#623 – Super Mario Bros. Part 1 – An Overview

The beginning of True Greatness.
The Lord of the Jump makes a significant, life-destroying error.
Bowser looked a lot more frightening back in the day.

PLAYERS: 1-2 alternating



GENRE: Platformer

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.

An Olympic swimmer in a middle-aged body.

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.

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12 replies on “#623 – Super Mario Bros. Part 1 – An Overview”

“and I challenge you to find more pitch-perfect controls in any other two-dimensional side-scrolling game”

Super Mario Bros is an amazing game, but I would argue that SMB3 has tighter controls as do all the MegaMan games after the first one. Mario had a tendency to slide a bit in his first outing and his jumping doesn’t feel as tight as the 3rd game.

I personally disagree with you, Anonymous above. SMB3 seems somewhat stiffer than SMB1. Megaman just stopped slipping when walking after their third title.
But my vote for “more pitch-perfect controls in any two-dimensional side-scrolling game” still goes to Legendary Axe (T-16).

– Anonymous Mike

I have limited experience with the T-16. I will have to seek out Legendary Axe to see if I will eat my words.

The Megaman series has great controls after 2, in my opinion, and SMB3’s controls, while fantastic, don’t find the right balance between tightness and fluidity like the original SMB. But to each his own.

Thanks for commenting gents!

World -1, rofl. Mario was pretty amazing for me here. My prior system was a TI99/4a – basically an Atari-clone with some basic computing power available in BASIC. I got a couple of titles right away – Elevator Action, Dragon Power and a mario/Duck Hunt combo. Talk about changing the way I looked at video games.

I remember the first time I played smb1, i was blown away. It was so ground breaking at the time. I have been hooked on video games ever since. Thank you nintendo for the joy and memories..

The first time I played I used all three lives playing with the controller upside down. What the hell was wrong with me?


Oh, yay 🙂 I just found this blog and have been commenting on a few memorable games (and just reading others) and almost didn’t want to see what the review on this one was. Mario is still my favorite game of all of them, and I’m not sure if that’s cool to say anymore. But it really is a solid game. It’s fun to play and challenging. I still remember how exciting it was when I beat it for the first time.

I love all the NES Mario games – Mario 3 might actually be my favorite, but I love Mario 2 as well…and I really enjoy Super Mario World on SNES and even Mario 64. That was about when I stopped really playing video games though; in my experience, Mario 64 was the only N64 game worth playing, and I never got into the other consoles.

Also, for completeness sake, I should add, I also loved the Lost Levels (poison mushrooms) although my only experience with that was the SNES All Stars game.

I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve never seen this -1 level though, I’ll need to look that up!

Thanks for sharing your first experience story! I grew up with an Apple II and didn’t experience SMB until 1989 at a friend’s place (he was more impressed with TMNT!). I’m not sure I’d even heard of it before then as the NES took a while to build momentum here in Australia. Anyway, instant obsession. Still in my top five games, and of those it’s the one I come back to most often. Perfect.

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