From Humble Beginnings – Super Mario Bros. – Nintendo Entertainment System – 1985

Super Mario Bros. (PC10)_001

Nintendo Entertainment System
(c) 1985
Genre: Platformer

It goes without saying that Super Mario Bros. is a classic. It brought the fundamentals of gaming to a new level and cemented its role in video game history early on. I still remember playing the arcade machine at the laundromat near my house when I was a kid. Most players’ first memories of video games are with this one- but the real question is, as usual, whether it stands the test of time.

Brace yourselves.

The story of the original game is that the Mushroom Kingdom has been taken over by the Koopa, a group of turtles well-known for their black magic. After they turn all of the citizens of the kingdom into bricks, stones, and whatever else they think of, they kidnap Princess Toadstool and take over. That is where Mario, a plumber, takes over as the hero of the kingdom and goes on a journey to rescue the princess, saving the kingdom.

This story sounds like a good trip turned sour. Still, it’s definitely interesting to know the roots of the series, as the black magic angle has been explored so far as Koopa is concerned. You still have to wonder why you break bricks for points, though. Read back.  Think about it.

It’s best not to think too deeply about the story. You don’t do much in the way of abilities. Run, jump high, and stomp on enemies. Mario starts small and weak, but by way of Magic Mushrooms, you get bigger and stronger. From there, you can find Fire Flowers to throw flames and knock out enemies, or Starmen, which grant you the invincibility to plow through anything in your path. With those abilities, you travel through eight worlds- warp pipes not included- to save the princess.

Well, the Princess and seven of her attendants.

Of course, there are enemies. Some of the fluffiest enemies ever but certainly dangerous. Slow crawling Goombas, Koopa Troopas- winged and grounded- and (somewhat) speedy Bullet Bills are just a few of the enemies that will get in Mario’s way. Nearly all of them take a fireball or stomp to get out of the way, so the real enemy comes in the way of King Koopa himself, or as you know him today, Bowser. He gets a little trickier and tougher each time you find him, though, so it helps keep the game on a steady difficulty curve.
There are also four types of level you’ll come across, though in various palettes. Overworld levels are the most common and underworld (dungeon) levels are also fairly common. They run on the same mechanic of running and jumping as explained above. At the end of each world, there is also a castle, which consists of lots of fire and some clever jumps and timing needed to proceed to the end. There, you’ll ‘fight’ King Koopa, which typically just consists of getting past him to the bridge switch to drop him (or if you’re lucky, having a Fire Flower in hand to serve him head-to-head) and move onto the next world. Then, there are the underwater worlds. The swimming mechanic is not bad but a little slippery. Players might find times where they try to turn back to avoid an enemy and find that Mario was still moving toward them for that split second they needed to escape, resulting in many lost lives. You can chalk that up to the challenge of the game, though, like it or not. Nintendo, at the time, was much more about adaptability than it has been in more recent days.

The graphics of the game are iconic but really nothing special. After eight worlds, they get boring and can even be grating to the eye. Again, take into account that these were graphics from over twenty years ago, but playing with them now is nice only for nostalgia’s sake. The levels are colorful and certainly make you feel like you’re moving from place to place through the worlds.

As far as the music goes, it must be great. The main theme is probably the most recognizable video game tune to anyone, gamer or not, and the rest of it is just as memorable. While I may hate the underwater levels, I love the music, and it took my mind off of my many accidental deaths. There are only four or so tracks throughout the game, and the sound effects definitely help break the monotony. Everything from the tone of coin collecting to the famous jumping ‘sproing’ lend to the game and help shape it into an enjoyable playing experience.

Here is the ‘controversial’ opinion for the game: Super Mario Bros doesn’t stand up to the test of time. Do I believe that every gamer should play through it? Most definitely. It’s super important to the world of video games, and it lays a great groundwork for the rest of the series- even the rest of gaming. That’s exactly what it is, though. It’s a foundation. You don’t build a house without one, but you certainly don’t want to spend your life living on just a foundation.  In it’s time, Super Mario Bros. was the king, and with good reason. Twenty years later, it’s kind of repetitive and, in some places, needlessly difficult. I used to be able to play it for hours on end, but now, I get bored around World 5 or so and start thinking about what game to play next.

To tip the scale, is this a terrible game at this point?

Hell no.

Miyamoto made a great game, expertly crafted and technically well planned. The story is interesting, the idea is really original for its time, and it spawned more games than I’ll ever hope to conceive. It can be nice to play through it again but only for nostalgia’s sake. Some people can sit down and play through this game regularly, and some people can play it and be satisfied for a while.  The appeal is still there, though.  Despite any shortcomings the game may seem to have now, it holds a place in almost every gamer’s heart, and that’s a huge accomplishment, no matter how you feel about it.

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