(Vs. Skate Kid Bros)

Rom hacks have always been one of the more interesting gaming-related things that's been made more accessible by emulation. Being able to look inside all the rom data and edit it directly has given people a way to make changes to classic (and non-classic) games. A lot of good things have come about from rom hacking, like translation patches - a lot of Japanese games have been fan-translated into English (and other languages!) for a larger audience to enjoy. Others have made significant changes to the levels of games themselves, letting people experience a new game in an engine they're already familiar with. But for every positive thing people have done in the world of rom hacks, there are many more instances of rom hacks that... well, don't really add anything meaningful to the original game.

Skate Kid Bros is a special case, though. Long before anyone dreamed of being able to play almost any arcade game instantly through their computer, there were people hacking arcade roms in a manner that was no doubt far less convenient than what's possible on a computer. The hacking was usually being done by bootleggers, looking to make some profit off the arcade market. Some would just break copy protection and sell illegal copies of arcade games as-is (which certainly wasn't as easy as copying a PC game), while others would manage to figure out how to change certain things about a game and then sell it as a "new" game. A lot of these hacks consisted of nothing more than title screen hacks to make the same game appear as a "new" game with a different name.

But some went beyond the name changes and actually changed the game program itself, like a certain hack of Pac-Man called "Crazy Otto", which was actually bought out by Midway and redesigned as Ms. Pac-Man... which of course went on to be one of the (if not THE) most successful and iconic arcade games released in the United States. A decade later, during the height of Street Fighter II's popularity in the arcades, many bootleggers were hacking the roms on SF2 Champion Edition boards, adding in new features like being able to do special moves in mid-air, and dragon punches that simultaneously launched a column of fireballs. These unsanctioned bootlegs became surprisingly commonplace in arcades in the early 90's, although ultimately it's arguable that in the long run they ended up killing off a lot of player interest because it made for very unbalanced matches with all the new unfair abilities thrown into the games.

No, Skate Kid Bros was nowhere near as commonplace in the arcades as something like those SF2CE bootlegs. And it was not a hack that changed gameplay in any meaningful way either. It was also not sold as a full bootleg kit (as far as I know anyway), it was only sold as an unofficial "add-on" for arcade owners that already owned Vs. SMB boards - so they'd get a new ROM chip(s) to install, a new marquee, a new instruction panel. However, while Skate Kid Bros (or Vs. Skate Kid Bros if you want to call it that) did not make any gameplay changes to the Vs. Super Mario Bros we all know and love, they did end up making changes to most of the graphics in the game. The result? A hilarious, yet also baffling rom hack that makes one wonder what kind of theme they were really going for, and whether they thought arcadegoers would notice that the game still played exactly the same as Super Mario Bros (although it's worth clarifying that the arcade Vs. version of SMB had some slight changes from its Famicom/NES counterpart, more on that later)

I've only ever seen Vs. Skate Kid Bros once in an arcade, at a pizza place called Fun Time Pizza in McAllen, Texas. I think Fun Time Pizza was pretty much the same as Showbiz Pizza? They had a stage show with animatronic robot animals and all that shit. McAllen was 30+ miles from where I lived though so I never really got to check it out until I was able to drive. And it was during that first visit to Fun Time Pizza that I saw it standing right next to a Yie-Ar Kung Fu cabinet (which I probably hadn't seen in like a decade)... a Vs. Super Mario Bros cabinet that looked a little different upon closer inspection. Vs.... Skate Kid Bros? I put in a quarter and laughed at the absurdity of the game, but I didn't play very far into it, deciding to spend my time on some other stuff (like the nearby Yie-Ar Kung Fu, and also the first Zombie Raid cabinet I'd ever seen). Sadly, this would be my only time seeing the game "in the wild" - the next time I returned (maybe a few months later), the cabinet was gone. A few years later the place had closed down entirely.

Watching one of those crazy tool-assisted speedruns of NES SMB many years later, made me suddently remember that Skate Kid Bros cabinet. I immediately took to the internet to look for the rom, but it was nowhere to be found. I quickly forgot about it again. Then at some point in... I'm guessing 2008, I found out about the existence of a variant of MAME called "MisfitMAME" that supported a bunch of hacked versions of games that weren't supported in regular MAME. Sure enough, Vs. Skate Kid Bros was dumped and emulated by MisfitMAME! (it later ended up being added to official MAME as of version 0.128u4).

And the game ended up being just as delightfully weird as I remembered it from that one quarter (or should I say, two bits) I spent on it at a pizza place over a decade ago. So let's take a look!

(Note: I wanted to animate more of these sprites but I'm too fuckin lazy to do that right now. Maybe later.)

Lets start from the title screen again. And what a lovely title screen it is! The iconic Super Mario Bros logo has changed into what looks like a shitload of deer (those deer are in the bushes in the background too), a dozen pyramids, the letters "RS" and "EF" (possible initials of the people that hacked the game?!)... and of course the "Copyright'88 TBS". They had the gall to actually try and copyright this hack! Yeah, nice try there. Too bad they actually left the 1986 Nintendo notice intact. So close, guys!


Unsurprisingly, the game at least manages to deliver based on its title, and Mario is now a kid with a skateboard. They didn't try to change the name either, it still says Mario (and of course Luigi in a 2P game) at the top of the screen. Lazy, but hey it's very possible that kid's name could be Mario. You won't see any sick ollies on that skateboard though, since he actually picks it up when he jumps. Not very eXtReMe.


The magic mushroom has been replaced with a giant quarter. Obviously it's a quarter since like all quarters in the real world, they're gigantic red circles with "25c" written on them. You need a quarter to play an arcade game, so obviously they're a very desirable thing for kids to grab. (also, of course it would be a quarter since the company responsible for this atrocity is called Two-Bit Score). So what happens when you make contact with this massive red quarter? Do you become a bigger kid on a skateboard?


...No, you become this... dude. While otherwise I probably would've hazarded an unfunny guess as to what little skate Mario has become, this one I know because I distinctly remember reading it on the control panel from that one time I played. Little Skate Mario has become... his [unnamed] big brother. Seriously! It's something I'll never forget reading because it left me in a state of amused bewilderment. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of the game's instruction panel to prove it. If anyone has a picture of it, by all means please send it to me! There's probably some other unintentional humor on that thing anyway. Back to the subject at hand... WHY is a quarter able to turn a kid on a skateboard into his big brother? I know kids always look up to their older siblings, but is it really necessary for a magic quarter to make someone instantly BECOME their older brother? I'm probably thinking about this a little too much.


And of course, the green quarter is a 1-up. Naturally.


Anyway. We have a giant quarter that can turn you into a different person entirely, while the fire flower power-up has now become... a candle. Okay, I'll accept that one. You need some source of fire to be able to throw fireballs after all, and a candle's as good as anything else (and actually makes more sense than a "fire flower"). You win this round, Two-Bit Score!


Collect coins for points and extra lives? Pssssh, kids don't want none of that. Everyone knows they'd rather have COLA. (Even if it's a generic brand!)


The invincibility star has been replaced with OH JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING. It's horrifying! It's like Evil Otto's inbred cousin, or something. If you didn't know that it replaces the invincibility star, you'd think it was an enemy or something...


Oh, and the question mark blocks that give you these items... what would be the most clever thing to change them into? Why, an exclamation mark of course! Fantastic. Don't know what the fuck that thing is supposed to be after the block has been hit though, it's like a bull's skull or something.


The beanstalk that takes you to bonus stages is now.... I dunno, a telephone pole maybe? And what the fuck have the clouds become, ice cream cones?


Clear a level and lower the... money flag? Alright, sure. Cash rules everything around the Skate Kid Bros.




Get killed by an enemy, and instead of Mario facing the camera for his "Can you BELIEVE this shit?!" pose before he falls off the screen, you instead instantly turn into a tombstone and then fall into oblivion. Harsh.


And now we move on to the enemies. Everyone knows the Goombas, the first enemies you encounter in SMB that aren't much of a threat. In this world, those little mushroom things have become little miniature tanks instead. Why are tiny TANKS out to kill a kid on a skateboard? And why does it look like the tanks have eyes?


Then there's the Koopas, the turtles that don't immediately die when stomped on, but could have their shell kicked into other enemies to wipe them out (and possibly come back and damage/kill you, too). Now the turtles are birds instead. And instead of being knocked into a turtle shell... what exactly happens to the bird? It kinda looks like it gets turned back into an egg. Or it just becomes a literal hollow shell of a bird.


The fire-proof Beetles are now.... rabbits? Why a rabbit is invincible to fireballs is beyond me. Really do love that face the bunny makes when it gets kicked into its "shell" though... it looks downright embarassed to be involved with this game. Also note that by virtue of being fireproof, a bunny is now a more deadly foe than a bird or even a tank. Logical!


Which is a scarier thing to find inside a pipe - a piranha plant, or a pair of hands continually snapping some oversized scissors? Tough call, really. Phantom hands trying to cut you up with scissors would cause more nightmares for a kid though, I think. It's almost like a fuckin horror movie.


The Cheep Cheeps in the underwater stages (and the ones flying through the air in other stages) are now... uh... submarines, maybe? I really can't quite tell what else they're supposed to be.


Blooper the squid is now a really happy clam. You really can't help but love these guys! They're so... so...... happy!


Those pesky Hammer Brothers are now karate dudes who throw ninja shuriken instead of hammers. (So maybe they should just be called ninjas instead? Nah, they're not wearing masks. Not that that's ever stopped certain video game characters from being called ninjas, but... no fuck it, they're Karate Dudes.)


Lakitu (the guy in the clouds) turns into... what? A UFO? A Venus Flytrap? A cabbage??


And even more baffling, what the fuck are those things he's dropping now?!? Spiked tanks? I seriously have nothing on this one.


Bullet Bill underwent a sex-change operation and came out as Ms. Pac-Man. The fuck?!?


The fireballs that emerge from the lava in the castle stages are now invincible red fish. Okay.


You know how in the 4th stage of a world, Bowser would always be shooting fire at you a few screens before you could reach him? That's been changed ever so slightly too, now it looks like... a football...?


Oh, of course. Bowser's turned into Skate Mario's greatest rival.... a football player. I'm guessing that there's some Geeks vs. Jocks thing going on here. On later levels he starts throwing ninja stars too, since he obviously can't throw hammers. Strangely, the axe to destroy the bridge he's standing on was unchanged.


The Princess's loyal retainer Toad has become... a girl in a bikini? A very crude bikini girl, mind you, but I guess it's a better reward than freeing Toad.

Which might make you wonder, what did they turn the Princess into? Oh, I don't think you're ready for this one. I'm putting it on a separate page if you really want to spoil the ending for yourself. It's a doozy!

And with that, we're already done with all the important comparisons between Vs. Skate Kid Bros and Vs. Super Mario Bros. I could just wrap things up here, but I'd instead like to take some time to talk about what some people may already know - what's changed from the NES Super Mario Bros to the Vs. version (+ Skate Kid Bros, natch)

We've all played Super Mario Bros at some point in our lives. If you're reading this and have somehow never played it, I'm genuinely curious as to how the fuck you wound up here. Of course, the version pretty much everyone is familiar with is the NES/Famicom release. If you had an NES, you had Super Mario Bros, whether it was by itself or on a combo cartridge with Duck Hunt (and possibly World Class Track Meet too).

Slightly less common was the arcade version, running on Nintendo's Vs. system hardware, and thus given the imaginative name of Vs. Super Mario Bros (and is of course the version of the game that Skate Kid Bros is a hack of). In a bit of an unusual move, Vs. SMB was actually released to arcades in 1986, AFTER the Famicom/NES version was already out. I'm sure there were Japanese players that were already familiar with SMB by the time Vs. SMB hit game centers - the Famicom had been released in 1983, and kept growing in popularity leading up to the September 1985 release of SMB. In the US though? The Nintendo Entertainment System was test-marketed in New York in the fall of 1985, and didn't see a nationwide release until February 1986. But even then, sales were slow at first because of the infamous "video game crash"... where am I going with all this? Well, it stands to reason that for most video gamers in the US in 1986, Vs. SMB was probably their first encounter with the game... despite it technically being released after the NES version. Isn't that kinda funny? No?

Stop rambling about this boring shit and talk about the differences between the two games, you say? I will, but here's one more fun fact you may not have known!

Vs. Super Mario Bros was also apparently originally planned to have a different title from the home version - it was to be called Vs. Mario's Adventure.

Wouldn't that have been confusing? It's not clear as to when this flyer was produced, but it does retain a 1986 copyright on it. Did they want to make it clear that the game was somewhat different from its home counterpart, but then change their minds and decide to keep the name consistent so there was less confusion for people looking to play the game at home? We may never know.

But the real question is, WHY did Nintendo decide to release an arcade version of a game people could play for free at home? Well, they already had the NES/Famicom-based Vs. system in arcades already. An arcade version would be a good way to entice players to buy their home console, since Nintendo knew they had a big game on their hands. But they didn't want to release the EXACT same game that was already on consoles, though. And so Vs. Super Mario Bros ended up getting some noteworthy tweaks to differentiate itself from its home brethren. Despite the incredible popularity of the original Super Mario Bros, most people don't know about everything that was changed in its arcade counterpart. So here we go!

One of the most obvious additions to the Vs. version was a top 10 high score ranking table. Console SMB only kept one high score in memory until the power was turned off, but since Vs. SMB was an arcade game they kept 10 scores and their initials... also until the power was turned off. Most of the default scores are kind of in the same point range too. Lesser-skilled players may have problems beating the default high score (or even ranking in).

A standard continue feature was added to let arcade players pick up from the last world they Game Over'ed on if they were willing to drop another quarter in. You could continue on the release console by holding down A and then pressing Start on the title screen. In both instances, continuing would take you to the first level of the world you lost your life on... meaning if you met your end in the castle, you'd have to fight your way back there again. Have fun with World 6 in the arcade version!

There are a few settings that the arcade operator could change for the game too - number of starting lives (2 or 3), number of lives on continue (3 or 4), timer speed (Slow or Fast), and the amount of coins you need to get an extra life (100, 150, 200, 250). I've actually come across a Vs. Super Mario Bros machine before in which you needed that maximum 250 coins to get an extra life... that's certainly a way to cut down the number of extra lives available to players...

Bonus points were added in the ending for players capable of finishing the game. An extra 100k is awarded for each life left in reserve when 8-4 is cleared. This is accompanied by a somewhat amusing poem, and all the Toads appear in the air. It's pretty weird.

Here's a big one that will mindfuck speedrunners - remember the warp on 4-2? No longer are you allowed to skip ahead to world 7 or 8 - the three pipes in the warp zone have been replaced by one solitary pipe that takes you to world 6. So even if you were trying to reach the end of the game as quickly as possible, you still have to play straight from 6-1 through to 8-4. And as luck would have it, there are a couple nasty surprises in store...

For the most part, the changes in a lot of levels are pretty subtle - an extra enemy here and there, the removal of certain extra lives (like the ceiling 1up in 1-2), and small changes in the level architecture, usually adding pits to spots that were previously solid ground.

I'm not going to go over every single level-related change, because pretty much all of those have been documented elsewhere (refer to http://strategywiki.org/wiki/Vs._Super_Mario_Bros. for a detailed list of changes). But here's a few of the more interesting things about the Vs. version.

One very famous change (it was even documented in an episode of Game Center CX!) was this change on 3-1 - the Koopas that appear on the stairs before the goal are now Goombas instead. This section was a very well-known spot for getting infinite 1-ups, by stopping a Koopa at just the right spot and repeatedly jumping and knocking him against the wall. When I was a kid I could never get this trick to work, I would always end up kicking the Koopa right back into me. To this day I'm still not sure if I can do it most of the time. Anyway, this could have been a big problem for arcade owners if it was left intact, so it's a good thing they took it out.

Another change that at first glance seems insignificant is the removal of two blocks on the ceiling of 1-2. Without all the blocks at the top, you can no longer normally get into the buggy "Minus World" that was in the NES version (another thing I could never get to work when I was a kid... man I sure was shitty at Mario). Seeing how the Minus World was a buggy curiosity in which you were stuck forever and could never clear the stage, leaving it in wouldn't have really put a dent in arcade operators' earnings... but of course Nintendo didn't want the glitch to stay in.

(As luck would have it though, there's a more difficult way to get through the wall that's possible in the Vs. version, as demonstrated by this youtube video. Warning: bad spelling)

In some cases, harder levels that appeared later on in the NES game were moved up to come earlier. And in the place of those levels that were moved up, were new levels with entirely new layouts! A total of six levels were brand new in the Vs. version (1-4, 3-2, 6-3, 6-4, 7-2, 7-3), which ended up being used later on the Famicom version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (aka "The Lost Levels" in the US).

6-3 in particular is a pretty challenging level. There's two loooong jumps that have to be made perfectly (one of which can be skipped if you have good luck with the pulleys), and one jump that's practically a leap of faith where you have to bounce off a Koopa to get enough height to land on the platform too.

6-4 is definitely the most challenging of the Bowser Football Player Castles. Just a word of warning, if you are large or fire Mario going into this stage, you'll end up hitting your head on some of the jumps and falling into the lava at certain spots unless you make crouch jumps. It's very annoying.

And then there's 7-4, which is one of the "maze" castles... the solution for getting through the maze is actually different from the NES version, which can cause some frustration. Luckily, somebody already covered the correct path on GameFAQs.

Interestingly, World 8 only has very minor changes from the NES version, and has not been replaced with any new levels... so if you're familiar with World 8 on the NES, you theoretically shouldn't have too much of a problem getting through to the end if you can get this far. But since you're not allowed to warp past World 6, you HAVE to deal with 6-3 and 6-4, and 7-3 can be pretty annoying too. It may not be ENTIRELY a new game but there is some definite new challenge for people who only have experience with the NES version.

There's really not much else to say about Skate Kid Bros. You can't say that Skate Kid Bros is a bad game because at its core, it's still Super Mario Bros, the game that defined the console platformer and led to a entirely new successful franchise for Nintendo. But at the same time, the amount of effort put into changing the graphics without adding anything new to the gameplay, really makes you wonder why Two-Bit Score put that much time into changing anything at all, especially with a lot of the graphic changes being very questionable and nonsensical.

As weird as it may be though, they did manage to somehow make a rom hack that players would remember after the game left arcades. It's not just me that had vivid memories of playing this weirdness, a simple Google search turned up a couple threads in which others were trying to find a way to play the game again. The entire existence of the game might have been a cash-in to make some money off the SMB craze, after the Nintendo Entertainment System made SMB the most popular game in the United States by the time of Skate Kid Bros' release (1988)... but at least they made a hack of the game that was so strange it would be hard for players to ever forget it.

(Although I still want to know what the FUCK Lakitu and Spiny are supposed to be.)


Let's start the usual bonus section with a question - who is the mysterious Two-Bit Score that made this hack?

Would you believe that the entity responsible for it is still in business today (at the time of this writing in November 2012, anyway)?


Based out of Austin, Texas, Two-Bit Score Amusements sells a lot of replacement parts for arcade games, mainly Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and pinball boards. Sadly, their website does not seem to make any mention of selling Skate Kid Bros - probably because they know that they already had their chance to make money off it to clueless arcade owners, and Nintendo would no doubt send them a Cease & Desist if they tried selling it today. But then again, they are brazenly selling a Multi-Pac kit on their page, I guess Namco doesn't care about these things as much? Or maybe it's because owning 16 games in 1 and high score save is more enticing to arcade collectors than a hack where Bowser is replaced with a football player?

Unfortunately, there seem to be some complaints about how they do business. I dunno, I haven't dealt with them so I have nothing to say there.

While this has nothing to do with Skate Kid Bros, it is related to Vs. Super Mario Bros so I figure it's worth a mention:

Awesome rom hacker dude BMF54123 recently came up with a way to run Vs. Super Mario Bros on a standard MMC1 board, which makes it playable on the NES PowerPak flash cart, among other things. It has all the dip switch options present in the arcade, and even has the ability to save high scores with battery backup (which is a pretty rad feature since the actual arcade hardware resets the scores on power off). Check the below thread on the LostLevels forum for more info!


Well here's something surprising! Many years ago, Ray Barnholt felt inspired by his time with a Vs. Skate Kid Bros cabinet, and attempted to re-create the experience as an NES rom hack.

Sadly, it doesn't seem like he got much farther than editing the Mario and Goomba/Tank sprites. And big Mario isn't supposed to have the skateboard at all! But still, the existence of this hack is another testament to the impact that Vs. Skate Kid Bros has had on everyone who's encountered this game in an arcade.

You can see the hack for yourself at http://www.nesgamezone.com/play/Super-Skater-Dudes-SMB1-Hack-7324.html

Finally, if you'd rather see the game in video form, I've youtubed a replay I originally did for the MAME Action Replay Page. It plays through all 32 stages with just one death (eat a dick, World 7-3) and a score of 2,520,450. Not an unbeatable score or anything, just a video that shows pretty much everything this wacky rom hack has to offer.