60 Second Gamer – Episode 53 – Super Mario Bros (NES)

The podcast is available at www.randomstoat.com

Apart from a brief dalliance with a tape-based Atari system at some point in the 80s, my first experience of video games was with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Much like everyone else, we owned Super Mario Bros, however our version was on the same cart as Duck Hunt. Cut to about five years ago, it must have been around 2007, when I bought another NES console (we gave our original one away when we got a Super Nintendo – foolish!), and picked up most of the games we’d previously owned. Some I’d forgotten about completely (Turbo Racing, anyone?), but others like Mario, Batman and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles were the ones I hunted down in the first instance. As luck would have it I’ve ended up with two copies of Super Mario Bros – again, one cart doubles up with Duck Hunt, while the other triples up with Nintendo World Cup and Tetris.

Super Mario Bros is without doubt an all-time classic, and it’s a game I regularly go back to. Admittedly I might tend to favour the SNES remake over the 8 bit original, but that’s purely for convenience – I can save progress on the SNES and the graphics have had a decent makeover, but the gameplay itself remains untouched, which is a good indication of its quality. The story is as old as it gets – playing as Mario, you have to make your way through the mushroom kingdom and rescue the Princess (Peach? Toadstool? Daisy?) from the nefarious Bowser. Fans expecting to see a giant monkey throwing barrels at an updated Jumpman will be sorely disappointed. Given that DK spawned Mario’s adventures, I think he got the short end of the stick with that deal, but then Bowser is a much more menacing figure.

Unless you have a duff control pad the controls are responsive and makes excellent use of the two buttons you have available. One to sprint and dish out fiery death if Mario has collected a Fire Flower, the other to jump. Nice and simple. Travelling from left to right, with a timer hurrying your progress (and unless you really drag your feet you’ll never run out of time), you collect coins and gain a 1-Up (extra life) for every 100 you collect, smash bricks and bash into question mark blocks for coins, temporary invincibility power-ups and mushrooms that let you grow from regular, weedy Mario to the Super Mario of the title. On that note, Luigi does show up if you play a 2 player game, but other than the change in overalls it’s exactly the same game as that played as Mario. Along the journey you’ll encounter Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Hammer Bros and Bullet Bills, amongst others. There’s a nice mix of characters throughout the game, keeping you on your toes. This reaches particularly nasty proportions when you reach World 8, where they throw literally every enemy at you. It’s a solid platformer in every respect.

It’s due to this over-abundance of enemy action that I’ve never been able to finish the original Super Mario Bros, whether on the NES or the spruced-up Super Nintendo version. That’s despite discovering warp rooms aplenty that let you skip most of the game, and knowing full well (via YouTube videos) that you can complete the game in about 5 minutes. Yet despite the many times I’ve played through it, I always stumble at Level 8-3 when I bump into those darned Hammer Bros. I think a lot of my problem is impatience. If I took the time to watch their moves and wait for a gap in their hammer throws instead of charging ahead like some drug-addled plumber having a bad trip. I’ll probably go back to the game again soon and try finishing it once and for all, just to give my “completed video games” list a bit of self respect. It will also mark the first 8-bit game I’ve actually played through to the end. Quite sad in a way…

It would be a bit odd if I didn’t at least mention the music as well. I think just about everybody these days would be able to recognise the Super Mario Bros theme. They might not be able to tell you where it’s from, admittedly, but they should at least recognise it. The opening theme is about as iconic as it gets, but let’s not forget the other, equally memorable themes used throughout the game – the almost fairground quality of the swimming levels; the sinister tones of any level set underground; the even more sinister tones every time you enter one of Bowser’s many castles. It’s another integral part of the game that adds to the entire package. Without the music it would still be a solid platformer, but I doubt it would be anywhere near as iconic as it is.

I’ve dabbled with consoles from other makers since then, and over the years I’ve acquired pretty much every home console from the NES onwards – still plenty to buy but I genuinely haven’t got enough hours in the day nor the funds to own absolutely everything. One day, perhaps, but not right now. My original point being, whilst there has been a lot of competition out there, I’ve always been a big fan of Nintendo and everything they do. Okay, so the Wii didn’t cater specifically for the hardcore gamer for much of its lifespan, and the Gamecube was criminally under-appreciated, but they’ve always tried to innovate with each console cycle, and as a consumer I appreciate that. They might not always get it right (hello Virtual Boy and ROB), but when they do it’s something special. Super Mario Bros, for me, is the game that started off the entire video games boom that has continued to expand since the great video game crash of 1983, and it just goes to show that, no matter how often Mario is reinvented and thrown into another random genre, the original 2D platformer will always be popular and will always be one of my all time favourite video games.

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