The beginning of True Greatness.
PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating
RELEASE DATE: October 1985
The original Super Mario Bros. is one of the most analyzed and discussed games of all time, and for good reason. It jump started the dead home console industry in America singlehandedly. Sure, the NES had other games at launch. Some of them, like Excitebike, were fantastic examples of what the system was capable of. Most were one-screen arcade-style games, like Wrecking Crew, Urban Champion, and Clu Clu Land. Visually, they were better than games on the Atari 2600 or Commodore 64, but stylistically, they were nothing audiences hadn’t seen before. Super Mario Bros. was different. It was a new creation, and it changed how developers and audiences thought about games.
Super Mario Bros. invented (for all rights and purposes) the side-scrolling platformer, a genre that would come to dominate the 8 and 16-bit generations of systems. Each of the Mushroom Kingdom’s thirty-two stages were singular creations that felt breathtakingly vast compared to any game of the time. The Kingdom’s denizens – Goombas, Koopas, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, Bowser – made it feel like a functioning world, whether Mario was present or not. And who could fathom the amount of secrets the Kingdom contained upon going through it for the first time? 1-Ups were carefully concealed. Some pipes led underground to riches, some shot climbable plants upward to the heavens, while still others went nowhere. You could walk on the ceiling of certain stages, bypassing them altogether. Outrageous! There were warp zones and, one of the best glitches of all time, The Minus World. The game’s star Mario – the former blue-collar worker turned fantastical hero – was the ultimate protagonist. He could run like an Olympic sprinter! He could spit fire from his hands! He could jump higher than flagpoles! No wonder the Princess wanted him to save her. Within his flabby plumber physique was the soul of a champion. Super Mario Bros. was the must-have experience of the latter half of the 80s – and it was only available on the NES.
Many children of the 80s have a “first time” story associated with Super Mario Bros. I’m proud to say I’m one of them. In 1989, my dad brought home an NES Action Set. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas. It was any ordinary day, which made the surprise all the greater. He hooked the NES up to our old Hitachi TV, turned on Super Mario Bros. and I began to play. As Mario ran, I ran. As he jumped, I jumped. I didn’t understand that I was playing the game. The game felt so real that I assumed Mario was an extension of myself. When the first Goomba rolled his way towards me, I panicked, dropping the controller. This happened several times. I can’t say if I got past the first Goomba that initial afternoon, but I remember my parents chuckling from behind me as they watched their son wrestle with World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. Little did I know that this small, frustrating experience on a random weekday afternoon would be the beginning of my twenty-year plus relationship with gaming. This wasn’t just my first time playing Super Mario Bros. It was my first experience with any game, and it changed my life.
Almost thirty years later, Super Mario Bros. remains a landmark. The graphics continue to inspire legions of artists, the music is as timeless as any Beethoven sonata, and I challenge you to find more pitch-perfect controls in any other two-dimensional side-scrolling game. There are arguably better games than Super Mario Bros; subjectivity and all that. But there are few games that have had such long-lasting impact for millions of people worldwide, fewer games still that are universally admired for the scope of their accomplishments. Super Mario Bros. wasn’t just a game: it was a revolution, the effects of which we’re still experiencing today.
Over the next couple of days, I’ll be giving my commentary on each stage – the ins, the outs, the what-have-yous. I’m not a critic or historian by any means, but I’d be remiss not to discuss the intricacies of the Game that Built an Empire.