Retro Profile: Super Mario Brothers (NES)

Imagine a world, if you will, where the gaming industry is on a serious down spiral. No matter which console you owned, the games just couldn’t break any new ground. And to top it all off, many disappointed consumers still had the taste of Atari’s abominable “E.T.” game in their mouths.
You have now entered– “The 1983 Zone”! *cue spooky music*

Okay, well maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but 1983 was a really bad time to be a gamer. The console gaming market was oversaturated with too many titles that just weren’t worth playing (much). As a result, people began to see video games as nothing more than a dying fad, and started looking elsewhere for their entertainment needs.
Thankfully, there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel, and that light was Nintendo. Determined to breathe new life into home video games, they took a risk and went on to create their own 8-bit console, and along with it came one of the most popular video games of all time. Alongside the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 (Famicom/1983 in Japan), Super Mario Brothers was introduced to the world and became a household name practically overnight.

Although Super Mario Bros. is over 20 years old now, it really hasn’t lost its shine. The game has always been simple enough for almost anyone to pick up and play, yet challenging enough to keep you coming back to try and save the princess. The selection of power-ups are limited, but worked perfectly for an early NES game. As a kid, my favorite part of SMB was getting the mushroom so I could smash the bricks overhead. Even better, of course, is getting the fire flower, because it’s fun to pluck Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and other enemies off the screen.
The level designs were very well done for it’s time too, because the developers at Nintendo took their time with how everything was structured. You can enter pipes, walk on the clouds, heck– Mario and Luigi could even swim. Many clever obstacles are placed in your way, and there’s a seemingly endless amount of little secrets to discover. Most secrets come in the form of hidden bricks leading to a bonus coin stage or finding a special warp zone. All the worlds are quite imaginative and it really draws you into the whole adventure.

All of the 8 worlds have a logical progression of difficulty to them. World 1 starts you off pretty easy with just having to run and jump on the Goombas and Koopa Troopas. But by the time you reach world 8, you’ll be dodging Bullet Bills, avoiding the flying Lakitu that drops those Spikey creatures on you, and you’ll even have to run and jump across bridges with flying Cheep-Cheeps all over the place. There’s really no shortage of challenge and variety in SMB. Even the battles with King Koopa are different with each castle that you fight him in. He ranges from just breathing fire, to chucking a good numbers of hammers at you, while you’re trying to get past him to the switch on the bridge. The secret to defeating the tougher enemies is getting to know their attack patterns. You’ll be in for a fairly easy fight if you know the pattern of enemies like Koopa or the Hammer Brothers (I always their taunting grin). Don’t get me wrong though– the game is challenging, but certainly not impossible.

The graphics are fairly simple, but well-drawn. It helped gamers to see where Nintendo was headed in terms of style and quality. All characters and objects are easily distinguishable. Plus, the graphics are bright and colorful, yet easy on the eyes too. You’ll travel through the bright, lush world of the mushroom kingdom, explore the dark underground caverns, and even swim with the Cheep-Cheeps underwater as you try to rescue the princess in Koopa’s castle. Little things like hills and clouds in the background add to the enjoyment of the game. Some of the levels look especially good, like the ones that take place at night. The underground sections are enjoyable to play through as well because the dark blue hues on the brick and enemies gives you the feeling that you are really in a cavern…not just on a level with a black background and nothing more.

The audio quality in Super Mario Bros. was top notch for it’s time. The over-world stages have an adventurous, perky tune to them, while the underground areas have a bit of a darker tone to accompany Mario and Luigi on their travels. The underwater levels have more of a mellow feel to them, whereas Koopa’s castle areas have a brooding, almost panicky tone– letting you know that you’re not in a friendly place anymore. The tunes are really quite catchy and you’ll most likely be humming one of them to yourself when you’re at work in a staff meeting somewhere.
The sound effects go very well with the action on screen. It adds to the fun of jumping on a Goomba’s head or getting the mushroom/fire flower and watching Mario or Luigi change accordingly. The music and sound are pretty much the icing on an already tasty cake. Better yet, many sound effects (like the 1-Up chime and others) are still recognizable today in just about every Mario-themed game that Nintendo creates.

Super Mario Bros. was a golden star for Nintendo. Proving itself to be more than just a console launch title, the game is a true classic and a very significant part of gaming history, as it pretty much pulled the video game industry out the biggest slump we had ever witnessed. If Donkey Kong started the platformer genre, then Super Mario Bros. solidified it. The blueprint was now set for just about every platformer to come. Is it worth downloading on the Virtual Console? You bet.

Jamie Alston is somewhat of an unusual gamer. While most people crave the visual delights that can be found in many of the current generation consoles of today, he actually prefers the 8-bit & “super 8-bit” (SNES) glory days of yesteryear. This is probably due in part to the fact that his brother chose the Nintendo Entertainment System over the Sega Genesis back in 1989…or maybe it had more to do with that time when he fell and hit his head on the blacktop in elementary school. Whatever the reason might be, Jamie has an undying love for those unnecessarily big cartridges he spent so many summer afternoons playing. When he’s not raiding trucks that “have started to move” for rations and key cards, he stays busy supporting his gaming hobby by working as a Policies & Procedures Analyst for a financial company in Baltimore, Maryland. And when he’s not working for “the man”, he’s working on the next retro review for the week. And when he’s not fighting off writer’s block and much needed sleep, he’s raiding trucks that “have started to”—well, you get the idea. Currently living in Randallstown, MD, Jamie sums up his life long dream this way: “If I one day find myself driving on the highway in a 2004 Honda Accord with an NES directional pad for a steering wheel, you can bet that I’ll be holding the up direction for that turbo boost on the straight-aways. That’s when I’ll know that I’ve finally made it in life”.