Converting Super Mario Bros. to Mario Bros.

Once again, I set out to convert a not-so-great (in my opinion) game into a true classic--and, once again, I was working with a Nintendo cabinet. I documented the entire restoration process for the benefit of anyone who wants to attempt a project like this one, or for those of you who just enjoy seeing a classic arcade machine brought back to life.

 
The Initial Project

I got a semi-working Super Mario Bros. machine from my friend Cassidy Nolen, a friend and fellow collector. He had had the machine sitting out in his pool shed for about a year. (Not to worry--it was very well sheltered from the elements--Cassidy is as careful as I am when it comes to handling classic games!)

 

The cabinet was very dirty, but pretty solid. The finish was chipped and scratched, pretty severely in some places, but that's what wood filler and paint are for. The Nintendo VS. side art was faded but mostly intact. The board and most of the other electronic parts were in working condition, but the monitor needed repair. All things considered, it was a great way to get my hands on a Nintendo cabinet to turn into a Mario Bros. machine--especially at the bargain-basement price of $25.

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Breaking Down the Game

The first task is always to break down the game into its component parts so that the cabinet can be cleaned and painted. I removed:

  • Marquee and Monitor Bezel: The marquee is removed by unscrewing the metal bracket on the top front edge of the machine. As you can see in the pictures, the monitor bezel had already been removed. (We removed and stretch wrapped the monitor before I hauled the machine home.)

  • Control Panel: The control panel (CP) on Nintendo games is easy to remove. Simply reach in through the coin door, unplug the wiring harness from the CP, and open the two latches (one on either side) that hold the CP in place. The CP lifts right off, controls and all.

  • Coin Door: The coin door is secured to the cabinet by about a dozen bolts along the top, bottom, and sides of its frame. The nuts must be loosened and removed from the inside. This task is easier described than performed. Short of removing all of the bracing inside the cabinet, there is no easy way to get to the bottom bolts on a Nintendo coin door. You also need a metric socket set or nut driver, since the nuts are decidedly not a standard size. Removing this piece is a knuckle-busting chore. Once removed, I also took off all of the hardware--coin mechanisms, etc.--so that the coin door and frame could be repainted. This door had some rust on it, and the coin mechs were inoperative and kind of beat up. 

  • T-Molding: The t-molding on this game was absolutely shredded. It snapped off in brittle pieces with very little effort. I knew from the start that it would have to be replaced.

 

The pictures  show how dirty the outside of the cabinet was, but that didn't hold a candle to the inside. You could barely see the bottom of for all the dust and debris. I stripped out every bit of hardware. As is always the case when I take something apart, I labeled all of the wires and stored all screws and bolts in labeled bags so I could put everything back the way I found it.

As gross as the cleaning process was, it turned out to be pretty rewarding. Amidst the debris in the bottom of the game, I found $18.80 in change! That brought the total cost of the cabinet down to $6.20! What a bargain!

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Side Art Removal and Painting

Evil, evil side art. Good advice from someone who knows: invest in a heat gun if you're going to attempt this. When properly attached, arcade game side art is there to stay. My fingers were bent and crippled for hours after scraping the VS. stickers off the side of this cabinet. I let the cabinet sit in the sun for a while, and that helped loosen the stickers, but not much. It took hours to peel them off, and a lot of sanding to remove the glue and remaining bits of sticker. I understand that paint thinner helps to remove the glue as well. One thing is certain--I WILL have a heat gun and some paint thinner handy the next time I try this!


Two Mario Bros. cabinets existed back in the day--a dedicated wide-body version and a conversion cabinet that used an existing standard Nintendo game (Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, etc.). Obviously, mine is a conversion. Because they

were built into existing cabinets, conversion Mario Bros. machines came in a variety of colors (depending on the color of the converted machine). Blue--the color of this particular cabinet--would have been perfectly acceptable. But, because I am a glutton for punishment, I decided that my Mario needed to be Donkey Kong Junior orange. That meant new paint. Ironically, I built my Donkey Kong in an orange cabinet that had to be painted blue and my Mario Bros. in a blue cabinet that had to be painted orange. Sigh.

 

As with my Donkey Kong project, I decided to sand the cabinet rather than stripping the old paint off. Here's another tip for you would-be restorers out there. If you're stupid like me, you probably think that a power sander that has a dust catcher doesn't generate much dust. 

WRONG!

I sanded inside (it was raining on the day I painted) and covered the entire garage--and the entire inner surface of my unprotected respiratory system--with blue paint dust. Several lessons learned:

  1. Sand outside if possible.

  2. If that's not possible, cover EVERYTHING within a 30-foot radius with plastic before you begin.

  3. Wear a face mask or you'll be sneezing Donkey Kong blue for the next three days.

 

I filled all of the major holes as best I could with Plastic Wood (a filler product). This included the holes for the lock bar, which I removed. After the filler was dry and sanded down, I applied several coats of Kilz primer to all of the blue surfaces.

There are some instances in life where laziness pays off, and this is one of them. When I converted the Donkey Kong 3 machine to Donkey Kong a a year or so ago, I painted the entire orange cabinet blue--except for the two small pieces under the control panel. I figured that nobody would ever see them, so it didn't matter. That decision was one that I was very pleased with when it came time to find a color match for Donkey Kong Junior orange. I went to Home Depot and got just about every Behr paint sample in the orange spectrum and simply held them up to the orange bits inside my Donkey Kong machine. I was lucky to find that one of the Behr colors was a very close match: Behr Kumquat 230B-7. I got one pint, and that was just enough. I'd recommend getting two pints to be on the safe side. I used a small sponge roller to paint the cabinet as opposed to a standard wall painting roller. Sponge rollers create a much smoother finish.

 

I decided to go with gloss this time around (I used semi-gloss on Donkey Kong). The advantage to gloss is that it gives a better end result--more like the original finish of the game. The disadvantages are that gloss shows every flaw and area of thin coverage, and thus requires several coats. Also, if the surface you're applying the paint to isn't roughed-up sufficiently, gloss paint peels right off when something sticky is pulled from its surface--say, painter's tape or side art stickers. I had trouble in both of these areas after the paint dried.

I repainted all of the black surfaces of the game--back, top, front trim, and interior areas--with flat black latex enamel. This is where I had trouble with the painter's tape. I had painted the orange surfaces first and taped them off on the front edges to keep them orange when I was doing the black parts. When I pulled off the tape on the left side of the front panel, about an inch-wide strip of orange paint came off with it.

 

Finally, I repainted the coin door and the marquee/bezel brackets (which were rusty and scratched) with flat black Rustoleum spray paint.

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Acquiring the Pieces

When I was converting Donkey Kong 3 to Donkey Kong, I had a working Donkey Kong board (PCB), but I had to acquire all of the art and trim to complete the game. This time around, I didn't even have the PCB. I knew from the beginning that I would need:

A Mario Bros. PCB 

A game isn't a game unless it has, well, the game in it. Just about every board eventually shows up on eBay from time to time, but you never really know whether or not the thing is working until you get it. I decided to post a message on the local North Carolina collectors' mailing list (ah, the old days...) to see if anybody local had a board available. Scott Brasington does a lot of work with Nintendo boards. He sells free play and high-score save kits, Double Donkey Kong upgrades, and a number of other items. And, as luck would have it, he's local! He sold me a board with a high-score kit for $85. 

 

T-molding

As mentioned earlier, the t-molding on my cabinet was shot--no chance I could reuse it. T-molding, especially plain white t-molding like what was used on Nintendo machines is easy to come by. I found more than enough on eBay--20 feet for around $10.

Marquee and Bezel

Marquees and bezels for popular games show up on eBay all the time, but Mario Bros. wasn't the most popular Nintendo game made. Add to that the fact that Mario Bros. cabinets came in two different sizes, and the difficulty of finding what you need increases. I almost purchased my artwork from ArcadeGrafix, a company that makes adhesive overlays that can be placed on plain Plexiglas. I wasn't totally thrilled with this solution, since the authentic graphics were silk-screened directly onto the Plexiglas., and stickers definitely look different. 

 

In the end, the arcade newsgroup rec.games.video.arcade.collecting (RGVAC) came through. I mentioned what I needed on the newsgroup and within a day I got an e-mail from a member who had an original marquee and bezel in good shape. I got both for $60, shipped.

 

Control Panel

The control panel on Super Mario Bros. isn't the same as the one for Mario Bros., so I needed a complete replacement (rather than just an overlay). I got lucky--the first time I checked on eBay, there was one up for auction. I got it for just $16. It wasn't perfect, but it's complete, including all of the wiring. And, not long after that, I found a complete Mario Bros. conversion kit on eBay. The control panel in the kit was nicer.

Side Art

Like the other cosmetic pieces, side art for Mario Bros. isn't all that easy to come by. A couple of places make it, including AracadeGrafix and Arcade Shop Amusements. ArcadeGrafix has decent prices, but many collectors (at least at the time) advised against their artwork because it is printed on an inkjet printer rather than silk-screened Arcade Shop has excellent products, and their side art is silk-screened, but the price was very high ($95). 

Once again, eBay came through for me. I found a set of silk-screened Mario side art for $60. The only disappointment was that it was shipped rolled rather than flat (which made the application more difficult). It was also wrapped with a rubber band that tore the top of one piece during transport. Still, the price was right, and the flaws weren't all that noticeable after it was applied.

 

Nintendo Classic Wiring Harness 

As I got into the renovation, I also discovered that, although the Super Mario Bros. cabinet is identical to the cabinets that house earlier Nintendo games, the wiring harness is different. That left me with a big problem--even though I had a working board, I couldn't connect it to the machine!

 

My initial solution to this problem was going to be to construct an adaptor to change a Nintendo VS. harness into a Nintendo classic harness. A fellow collector who had done a similar conversion/restoration sent me detailed plans that showed how to build such an adaptor. I bought the parts from Bob Roberts and I was all ready to have a friend help me build the thing when I came across a Mario Bros. factory conversion kit on eBay. The kit included a marquee, bezel, control panel, PCB and cage (the metal enclosure that houses the boards), horizontal monitor brackets, a template for drilling holes for the brackets, a metal Mario Bros. plate (serial number, etc) for the back, and a conversion kit manual. Most importantly, it included the wiring harness!

Obviously, I didn't need most of these pieces. I kept the harness (of course) and swapped the control panel with the one I had previously purchased because the new one had a better overlay. I sold most of these pieces to recoup my costs. A lot of trouble to get a harness, but what the heck... 

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Side Art Application

Sorry I didn't take pictures of this process. Side art installation requires three or four hands to begin with--so, when you're doing it on your own, you really can't afford to let go and pick up a camera.

 

Even though the Mario Bros. side art is much larger than that of Spy Hunter and Donkey Kong (the other two games to which I've applied side art), I tried the first side using the "no guts no glory" method--I peeled off the backing along the top inch or so, lined it up, and pressed down just hard enough along the edge to prevent it from moving. I then carefully peeled off a few inches of backing at a time, and smoothed the art as I went, pressing out any bubbles that formed along the way. I got smart this time and laid the machine on its side. Applying the art on a horizontal surface is a lot easier than doing it when the game is upright. The fact that the side art was rolled, however, made things difficult--the sticker kept trying to roll up as I was smoothing it down. The first side (the right side of the cabinet) came out nearly perfect just the same.

 

On the left side, I decided to try a trick I'd read about online. I sprayed the side of the cabinet lightly with Windex before I started applying the sticker. This keeps the sticker from completely adhering and allows you to pull it loose and adjust it if you need to. I think this would work very well under the right circumstances, but I screwed up. Because the side art was rolled, I was worried that if I didn't adhere the top edge firmly, it wouldn't stay put. Therefore, I didn't use Windex on the top three inches. That turned out to be a problem. 

 

I got a bubble under the top part of the sticker and, when I tried to pull it up, it pulled some of the paint with it. No matter what I did at that point, it only got worse. Long story short, I ended up fixing the top part as best I could and then smoothing out the rest. The Windexed part looks great, but the top part has a bubble that is actually a wrinkle in the paint. (Remember what I said about gloss paint peeling off of the underlying surface?)

 

Fortunately, the problem wasn't too serious, and most people didn't even notice. I can see it though--even when I'm not looking at it. For my own peace of mind, I initially put the machine in a spot where the left side was up against another machine to hide the flaw.

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Electronic Restoration

With the harness problem solved (see Acquiring the Pieces), there were four electronic tasks remaining:

 

Capping the Monitor

In keeping with my "I don't do monitors" stance, I enlisted the help of one of my co-workers, Michael Hoffman, to re-cap the monitor for me. ("Re-capping" is replacing the capacitors on the monitor's circuit board, in case you are unfamiliar with the term.) I purchased the cap kit from Bob Roberts for $12, and Michael did the work for free. The process took about half an hour. Afterward, the monitor worked almost perfectly, with the exception of some diagonal lines on the picture.

Fixing the Power Cord

Since I would have been absolutely no help in capping the monitor, I worked on the power cord while Michael did his

thing. This was a simple repair--the plug had been cut off at some point and needed replacing. I bought a replacement plug at Home Depot for around $3.

 

All you have to do to replace a plug is strip down the existing wires and hook them up to the proper screw terminals on the plug itself. (The replacement plug even came with a diagram and instructions.) Screw the whole thing together and the repair is done. Simple.

Repairing the Sound Board 

When I hooked everything up to test the monitor (the game was still Super Mario Bros. at this point), there was a horrible squeal from the speaker. I had expected this, since Cassidy had mentioned that the sound was bad. He thought it might be the Super Mario Bros. board, so I didn't worry about it at the time.

After I got my new wiring harness and installed the Mario Bros. board, I got the same results. By process of elimination, I determined that the sound board (which is housed on the monitor chassis in Nintendo games for some reason) was bad.

Once again, Bob Roberts had the solution--a repair kit for Nintendo sound boards. I ordered one and decided to take a chance. I also purchased a soldering and de-soldering kit so I could repair it on my own. 

As was often the case when it came to soldering, I failed miserably. I unplugged the sound board and played without sound right up to the day I sold it.

Fixing/Replacing the Light Fixture 

As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, marquee lights almost never work on used games. Not surprisingly, Mario Bros. was no exception. The unfortunate problem is that Nintendo games use non-standard lighting fixtures. The bulbs are shorter than most fixtures, the starters are completely different than those in "normal" fluorescent fixtures and, to top it all off, the lighting fixture plugs into an internal 100 volt outlet instead of running off of 120 volts like every other light in every other game. 

In my Donkey Kong conversion project, I installed a commercially-available standard lighting fixture. Rather than do that this time around, I decided to track down the starters I needed to make my Nintendo fixtures work. I thought I had lucked out on this--I found a collector who was selling Nintendo lighting fixtures for $10 each! I e-mailed him and asked if they were working, and he said they were. Unfortunately I asked the wrong question. I should have asked if the starters were working. They weren't. So, now I had four Nintendo lighting fixtures--one from Donkey Kong, the one from this cabinet, and the two I had just purchased--all of which were in need of starters (and two that are in need of bulbs). 

I finally located a site that sells the starters and bulbs for Nintendo light fixtures. The company is TopBulb, and the parts/part numbers are:

  • Neon bulb starter--part number FG-7E

  • Fluorescent tube (Import)--part number FL-10D 

 

I ordered four starters ($3.75 each) and two bulbs ($4.50 each). Within minutes, the original light fixture was working perfectly. I also replaced the under-the-counter fixture in my Donkey Kong machine with its original fixture while I was at it. 

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Rebuilding

Putting everything back together was a snap. I put the monitor in from the front and placed it on the brackets right after it was re-capped. You can  put it in through the back, but gravity works for you and not against you from the front--you don't have to lift it over the brackets, you just set it on the brackets and bolt it in. With the monitor in place, I replaced the bezel and marquee, and locked down the control panel. 

After the monitor was in place, it was time to install the wiring harness. One of the nice things about video game wiring harnesses is that, at least in my experience, just about every connector is designed so that it can only attach to the connection it is designed for. It took a total of about 30 seconds to hook everything up. I slid the Super Mario PCB out of the card cage and slid the Mario boards in. I connected the edge connector to the board, and the game was ready for a test run. And it worked! 

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The Finished Game

This conversion was a lot more challenging than the Donkey Kong conversion, and I definitely wasn't as happy with the results from a cosmetic standpoint. I learned a lot of lessons along the way, though. And, in the end, I had a pretty decent Mario Bros.

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Coin Door