Super Mario Bros.
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    NES
    • JP 09/13/1985
    • US 10/18/1985
    • UK 05/15/1987
    FDS
    • JP 02/21/1986
Score: 80%

This review was published on 09/21/2012.

Super Mario Bros. was one of the first side-scrolling platform games ever made. There were a few games that came before it, but this was the big one. Mario Bros. on the arcade is technically the predecessor to this game, though it had very little in common beyond the characters. Super Mario Bros. was the first game many people played, given that it was the launch title for the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States. The fact that it was bundled with the NES has made it one of the best selling games of all time. That lofty position has been usurped by now, but this game was serious business. It's thanks to this game and its sequels that Mario became a cultural sensation across the globe. People of many creeds have memorized the iconic tunes of this game's music. Mario was copied by many eager game developers throughout the ages. Many of the platform genre's tropes were sculpted out in Super Mario Bros. Its design was simple enough to appeal to a wide audience, yet it contained depth and challenge that gave it a lasting appeal. This game influenced the entire future of the game industry, not just the platform game genre. Super Mario Bros. has aged well due to its charming style and impeccable game design.

Image

In case you don't know, Mario is a fat, Italian plumber who ventures into the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Toadstool. This Toadstool character has been kidnapped by an evil creature that goes by the name of King Koopa. He's king of the Koopas, you see. Koopas are just the Mario franchise's name for turtles. I suppose King Koopa is a giant turtle, but I'd say he looks more like Godzilla. King Koopa is also referred to as Bowser, which is a pretty cool name. According to the instruction manual, Bowser is savvy in the forbidden art of black magic, and he has cast a spell that transformed the majority of the Mushroom Kingdom's denizens into various objects. I guess that explains why the Mushroom Kingdom's army is unable to save its own princess, forcing them to depend on a plumber to get the job done. This explains why all the hills and some blocks have eyes. What an incredible plot twist. It's no secret that Mario games are never about the story, especially the first one. When it comes to the Mario franchise, the game comes first, and the story comes second. Ideas for the game dictate what the story will be, not the other way around.

Image

Players control Mario's movement with the d-pad and can jump with the A button. Mario was one of the first games to popularize the concept of stomping on enemies to defeat them. You can stomp on any ferocious creature that doesn't have spikes on top of it. The cool thing about stomping on enemies is that they can be used as stepping stones, allowing Mario to jump even higher. This is particularly exhilarating when bouncing off of an aerial foe. It's a bit risky, but very rewarding. If the B button is held down, Mario will run faster and have more forward momentum when jumping, allowing him to clear larger gaps. The running mechanic is another game play staple of the Mario series, separating it from many other similar platform games. It's this mechanic that adds a lot of depth and complexity to the simple act of jumping over gaps. Learning how to deal with the momentum is a crucial part of Super Mario Bros. Mario can control the velocity and distance of his jumps, which doesn't make sense, but was a unique feature at the time. The challenge comes from mastering the ability to neither overshoot nor undershoot jumps. There is room for error in a jump, because players can hold back on the d-pad to slow down the forward momentum of Mario's jump. If the forward velocity is too high, however, pulling back will be met with stunted results. Well timed jumps go a long way in Mario's legendary platform adventure.

Image

Mario's goal is to get to the flag at the end of each level alive. It's a simple premise. A nice detail about the flag is how you get more points for grabbing the flag pole from a greater height. This is a clever way to add to the excitement of completing a level. Score may not be very important, but there was something magical about watching those numbers go up. Every level starts from the left and ends at the right, with smooth side-scrolling action in between. Games used to have screen-by-screen scrolling around this time, the kind seen in Zelda. It was considered to be a huge selling point for a game to feature side-scrolling, which this one did. This allowed for a flow to the levels that wasn't common back in the day. The levels felt bigger, too. Super Mario Bros. gave players the sense of a game on a larger scale. It was no longer about completing the same level or handful of levels over and over in order to achieve high scores. No, Super Mario was about actual progress. The game had a finite end and gave the player actual goals. I know this might seem trivial now, but it wasn't a well established concept back then. In fact, many console games in the early 1980s were merely ports of popular arcade titles, or were designed to mimic arcade titles. This phenomenon changed shortly after the release of Super Mario Bros. Perhaps I'm giving this game a little too much credit, but it's possible it had something to do with that. In any case, Super Mario Bros. succeeded in giving players a purpose that was fun to pursue. It's more about the journey than the goal, but the goal helps motivate players to embark on that journey.

Image

Power-ups are a big part of any Mario game, and it all started here. Super Mario Bros. is the birth of the "Super Mushroom" and "Fire Flower." These items can be found hidden inside floating blocks. Super Mushrooms allow Mario to grow big and strong, which grants him extra abilities. For one, he can smash bricks with his head as big Mario, and two, he can take an extra hit. Mario normally dies in one hit, so this is a big help. The big drawback to big Mario is his big size. It gives him a larger hit box, making him an easier target. As for Fire Flowers, they do the same thing as the Super Mushroom, with the addition of allowing Mario to shoot bouncing fireballs if the B button is pressed. This is the most useful power-up in the game. It's required that Mario has a Super Mushroom first before he can even find any Fire Flowers. These fireballs that Mario can shoot are incredibly useful, because they make short work of almost every enemy in the game. It's especially useful underwater, if that makes any sense, which it doesn't. Very few enemies are immune to the almighty fireball attack, although there's at least one. Even the great King Koopa can be taken down with fireballs. It's safe to say that Fire Flowers dramatically alter the playing field. Mario transforms back into his small self if he gets hit while in possession of a Super Mushroom or Fire Flower. Lastly, there are the stars. Mario gains a brief period of invincibility whenever he grabs a star, allowing him to plow through endless rows of enemies. There's nothing more satisfying than making good use out of a star. Understandably so, stars are the rarest power-up. The power-ups add a great deal of depth and variety to the Mario experience.

Image

Part of what makes the level design is the enemies. They're a varied bunch, all exhibiting different behaviors. Goombas are evil mushroom-looking things that walk off cliffs like imbeciles. They don't pose much of a threat. I could be sadistic for saying this, but I find it fun to stomp these guys. Mario is kind of a violent game, when you think about it. I don't think about it. Koopas are the next big enemy, coming in various flavors; green Koopas have a lower IQ and walk off cliffs, while red Koopas will actually turn around. Some Koopas also have wings, allowing them to fly or glide around. The cool thing about Koopas is their shells. Whenever Mario stomps on one of these turtles, they hide inside their shells. Mario can then kick these shells and watch as they bounce back and forth between objects. If there are a row of enemies, such as Goombas, then they'll all be mercilessly killed by the spinning Koopa shell. I find this to be most enjoyable. You do have to watch out, because the shell can bounce back and hurt Mario instead of his adversaries. The Koopa shells are actually risky due to their backfiring nature. Easily the most menacing creatures in the game are the dreaded Hammer Bros. These are Koopas that can throw hammers at you and they often come in pairs, as their name implies. It's incredibly difficult to get past these guys without a scratch. Strategy, patience, and a cautious attitude are required in order to defeat these imposing beasts. The problem with Hammer Bros. is that their projectiles come in a continuous stream, making it almost impossible to approach them safely. Of course, this situation is easily remedied with the simple throw of a fireball from the Fire Flower. As terrifying as the Hammer Bros. are, they do leave an impact on the player. The enemies in this game are memorable, without a doubt.

Image

This is one of the first platform games to feature water levels. Water levels became the bane of many gamers in the future, so this might sound terrifying. Thankfully, the developers were nice enough to not include too many of these. There are just enough water levels to give the game an added bit of variety without overexerting the player. Mario can breathe underwater, which is convenient. I won't argue with that logic. The controls in water levels are completely different than normal; Mario abandons everything he has learned on foot and swims underwater. Pressing the A button gives Mario an upward boost that also propels him forward... and that's about it. Yep, the swimming controls are even simpler than the controls on dry land. Oh, and a Fire Flower equipped Mario can shoot fireballs underwater. Anything is possible in the world of the Mushroom Kingdom, it seems. The main adversaries to avoid underwater are fish. If these nefarious fish swim into you, then you're toast. I'm not sure why that is. Bloopers are easily the most dangerous enemies underwater. These nasty squids will persistently chase after Mario, homing in on his location like an aquatic missile. It can be tricky to get around these guys. That's exactly what makes these water levels interesting. Underwater excursions are a nice change of pace and a bit more challenging than the average level.

Image

Castles are the most imposing levels in the game. These fortresses are built with tight, enclosed spaces that could trigger a bad case of claustrophobia. There are also lots of traps, such as rotating fireball whips, lava, fireballs that shoot out of said lava, and bottomless pits. A dangerous level wouldn't be complete without bottomless pits. If that weren't enough, you'll find the big turtle himself, Bowser, waiting for you at the end. Mario's epic confrontation with this dastardly beast is handled in a most peculiar manner. Bowser can't be defeated through direct physical contact, so Mario has to use his cunning and speed to save the day. The grand fight occurs on a bridge that is suspended over lava. For some reason, there is an axe at the other end of the bridge, behind Bowser. Mario must reach this axe to destroy the bridge, dropping the turtle king down into the fiery depths below. But wait! Your princess is in another castle. This was the surprise twist that many people experienced for the first time. You'll be seeing this message quite a few times. Bowser awaits you at the end of every castle. You might be wondering how that's possible, considering was boiled alive in lava. The truth is that it wasn't the real King Koopa; it was an imposter wearing a convincing costume. Mario must reach the final castle to face off against the true culprit once and for all. The fights with Bowser's clones get harder as you go on, via more traps being placed in Mario's way. Fighting Bowser's many fakes is fun, but it does get repetitive after a while.

Image

There are 8 worlds with 4 levels each in the entire game. Extra lives are the most important thing in the game, as Mario loses one each time he bites the dust. Mario only starts out with 3 lives, but he can scrounge up more if the player is resourceful enough. The green mushrooms, known as 1ups, will grant Mario extra lives. These things are rare and discretely hidden, so players must search their environments thoroughly. In the inevitable event that Mario loses all his lives, you'll be greeted with the Game Over screen. This screen predates even Super Mario Bros. by a long shot. Upon being shamed with a Game Over, players will be forced to start the whole adventure over from the very beginning. There are no continues. So what do you do once you get a Game Over? Well, after throwing a tantrum and cooling your jets for a short while, you can try finding the hidden warp zones. These areas contain warp pipes that skip ahead to future worlds. If you find all the right ones, you can even go directly to world 8. The first few warp zones are easy to find, but the other ones are a bit trickier. In particular, the warp zone that takes you to world 8 is hidden extremely well. That makes sense. Warp zones are an innovative way to solve an annoying problem in a game lacking a save function.

Image

Super Mario Bros. is an awesome classic that has managed to survive the ages without a scratch. It started a lot of trends and was the game that launched Mario's career as a video game celebrity. That's not to say that it's perfect. While this is where the formula started, it certainly isn't where the formula was perfected. The following sequels have improved upon this game tremendously, not to mention the countless Mario clones that are out there. Still, Super Mario Bros. is a decent game and a major part of video game history.

Word Count: 2,468