Oh wow, someone is reviewing Super Mario Bros. on the Internet. What’s this guy going to tell us that we don’t already know?
Super Mario Bros. is the prototypical video game in every way that has currency in our society. It wasn’t the first, not by far. It wasn’t even what started the craze, either. People born in the current century, for the most part, even appreciate it as a small step/man, giant leap/mankind. Those who don’t recognize it are simply wrong, in the same way that flat-earthers are wrong.
What merits do I have to critique Super Mario Bros? Who would have the right credentials?
Fuck if I know, but I can tell you that I’ve bought the damn game many times. Let me count the ways.
- Super Mario Bros. on the NES (well, my parents bought it for me – it was my 7th birthday)
- The 16-bit remaster found on Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES
- A used NES copy to play on a friend’s NES in college
- Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on the Game Boy Color
- The NES Series version on the Game Boy Advance
- The Virtual Console version on the Wii
- The Virtual Console version on the Nintendo 3DS
- The Virtual Console version on the Wii U
- It’s on my NES Classic Edition, but I bought that to be a decoration, not to play the games on it
- Technically, I bought it for my Switch too, by paying for Nintendo Switch Online, as it comes with the NES games, and Super Mario All-Stars is included with the SNES games as of this month
I can also tell you that I don’t like Super Mario Bros. Deluxe very much, due to the restrained field of view. I can tell you the physics differences between Super Mario Bros. on the NES and the 16-bit remaster, and how upset I am that they never got fixed in the subsequent re-releases. Maybe I’m a Super Mario Bros. purist.
Either way, if owning the game ten times doesn’t make me super qualified to write a totally unbiased review of a great game, the nostalgia will do the remainder of the heavy lifting. We’ll get through this one way or another.
Let’s first talk about Super Mario All-Stars for the SNES, because as a collection, and as a 16-bit remaster of four 8-bit games, it really is faithful to the source material (minus the physics).
Super Mario All-Stars
Super Mario All-Stars contains the four Super Mario Bros. games for the NES. It contains Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2 (the USA version), Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels, which is better known as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan. All four games were rebuilt from the ground up with updated graphics, sound, and music. Think of SMAS like an HD-remake, except it doesn’t run at 1080.
There are a few small differences between each of the games on SMAS and their NES counterparts (other than the graphics and music). I’m not going to list them all here, as others have done the work for me. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 feel almost exactly the same in Super Mario All-Stars, but Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels have a glaring difference that does throw me off. I mentioned physics. I’ll try to explain.
The Big Brick Block Physics Defect of Super Mario Bros. in Super Mario All-Stars
in the original Super Mario Bros., when Super Mario (a Mario that is embiggened by a Super Mushroom) jumps and hits his head (or fist) into a brick block, the block will break. Upon contact, this will send Mario back towards the ground quickly. If Mario is running forward while jumping and hitting bricks, he won’t lose momentum.
In Super Mario All-Stars’ version, when the embiggened Super Mario hits his head (or fist) into a brick block, he continues moving upwards a little. He eventually falls back down; he doesn’t continue to ascend through the brick as it’s breaking, he just has some hang-time.
This isn’t a problem unless Mario is running. If he hits a brick block that has other blocks next to it (as most of them do), this hang-time causes Mario to collide with the side of the next block before he descends. This causes Mario to lose his forward momentum. It’s very jarring to someone who is used to the world working a totally different way. It feels off. It’s uncomfortable. It should be fixed.
Let’s compare them. First, here is the original NES Super Mario Bros., being played on the Nintendo Switch:
Notice how Mario’s momentum is maintained after hitting a brick while moving.
And here it is in Super Mario All-Stars, also being played on the Nintendo Switch:
I dunno. It’s not the end of the world. I recently played through both incarnations of the game, and even went through Super Mario Bros. twice in Super Mario All-Stars. It’s not game-breaking, but mama-mia, does it throw you when you don’t expect it.
Anyway, this isn’t a review of Super Mario All-Stars. You should play Super Mario All-Stars. It’s a perfectly fine way to get into the Super Mario series and play the NES classics. In fact, I’d even be bold enough to say that it’s the best way.
What all that out of the way, let’s look at the game that basically started it all.
Super Mario Bros. is simple, challenging, and fun. In case you are an Amish person that just entered day-one of your Rumspringa, you probably have some level of inherent knowledge of what is a Super Mario. If you don’t, I won’t embarrass you in front of our co-workers (or your Mitch McConnell sex-pillow – I don’t know your life but if you are this separated from society I imagine you’ve got some seriously concerning issues).
Super Mario Bros. is the adventure of Mario and, when played by two people, his twin brother Luigi. You are tasked to rescue the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom. Along the way, you’ll run into (although hopefully not directly run into) the evil King Koopa’s (later renamed to Bowser) minions. This includes Goombas (angry mushrooms with big eyebrows and a serious underbite), Koopas (big-headed turtles), Lakitu (a turtle that flies around in a cloud), Piranha Plants, and more. You collect coins along the way, and there are power-ups to help Mario (and Luigi).
Power-ups include the Super Mushroom, which increases Mario’s size and grants him the ability to sustain damage, although damage will reduce him to his original size. The Fire Flower can be found when Mario is big, and that allows him to shoot fireballs at enemies. There’s also the Starman, which makes Mario (and again, Luigi) invincible for a few seconds.
Mario must make his way through each stage, traveling from left to right, until he reaches the goal flag. If the flag is reached within the time limit, Mario will proceed to the next stage. Every fourth stage is a castle, where Mario must confront King Koopa (or a facsimile of Koopa, if you take the lore seriously). A castle stage ends when Mario touches the axe behind the beast, whether or not the beast still stands.
The last castle is World 8-4. Get yourself past that King Koopa and you’ll have rescued the princess.
Okay, so there’s no narrative and at the time Super Mario Bros. came out, there wasn’t much lore or backstory. The most were going to get was printed on page 2 of the instruction booklet:
Honestly, that was enough. It establishes that you are the lone hero and that there’s some some pink peach at the end of the adventure for the portly plumber.
It’s actually fun to look at how Mario’s brand has changed over the years. Newer games in the series rarely refer to Koopas as turtles, the princess is hardly ever referred to as Princess Toadstool, and the “Mushroom People” are now just called Toads. There’s no dark magic or spells, or Mushroom Kings either. The Mario lore is deep and fun and haphazard, but it has definitely been sculpted into that of a permanent mascot, one where stakes are low, the danger is slapstick, and the goal is fun.
Super Mario Bros. doesn’t need any additional story. It’s got seven sequential plot twists, all of which are the same, the very first I witnessed as a 7-year-old after getting off the phone with my father.
The strongest, most significant story that Super Mario Bros. (and the subsequent Mario titles) has are the ones we’ve made along the way. I know that sounds like a big plastic barrel full of Utz Cheese Balls (by the way, get a gallon of whole vitamin D milk, and a big barrel of Utz Cheese Balls and make yourself a delicious afternoon cereal). Where was I?
Everyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s who had a Nintendo (or a friend with Nintendo) had some experience with Super Mario. Birthdays, slumber parties, or sitting around the cafeteria talking about that level with the jumping fish – Super Mario dug himself into children in the most humble fashion. He was fun, he was good, and he brought us together.
When you look at Mario today, and how Nintendo treats him, you can see that they identified and magnified that. Mario will always be fun, and enthusiastically joyful. Mario will always be good, even if he’s a little chaotic-good. Mario will always bring us together, even if the company that owns him is scared to death of letting you go online.
I think Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario since the mid-90s (and most of his friends), said it best:
(Start it at 2:56 to see what I mean)
Charles Martinet is so wholesome it breaks me.
Super Mario Bros. might not look realistic. It’s not rendering every individual hair in Mario’s mustache. There are no anti-aliasing or ray tracing or 4k texture packs. Real-time shadows? Nope. Bump-mapping? Pulease.
In the 1980s, we were limited. Being able to deal with those limitations gracefully were the signs of true aristry. Super Mario Bros. does that, and it does it well. The entire game is about 31KB. In comparison, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a heafty 175GB, and if you ask me, the fun-per-byte ratio is strongly sitting in Mario’s favor.
You always know what to expect with Super Mario Bros. You know when something shouldn’t be touched, when something should only be jumped on, or when something will benefit you if you touch it. You know what you can stand on, and what you can’t. There are no tricks. The visuals are extremely functional and iconic.
Maybe this is nostalgia talking, but the Super Mario Bros. aesthetic always looks good, and it’s always charming when Nintendo uses it today.
Everyone knows the Super Mario Bros. theme song. Even if you’ve never played a video game, you know the anthem.
The musical tracks – there are four in total, and three shorter fanfares – were composed by Koji Kondo. Koji still composes for Nintendo to this day and has also written pieces for The Legend of Zelda series, and almost everything that has Mario in it.
Listen, I’m going to level with you. You don’t need to hear the Super Mario Bros. theme. You had it in your head at least once while reading this. Let me just share this great medley by FreddeGredde. One of the instruments he uses is a Nintendo Switch and some carboard.
Maybe you want something a little more studio? Here’s a full orchestra rocking out.
The rules of Super Mario Bros. are simple, and anyone can pick them up and learn everything you need to know to finish it within a minute of playing.
Mario’s movement is extremely responsive. Even after committing to a jump, the player can control Mario’s trajectory slightly. If the player wants to move Mario forward at a slower speed than his normal walk, tapping forward on the direction you want to go will limit Mario’s gate.
While Nintendo will go on to make subtle improvements to their formula before breaking off into the third dimension, Super Mario Bros. feels great as it is, and any adjustments are just icing on the cake.
I didn’t beat Super Mario Bros. on my own until I was in college. In fact, I don’t think I even finished the game with a Game Genie when I was a kid. By modern standards, Super Mario Bros., isn’t a hard game. There are modern games that try to feel retro by being extremely difficult (I know, there is a lot to unpack there).
While the game does present you with a challenge, it never asks too much of you, and it never asks you to do something difficult without working you up to it.
Super Mario Bros. is still presents challengers for gamers today in the form of speedrun challenges.
Over the last few years, the world record for the fastest completion of Super Mario Bros. has shed hundreths of a second at a time. Here is the current world record, as far as I know:
Super Mario Bros., if my receipts have anything to say about it, is completely replayable, even 35 years after it first released. It’s still fun, challenging, and enjoyable. In fact, now that I’m older, and more introspective, and look at game design with a more critical eye, it makes me respect the game even more.
Yesterday, I played through Super Mario Bros., first the original NES version on the Switch with no warp pipes, and then again via Super Mario All-Stars on the Switch (again with no warp pipes), and I played a second run on the harder “new quest” mode you get after beating it, this time with warp pipes. Bowser got his shit wrecked three times yesterday – a great way to celebrate Super Mario’s 35th anniversary.
Nintendo certainly thinks Super Mario Bros. has plenty of replayability too. To celebrate the plumber’s 35th anniversary, they are releasing a Game & Watch portable console that has Super Mario Bros. on it. Plus, you know, all the times they made me pay for the game already up to this point.
Sure, I might be blinded by nostalgia, but it isn’t without merit. Super Mario Bros. was a video game game changer. Nintendo tore the world out of the great video game crash back in the 80s and Super Mario Bros. was their heavy artillery.
The game, the music, and the concept is almost universally recognized, and widely appreciated.
Nintendo has thrived off of hustling Mario, and any slight touch of the original Super Mario Bros. helps clinch the deal, every time.
Super Mario Bros. is such a classic. I’ll go years without playing it, and in my head, I’ll think, “wow, it was good, but look at how far we’ve come.” But when I go back, it really shows just how special this game truly is. It will always survive the test of time, it will always be a shining beacon that took foot during a darker age. It’s a huge first step of the journey and how we got to where we are today.
Sure, there are games that are far better, and much more gratifying than Super Mario Bros. There are games with deeper narratives, better twists, and more innovative gameplay. There are games that look like movies that play like epics. Would we have these games today if it weren’t for Nintendo and Super Mario?
But would we have as many great games thanks to the template that Super Mario established?
That’s enough waxing nostalgia. You know me – I hate being too sentimental without ruining it, so here’s something Seth MacFarlane made:
Happy 35th Anniversary, Super Mario Bros. Here’s to another 35!
Super Mario Bros. was developed by Nintendo.
Super Mario Bros. is also available on the Wii and WiiU Virtual Console, the Nintendo 3DS, and Nintendo Switch Online.
Super Mario Bros. (NES - 1986)
Game title: Super Mario Bros.
Game description: Super Mario Bros. was released for the Famicom in Japan in 1985 and released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North American later that year. The game was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka. It is credited as one of the key factors in reviving the video game industry after the 1983 crash. It was the all-time best selling video game for over 20 years.
- Gameplay - 10/1010/10
- Story - 10/1010/10
- Visuals - 10/1010/10
- Audio - 10/1010/10
- Accessibility - 10/1010/10
- Challenge - 10/1010/10
- Replayability - 10/1010/10
- Nostalgia - 10/1010/10
Super Mario Bros. is Lynk Approved
It’s Super Mario Bros. It’s an icon in gaming history and for good reason.
I actually wasn’t expecting to give Super Mario Bros. the rare perfect score. There are games that are more ambitious. There are games that do what Super Mario Bros. does and do it even better. However, they came out years later. They were based on the template that Nintendo built and continued to perfect.
Is it heavy nostalgia? It sure is – but the game is still objectively fun and entertaining today.
Anyone, who even casually enjoys video games, should give Super Mario Bros. a solid try. Like I mentioned, starting with the Super Mario All-Stars version, despite my complaints, is a fine way to enjoy the classic. Avoid Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on the Game Boy Color, if you can. It’s okay, but not the best port.
- Revolutionary controls
- Great music and clear visuals
- A comfortable and managable challenge that feels good to master
- They keep making me buy this game every few years!