The very first gaming console I owned was a Nintendo.
I remember that during my 6th birthday as I opened every card, I would pull the money out of every card and would placing it aside stating, “We can put this toward the Nintendo.”
Little did I know what was underneath the wrapping paper of the big box at the bottom of the pile. It took me a minute to process what I had opened as I tore off the thin paper, but soon enough it dawned on me…
I was clearly an excited kid — So jazzed up that I yelled “And look! It’s Duck Goose too!” at Duck Hunt.
Super Mario Bros. was my introduction to the gaming world. I had played around with the Atari and Commodore 64 at a friend’s house, and had picked up a Nintendo controller once or twice. I was fascinated by the idea that I could play a game that was on a screen – And at the time, this 8-Bit era was peak technology!
Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985 on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It set the standard for all future 2D platformers – Mario could jump, grow bigger, shoot fireballs, and could even become invincible as he plowed through countless Goombas and Koopa Troopas (enemies). The game was simple, and honestly? I miss simple.
I have played Super Mario Bros. countless times, on many consoles. This game has always been a staple for me. After tossing my hands up playing one of the more difficult levels of Resident Evil 2, coming back to Super Mario Bros. was refreshing. I used to speed-run the game, hopping from secret warp zones to blast me all the way to the end battle in a matter of minutes. But that’s not what I did for this playthrough.
My mission was simple: Play the game start to finish, without using warp zones.
As it turned out, I grew a fonder appreciation for this game. I had forgotten about some of the levels I had skipped over the past couple of decades. I had been so obsessed with hitting every block and ducking into every pipe as a kid, that I had forgotten to enjoy the actual gameplay of these levels. Then again, part of the charm of Super Mario Bros. was discovering all of the hidden power ups and secrets.
I traversed through a series of different worlds – Vast treetops where Bullet Bills were shot at me, underwater levels covered in Bloopers (squid), an entire world which was set against a night skyline as I jumped from teetering platforms, and even a giant bridge that had Cheep-Cheeps (fish) jumping up and raining down on me (honestly, screw that level).
Super Mario Bros. doesn’t repeat any of its level designs twice. While there are several underground and treetop levels, they all have their own spin to them. Sometimes platforms are smaller and moving, or sea creatures would float about the screen even though you were in mid-air. Even with the castles that would repeat, they would be harder with additional hazards to cross, and more enemies – And it never got overwhelming like many old retro games would make “harder” by dropping as many sprites as they possible could onto the screen before the cartridge would overload itself. In Super Mario Bros., every enemy was strategically well-placed and had its purpose. It was almost like an art. This level of strategy would continue on as a flagship trait for Nintendo’s Super Mario franchise.
The world setup was simple: Mario would have to traverse three levels of varying theme (outside, underground, underwater, or in the treetops) before reaching a castle. In each castle the main villain, Bowser (who went by “King Koopa” at the time), would be standing on a bridge over lava, breathing fire. My strategy for Bowser almost always remained the same – Show up with a power-up, smash directly into Bowser, and run past him while utilizing my temporary invicibility. Are there other ways to defeat him? Well, yeah. Strategic jumping. But after 30 years of this game, I was good on that.
At the end of each castle there would be a little “Toad”, aka a half-human/half-mushroom person, which I’m sure was conceived in some designer’s LSD trip. Every time they read the same message “Thank you, Mario! But our Princess is in another castle!” Well, maybe give me a tip off as to which one, before I run through eight more levels of this.
Finally, at the end of the game, we would find our beloved Princess Toadstool just chilling, waiting for Mario to show up. Was she ever in any real peril? Or is Bowser one of her secret lovers? Well, that’s an article for a different day.
This game still holds up. It’s simple, fun, and offers a challenge. If it weren’t for Super Mario Bros., I would probably not have been so invested into platform gaming. Understanding the physics of a Mario game can be difficult for an inexperienced or casual player, and can help train the platformer player. But who cares? There are no stakes in this game, other than to save the Princess and have fun.
You would think that the repetitive chiptune theme song would have eventually driven me crazy, but it’s doesn’t. For me, it brings up a whole lot of nostalgia of sitting on my family’s living room floor, about three feet away from the TV because that’s as far as the controller cord could reach. The graphics, as simple as they are, also bring me a sense of comfort and simplicity that I feel has been lost in the current gaming world. This was a game that literally anyone could just pick up and push start. No tutorials, no complex controls, just run, jump, and attack.
In all honesty? Current gaming needs to return to the simplicity that Super Mario Bros.