I should probably be ashamed of myself, but I'm having too much fun. I still have a couple of medals to earn in RunMan, and I've been skimping on my Spelunky sessions. I tried to rekindle my old friendships with Fallout 2, Deus Ex, and Alpha Centauri but I can't seem to find the time. I've got tons of games at my disposal, but whenever I get free time I turn to this unassuming ROM hack of Super Mario World. You probably think I'm crazy but hear me out, because this game is a fucking masterpiece. Brutal Mario is the Cowboy Bebop or Tarantino flick of platformers, take your pick. Either way its a masterful blend of Nintendo's best, and if you have any fond memories of the SNES era you shouldn't miss it. If the above seems like hyperbole, just check out the screenshot there. That's a boss fight with Mammon Machine from Chrono Trigger. I rest my case.
Super Mario World is popular among ROM hackers simply because it's well-known and awesome, the definitive hop-and-bop platformer. Every aspect of its design comes together in perfect form, making a cohesive package that has yet to be topped. Most hacks don't tap into this potential, however, and squander in mediocracy. They either poorly implement the game's mechanics or try to turn it into something it's not. Mario's Adventure, anybody? The people who do actually know what they're doing typically go and make absurdly insane outings that only a diehard player could complete. To conquer them one would require fast reflexes, knowledge of glitches, and countless save states. And these games should be made. (I'm actually going to do a write-up for the archetypal one once I can get past its first level.) But Brutal Mario's different, and I couldn't be happier.
This is obviously a labor of love, as the developer knows her stuff. This game is highly allusive and drops constant references to other works like its Gaiman's Sandman. Super Mario World is its core, but set pieces, backgrounds, and enemies from assorted titles and other Mario games all make appearances. These additions are far from being a cut-and-paste hodgepodge though, as they're carefully woven together to create an enthralling experience. The nod to Tarantino and Shinichiro Watanabe is duly earned. Instead of being a pure homage, though, the game throws constant curveballs at you. I played one level where the On/Off switch actually changed the enemies in the level, and another one that was fully destructible via Mario's fireballs. These subversive quirks are made all the more apparent because they're within the Super Mario World engine, something that is so well-known and played.
The boss battles are what this hack is best known for, and they're reason enough for a download. Bosses are typically the one shortcoming in the Mario franchise, but not here. There are dozens of encounters and they're all throwbacks to various 16-bit games. Oh, and they are a lot of fun too. There is the occasional level that drags a bit, but other than that Super Nintendo fans shouldn't pass this up.
N.B. You'll need a Super Nintendo emulator and a patching program, both of which I linked to. You'll also have to, ahem, acquire a clean Super Mario World ROM, but you're on your own for that.