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Super Mario Bros. – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Acting as a pseudo-sequel to the 1982 hit arcade game Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. was developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System and designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, two individuals who would go on to later become giants within the video game industry for their creative aspirations as game designers. Released in 1985 after a mere two years after the dreaded and infamous video game industry crash of 1983, a period in which console game sales fell drastically, Super Mario Bros. and the NES catapulted console gaming back into the spotlight, thus ending the two year slump of console game sales with a flurry of fun and entertaining titles that practically anyone could play and enjoy.

The premise for Super Mario Bros. is rather simplistic but imaginative. The player controls an Italian plumber named Mario, or in the case of a two-player game, the second player controlling that of his brother Luigi, as they traverse the eight diverse levels of the magical Mushroom Kingdom in order to rescue Princess Toadstool from the game’s main antagonist, Bowser. The premise is certainly unpretentious and is one of the reasons that makes the game so compelling to play through. In my experience, as I’m sure is the case for countless other individuals, Super Mario Bros. was the very first video game I had ever played stemming from it being a title on the very first video game console I had ever owned. A lot of my earlier childhood memories surrounding gaming are attached to Super Mario Bros., with its bright colors, memorable music, and easily understood premise. Like a majority of youthful experience, life was much simpler back then, with Super Mario Bros. easily complementing that perspective as well.

With the above statement in mind, Super Mario Bros. is perhaps one the finest examples within the 8-bit era of gaming of how intricate gameplay mechanics can work effortlessly through design. Now, some individuals may perceive this particular title as being overrated, aging badly, or simply too old to fully enjoy now, but Super Mario Bros. has stood the test of time in at least one regard – its simplicity. It is this aspect of the game that has made it extremely addicting and well worth the investment to complete for many players. Jumping on Goomba heads, avoiding quick fireball blasts from Bowser, and leaping over dangerous ravines, the gameplay within Super Mario Bros. is certainly one of creativity couple with that of simpleness. It is a game based around the notion of memorization and rote skill in which one can not beat the game through sheer forcefulness or even on their first attempt, but through many attempts. The old mantra of “easy to learn, hard to master”, definitely comes into play here as this is one game where you will try, try, and try again to beat a level, clear a jump, or simply avoid an upcoming enemy. The feeling one gets when they finally reach that end of the level flagpole, jump on a switch to release Bowser into a sea of molten lava, or complete a difficult section of a level after 10, 15, or 20 tries makes for a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.

Similar to the game’s premise, the simplicity encompassing the left-to-right element of gameplay garners an almost instinctual need to reach the end of a level no matter how difficult it may become. Couple this with the fact that the game includes transformative power-ups such as a mushroom that allows Mario to become physically larger in stature, a flower that gives him the ability to shoot bouncing fireballs from his hand, or even a star that provides him with invincibility for a limited time, the combination of power-ups make for a great display of strategical readjustment as you gain specific advantages over the game’s enemies. As a side-scrolling platformer, the game is primarily centered on the art of jumping, an element of gameplay that the game does exceptionally well – for the most part.

A running jump will make Mario jump higher and farther, with the added ability to slightly change one’s direction while in mid-air, a nice touch that expands upon the platforming formula and offers the players more control over the character of Mario. This also gives you the ability to better gauge where and how you land, an ability that players will increasingly improve on as they progress through the game. Having the ability to jump almost immediately after landing is also a significant element in providing players with more overall control, which can be achieved with very little effort. Given the importance of jumping within the game, the ability on part of the player to produce either a weak or strong jump dependent through the combined use of the A and B buttons on the controller, complements the actual level design itself. The game allows you to choose multiple paths towards your goal, such as jumping over a group of enemies or perhaps attempting to actually jump on their heads in order to gain points, the game gives you a multitude of choices that do not force you to simply choose one. It is primarily the creative architecture of the level design that produces the challenge and allows the player to better tune their performance, which was is what a platformer should strive to be. For example, while a strong leap over a ravine can avoid certain death, the game has the tendency to place an enemy just ahead of you as you land, therein establishing a tension between that of the player and their surroundings.

In a similar vein, the concept of running viewed within Super Mario Bros. is something that many other games have sadly omitted, with it being viewed here as essential towards traversing the numerous obstacles throughout the levels with a sense of urgency. The main objective of the game would appear to be to simply make it to the end of the level, but there is one key element that one has to consider here and that is the inclusion of a timer. This element, alongside running, makes Super Mario Bros. a fast, exciting, and challenging experience. One can attempt to accomplish a slow play through of the game, but that simply is not what the game is all about. Super Mario Bros. is a game where running and jumping over a set of blocks to avoid a set of Goombas below you to gather enough speed in order to jump over a spiked shelled Koopa to finally reach the flagpole, is well, quite an exhilarating experience to say the least. The game transforms from being simply a game to beat on tangible level, to a game in which you set a personal goal to overcome. Perhaps you want to beat a certain level on a specific time, or not die during a certain segment of the game, Super Mario Bros. never truly becomes boring in the sense that you instinctually start to create your own goals based upon the design of the game itself – it simply becomes a natural progression.

But for all that Super Mario Bros. does for the platforming genre in general, there are some minor hindrances that hurt it. If the overall gameplay in Super Mario Bros. is uncomplicated at its very foundational level, it does suffer from some rather poor game design choices during its last several levels. As skillful as some players may be entering these final levels, the game seemingly throws everything it can at you, some times in the most absurd, and dare I say, cheap ways. Whether this stems from the ridiculous waves of Hammer Bros. you face, with their sporadic hammer throwing and erratic jumping that makes them difficult to out maneuver, to the design of castle levels that endlessly repeat until the right path is discovered – a rather slopingly introduced impediment that simply is there to waste your timer – some of the design choices implemented appear only as a way to enforce longevity of the game through shoddy tactics rather than simply relying on the skill of the player to overcome them. Gathering the knowledge and ability of the player in order to complete a level is important and these precipitous inclusions to game somewhat strays from that philosophy during its concluding levels, which is where the game will prove to be quite difficult for some, if not all players for rather unnecessary purposes.

But these hindrances are rather minor in comparison to the scope and magnitude of Super Mario Bros. as a game that forever changed the technical landscape of the video game world, and certainly for the better. It is one game that many people can come back and play after so many years and its innovative features make it all the more appealing today as it was when it was first released. While some may dismiss the game as entirely too aged for its own good considering the likes of the Super Mario series as envisioned today, its foundational role in revitalizing the side-scrolling platform has provided the blueprint in which later games would adapt. And while other games since then have improved immensely upon the structure found within this particular title, one should always remember that when you look past its silly premise, interesting enemies, cool power-ups, catchy music, and other elements, the very fundamentals of the genre still remains. There is something about Super Mario Bros. that makes even the most jaded gamer feel like a kid again, a time where life was simpler and games like this one stood as an example of just how fun gaming could actually be.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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