March 4, 2015 | Written By: Ewan Moore
What can be said about Super Mario Bros that hasn’t been said already? It lay down the foundations for modern videogames, and it’s a testament to intelligent level design. Its ridiculously catchy music, colourful cast of characters, and tight controls helped ensure its legacy as one of the most influential and beloved games of all time, and the fact that it’s equally as fun to pick up and play today as it was thirty years ago is a monument to the genius of creator Shigeru Miyamoto. Of course, if you know videogames, you know all of this.
Nevertheless, let’s have a look at the legacy of the world’s most popular Italian plumber and see just how far he’s come from these humble 8-Bit roots, looking at his newer adventures and comparing them to the standards of the 1985 NES classic. But first, a little history...
Back in the Day
1985 was a very different time in the world of videogames. There was no Legend of Zelda, or Metroid. Call of Duty and Halo were decades away, and if you mentioned Sonic the Hedgehog you’d be met with a blank stare. Videogames were static, unchanging areas in which you racked up high scores. Of course, we’d seen Mario before, first as Jumpman in the seminal Donkey Kong arcade game, and then in his own arcade adventure Mario Bros. In that particular title, our famous plumber did some actual plumbing, fighting crabs and turtles in the sewers. Of course, Mario’s evolution was far from complete.
Initially Super Mario Bros was a revelation because the screen scrolled from left to right with you. Now, Beat-Em-Ups and Shoot-Em-Ups had been employing sidescrolling since the 1980s, but the combination of tight controls, secret routes, and distinctly different feeling levels added a tangible sense of freedom and scale, and made for something that nobody had quite seen before. Free from the confines of a static world, gamers eagerly ploughed through the Mushroom Kingdom, taking on any obstacle that came their way. Hidden blocks and secret warp zones added to the fun of the game, with fans obsessively trying to deduce the fastest way to reach the final level. In addition, with endless talk of minus worlds, and hidden levels, videogames had real sense of mystery to them for the first time.
Pick up and Play
The tight and responsive controls were a revolution at the time, with players being able to control the height and length of Mario’s jumps. This made for some truly hairy moments in later worlds as players attempt to avoid flying Koopas and land on a tiny platform in the middle of an abyss all at once. You could easily pick up and play this game today, and the control system would still feel fresher than a great deal of clunky modern platformers. Even the graphics now have a lovely retro charm to them, three decades later. There’s a good reason Super Mario Bros has been available in some form on pretty much every subsequent Nintendo console and handheld, and that’s because it’s a beautifully well made game that can absolutely hold its own against modern titles. That really is saying a lot, especially compared to how badly the original NES Zelda and Metroid games have aged in comparison to their own future titles. While these games have been undeniably influential in their own ways, it wasn’t until the SNES that their own particular formulas were perfected – with A Link to the Past and Super Metroid. Super Mario Bros however, nailed it first time round.
Learn With Mario
One of the most impressive things about Super Mario Bros is that you’re taught virtually everything you need to know about the entire Super Mario Bros franchise in the first thirty seconds. The very first thing you’ll see in World 1-1 is a few blocks, a couple of ? blocks, a Goomba, and a pipe. With the objects present, you can work out that you’re able to jump to hit blocks, and that ? mark blocks will have coins or powerups in them, enemies damage you if you walk into them, but they can be killed by jumping on their heads, while the pipe acts an obstacle that teaches you how high you can jump. That is to this day more or less the gist of every Mario Bros game, right through to New Super Mario Bros Wii U. If a thirty year old game can teach the basics of an entire franchise in thirty seconds, why do modern videogames insist so heavily on help systems and cumbersome hints every ten minutes?
Nintendo have always strived to offer accessible games that everyone can enjoy, and Super Mario Bros is indicative of everything the big N have strived to achieve since 1985: Colourful characters, in vibrant, larger than life worlds, coupled with games and consoles that are innovative, yet deceptively simple. This approach has led to some of gamings’ biggest successes, with the likes of the Wii, the Gameboy and the DS, Mario’s barnstorming debut into the third dimension with Mario 64... but it’s also led to some mistakes along the way such as the Virtual Boy, and (to a lesser extent these days), the Wii U. The rest of the world may not always see exactly what Nintendo is trying to do, but when they do, we get success stories like Super Mario Bros. It’s fair to say that if this game hadn’t existed, the videogame industry would not be what it is today. Nintendo certainly wouldn’t be what it is today.
It really is a sign of the strong work done by Shigeru Miyamoto, that every Super Mario Bros game since has followed exactly the same combination of simple controls and fiendish level design. Sure, there’ll be the odd new power up here, and a sprinkle of extra boss fights and new ideas to keep it all fresh, but the core gameplay has remained unchanged for thirty years. That’s a truly incredible feat, and we can’t think of any other series that can make such a claim.