This curiosity from 1994 wasn’t legal. By the Chinese pirate developer Hummer Team (悍馬小組), it was an unlicensed mashup of Mario and Sonic games.
Somari (音速瑪莉) was the result. It’s basically a Sonic the Hedgehog styled platformer… just with Super Mario jammed in there for good effect. Interesting, eh? Let’s have a closer look at this one.
Become Mario in Sonic in… Somari the Adventurer
The Hummer Team is credited as the Somari Team for the release. And the game is actually based on the very first Sonic game on the Mega Drive (Sega Genesis).
All of Sonic’s traditional moves are in the title, such as the spin dash and fast running speeds. It’s just you get to play as Super Mario.
But it’s all decked out in 8-bit NES graphics. And the soundtrack compressed into that technology isn’t exactly great.
In short, it looks like a pirate game. And it plays like one, too. Yet it’s an interesting curiosity and a major precursor before the fan-made Sonic Mania in 2017.
You can play the game with online emulators. But if you’re interested, below is a full walkthrough on the NintendoComplete YouTube channel.
Somari the Adventurer (to give its full title) actually has pretty solid reviews.
Some people rate it highly as a port—taking a Mega Drive game and scaling it back for the Nintendo Entertainment System takes skill.
On Classic Gaming, a user called Fragmaster wrote this.
“Control is pretty good, but once you think about it Sonic can be played with two buttons (or even one, almost) and gameplay isn’t affected. It is a little slow. Actually, there is one change: in the original Sonic, if you pressed down, you would spin. In Somari, you have to press down and press a button to spin dash, Sonic 2 style (although you can spin if you press down while you’re running). There are other graphical errors, such as being able to jump through walls (and getting caught in places). Also, the physics are a little funny at times and Sonic… err… Mario… errr… Somari slides.
Problems? Well, there are some bugs and errors… it’s possible to get caught in those loops and fall out of the level. There are bonus stages, if you complete a level with 50 or 100 rings, although they’re not very good. But if you really want to play Sonic, you might as well play the real thing, eh?”
The review raises the question why Hummer Team didn’t use Sonic instead of Mario.
Well, we’re guessing that’s likely to market two famous video games characters simultaneously and ramp up Somari’s saleability. And it’s worth postulating like university professors over this matter a tad more.
How Somari Came to Be
Somari was marketed in gaming magazines across Hong Kong and Russia. But only in the late 1990s.
In those countries, video games weren’t as common as elsewhere in the world. In fact, China banned video games in 2000 (although they’re legal again now, just restricted).
In ’80s China, a black market gaming scene emerged of illegal imported goods and games console clones. So, it’s no surprise Somari came to be.
It’s just completely unclear how Hummer Team did it. Some online also wonder why they did it. That seems obvious—to cash-in and try and make a quick buck off two massive international brands.
But the reality is, in 1994, most games developers wouldn’t dare make an unlicensed game for a Nintendo console. That’s for two reasons:
- The gaming giant had in place strict licensing and legal regulations.
- It also had a famous “lock out chip” to prevent piracy.
However, some developers could work around those two and take the risk. The result? A series of unlicensed video games on the NES, including a bizarre batch of Bible games—Christian video games created by a developer called Wisdom Tree from 1991 onward.
From our counting on Nintendo Fandom’s list of unlicensed NES games, there were 97 unlicensed NES games released prior to 1997.
Hummer Team was also willing to take that risk… with Nintendo and Sega. We mean, Somari is basically the first Sonic game dumped on a rival company’s console and then sold across Asia illegally.
We’re not experts on this, but that seems like multiple cases of major copyright infringement right there.
Also notable is some bizarre advice on the box art. It nods to the joys of broken English in video games, as it’s kind of promoting mindless hedonism.
“Don’t just sit there and Waste your Precious time. When you want to do something, do it right away. Do it when you can. It’s the only way to love to live a life with regrets.”
Well, we feel like robbing a bank today. Let’s go and do that right away! That’s a good excuse when the police arrest us, “The box art on Somari told us to do it.”
Also, it’s kind of ironic the box is saying “Don’t just sit there and Waste your Precious time”, when kids playing the game will just be sitting there and wasting their precious time.
Gaming is a great escapist pursuit, of course, but they could have been running in a field somewhere or vandalising an older person’s property. Wasted youth.
Wrapping Up On Somari
Ultimately, we don’t think this game is as mysterious as some online have made out. It was clearly just a quick attempt to make a bit of money.
And its creators are unlikely to come forward and dish the dirt.
Since 1994, Mario and Sonic have actually starred alongside each other in video games. Nintendo and Sega having allowed it.
But Somari offers a bizarre, unique glimpse into the black market world of gaming in territories largely unaware of two iconic characters. It’s obscure retro gaming at its most intriguing.