Brutal Mario Review: A Beautiful Fanfiction Fever Dream

Hello everyone, quick aside before I begin. This article is an edited version of an article I wrote a very long time ago in the Destructiod blog section. I figured it would be a good way to test out Medium and get some kind of content out there. You can find the original article here. Don’t read too deeply into the stuff I posted back then, I was like 15. I remember this article having a lot of good stuff in it so I’m going to present an improved version of it here. Hope you enjoy!

Brutal Mario is a romhack of Super Mario World in which you can wield Meta Knight’s sword, summon a Ring Boomerang, and fight King K. Rool in an undersea palace. It’s like when you were a kid and constantly imagined and created nonsensical interactions between the games you liked. It’s Super Mario Bros. Z, it’s Death Battle, it’s a Super Nintendo fan game with no consistency to be found. You would think there’s no way this could turn out well, that the sheer weight of its contradictions would hold it back.

That’s where you’d be wrong. Brutal Mario is a damn impressive project.

Brutal Mario World AKA Super Kitiku Mario or Devil King Mario (PC)
Developer: “Carol”
Released: Sometime around 2008
Download: SMWC (There’s a lot of versions, check here for a breakdown)

Judging by the title alone, Brutal Mario seems like just another Kaizo Mario knockoff that’s more fun for how blatantly bad it is than anything else. It would be reasonable to assume it’s just going to constantly kill you and get old after like 10 minutes. But thankfully, that’s not what Brutal Mario is at all. The difficulty is respectable throughout, never too out of line with what you would expect in Mario World itself. I used a lot of savestates, but none of the gameplay really expected that much from me.

No, the true hook of Brutal Mario is its constant, unabashed creativity. The first couple of levels are pretty standard Mario stuff: you jump on enemies, you get fire flowers, there’s not a lot of surprises. And then there’s a level where you chase down a Yoshi to eat him (not shown, thankfully). And a level in which you get the Leaf Shield from Mega Man to make you nigh invincible. There’s a Ghost House where hitting switches makes certain platforms intangible. There’s a Donkey Kong Country inspired minecart level. You can stop time (and the timer) with P-switches at one point, in a level named after a JoJo reference. A forest level has you cut your own path through the trees with the Fire flower, burning wood blocks as you please.

The game’s constantly throwing something new and interesting at you throughout. No matter how much you think you already “get” it, there’s always something crazier on the horizon. I find this complete disregard for cohesion really interesting and exciting, and it makes for a much more refreshing experience than a lot of the most popular romhacks can provide.

This extends to the presentation as well. The basic platforms and backgrounds are largely ripped from Yoshi’s Island, but there’s also plenty of stuff from various JRPG’s, schmups, and platformers depending on the level’s gimmick. Again, this would normally make for a mess of graphics with no effective art style, but the creator somehow managed to merge this all into a consistent style. I’d compare it to the visual feel of The Amazing World of Gumball, a show that similarly creates so much contrast in its characters and environments that the chaos folds into harmony and the result is undeniably charming.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The impressive creativity of Brutal Mario’s creator is the hack’s greatest strength, but it’s also its greatest weakness. For every few fun, satisfying levels that take a cool gimmick and do it justice, there’s another level that just falls flat. One fortress level does nothing but flip your controls, which is disorienting but hardly compelling. There’s a particularly annoying ghost house that has you work with multiple P-switches and goes so far as to insist that you should be thankful for the especially long timer. A mid-game underwater ghost ship is impossibly aggravating and made me consider quitting, but it can be completely cheese with a simple hidden star at the beginning. These levels especially frustrated me because when Brutal Mario hits, it really hits.

Unfortunately the bosses fare even worse. The version I played has a total of 43 bosses, which is impressive, but quantity does not exactly equal quality. There are some really cool bosses: Kirby turns giant in an homage to Yoshi’s Island, Paper Mario’s Koopa Bros serve as a mid-boss in Roy’s castle, and Iggy becomes a Magikoopa for a neat puzzle boss. But there’s a lot of boring, annoying, frustrating, or otherwise awful bosses. Wendy’s fight is pretty easy and boring, Donkey Kong Country’s Dumb Drum goes on for way too long, and Carol somehow thought it was a good idea to bring in Mega Man’s Yellow Devil, which is even more tedious and obnoxious in a game where you can only take two hits.

Image: Small Mario stands between the heads of Zable Fahr, facing each other. This fight was the worst.

But to harp on about the worst parts of Brutal Mario would be doing it a disservice. Carol clearly wasn’t particularly concerned with how smooth or conventionally well designed the hack is, but rather with channeling the pure and unburdened creative energy of a child writing fanfiction for the first time. At this, Brutal Mario succeeds. Plus, when it hits, it hits well, and there are many more hits than misses. I’d recommend the hack, if for no other reason than for the experience of seeing just what this creator could come up with.

But before I go, I need to make note of something very important. The hack is, overall, unfinished. Or it might not be, depending on what version you find? In the brief time I’ve spend researching changes to the hack in the 5 years since my original playthrough, I couldn’t quite put together what versions had which content. The creator is notoriously enigmatic. When asked about their gender, they always respond “ My father is male, and my mother is female”. I’ve seen some indication that they are actively trying to not distribute this hack anymore, even. Their primary language is also Japanese, and the original versions date back to over a decade ago, so the release history is naturally a chaotic mess, which I suppose is only appropriate.

There’s been years of different demo releases and unofficial translations, all in various states of completion and often lacking key components. The version I played had no proper ending, instead just leading you to a level named TO BE CONTINUED, which instantly kills you in front of a picture of Wendy. Some versions have a working final level but crash upon trying to enter any other level. There’s a secret “Luigi” world that’s only partially accessible, and I don’t have any idea if that’s gone anywhere. You get the idea.

So Brutal Mario is certainly something of a mixed bag. I thought it was really entertaining, and I’d seriously recommend giving it a shot if anything I’ve written here sounds interesting to you. See if you can do better than me and track down a functioning full version, in fact, let me know if you do. Regardless of all the strange bugs and messy design, the hack has a surprising amount of content and a lot of it is really good. So I suppose, taking everything into consideration, I’d have to give Brutal Mario a score of

That’s where the review ends! I hope you liked it. That ending joke doesn’t carry as well here as in the original, but I just had to keep it. Anyway, if you’re interested in seeing the other stuff I do, follow me on Twitter. I also post short videos on YouTube and occasionally stream games and stuff on Twitch. If you’d like to support me financially as I try to do more creative stuff online, I’ve got a Patreon page, or a Kofi if you prefer one-time donations. Thank you very much for reading and I’ll hopefully see you next time!

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Alexis

Alexis

Trans Internet Creator with an engineering degree. She/they.