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Super Mario Bros. (NES) artwork

Super Mario Bros. (NES) review

"Super Mario Brothers is instantly memorable, and over time, its appeal only grows. It isnít as goofy as its oddball sequel, nor is it as wondrous as the magical third game in the series to appear for the system. But it has a wholly old school personality that will please gamers who can find enjoyment in simplicity. If this isnít you, stay away from this game; you'll likely faint at the madness of boss area loops and palette swapped environs. "

How gullible is this guy? How many times does he have to be told that the princess heís trying to rescue is in another castle before he gives up the chase? Well, seven times, to be exact, in this eight world, trailblazing platforming classic that everyone and their second cousin knows. The famous portly plumber Mario, and his lanky lesser known compadre, Luigi, didnít begin home life on the Nintendo Entertainment System; the ancient Atari 2600 was their place of console conception. But with their NES rebirth came the prefix ''Super'', and new, unfamiliar heights of stardom for the high jumping duo. And they deserved it. They helped to develop a genre.

The 'cutesy action platformer.' Or the 'mascot game.' Whatever you choose to call these types of games, you know what they are - Sonic, Bonk, Ristar, please stand up and pay your respects - and you know what game they really owe their existence to.

Of course, we know that a truly pioneering effort establishes a game's importance in the imaginary Annals of Gaming, but innovation alone does not guarantee a game a spot on that mythical wall of consensus classics. Often, itís the more polished execution that a second or third game in a promising series brings to bear, that builds around the husk of brilliance manifested by the original. Fortunately, thatís not the case here.

Super Mario Brothers is instantly memorable, and over time, its appeal only grows. It isnít as goofy as its oddball sequel, nor is it as wondrous as the magical third game in the series to appear for the system. But it has a wholly old school personality that will please gamers who can find enjoyment in simplicity. If this isnít you, stay away from this game; you'll likely faint at the madness of boss area loops and palette swapped environs.

The premise is gaming plotting at its most basic: Princess Toadstool has been kidnapped by that bastard, Bowser. Heís a spiny-backed, ill-tempered dinosaur-like creature. At his command are hopping turtles (they look more like geese wearing turtle shells), little brown walking mushrooms wearing angry visages, innocuous black hard-backed creatures, and menacing hammer tossing terrors. The cutesy cast of characters has become legendary - good guys and bad guys alike - and certainly the fact that bad guys normally donít attain the celebrity status of a Koopa, or a Bowser, is a testament to this gameís timeless appeal.

While bouncing ass-first off foes seems old hat now, it was pretty innovative at the time of Super Mario Brothersí release. Iím sure parents were especially grateful for a popular protagonist for their children who handled the hero business without throwing a punch, or firing a gun (I donít care if itís a laser on that spaceship, Jimmy, itís still a gun!). Besides pounding peculiar enemies, you can also take them out by jumping up and punching the 'block' that they're on, from underneath. This is the way to kill the creepy crawlies with spikes on their backs, because squashing them is out of the question for obvious reasons.

Itís those blocks that make Super Mario Brothers what it is. You see, Mario gets around by running recklessly, leaping from platform to platform. The platforms are made of blocks. Mario can hit different blocks with a raised fist for unique results (toppling the spiked creatures is just one such result). Some blocks bear power ups. A mushroom can turn little, everyday Mario into Super Mario, making him bigger and tougher. If he takes a hit as Super Mario, heíll return to his smaller self. Taking a hit as little Mario means instant death.

Once Super Mario is under your control, the next power up bearing block you hit will sprout a shining, flashing flower. Touching it will earn you flower power - enabling you to toss little fireballs in a zigzagging fashion across the ground. Careful though, some enemies aren't susceptible to the flames' heat. Finally, in a move that foreshadows his career, Mario can leap high into the airÖ and touch a star. When he squeezes a star from the right block, the yellow icon will bound crazily into the air for our hero to claim - along with the temporary invincibility that it brings.

These powers go a long way in making Marioís quest not only a bit more humane, but a lot more interesting. The coins that are scattered about the playing field will also catch your attention - find 100 of them to earn an extra man, augmenting your initial stock of four. Play by yourself as Mario, or take turns with a friend, one of you taking control of Mario, the other, Luigi. Player deaths, or successful level clears determine whoís turn it will be next. And if youíre not up to playing the whole eight world, 32-level adventure (each world has four stages, howís that for razor sharp arithmetic) at a given sitting, certain underground levels stuffed inside green pipes hide warp points that will expedite your mission. Uncovering all of Super Mario's myriad secrets wonít be too hard these days; if you donít know their location, someone you know will - such is the game's legacy.

It's quite amazing, given the time of this game's release, that there is so much to do and see in Super Marioís first adventure. It doesnít have the variety of its much bigger, bolder brothers, but traversing ingeniously placed blocks on the plateaus; delving into the secrets the underground pipe worlds conceal; swimming against crushing currents while loosing fireball volleys at zany marine life in the underwater stages; and taking on Bowser to end each world in his dark, foreboding, fourth stage strongholds themed by flames, takes near incessant play to grow old.

And even then, itís only because you havenít stopped to eat, or because you haven't managed to drag yourself out of the squalor you call your room. Or because youíve played the later Super Mario games and theyíve spoiled you. But despite all their refinement over this rawest gem, they won't be able to spoil it entirely. You might put this pioneer aside, having had your fill of the repetitiveness of running through same looking environs, or running into Bowser in the same setting, too many times in a day. But Super Mario Brothers will beckon another day, and youíll come running, B button held down. Because itís timeless like that.

Rating: 9/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 17, 2003)

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