RetroSpective – Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros InfoWhat more is there to say about one of the world’s most famous games?  Just as it did on release in 1985, 30 years later Super Mario Bros. continues to introduce people to all the varied worlds and experiences that gaming can offer.  I know it’s hard, and maybe slightly redundant to review such an iconic and important game, but let me give it a go.  It would be criminal after all for Rings & Coins to not have a review for the game that began many on their gaming adventure.

Anyone who has played any Mario game knows the story, in fact so do most people who haven’t.  Mario & Luigi’s quest begins when King Koopa kidnaps Princess Toadstool and hides her one of his many castles.   Mario and Luigi, not happy with that set out to save the Princess, are helped along the way by the Toadstool people.  The story is a simple affair that suits the game, taking you on an adventure without the need for too much narrative.  Unlike other games, where a reduced story can be a negative, here its a big plus, as it pushes all the attention onto the gameplay.

Mario Bros Banner
Original Japanese Box Art

The gameplay is everything you could want.  It’s simple, but deep at the same time, giving the player a near perfect platforming experience.  Right from the iconic opening level, the game’s quality shines through.  From the placement of the platforms and enemies, to when and where you are granted certain secrets and power-ups, it’s all been planned to the smallest detail.

Mario’s jumping has weight to it, giving you a good feeling of control, and the power-ups have a great impact on your ability to cope with the game, making them truly feel like they are worth grabbing.  The control and feel just has so many little touches, all of which adds up to make the gameplay one that has truly stood the test of time, rarely needing improvement.  This is no more clearly seen than through the way Mario slips and slides when he picks up some pace or makes a big jump.

Mario Jumping
Super Mario Jumping

The opening level begins by teaching you the basics without you even realising, gradually introducing you to the game’s mechanics.  However, after this, the game lets go of your hand, allowing the player to tackle situations the way they want, whilst at the same time encouraging exploration and allowing you to play freely.  Don’t think this wasn’t intended either, as this was always Miyamoto’s aim.  Behind its seemingly simple exterior, lies a deep and engrossing experience, one that is filled with hidden secrets and memorable moments.  Both those intended, and those not.

These secrets really are key to the experience, not only in order to maximise enjoyment, but also if you intend to complete it.  You see, whilst Mario is a simple game to play, it’s a hard one to master.  Not only do the enemies drastically improve in their ability to overwhelm you, but so does the platforming challenge.  With some particularly intense death defying jumping, all in the face of many flying enemies required in the game’s closing acts.  Make no mistake, you will die a lot, learning and improving each time, but importantly, due to the way the game is designed, you’ll always relish the challenge rarely becoming frustrated.  It’s also a game that grows with you, improving as you do, and this all has the effect of making the experience your own.

King Koopa
Goodbye King Koopa

However, the game has no continues (though there is a cheat for this), and it definitely has no save or password function.  As such, you’ll find yourself returning to the start time and time again.  Miyamoto was aware of this and hid special Warp Pipes throughout the game. These become invaluable, taking you back to where you last were, and as such, one step closer to King Koopa.  They also remove much of the potential frustration, leaving you with the challenge and the enjoyment.

The other secrets, such as green pipes that take you coin filled special zones, and hidden 1-ups, really add an extra layer to the challenge and give the game great diversity and fulfilment.  In fact you’ll become so intent on discovering everything, that you’ll find yourself trying all of the pipes and smashing all of the blocks you can.

Warp Pipes
Warp Pipes

The enemies are just as diverse, following the same format as the game does, growing with you.  The Goombers start you off at an easy difficulty, but after not too long Lakitu will appear throwing enemies everywhere, and Bullet Bills will fly from all directions.  However, no matter how hard the enemies seem, they all follow a distinct pattern.  This means both that you never feel at an unfair disadvantage, and that you are provided with the tools to success at all times.

All of the character and enemy sprites are pixel perfection, cleverly utilising every last byte of the available hardware.  Palette swaps are common here, just like Punch-Out!!, but thanks to the design choices, individual characters and personalities are created from simply a change of colour.  After all, nobody thinks of Luigi as a green Mario, with the same true of the Koopa Troopers.

Luigi Thin
Luigi

This is also true of the worlds.  From the plains of the Mushroom Kingdom, to the castles and underwater seas in between, the game engrosses you fully in Mario’s adventure.  It also looks better than most games that came after, despite the limited technology.  Not only that but the worlds that were created have become a staple of Mario games, re-appearing time after time again.

This presentation flows through into Koji Kondo’s soundtrack.  Perfection is the only way to accurately describe it.   It’s about as iconic as it gets in gaming, and the rest of the soundtrack lives up to the heights of the first track.  It may not be the longest of soundtracks but it oozes quality, still being widely used today.

Mario Swimming
Mario Swimming

This is a rare breed of game whereby every time you start afresh, somehow it feels like the very first time.  Newcomers will enjoy the early levels, and those seeking the challenge will be provided with it in the game’s later levels.  You’ll have to play the opening level over and over again, and you won’t mind one bit.  In many respects this is gaming in its most raw and enjoyable form.

As for the conclusion below, well what else did you expect? Super Mario Bros. a social phenomenon that doesn’t even need introducing.  Its quality and legacy is timeless.  Arguably there is no other game more essential to the gaming experience than Super Mario Bros..  This is a game that simply breathes quality, polish and finish.  Even if you are not a gamer, you owe it to yourself to experience its charm and quality.  No matter how much you love gaming, no matter what your skill, and not matter how you play it, Super Mario Bros. was, and still is, a defining point in video game design.

Super Mario Bros Score

Simon Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.