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Super Mario Bros.

1984, Nintendo

Super Mario Bros. owes its success to two primary factors: First was its gameplay and the second was the fact that it was the cartridge that Nintendo shipped with its new NES systems. I do not intend to delve into the second reason here, though it should not be forgotten completely (indeed, all of video game history is littered with such incidents which have sometimes served to propel games beyond what they ever deserved or sometimes, as in the case of Super Mario Bros., to the success that they deserved).

SMB was rather revolutionary in terms of level design. Earlier games had usually only had a few game screens which did not change. Games like Adventure, which had distinct levels with multiple screens, were the exception. SMB, however, was a scrolling platformer with 32 different levels, some of which were even mazes. Gamers had no choice but to memorize some levels. The last level is a good example of this: There is a specific sequence of pipes one must go down in order to get to the end of the level; take the wrong one, and Mario is returned to the beginning of the level to start all over again. This memorization was probably SMB's biggest contribution to the gaming world. While almost all games require some level of memorization, and Super Mario Bros. was not really the first of its kind, SMB took it to a new level and a new prominence, setting a precedent for most of the popular console games to follow. This came to be both a blessing and a curse. While it introduced a new genre, it also introduced a new fad, as large portion of following games would be sidescrolling platformers. Just as first-person three-dimensional shooters dominate now, and Space Invaders or Asteroids style shooters dominated the early years of gaming, these games came to dominate gaming in the late eighties and early nineties so much that one becomes almost sick of them. And as level design and graphics began to dominate new games, gameplay tended to suffer: Each game was just like the last one, but with a facelift.

Naturally, there was more to Super Mario Bros. than its new gameplay paradigm. It graphics, while pathetic in comparison to its successors on the NES, were essentially superior to any of its predecessors on other console systems. The resolution was higher and graphics and sprites were more detailed. It used more colors than any game except for ones for the Atari 2600. It was tolerable even in comparison to Commodore 64 games, which, having graphics capabilties similar to the NES's and having already been around for two years, one would expect to yield more graphically mature games, but alas, it did not.

SMB's tight control makes it fun to play. Mario jumps when the player pushes the button, not six years later. The NES's gamepad, which takes a while for old digital joystick gamers like myself to adjust to, further helps control.

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Last updated June 7, 1998.