Hall of Fame Inductee
Super Mario Bros.
Original Release: 1986 (NES)
Designers: Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka
Developed by: Nintendo
Published by: Nintendo
Even if we don’t care about Super Mario Bros. twenty-five years after its release, the game is notable for at least one very important reason: it saved the video game industry after it imploded from the crash of 1983. The NES was a hard sell to retailers when it was launched in 1985. Too many garbage games from horrible game consoles had turned people off of video games. When Nintendo tried to break into the market, it was like entering a wasteland. However, Super Mario Bros. changed all that. The game looked and sounded better than anything else available on the home market; it was easy to pick up and play, and it was incredibly fun. Mario singlehandedly saved the video game industry and, even though the game is over a quarter-century old, it still stands up incredibly well today.
Mario, last seen fighting in the sewers of Brooklyn with his brother for coins, has fallen down a pipe and has ended up in the Mushroom Kingdom. Things are not well in this magical land. The evil King Koopa, Boswer (think of a giant turtle who has taken way too many steroids and growth hormones) has kidnapped Princess Toadstool and imprisoned most of the Kingdom’s inhabitants in blocks. It’s up to Mario to save the princess and free the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario has a few tricks up his sleeve such as a super mushroom which will Mario grow twice his size; a fire flower which enables Mario to shoot fireballs at his enemies; and a starman which makes Mario invincible for a brief amount of time. With these tools Mario has to fight through land, sea, air, and underground levels to reach Bowser and save the Mushroom Kingdom.
While it’s no surprise that Super Mario Bros. was graphically superior to anything else on the home console market at the time of its release, it was novel in ways that seemed ingenious at the time. The goal of the title was to use the game to showcase the power of the NES. Nintendo wanted Mario to explore different types of worlds and environments. The addition of water levels was unique at the time, although it has now become a staple of platforming games (for better or for worse). The smooth scrolling of the game was virtually a rarity on the home console market (and completely unheard of with computer games giving the NES a major advantage over some of the more powerful computers of the time). In fact, this was unique to the NES version. While it was exclusive to the NES in North America, the game had been ported to various systems in Japan which, while they may have been graphically superior, were not able to support the smooth scrolling as seen on the NES. The soundtrack of the game was also amazingly superior to anything else on the market. The themes for the various levels sounded great and became iconic within the industry. The sound effects were just as pleasing to the ear. Many were used to sound effects from games sounding like distorted bleeps and bloops; however the sounds in Super Mario Bros. sounded as you would expect them to sound. Collecting coins sounded like what you’d expect giant gold coins hitting together to sound like. Even the non-realistic sounds were ingenious in their sound. The game was a pleasure on the ears as much as it was on the eyes.
There’s not much that can be said about Mario that even the non-gamer doesn’t know. This game helped push Mario to the consciousness of the mainstream. Over the following years of this game’s release, Nintendo licensed so many Mario toys and products that very few major mascots could compare with the amount of merchandise generated by Mario. Today, Mario titles generally sell around a million copies each no matter what the content. Whether it be a full-fleshed experience comparable to Super Mario Bros. or it be a mini-game fest, or a kart-racer, Mario titles sell incredibly well. From breakfast cereal to macaroni dinner to giant stuff dolls, Mario has become an extremely popular force both inside and outside of video games.
While Nintendo may have kept Super Mario Bros. exclusive to the NES in North America on the home market, they did port the game to the arcades later on. Titled Vs. Super Mario Bros., the game was similar to the original although it was made more difficult to ensure that people would spend more money playing the game. This was done by making platforms smaller and having harder enemies. Also, some of the later levels were completely replaced with new levels with a much more diabolical design (some of these levels were later used in Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels). However, this game did not do a lot of business since most people who bought the NES picked up a copy of Mario at the same time (either through a pack-in promotion or as an add-on purchase).
The title was later ported to systems long after the death of the NES. The first port came to the SNES as part of a compilation of Mario titles called Super Mario All-Stars. The game was given a 16-bit overhaul with this version which, while the compilation generally got good reviews, still left something to be desired with the most loyal Mario fans because it looked and sounded so much different from the original. The game was later ported over to the Game Boy Color as Super Mario Bros. Deluxe in 1999. The game was completely faithful to the original with the exception of an added map system. However, the graphics and sound were just like they had existed on the NES. Another direct port was released on the Game Boy Advance as part of the NES Classics series in 2004. The game was also made available as a mini-game in the 2002 game Animal Crossing for the Gamecube but it could only be accessed through a cheat device (although it was likely that Nintendo had intended to have the game unlocked somehow but they dropped support for the e-Reader device used to unlock items in Animal Crossing). The game is also available through the Wii’s Virtual Console service.
The series has grown through the release of several sequels. Originally, a sequel was rushed by Nintnedo to be released almost immediately after the original’s release. Titled Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan, the game was deemed too difficult to be released in America and harm the momentum that Nintendo was having in the tough Western market. The game featured poison mushrooms, more difficult platforming, and warp zones that would send the player backwards through the game instead of skipping the player ahead. The title was eventually released later as part of the Super Mario All-Stars compilation in 1994 called Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. North America’s version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was a huge departure from the gameplay of the original game. Released in 1988, Nintendo took a pre-existing game in Japan called Doki Doki Panic and swapped the main characters out to represent the main Mario characters. Instead of jumping on enemies to kill them off, players had to pick up the enemies and throw them into other enemies. While the game was very well received, it’s considered the black sheep of the series.
1990 saw the release of one of the most popular video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s one of the best looking games on the NES and introduced some of the most notorious staples of the Mario franchise such as a world map and flying as well as things that, while very popular, were only seen in this game like the Tanooki Suit. In fact, the NES saw more regular Mario games on the system than any other system until the Wii.
There have been many more Mario games released but writing about all of them would take another tens of thousands of words. Also, most likely a good percentage of these titles will eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame on their own merit. Mario titles have been easy to pick up and play because of everyone’s familiarity with Mario but also because the games are high quality. Super Mario Bros. is the game that started it all. Some would argue it’s the best game of all time; even those who wouldn’t go that far would still agree that Super Mario Bros. is one of the best games ever.