18 October 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System! As celebration, here is the first part of my NES retrospective: 25 days, one NES-related article per day!
When you think NES, the first game that comes to your mind is most likely the original Super Mario Bros., so what better game to start with to celebrate?
Ahh… What is there to say about Super Mario Bros.? You know this game. You just do. If you don’t… Fuck it, you do.
I should mention right now that these NES-themed articles won’t have a specific format; they’re more like collections of thoughts, reminiscing on various things. Frankly, I’m just typing stuff as I think of it, because the NES and its classics are just that powerful.
Super Mario Bros. is the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto, and quite possibly the most influential game ever created. It was definitely the most popular game at the time, and according to some sources, it is still the game the sold the most ever (including pack-ins and various editions). Hell, chances are that if you ask someone who isn’t very knowledgeable about video games to name you one, they’ll say “Mario” or “Mario Bros.” (actually referring to this game, not the actual “Mario Bros.”). It’s that well known. If there were a poster child for games, just one game meant to represent them all, this would be a major candidate along with Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Pong.
To get myself in the mood and to prevent myself from speaking out of my ass (…as much as possible, can’t make any guarantees though…), I played through and beat this game today. What’s more powerful than memories? Well, probably a few things, but memories might well the most powerful force when you’re in the middle of reliving them. Actually, you know what? They could repackage this game and rename it “Nostalgia Trip” and… Well… I don’t know, but it sure would make a very fitting title. Moving on…
See that? That’s the NES controller. Wired, a directional pad (a new system that Nintendo patented, hence why you’ll never see it referred to by that name on non-Nintendo hardware), two standard buttons and two extra buttons for special functions. It doesn’t get much more simple than that, but at the time, it was the best thing ever; far more responsive and useful than the Atari 2600 joystick. Wanna hear a funny little tidbit that’ll make me look stupid? Back then, I struggled with the controls in Super Mario Bros.!
Actually, that was probably the first game I ever played in my life; it might have been an Atari game, but this is definitely the earliest memory I have of playing a game. Man… I must have been between 1 and 2 years old! At the time, I had watched someone play the game in my dad’s basement and became fascinated with it, so I gave it a try. My little mind had trouble grasping the simple concept of holding two buttons at the same time, so I had trouble running and jumping!
See, even though Super Mario Bros. wasn’t the first platforming game to have existed, it may have been the first one to use acceleration physics. Nowadays, such little things are a given; when you play a game and walk around, you don’t suddenly stop when you let go of the directional pad or whatever it is that’s making your character move around; there’s a subtle (or no so subtle, depending on circumstances) event taking place, where your character’s acceleration decreases until it stops. Back then, that wasn’t a common thing at all, and the same goes for jumping; not only were you able to jump higher and further when you ran, but there was a complex control in play that allowed you to control your direction in mid-air, which was influenced by your acceleration. Again, all those things are common place today, but they sure weren’t back then! Perhaps my most vivid memory of my first attempt at playing this game is constantly falling down that first large hole in the first level, prompting me to learn how to use two buttons at the same time and in conjunction with the D-pad.
Was this the first sidescrolling game? Frankly, I’m not 100% sure, but I’ve heard that it was. Up until Super Mario Bros., the vest majority of games took place within static screens; that is to say that even if events took place, the screen didn’t move to follow your character through levels. Most games also had the exact same goal, no matter how they played: Getting points. The objective of practically every game was to score as high as possible, going through infinite (or pseudo-infinite) levels with little variation until you lost all your tries or lives. Mario was different though! You weren’t just playing a game, moving your character on a screen; you were on a quest, an adventure! You were out to save the princess!
But before you could save her, you had to go through 8 worlds comprised of 4 levels each; that’s 32 levels that are entirely different, populated with coins, enemies, power ups and traps! What about Pac-Man? How many different levels were there in Pac-Man? Space Invaders? Missile Command? The non-Super “Mario Bros.” game and Popeye had a few levels, but they constantly repeated themselves. Sure, they got progressively harder, but there was little variation; you were just trying to get as far as you could and you knew what was coming next. In this game, you had Bowser (still known as “King Koopa” back then), one of the first recurring “end bosses”, whom you had to defeat at the end of every four levels, dark castles filled with lava and fire! I remember playing through the game with my step-sister back then; we kept trying to get as far as we could, always dreading the showdown with the boss, whom we called “the monster”!
Speaking of which, Super Mario Bros.’s difficulty curve feels just right, even today. Levels get progressively harder, enemy placement and stage layouts get more tricky, power ups and extra lives become scarce and those DAMN hammer-throwing Hammer Brothers become more common. Also, the last Bowser (pictured above) was pretty insane, flinging tons of hammers, spitting flames, walking and jumping around all at the same time!
The game also had amazing music for the time, and it sure beat the beeps and boops you’d hear on Atari. While it may not sound nearly as impressive nowadays, it says something that what few songs it has are still just as catchy as ever! Everyone knows the song that plays in most levels which grew to become possibly the most well known video game theme in the world, but what about those other songs? Surely, if you’ve played this game, you remember the underwater theme just as much as you remember struggling to keep those Bloopers (squids) away!
All in all, is Super Mario Bros. the best game in the Nintendo Entertainment System’s vast library of titles? While it’s not quite my favorite, it’s definitely high up there and probably one of the key elements that changed my life, forever turning me into an avid gamer. There is no doubt that this one of the most nostalgic pieces of software to have ever been created, and not just for this author! Its influence reaches across countless people, tastes and cultures, making it an important piece of history.