One of my favorite games on the Commodore 64 over the past few years has been Mario Bros. from Nintendo. In this two-player simultaneous co-op game, brothers Mario and Luigi must vanquish various critters (turtles, crabs, and more) by navigating underneath the platform that the enemies are currently occupying and jumping up to knock them over onto their backs. This frantic game spans many levels, all on a non-scrolling playfield. It’s a fun arcade port, but I didn’t expect it to receive a sequel. Having released this past September in Japan, Super Mario Bros. is finally here on U.S. shores for the NES, and I must say, the short wait was well worth it. When gamers get a chance to really dig into this title, they are going to be blown away by the density of secrets packed away in every course. I think players will be talking about this game for years to come.
First, a little backstory. This game takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom, which was once a peaceful land filled with mushroom people. The Koopa, a tribe of turtles armed with black magic, invaded the land and imprisoned many of the inhabitants inside stones and bricks. The one person who can reverse the spell, Princess Toadstool, has been kidnapped by Bowser – King of the Koopa. It’s up to Mario and his brother Luigi to venture forth on this massive quest through eight worlds, each of which contains four courses, in order to rescue the princess and restore peace across the kingdom.
Forget what you know about videogames up to this point. Super Mario Bros. is a completely new experience that rises above all of the previous NES launch games. It’s almost as if most of the other launch titles were programmed for a different, older system because Super Mario Bros. ditches the non-scrolling single-screens, black backgrounds, small sprites, and not-so-smart enemies. Instead, it replaces them with a world full of surprise and wonder, complete with scrolling worlds, beautiful backdrops, large and detailed sprites, and cunning adversaries. The difference is quite stunning. Some of the other games remind me of the beginning of The Wizard of Oz – the acting is great, but the scenery is drab, dull, and unexciting – it looks like every other movie before it. Super Mario Bros. is like arriving in the land of Oz, rich in color and amazement, a memorable world inhabited by strange creatures and unlike anything ever seen before.
Starting the game you’ll see the small Mario sprite standing in place. He’s about the same size as he was in Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong. As you press right on the control pad, Mario will begin to walk and the screen will begin to scroll to the right, revealing more of the level. Straight ahead awaits an enemy. It’s even bigger than Mario. Above it are a bunch of bricks and question mark blocks hanging in mid-air. The enemy has a name, Goomba, and if you press the A button to jump on top of it’s head he will be squished into oblivion. Next you’ll want to jump under the question mark blocks to hit them and reveal your rewards. You’ll get some coins, which are scattered about in every nook and cranny throughout the game. These award points as well as extra lives (1-Ups) for every 100 you collect. One of the blocks will reveal the first power-up, the Magic Mushroom. It moves along at a brisk pace, so simply walk or run (by holding the B button down) into it and Mario becomes huge in size, easily one of the biggest sprites I’ve seen in a home console game. As Super Mario, he can jump under bricks and break them, often revealing essential secrets that will unlock more coins, points, and even new areas of the level. It also gives Mario a second chance. If an enemy or a hazard should hit him, he’ll simply shrink back down to normal Mario instead of losing a life and having to start over.
Once Mario becomes supersized, he can find a new power-up, the Fire Flower. Grabbing this will turn him into Fire Mario, and allow him to throw fireballs at enemies. This is a fantastic way to clear out many of the monsters that attempt to block his path. Some enemies, like the Pirana Plants can’t be killed by stomping on them, but a well-placed fireball will do the trick. Later in the game the fireballs play a pivotal role against underwater creatures and more difficult enemies, like the Hammer Bros. These twins take Mario’s old weapons of choice and turn them against him by tossing a bunch of hammers his way. They appear on various stages and can really be a pain to deal with. They jump around and constantly throw hammers at such a high rate that it can be difficult to jump on their heads without getting hit. Throw a few fireballs their way, however, and they go down almost instantly. It can be a challenge to keep the Fire Flower power though, as getting hit from an enemy will take it away, as will falling down a pit or running into a hazard.
Another power-up that is hidden in many of the stages is the Starman. This item gives Mario temporary invincibility, allowing him to simply run through enemies, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. It doesn’t last long, but when used effectively it can mean the difference between success and failure. Just be careful not to fall into a pit, as the star power doesn’t protect you from that.
At the end of each stage is a flagpole that you must jump on to complete the level. The higher you place on the pole, the more points that will be earned. Between it and the beginning of the course are all sorts of fresh level designs. Some are outside, others are underground, a few are underwater, and at least four are inside a vast castle. In between the massive enemy brigade, bottomless pits, and falling platforms are vast amounts of bricks to smash and pipes to explore. It’s here that Super Mario Bros. truly excels, as there are an untold number of secrets littered throughout each and every stage. Some bricks will yield coins, others will hide power-ups or 1-Up mushrooms, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find the few that contain a magical green vine that shoots up to the top of the screen, leading you to a brand new bonus area in the clouds. It’s not just the blocks you can see that hold mysteries. There are multitudes of invisible bonus blocks that will only reveal themselves if you jump in just the right places. Every single time I play the game it seems like I’m finding new secrets that I didn’t know about before. The sense of discovery is second to none and one of the most endearing aspects of Super Mario Bros.
As mentioned earlier, the game progresses through a set of eight worlds, each containing four separate levels. Your first level is called 1-1, the second is 1-2, then 1-3, and finally 1-4 to complete the first world. The last stage in each world takes place in a big castle where you’ll fight against King Koopa, a towering fire-breathing dragon-turtle monstrosity. Once you’ve toured all eight worlds the game will conclude, but getting to the end can be quite the challenge. There are 32 levels standing between you and the princess. If you lose all of your lives you will have to restart from the very beginning of the game. That’s not to say there aren’t any shortcuts, because there are. I’ve managed to find one so far, but I have a sneaking suspicion there might be more. This secret area is called a Warp Zone, and it has three separate pipes leading to different worlds (world 2, 3, or 4). I won’t spoil where to find this special location, but I will suggest that you should learn to jump higher and further by constantly holding down the B button. Not only will you have greater control over your jumps, you’ll often find new areas to explore.
The visuals in Super Mario Bros. are colorful and the backgrounds have details like shrubs and clouds. There are various types of terrain, such as pipes, huge mushroom platforms, and moving contraptions. The sprites have a level of detail not seen in the other launch window games. The amount of enemies that can appear on the screen simultaneously is quite large, and the animations never falter. It’s great fun to stomp on a Koopa Troopa turtle, sending him inside his shell to hide, and then kicking the shell to take out a multitude of other enemies. The game features smooth scrolling with hardly a hiccup to be found. The larger Super Mario and many of the bigger enemies and fantastical backdrops really set this game apart from anything else released on any home console to date.
As if the superb graphics and amazing controls weren’t enough, the soundtrack to this game is infectious to the point where I found myself humming the main stage song long after turning the TV off. The underwater music is very dreamy and helps give those levels a deceptively surreal feel, despite the dangers that abound. The castle theme is ominous and menacing, signaling the tough battle that lurks ahead. The only downside is that there are too few songs, meaning you’ll hear the same tunes over and over again throughout the game. Luckily they are pleasant to listen to, but the game could stand to have a couple more to round out the package. The sound effects add to the cartoony nature of the title. Is it just me, or does the sound Mario makes when jumping appear to be nearly identical to jumping sound effect found in Ice Climber?
Like its predecessor, Super Mario Bros. features a two-player mode, except this time it doesn’t allow for simultaneous action. Instead, player two must wait for player one to lose a life or beat the game. Depending on the skill level of player one, the second player could be sitting around waiting for a turn for various lengths of time. I think the game could have utilized an alternating structure that would allow for a player change each time a level is completed. This would have avoided potentially long periods of inactivity from either player. It’s a minor quibble that doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
Every now and then a game comes along that is so innovative, so surprising, so insanely good that it defies expectations. Super Mario Bros. is the game that will sell you a NES. Once you get your hands on a controller and begin your long quest to rescue the princess, you’ll be hooked. From extraordinary graphics to instantly memorable music, this game is a tour de force of exquisite locales, crazy enemies, and secrets galore. You won’t believe the sheer variety of power-ups and gameplay techniques at your disposal. Super Mario Bros. is a masterpiece from beginning to end and everything in between. This is the first must-have Game Pak for the NES, and one that every owner needs to have in his or her library.
SECOND ACT – OTHER REVIEWS
Added on August 15, 1986
Taken from the June 1986 issue:
Computer Entertainer awarded Super Mario Bros. 3.5 out 4 for graphics and 4 out of 4 for quality of game play and entertainment value. It received a Recommended rating.
Computer Entertainer Review Guidelines:
THE RATING SYSTEM:
4 SYMBOLS = EXCELLENT
3 SYMBOLS = GOOD
2 SYMBOLS = FAIR
1 SYMBOL = POOR
♦ = ENTERTAINMENT PROGRAMS (1st set of diamonds = quality of graphics; 2nd set = quality of game play and entertainment value)
Any program for a given system is compared only to other programs for the same system. In other words, all C64-compatibles are judged separately from Apple. Some programs, which are virtually identical for multiple systems, will be so noted. When we review software for more than one system, we will note differences and which system we reviewed.