that function that you created last year at a different employer? Thats a shame, they own the copyright so you now need to recreate the same functionality but in a different way. This is how we end up with frameworks on frameworks and overall shittier code not to mention wasted man hours and thus wasted profits and economic growth.

        2. Yes, the mouse is due to enter public domain soon so they will lobby against it before that happens. Can’t have steamboat willie be available for other people.

      2. Walt Disney died in 1966, so this gives the Disney Culture Borg – one of the major progenitors of the DMCA – until 2036 to ready itself for a further extension so that they can run old animations profitably into eternity.

    2. It’s only going to keep getting worse as long as America remains a country by the corporation for the corporation. One nation under the mighty profit machine.

  2. I played it a bit, sure, it’s an impressive feat, and a faithful port.. But it’s subpar to the NES version, it runs worse and you’ll need a gamepad and some extra work to play it with two buttons.. I certainly respect the effort, but it’s not a great loss for the world if it goes away.. And, in the end, Supermario is just a cheap Giana Sisters ripoff anyway ;)

  3. Nintendo should simply offer to license the trademark to Zeropaige for a dollar a year.

    That allows them to defend their intellectual property and not risk losing protection, and have the community’s good will to boot.

    IANAL, but is there a reason this would be a bad idea?

      1. No permission needed. Any of us can build whatever we want. Sharing is at issue.

        Nobody is going to ask, unless there is some greater plan.

        An exhibition on C64 just happens because someone found it worth it to do.

        Great. More please. The golden age of computing is all about that kind of thing and will continue regardless of what mega big Corp says about it.

        1. Do you remember that guy that made a.m.2.r. Another Metroid 2 remake A fan made Metroid game that took 10 years to make The guy was giving it away for free not intending to make a profit and Nintendo monitored his progress and sent a cease-and-desist within an day of posting it to Internet they could take down this post just because it has the word Metroid in it going by that logic

  4. Called it the day it showed up here.
    The big N has been nothing but rutheless to their fans.
    Dare I say it: more evil than Apple.
    Zero interest in listening to reason.
    There is literally 100 ways they could deal with this “isignificant port of an old game to an insignificant machine with an insignificant maeket” which could still make everyone happy and allow it into the world.
    But their go-to response is always to be a sack of .
    It’s part of their corporate flow-chart.

  5. anyone up to posting to tpb where the only thing that gets stuff taken down is if it is

    1. malware

    2. illegal porn

    3. password protected.

    4. archives posted in anywhere other than other other

  6. “if you don’t already have a copy, you’re going to have to make do with the video below”

    Hmmm… this was written for a system that existed years before “the internet”
    A system that thrived because of kids copying from other kids…
    Those kids may be older and are aware of “the internet”, but it doesn’t matter if Nintendo takes it down from the internet,
    because the seeds have been spread. There only needs to be one copy, only one disk… and the people who like this game today, were the copying kids of the past and those copying skills never disappeared.
    So, I guess that Mario on the C64 is here to stay.
    Although I’m more of a Giana sisters kind of guy, I couldn’t resist to copy that floppy.

    The funny thing is, that I was only aware of this game because of the Nintendo attention, without it I would perhaps not have known about it’s existence. So I guess we have to thank Nintendo for spreading the word.

    1. Same here.. I only learned of this title through the Nintendo publicity, and I too preferred GGS to SMB back then (although I spent way more time playing Ultimate Wizard, Temple of Apshai and Lode Runner)

      By the way it’s still out there. I followed the links from here and downloaded it today. And Nintendo, don’t even think this makes us even for that crap you pulled with ONE YEAR of Splatfests on the Wii U!

  7. The joke is, this is Toshihiko Nakagos and Kazuaki Moritas code running on the C64, adapted to the C64 hardware by ZeroPaige. That is the reason all the bugs/features are still in there and Mario behaves like he should, this is not a clone this is the real deal.

  8. the problem with Nintendo is that they don’t want people to know they got jipped when they bought the nes. in all reality all the games that where on the Nintendo where made using c64… kinda like how Microsoft used dos all the way to xp

    1. Nintendo twice fobbed off on the world a game system that was already two years old in Japan. NES released in 1985. Famicom in Japan in 1983. Same thing with SNES, Super Famicom was in Japan 2 years before being remade into the SNES.

      The first time I opened up a NES to clean that stupid cartridge connector, I knew nothing of the Famicom and was quite surprised to see copyright 1983 on the circuit board.

  9. soooooo just remove the branding/sprites anything trademarked/able. The code is all independent work.

    Even better, start a competition for anyone to submit graphics/sounds and then after you have nice Nintendo friendly release allow people to create themes and, oh dear, someone has created one with all the original Mario assets. Not my fault.

    1. If I understand it correctly, the game is a direct port. He started by disassembling a NES rom, then rewrote the IO, Graphics and sound parts for the c64. In that case, it wouldn’t be very useful to release the remaining code other for us other coders to awe at his new routines.

  10. Nintendo has lived too long – it has grown too much. If it is incapable of embracing the adoration of fans for its material when that material is made for nothing more than fan enjoyment without monetary interests, it has to die.

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