Developer: Jack-of-All Games
Released: April 8th, 2019
Super Mario in Marooned on Mars is a free fan-game for the PC by Ryan Silberman that pays homage to both the popular Super Mario franchise and the PC platformer Commander Keen. Most of the game’s elements is a mix of what both series offered. To preface, I have never played Commander Keen before, but I am familiar with the Super Mario games. I also know Ryan through a Discord server.
Marooned on Mars has Mario and a couple of Toads from the Mushroom Kingdom crash on the Red Planet, and in order to get off the planet, Mario needs to collect four of the spaceship’s parts in order to repair it. Of course, he must find them by exploring the levels on Mars. You can play all the available levels or only play through the important ones to get the spaceship parts, which typically end with a boss fight.
You’ll find all what makes Super Mario games familiar in here, including the signature jumping and stomping on enemies, and the mushrooms that turn Mario into his super form. I found the jumping to be extremely intuitive, and at no point did I feel the jumping was off (unless it was directly my fault).
The interesting bit to talk about is how the power-ups are done in Marooned on Mars. When you collect a fire flower, you don’t get infinite fireball, but only four ammo at a time. You can cycle between your active power-ups by hitting the Shift button, with the fire flower shooting fireballs, the gray flower shooting powerful gravity-defying metal balls that keep bouncing around even after hitting enemies, the mushroom just letting you run like you normally would, and the obtainable jump boots let you jump extremely high. I find this power-up system to be an interesting break from how the official series does it, and the execution is smart.
Also included are what you’d expect of old PC platformers, such as items that add to your score and keycards. For every 20,000 points, you get an extra life, which is one more chance before the game over screen (which fortunately only resets your score and not your progress). I have to say, the platforming is actually well designed and the levels fun to explore and not too long. It takes about an hour to finish all the levels, although it can be hard to tell if a gap leads to a spike pit or into the lower parts of a level, which may cost you some lives. In general, being careful with descending is a good idea, as it may save you from running into an enemy.
The game is authentic to its Commander Keen roots, so a completed level is marked as DONE on the world map and is then rendered inaccessible. While I can appreciate the authenticity, it also gets in the way of the “collect the 13 teddy bears” side-quest in more ways than one, so one thing I would love to see in a future update is the ability to turn that authenticity on or off. Also, while jumping through passable platforms and “snapping” to their tops generally work well, they sometimes just plain teleport Mario several blocks away.
The MIDI-style music and especially the sound effects more than belong to the old computers of the time (although you don’t have the option to change how they sound depending on the sound output), and the visuals also fit that bill. Even the menu interfaces (beyond the main menu at least) has you pressing the first letter in the option to access it (“Y”es to play catch or “N”o). I think Marooned on Mars has the art authenticity down to the T.
Super Mario in Marooned on Mars is one fan-game I’d recommend playing, especially if you love both Mario and Commander Keen or old PC platformers in general, as it nails both. And while the authentic lock-out of levels you’ve cleared is not boding well for the side-quest – and I would surely love a patch for that, I think you should give the game a spin.
You can also check out the other free games we have talked about here!