There probably isn’t a place on Earth that hasn’t heard of Super Mario Bros., and if there is one, they’ll likely get around to it.
One of the most recognizable games ever made, Super Mario Bros. kicked off today thirty years ago on the Nintendo Famicom in Japan. Later in 1987, it would arrive in the West as a launch title and pack-in for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Ah, pack-in games…remember when consoles used to have those?
SMB was designed as a sort of sequel to the 1983 arcade game, Mario Bros.,where players would need to jump up and punch the floor to overturn turtles and crabs to be able to pick them up for points. Critters would come out of pipes on both sides of the screen at the top and players, either alone or with a co-op friend, would work to take out as many of them as possible for a high score.
But the game that came out in 1985 was a radical departure that expanded, twisted, and changed the basic elements of that game to create an entirely new experience. The familiar mustacho’ed face of Mario is back, only now, he’s in the Mushroom Kingdom punching brick floors, swooshing through pipes to new “worlds” (levels), and continuing on his way to save the Princess from the fire-breathing Koopa.
This was amazingly fun. It wasn’t an RPG or an adventure game, but it had elements of both tucked away within the exciting action. The warp pipes beckoned you to dive in and find yourself in a new world — whether it was swimming underwater to Koji Kondo’s them songs — and power ups like a fire flower that gave Mario the power to toss small fireballs, grow tall, and be able to smash blocks for a limited time.
It was an encapsulated slice of designer, Shigeru Miyamoto’s, childlike wonder and curiosity in exploring the world around him as a youth, going on adventures and finding things that his mind would spin stories around. And in many ways, that made the game so good. The bright, welcoming colors, soothing music, solid controls, and deep challenge brought that experience from the outside to living rooms everywhere without a learning curve.
Simple instruction and imaginative level design filled with secrets (such as finding a way to run across the top of the screen underground) evoked a sense that each “world” as the levels were named had wrinkles tucked behind every block somewhere. And a lot of kids spent hours trying to wring every secret out of the game like video game explorers without having to worry their parents about disappearing down pipes.
I spent hours playing through each world, taking shortcuts, leaping to the top of flagpoles for the highest score on the way to the final confrontation with Bowser. And even then, it wasn’t a traditional “boss battle” with two forces trading blows. It relied more on getting the drop on Bowser’s beastly moves, matching him not with overwhelming strength and monster powers but with your wits and reflexes instead winning the day.
Today, the game lives on in countless ways from collections to virtual downloads on the Wii U as Nintendo marched on through the years. Super Mario Bros. has become a juggernaut becoming more popular than Mickey Mouse in a poll that was held in the early 90s, spawning a legion of sequels, inspiring countless gamers, and continuing to amaze new and old generations of fans. Even today, with every piece of new hardware that Nintendo creates, the question on everyone’s lips is when it will get its own Super Mario Bros. game.
Happy 30th, Super Mario Bros! And here’s to many more.