Super Mario Bros is the 2D side scrolling platformer that cemented the Nintendo Entertainment System as the next big thing. Sure the NES had its light gun and robot, but Super Mario Bros was the system seller. This was the quick, fun game to play. It put you as Mario or Luigi if you were the second player in a fantastic new fantasy world with bright, beautiful color. Blue skies, red brick surfaces, green trees, fluffy white clouds. It was so amazing at the time and it still stands up today, because its so fun.
Along the way, standard Mario can obtain power ups like the super mushroom that grow him twice in size. This super mushroom lets Mario take an extra hit of damage. Without it Mario loses a life and you need to try the level again. From there, Mario can collect a fire flower that let him throw bouncing fireballs with a charming little “bleck” sound. If you’re lucky enough, you can even find a star man that gives Mario invincibility and lets him effortlessly plow through enemies.
The controls are simple, left and right to walk. A to jump, and hold B to jump. You can even duck to avoid projectiles. Its so simple and all so enjoyable. It plays quick and smoothly. The standard way to take out enemies is hopping on them. Yes crushing a creature with your own weight. You don’t have to do it, but its one of the necessary evils of the game. You can actually run through the game without killing anything. Simple enemies like goombas are flattened, while others like koopas hide in their shell where you can then kick the shell to send it zooming away to collide with other enemies to take them out. It was the same for buzzy beetles, but there was a twist there. Buzzy beetles were fireproof. Spinies couldn’t be hopped on without hurting Mario. There were other enemies like hammer brothers, and under water foes such as cheep cheaps and bloopers. It was such a nice diversity of enemies back then.
Another way to take out enemies is from underneath. There are several lines of bricks that if an enemy is above you on the brick, you can bop the brick by jumping into it from beneath. Small standard Mario won’t be able to break through, but super Mario can smash through. This opens up multiple routes and some much needed diversity that future platformers just don’t have. Even if this destruction mechanic is mundane to the Super Mario series, its missing from other platformers. In fact a lot is missing from other platformers that Mario has standardized with this first Super Mario Bros game.
The object of each level is to run to the right and make it to the end. At the end of each course, there’s a flagpole that you jump off a peak and try to capture the flag at the top. The higher you land the more points you get. Then you ride down and get points. These points accumulate for extra lives. Its just a nice touch rather than running through a finish line and posing. It gives a bonus challenge for every level. If you’re lucky enough you can time things just right to get fireworks set off at the end. These are all nice touches that add to the game’s enjoyment. Something so simple that means so much to a child to have something special happen.
You can speed run through levels when you get really good at them, but its not just about getting to the flagpole at the end of each level, its about the exploration. There are dozens of question mark blocks that Mario or his brother can find either coins or power ups. Along the way, you can even dive down into certain pipes to uncover secret rooms full of golden coins. Going down pipes was just the beginning, you could find secrets by going along the top of the screen all the way past where you were supposed to go. You could find warp zones that took you to different worlds, just as long as you explored enough. It was just another mind blowing detail brought to you by Super Mario Bros, the ability to skip forward to save you time in an era when saving your progress was still a luxury.
Getting 100 coins gets you a 1-Up, a free life and an extra chance to play when its your turn. Back then, lives were important. You only had a certain amount of attempts to beat the game before you were sent back. It wasn’t like the old Atari games where you were just playing for a score, Super Mario Bros was a quest to save the princess. Castle after castle, you’ll discover that she’s in another castle until the final boss fight against Bowser.
Mario’s antagonist has become an iconic symbol himself. They’ve both been in countless video games since. These five characters, Mario, Luigi, Bowser, the Princess and Toad have become probably the best known video game characters in history, rivaling only Pac-Man.
The game has 8 words and 4 levels in each. For the most part you’re on the ground, but there are tree top levels, underground levels, bridges, swimming levels and the fourth level of each world is a challenging castle. It was an incredible diversity back then. Even changing the background color did a lot change the feel of each level. You didn’t have a happy blue sky, but then a night sky.
The water levels add some game play diversity that other platformers are missing to this day. You don’t just jump, but you swim to gain height on the screen. There’s no oxygen to worry about, after all this is a strange fantastic land where anything is possible. That’s always been part of the charm to the Super Mario series. Anything is possible.
To complete the package and make it even more memorable, it has amazing yet simple sound design. The little sound effects have become iconic. Everything from throwing a fire ball to the sound of Bowser’s bridge disappearing under his feet. It sticks in your head, but nothing stays with you as long as the music does. The music is some of the most iconic and memorable in all of gaming history. Its simple yet infectious. Due do due do due do… Do. More than just the overworld theme, but the underworld music and castle music. Even the victory music have stuck in my head for more than a decade.
Super Mario Bros will always be a true classic, but I guess the only downside is there is a release with Duckhunt. You can breeze through the game and have fun while doing it. Pick it up and play it to relive the first must have game for the NES.