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Super Mario Bros. (NES) artwork

Super Mario Bros. (NES) review

"I found that even though the years have passed that I still hold a spot in my heart for the first Super Mario Bros. It showed me where games had come from and where they were going, and the vision it projected was enticing."

Super Mario Bros. asset

I felt the beck of advancement for the first time. I had only played Atari 2600 up to that point, and my young mind could not grasp the concept of a more advanced home gaming system. But wrapping my hands around that NES controller for the first time, guiding Mario past the first coin, stomping the first Goomba... Those were moments of realization and awe. Games could improve, they could advance, and the promise of advancement made my Ms. Pac-Man and Yars' Revenge carts back at home look quaint.

I loved Super Mario Bros. from the instant I played it. Levels were not confined to a single screen, and graphics were more brilliant and appropriately colored. Enemies looked like more than a few color blocks slapped together, environments looked more lively. For every yard I traveled, I found a new surprise. The turtle enemies--Koopas, my friend reminded me--sprouted wings, flowers bestowed pyrokinesis, horrible green men on clouds tossed spiked beasts down on me. Levels were not always the same fare. I went from a basic outdoor level to a dungeon to a level made up of giant mushrooms. I almost lost my mind trying to figure out how to swim in the aquatic levels, but more importantly how to put my newly found swimming technique towards dodging the cute/deadly predators of the sea. Other levels required me to run through certain corridors and jump on certain platforms in a certain order like a maze, something I had never seen in a game at the time.

Now and then a pitfall would appear, and sometimes a regular jump would not suffice. I had to master using two buttons at once, running and timing my jumps just right. It took some getting used to. Ol' Mario's motions felt awkward at first, what with the way he built momentum and didn't stop on a dime. It added challenge, sweetened the experience, begged and expected me to improve and hone my abilities.

There was something magical about Super Mario Bros., and it was mostly because I sucked at it and didn't take to it instantly as I had with all of my 2600 games. Yet, I felt like I could do better, and I did improve as I played. Super Mario Bros. was tough, but it was also a good teacher. It presented challenges and dared me to rise to the occasion, and the method for completion was seldom ambiguous. You knew what SMB expected of you every step of the way, save for the aforementioned maze levels.

While it was advanced, Super Mario Bros. still carried a hint of the old school with it. You racked up points, collected coins, abided a time limit. Many concepts from its predecessor Mario Bros. remained, like killing enemies by bumping the platform below them. The ground was familiar enough that it didn't feel like a complete culture shock.

When I obtained my own NES for Christmas, I played through Super Mario Bros. dozens of times. I thought the NES would never vanish, and that it was the gold standard of gaming. The rise of the SNES and Genesis saw to the end of that fantasy, and as consoles advanced and better games came out for them, I soon forgot about the one that opened my eyes. Mario as a character may have stayed with me over the years, but the NES launch title slowly fell to the back of my mind.

...until I rediscovered retro gaming.

I scraped the rust off and found one thing about Super Mario Bros.: it managed to stay relevant after all these years. The skill I had gained playing other side scrollers taught me some tricks that never occurred to me as a child. I tried speed runs to see if I could finish the game faster with each play through. I also found the hidden warp zones a fabulous idea, allowing gamers to spend as little or as much time on SMB as they desired. There were high scores online to beat and friends to challenge to races to see who could finish the game first. Mario's motion combined with the simple gameplay allowed for not only skill, but finesse. Some of the best players online have developed a rhythm and timed it down to a single pixel and nanosecond.

I found that even though the years have passed that I still hold a spot in my heart for the first Super Mario Bros. It showed me where games had come from and where they were going, and the vision it projected was enticing. It was the title that opened the gateway to other great platformers and side scrollers like Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and even Super Meat Boy. It's a trip down memory lane of which I never grow tired.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (September 21, 2011)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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honestgamer posted September 21, 2011:

This was a fitting ode to a great game. However:

Levels were not always the same fair.

You mean 'fare' there, don't you?

There was some other roughness, like twice repeating the bit about mastering two buttons and such, but this is great stuff that--without saying it in so many words--practically begs the reader to go back through and experience the game for himself. I recently played a few levels again (as I sometimes do throughout the years) and found that it still holds up. I'm glad that the 3DS ambassador program is giving people a portable way to experience this exciting classic. I just wish every gamer could experience the game for the first time the way we did, back before a game wasn't considered a game if it didn't have massive textures or tons of polygons or whatever. Super Mario Bros. was a game changer.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 21, 2011:

Thanks, Jason! I'll go back through it again later to correct any other roughness. I did drop the first instance of two buttons and changed "fair". This was a game my former roommate always played, and watching him play reminded me how awesome it is. It'll probably be one of the first I DL once I nab a 3DS.
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SamildanachEmrys posted September 22, 2011:

That first jump into the next standard of games is certainly memorable, and it's a good hook for this review.

For me, though, that game was Sonic 1 on the Master System.
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bwv_639 posted March 24, 2017:

Some 2 years ago I did a complete playthrough of the Super Mario Bros the West knows as well as the All Night Nippon version and Super Mario Bros 2: The Lost Levels (an enhanced SMB in reality), found the three of them amazing, but the original SMB was the less amazing of the lot. I recommend giving the 2 other versions a try to all SMB fans.

When you compare Mario's movement physics in these old games and those from New Super Mario Bros on to Super Mario Maker (where ALL games have Mario responding to inputs the same way, deleting the original differences), well, you have quite a clear picture of how video games have been downgraded in order to upgrade sales.

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