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Super Mario Bros for NES a look back and review

Updated on June 2, 2014

Super mario look back and review video

Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt cart

First a quick disclaimer. All photos were shot off of my TV screen unless noted. Super Mario Bros is made and owned by Nintendo.

I think it’s time I sit down and write about probably one of the most influential video games of my generation. The video game that help respawn the industry it is today, the game that was huge for its time even though it can be speed run in about 5 minutes, the game that spawn video games largest mascot. That game was Super Mario Bros.



History of the game

First a quick look back at what the industry was like. In the early 1980’s Atari dominated what was the video game industry (no it’s not quite the same company that made the DBZ game for the PS2, all though they did own the rights to the original Atari games), however thanks to them losing a lawsuit to a bunch of former Atari programmers who founded Activsion Atari lost control of the software that could be put on its Atari 2600 game console. Because of this we had Alpo and Kool aid games, even Atari Porn games were made. Atari itself never saw a profit from these games and it damaged its brand. Still being has big has it was it carried on making hits like Yars Revenge.


At that time a Japanese company was trying to sell rights to it’s successful in Japan game console called the Famicom. That company was Nintendo and they were going to have Atari handle the licensing and the cost over here in America. However while they were hashing out the finer details (like who would own the successful Donkey Kong license) Atari made two big bombs in a row. Pac-Man (I am talking about the Atari 2600 port worst version ever of that classic game) and E.T. (aka by most people has the worst video game in history) the games were made cheaply by people who were either apathetic about the game or weren’t given enough time to complete the programing. To make matters worse Atari over marketed and over produced the cartridges. Because of that Atari bought a land fill in the middle of the desert, steam rolled the carts, poured cements, and then buried the huge back stock of carts. This caused Atari to go bankrupt and the game market of the early 1980’s to pretty much crash and disappear.


Nintendo seeing an opportunity to get into the American market decided to bring there famicom here. Problem was no toy store was going to take a video game console, the video game fad was declared dead. So Nintendo made there console side loading (which would later be a bane to all kids everywhere who had to drop kick the console to get it to work properly) and named it the Nintendo Entertainment System (even though all it could do was play video games), well it worked. Going along with the system would be Nintendo’s biggest game ever produced Super Mario Bros. The game was a hit, the console sold out in it’s test areas, and when later mass produced for the American system it would be bundled in with a Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt cartridge.

Super Mario bros title screen
Super Mario bros title screen

Has for Super Mario Bros itself it would later become a huge series on it’s own with many sequels, spinoffs, comic books, and even count them 3 Saturday morning cartoon series. The actual game has been ported to or can be played on almost every Nintendo console (with the exception of the N64, Game Boy, and virtual boy. The SNES version was remade with 16 bit graphics) so chances are you have played this. And if you haven’t if you got a Nintendo console chances are you can.


Enough with the history if you want to learn more check out a book called the ultimate history of video games. It’s time to move on with the actual review.

super mario all stars contained a 16 bit upgrade.
super mario all stars contained a 16 bit upgrade.

Story

The Mushroom Kingdom was a peaceful place until the Koopas arrived along with their king Bowser. Bowser turned the kingdom resident to stone and kidnapped there ruler Princess Toadstool (Princess Peach in more modern games). The words to the kingdoms peril, eventually reached the ears of two plumbers called the Mario Bros and they set off to rescue the kingdom.


For the most part the story is pretty simple, go rescue the Princess the same has Mario games are done now days. However some people like to read into some of the minor parts the plot like turning them into blocks and stone. Is Mario committing homicide on a poor resident whenever he breaks a block in the game. I say no, it was just Nintendo’s bad storytelling to say why there aren’t any regular people in this magical kingdom Mario is exploring. Even in games where the toads are fine and set outside of the mushroom kingdom there are still blocks to break.

Graphics

I am going after the original NES game here and the graphics are of course are now almost 30 years old and definitely don’t stand up to the sheen that games now days have. But there is some cartoonish draw to them that still makes them fun to look at even now. There timeless everybody knows the sprite for Mario back then and it’s still even used by fans to do satire videos on the internet (web sites like Dorkly spring to mind when I talk about this). Mario’s sprite has a blocky edge and he himself is a bit of an odd color but it fits for the time, and when you’re coming off Atari game his large and fully animated sprites looked beautiful. The backgrounds vary between plane black which is what you get for the caves and castle. Or to being actually quite detailed for the time in the over world stages there are trees, clouds, mountains in the background. Again you go back and look at a lot of Atari 2600 games and you just didn’t see that level of detailed in a home video game.

The graphics were bright and playful. Oh and inspired by alice in wonderland. Like Alice, Mario is either to small for the world he lives in.
The graphics were bright and playful. Oh and inspired by alice in wonderland. Like Alice, Mario is either to small for the world he lives in.
Or too big for the world he lives in
Or too big for the world he lives in

Sound

Going from the Atari that I owned has a kid to the NES brought up something that wasn’t heard in most Atari games. Actual background music. Everybody knows the iconic Super Mario Bros over world theme, it’s still used has Easter eggs in today’s Mario games and it is timeless. While the underground theme is not has timeless it has been remixed into a lot of today’s Mario fortress and underground themes do use most of it. The one theme that is grading and didn’t even make it has the primary music for the stages in the Mario all-stars is the 4th stage in every world background music. It’s just repeative and grading, all though it is still heard in Mario All-stars it’s back ground noise now to the main music theme given too it for the SNES remake.

The effects have been repeated too. From the sound growing big, to shrinking, to throwing fire balls and even coin collecting sound effect has been used in other games and media.

The flag pole

Overused today, new back then
Overused today, new back then

Gameplay

The game is pretty simple you move Mario from left to right pressing A to jump and squash enemies. Hitting question mark blocks will give you coins, getting 100 coins gives you an extra life. Other ones will contain a power up. Hit a block that contains a power up has small Mario and you will get a Mushroom that will turn you into Super Mario. Super Mario can break blocks and often find secrets and short cuts. Hit another power up block and you will get a fire flower which allows Mario to shoot out fire balls. There are also invincibility stars that will grant Mario the ability to run through enemies for a short period of time.

The aim of the game in most stages is to get to the flag pole and jump on it and pull it down. There are 3 stages in each world with these flag poles, world 4 always contains a fight with Bowser which involves finding a way to go either under or above him to grab the axe on the other side. Or if you’re lucky to be fire Mario you can also fire ball him several times until he dies.

Nothing like beating bowser and rescuing the... Hey who the @$&$ are you.
Nothing like beating bowser and rescuing the... Hey who the @$&$ are you.

So what made the game unique well you look at the Atari and a lot of PC games at the time and most were single screen, simple, sports games. Mario felt like it was alive, yes it was simple and blocky but the screen moved with the world. There was about 20 stages that felt alive like there were their own worlds (yes I know there is 32 stages in the game but there are a few repeats that are just made harder by having more enemies) and secrets. Sometimes you would just jump up and a block would appear with a 1-up mushroom or a coin. Other times riding the lift higher than normal would take you to the warp zone that would let you skip to another world. There were even cool easter eggs like the minus world bug. No game before it felt like this and every game after this had to capture some of its magic and the fight to build more complex and bigger games was on.


So how challenging is it.

Well most season gamers who have played this since child hood would probably say pretty easy. But were used to owning more than one copy of this game, and playing it to death, and even doing speed runs with the game. If you’re a newbie at games expect this one to be legitimately hard game. You only get about 3 lives, one ups are hard to come by especially compare to modern Super Mario Bros game. And you get no continues (all though there is a code that allows you to start at the beginning of the world you were on.) so while the game may be beaten in under 5 minutes by a pro it’s takes a while to get good at this game to beat it. World 8 the last level contains 4 really hard stages. World 8-1 is the longest stage in the game, however it contains no check points, and no power ups. Has a child I remember this stage was the stopping point of my game it was impossible to get passes this stage. 8-2 is pretty easy (especially since there is a somewhat tricky to get 1-up mushroom but it keeps coming back if you die) compare to 8-1. 8-3 contains many run ends with the games hardest to get passed enemy the hammerhead brothers (if you’re not fire Mario good luck) and finally 8-4 is a maze. Beating these final levels was tricky when I was younger and it will confound newbies today.

It took a lot of gamers a long time too get passed the long slog that is world 8-1
It took a lot of gamers a long time too get passed the long slog that is world 8-1
Hey no cheating using the virtual console save anywhere feature. Back in the day we diden't have this luxury
Hey no cheating using the virtual console save anywhere feature. Back in the day we diden't have this luxury

Final Recommendation.

While the NES version is the version to play it on (note the Wii/3ds/Wii U run emulated version of the NES game) there are a few other versions out there check out these different version if you don’t have a console that can run the NES games.

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