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SummaryBehold…the game that saved an industry!
The GoodThe art direction on the first Super Mario Bros. (SMB) game was both memorable and adorable. Mushroom men, turtle troopers, fire flowers, breakable bricks, giant plumbing pipes…it all added up to something like a slightly industrial twist on “Alice in Wonderland.” And a twisted fairy tale is at the heart of this game, so that makes perfect sense. Mario was playing the role of animated anti-hero long before anyone even dreamed of Shrek!
Just as important as the art was the fabulous music. If you were to hum the overworld and underworld themes to SMB in public, the odds are good that somebody within earshot would recognize them. The sound effects were both realistic and satisfying. Smashing bricks really sounds like smashing bricks, and the happy-cool noises that accompany mushrooms, fire flowers, invincibility stars, and other goodies you find add to the simple joy of discovering them.
Of course, I would be remiss not to praise SMB for its elegant and incredibly innovative design. SMB was truly the harbinger of a new era in arcade games. Gone forever were the days of single-screen playing fields and their compressed, suffocating feel; from then on, arcade gamers would expect to scroll through an entire world of fun and fantasy. (Of course, big props must also go to David Crane’s landmark Pitfall games for pointing the industry in this direction.) Moreover, it showed that a video game world could benefit greatly by having destructible environments. Except for Asteroids and Lode Runner, I can’t think of any early action-arcade title that let you smash things up as much as SMB did.
While mostly linear, SMB still gave the player considerable freedom within that linear structure. Most levels featured hidden areas and alternate paths to victory, and “warp zone” pipes let you bypass entire worlds and advance much faster—the downside being that you couldn’t gain the extra lives and other rewards in the bypassed areas. But those warp paths were just the tip of the iceberg as far as secrets and “easter eggs” were concerned. Just when you thought you had uncovered SMB’s secrets, you’d play the game with somebody else and they’d show you something new. Magical stuff, and I can’t recall playing anything like it that preceded it.
Younger gamers might have difficulty grasping how revolutionary all of this stuff seemed back in the day, but take my word for it: video games felt vastly different after Super Mario, and this surely played a big part in reviving the industry after the great Atari bust of the early 1980s.
The BadNo game is flawless. Even the great SMB is no exception to this rule. For one thing, it can get repetitive. That’s not uncommon for arcade games, and SMB holds up better than almost any other game of its era, but it’s still a problem. How many times did we really need to hear that our princess is in another castle? More seriously, it would have been nice if the action didn’t always have you running in the same direction. Even Link is a lefty, so how come Mario only gets to go right?
From the perspective of any mediocre platform gamer (that’s me!), SMB was a bit hard. The early levels were rather unchallenging, but from World 5 on things get significantly harder. I’ve beaten the game without cheating, but believe me, it did not come easily. For most games I’d probably say it wasn’t worth the effort. If you are struggling with this one, then I’d say that playing with a Game Genie might be a good idea. It would be sad for any dedicated retro gamer not to explore the later levels just because his reflexes aren’t quite up to the task.
Finally, a word on multiplayer. I don’t use multiplayer in most games, but I did use it quite a bit with SMB (my lucky cousins had this game long before I did). It was ok, but the sequential nature of it seemed a bit of a waste. You spent lots of time watching the other person play—especially if they were good—which could get boring fast. After the simultaneous multiplayer of Mario Bros., the IGO-HUGO of SMB seems like a bit of a step backwards. It probably wasn’t at all practical at the time, but a cooperative play mode could have been a blast.