Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Super Mario Bros. title screen NES
Developer:Nintendo|Release Date:1985 (Japan)|Systems:NES

It's always nice to have another 'Super' game on Super Adventures, even though Nintendo had to go and confuse me by releasing it on the Famicom/NES instead of waiting five more years to put it on the Super Nintendo. Fortunately they'd learned to match the title with the system by the time Super Mario 64 came out; they didn't end up calling it Super Mario Cube or something.

Super Mario Bros. is the second game I'll be playing for my Mario Marathon Month. It's also the something like the eighth game to ever feature Mario, the seventh in which he's playable, the fourth to have his name in the title, and the first to be developed exclusively for home consoles... I think (and that's not even counting the Game and Watch games). He's a busy guy, and it's hard to keep track of all the places he turns up.

While I'm throwing out numbers, this was something like game #64 for the two year old Famicom, but when the NES reached the US this was out at launch, and you can bet that it wasn't Gyromite and Duck Hunt that made the system such a massive success in the West, resurrecting the American console market after the 1983 video game crash. Super Mario Bros. was the best selling single platform exclusive for three decades... though that seems a bit less impressive somehow when you know that Wii Sports was the game that finally beat it.

Anyway I'm going to play it for an hour or two, show some screenshots and shout out everything that enters my mind as I go.



Oh damn, the music's already stuck in my head and I haven't even stopped listening to it yet. Here, have a youtube link.

That was some good aim on the first [?] box I reckon, but then it all kind of fell apart for me. At least I didn't run right into the first enemy like I was afraid I'd do. In my defence I've gotten used to playing the arcade Mario Bros. now, and all this slick horizontal scrolling and proper mid-air control is throwing me off! Also the game has a run button, and I'm in far too much of a hurry to ever take my finger off it. Especially considering that Mario's racing a countdown timer this time, where'd THAT come from? Is Bowser going to execute the Princess soon or something?

Oh by the way, everyone already knows that the clouds in Super Mario Bros. are actually just bushes in disguise right? Okay, just making sure.

I imagine that the screen won't scroll backwards for much the same reason: they just didn't have the memory to spare, on the cartridge or the console. The NES only has a microscopic 2kb of RAM, so more advanced games came with some extra memory built into the actual game cart to store things like the current state of the level. Super Mario Bros. doesn't have this though, so they can't let me backtrack or else I'd find that all the boxes and enemies behind me had been reset.

Donkey Kong (Arcade)
Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr and Mario Bros. took place in construction sites and sewers in our own boring mundane Earth dimension, but now the series has gone full fantasy, dropping our heroic plumber into a whimsical world of floating brick walls, mystery blocks, pipes and mushrooms. So many mushrooms. There's friendly mushrooms, frowny mushrooms, extra life mushrooms, mushrooms that make you grow to twice your height when you eat them... you know, back in the day I always wondered which size Mario was the proper one, but I guess Donkey Kong makes it clear right at the very start: Mario is not a tall man. In fact the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong ends with his girlfriend Pauline throwing over a super mushroom so he can grow to her height.

Though on the other hand, if you take the game at its word when it says you have to climb 25m to get up here, then Mario is actually 2m tall on screen, and Pauline is actually a freakishly huge giant.

Super Mario Bros. is a strange game any way you look at it, but coming straight from playing Mario Bros. has made the Mushroom Kingdom seem to me like a backwards universe where up is down and black is white.

In the original Mario Bros. jumping on enemies is the fastest way to get killed, Mario is the only one who doesn't get to travel through the pipes, and the bouncing fireballs are not your ally. Not that the pipes in this are any use to me 90% of the time. I have to keep ducking every time I reach one though just in case it's a secret tunnel to a bonus room.

Oh, also the coins don't spin any more! That was the best bit of Mario Bros! Such inferior currency. Though it is pretty impressive how the coins just hang in the air like that I suppose; that Mario Bros. coin looks like it's levitating, but it's actually dangling from a piece of blue string you can barely see.

In 1993 Super Mario Bros. received a remake for the Super Nintendo as part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection, which gave it current gen visuals and sound without screwing around with the classic gameplay. The new sprites have more than 3 colours, the mountains have parallax scrolling, the ground is made of soil, the clouds have faces... and yet the coins still don't spin. Thankfully it didn't occur to anyone to have Mario yell out "wahooo!" every time he jumps at this point, and as ports go this seems really good actually.

All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. (FDS)
And then there's All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. for the Famicom Disk System, given away as a prize by the All Night Nippon radio station in 1986. It feels like Super Mario Bros. 1 levels imported into the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 (AKA. The Lost Levels) using a mixture of graphics from both games. I mean it basically plays the same as the original Super Mario Bros., but it features the gameplay tweaks introduced by the second game, like the skidding noise Mario makes when he changes direction, and Luigi having higher jumps and lower traction.

Oh, plus some of the sprites have been replaced with radio DJs and celebrities... and look, the clouds have creepy faces on!

VS. Super Mario Bros. (Arcade)
There's also arcade game VS. Super Mario Bros., also released in 1986, which is so similar to regular SMB that it'd be pointless to show a screenshot of it. But I went and did it anyway.

The game has a mix of edited SMB and Lost Levels stages, with the intent to make it bastard hard and keep gamers dropping those coins in, so I'm happy enough to stick with regular NES SMB, thanks.

This is what I like at the end of my weird mascot platformer stages! A goal which gives out an extra reward if you manage to activate it the right way, a victory fanfare, and a little bit of a break for me to catch my breath before the next level. Also a flag. A true platformer hero always makes sure to mark their captured territory with a flag, just ask Plok. I just wish I could tell whether it's meant to be a picture of a skull or a turtle shell.

Shame about the lack of a world map, but they had to leave something for the sequels I guess...

Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (GBC)
...or the Game Boy Color remake. This version actually seems very true to the NES game otherwise, which is interesting as it only has like a third of the screen space. It lets you slide the view around with the d-pad to see what's going on, which has worked well enough to get me to stage 2 at least. Plus it adds a bit of vertical scrolling to the game, which the NES game has absolutely none of.


WORLD 1-2.


I got myself a fireflower at last (and a change of dungarees)! Now I can throw unlimited one-shot kill fireballs everywhere but where I want them to be! Mario's got a strange way of throwing his fireballs diagonally, which I suppose makes sense seeing as he spends a lot of his time airborne.

Oh, here have some more music: Super Mario Bros. Underground Theme (youtube).

One of the things about Super Mario Bros. that might be a little overlooked, is how coherent and atmospheric its world is. Sure I'm smashing floating blocks to get coins and there's pipes sticking out everywhere, but everything fits with the world they're establishing here. There's no floppy disks to pick up, the enemies are strange but they're not random, and every stage connects to the last to form a finite adventure with an actual ending. Yeah I know that applies to basically everything I've written about on the site so far, but most of those games weren't released 30 years ago.

Even the transition from the bright sky to the dark tunnel below is something you didn't typically find in a Nintendo game of the time...

...because pretty much everything even close to a platformer coming out of Nintendo up to this point had taken place in a world of perpetual darkness.

I keep trying to avoid the temptation of these coin blocks, but here I am, punching another one.

There were actually only 8 coins in here before it ran out, but I don't need to be stuck jumping up and down in the same place at all, I've got places to be! The game's weirdly keen for me to slow down, hit the bricks, duck down on the pipes and search everywhere for secrets. Meanwhile the timer up on the top right is screaming at me to hurry up!

I've broken out of the level into the scoreboard! This is awesome... and also a really stupid thing for me to have done, because I think I remember there being a secret 1UP hidden in one of these bricks, and I can't punch downwards to get it.

Yeah, I was curious so I quickly replayed it and there's a mushroom up there alright. The gif jumps because I cut out the bit where I had to slow down and keep the 1UP on screen across half the level until it reached the gap in the ceiling.

By the way, while I was doing this I noticed an actual difference in the way Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario All-Stars plays:

See how NES Mario bounces back down after punching the tile and moves on, while SNES Mario keeps going through the bricks and gets stuck? NES Mario's got better things to do with his day, he's out of there.

Oh I should mention that only gigantic 10 foot tall Marios can punch through blocks like this. Miniature Marios can't, but they can slip through smaller passages, so there's advantages and disadvantages to each size. Though it's hard to beat the advantage of 'not dying in a single hit' that big Mario has.

We've had a few different Marios now, and NOT ONE of them has been wearing his iconic red hat, red shirt, blue dungarees look, not even the one from Super Mario All-Stars! The one from Mario Bros. is so close, but he put the wrong cap on and ruined it.

I missed out the one from 1982's Donkey Kong Jr. because he's pretty much identical to Donkey Kong's Mario... except with a whip in his hand to torture Donkey Kong. He wasn't a very nice man in that game.


MEANWHILE, IN ALL NIGHT NIPPON SUPER MARIO BROS.


All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. (FDS)
Well that's... different.

This shot also gives me an excuse to mention some more stuff about the original Super Mario Bros. Like, check out how Fire Luigi is dressed up in Mario's Fire outfit instead of getting his own green variant; the guy never gets any respect. Also the piranha plants popping out of pipes are annoying, but they play fair and never come out from a pipe that I'm standing on. Smart game design.


WORLD 1-4, TWO STAGES LATER.


That is a mean place to put a power up. If I hadn't already collected the abnormal growth power, that would've been a super mushroom in there instead, and it would have made a run for it the second it popped out of the box, luring me over the edge into the lava with its fungal whiles.

Mario found a decent sized fortress waiting for him at the end of the previous level, so this time I've got to play through this castle stage before he'll plant his flag. Here, have some dramatic music this time: Super Mario Bros. Castle Theme (youtube link).

Man, I'm so glad that they didn't get around to installing those extra two spinning flame walls, because this is tricky enough to get through as it is. Well, it is for me anyway. I'm glad the game doesn't display on screen how many lives I have left, as it's getting embarrassing now how often I've been throwing them away.

I haven't ran into a single enemy so far on this stage though, which surprises me. I figured there'd be one or two Koopa skeletons around at least, but nope. Just traps.

Oh crap, it's Bowser himself at the end of the first world! So that's where all these backwards fireballs have been coming from. The idiot decided to come out and fight me on his own interior drawbridge though, which turned out to be a bit of a tactical error. Not sure why the thing is retracted by hitting a flashing axe, but I'm glad that it was.

And that's the first ever meeting between Mario and his arch nemesis: history in the making. Maybe next time he hears that a short fat plumber is coming over to kick his ass, he'll take the threat a bit more seriously.

I rescued a mushroom guy!

Huh, the Princess is in another castle!? What princess? Why should I care? The game never mentioned any princesses before now, it just started me off on a blue screen and I decided to run to the right.

I can forgive them though for not throwing an intro seeing as it's a miracle they got all this to fit on the cart as it is, but it does mean that if I want to know what's going on I'll have to resort to... reading the manual.
"One day the kingdom of the peaceful mushroom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horse-hair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin."
Uh-huh...

At first I thought this meant that I was shattering innocent mushroom folk every time I smashed a brick, but no the mushroom people are actually the power ups. Mario doesn't eat the mushrooms he finds, he's just given a power boost from them as a reward.


WORLD 2-1.


Man, these Koopa are tricky little bastards. I have to land on the shell just right or else it'll skid off in the wrong direction, and the things love rebounding off pipes and coming right back at me.

I lose all my power ups when I get hit, so now I have to find another magic mushroom and then another fire flower before I'm back up to full strength. Then I can get back to utterly failing to shoot these treacherous Goomba mushrooms some more.

The Koopas really are ingenious as an enemy type I reckon as they have three modes they can be in, and each affects how I approach them in a different way. If they're walking around, then a good stomp will send them cowering inside their shell. While they're in their shell they're harmless to me, but they will eventually pop back out again. Or I can give them a kick by walking into them, which transforms them into their ultimate form: a speeding shell of death that instantly kills anything it touches. If I get enough enemies lined up in front of the moving shell I can get a 1UP out of it! Or I can jump on it again to bring it to a stop again.

And if that's not interesting enough, sometimes they also come with wings!


WORLD 2-2.


Whoa, a fast and responsive underwater level in a video game! Super Mario Bros. truly was an innovative bit of software.

For some reason I had much more of a problem getting through this bit on Super Mario All-Stars, like they'd turned up the gravity on it somehow. Or maybe I was just tired. You see, I have to tap the jump button to get him to swim up, and this can be awkward when I'm swooping down over a bottomless chasm to grab some loose change. If I fall off the bottom of the screen it's all over, so I gotta hit that swim button like it's a bad QTE.


WORLD 2-3: REVENGE OF THE FISH.


Man, these guys are not happy that I stole all of their underwater coins and got away through a pipe. I'm not too worried though to be honest, as they're attacking me from below, and when things collide with Mario's work boots they're typically the ones who regret it.

The level designers have done it again though: they've put a power up mystery box at the very edge of a platform to trick me into skidding off down the hole. Well that ain't going to work any more, as I've had plenty of time to practice my plumber control now and I can compensate for his momentum.

Oh shit oh shit oh shiiiit!

I can't believe I made that! It's so easy to overshoot jumps like that in this game. Though I suppose it might be my own fault for keeping my finger on the run button.


WORLD 2-4.


Well... fuck.

Just when I was allowing myself to be smug as well! Most stages have a checkpoint halfway through, but not these castles. I'm going to have to replay this stage right from the start now.


EVENTUALLY.


Oh it's YOU again? Didn't you die in lava?

It's the same boss in the same room, but this time there's a twist! The twist is that there's six blocks above my head. Doesn't really change much, but it's the thought that counts.

To be honest I was expecting the axe to snap off this time, or something bad to happen when I landed on it, but nope. Bowser really did park his spiky green ass on another drawbridge over another lava pit, and didn't consider that I might do the same thing I did last time. I suppose 'doing the same shit over and over and expecting a different result' is basically his entire character though.

Again?

Breaking into the wrong house once is embarrassing, but twice is just being careless. Still at least I rescued another giant mushroom guy. Shame that he wasn't affected by the magic spell, so I don't get any power up from freeing him.


WORLD 3-1.


Whoa, it's the Hammer Bros! I wasn't expecting to run into those guys halfway through a level. I wasn't expecting to run off into a hole either to be honest, but in retrospect it seems like something I'd do. I really haven't gotten the hang of jumping on these springs yet.

I've had this problem a few times, where I've tried to jump a gap but he hadn't quite built up enough speed yet. He's definitely got a shorter jump arc from a standing start than he has in the sequels.

Here he is compared to Super Mario World, and yeah he's kind of falling short there. He's not so bad compared to Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, but those future Marios still make it a block further than him. Running jumps are fine, but I need to make sure he's moving first or else straight in the pit he goes.


WORLD 3-2.


Sure, I'll have a bit of invulnerability if it's going.

Best thing about this is that the effect lasts just a little bit longer than the invincibility music (youtube link), so I don't have to worry about being caught out and running into an enemy after I've turned mortal again.


WORLD 3-4.


Crap, foiled by the ceiling!

You know what really sucks about this? Super Mario Bros. only gives you 3 lives to start with, and zero continues. Three mistakes and you're OUT... back to the title screen, with no passwords, no save games, no level select, nothing.

There are ways to help make this a little less ridiculous though:

Like this hidden warp zone at the back of world 1-2! Once you know about this place you can skip the first three worlds and get back to where you left off. The thing is, there's nothing in world 4 that tells you about this place, you don't earn this knowledge, you have to learn it by experimenting or being told by someone.

I'm sure a talented player could make it through the entire game in an afternoon without much effort, but the rest of us would need to stumble across and memorise every secret we could to stand a chance of ever seeing the end of it. Not that I was actually intending to finish the thing, I know I don't have that kind of patience.

Super Mario All-Stars game over screen
Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)
Though if was seriously trying to finish the game, I'd be playing the SNES version, which comes with infinite continues and saves!

All Night Nippon also has continues, which I guess comes from the fragments of Lost Levels DNA contained within its cells.


WORLD 4-1.


Wow, now I can't flip the spiny turtles at all? This really is a strange and backwards dimension compared to the sewers of Mario Bros.

That's a point: there's a lot of pipes in this game, but I don't think I've ended up in a single sewer so far. At first I thought this whole game might be a dream of Mario's after he collapses in the infinite sewer levels of Mario Bros., filled with turtles, pipes, coins, a damsel in distress, and all the other things he's been forced to deal with in his last few games (except a giant gorilla), but then I realised... where else would infinite sewers lead, but a parallel dimension covered with pipes!

Plus they do the dream plot later in Super Mario Bros. 2.


WORLD 4-2.


Oh you have got to be shitting me. How am I supposed to land on that? You've seen how much he skids around on landing!

I do think that Super Mario Bros. has some damn fine running and jumping for the most part, but when I get to bits like this I start wishing I had a bit more control in the air. It did come out in 1985 though, so I should be grateful that I have any kind of steering mid-jump at all. Simon Belmont from Castlevania wishes he had even half of Mario's manoeuvrability! But then I'm sure Mario wishes he had a health bar and his Kong taming whip back, so it's not all sunshine and happiness for him down in the Mushroom Kingdom underworld.


WORLD 4-4.


Man, I've had nothing but praise for the level design so far, but they've just gotten lazy on this stage. It's basically two or three identical sections in a row. Or four, or five. Hang on...

Oh I see what's going on here, it's one of those maze stages where I'm stuck running laps in the same section of map until I pick the correct path. Fortunately it is just one choice for each section, I don't have to figure out the right combination or anything, I just have to survive long enough to run through my options until I stumble upon the right route.

When I quit Mario Bros. a few days ago, I left our hero trapped in an infinite series of identical underground tunnels, and guess what... I'm gonna do it again! It just isn't this guy's week. I mean I could finish the level, but *spoilers* the Princess ain't gonna be in this castle mate.


MEANWHILE, ON JAPANESE HOME COMPUTERS.


Super Mario Bros. Special (PC-8801)
Before I shut up though, I should briefly mention Super Mario Bros. Special! Not technically Super Mario Bros. 1, but it sure bears a passing resemblance to it. This was developed by Hudson Soft exclusively for NEC PC-8801 and Sharp X1 home computers, which weren't quite as a powerful as a NES/Famicom perhaps, but they tried hard. In fact the PC-88 version runs at twice the horizontal resolution of Nintendo's console (check the dithering), so this is basically Super Mario Bros. HD!

It's a little bit more awkward to play than the NES game due to the handling being off, and the way it flicks between screens instead of scrolling doesn't help.

Super Mario Bros. Special (Sharp X1)
The Sharp X1 version at least smooths out the transition a bit, and it's so keen to show off that it can has the ability to display at least one shade of green that it turns Mario into Luigi when I grab a fire flower.

The game apparently includes new enemies brought over from Donkey Kong and Mario Bros., along with a bunch of new items, but I can't comment on that because I fell down a hole in stage 1-2 before I got to see any of them.


CONCLUSION

So, the father of the entire platformer genre... it's a bit rubbish these days isn't it? Oh I'm not talking about this, I mean Jump Bug, or maybe Donkey Kong (Pac-Land perhaps?) Whatever it was, I'm sure it earned its share of coins its arcade days, but compared to Super Mario Bros. all these games seem downright quaint.

This is a game almost entirely about jumping on or around things, and though I wouldn't say Nintendo got the jumping entirely right at this point, they made it fun. It's so nice to play a platformer that isn't about getting lost in a sprawling maze, or collecting enough crap to get the exit open. I mean there's coins everywhere and there's the temptation to stop and collect them all, but they're not mandatory. They add to your score and you get a 1UP for every 100 you accumulate, but it's not like the game has a high score table so who's counting?

The thing is basically a straightforward obstacle course. Everything you need to think about is on the screen, everywhere you need to be is to your right, and it never once used the one-way scrolling to trap me into a dead end. It kind of echoes Donkey Kong in how it likes to cycle through four kinds of scenarios, but it's a different stage every time for once and it's always throwing something new at you. Well okay you can't accuse the boss fights of showing too much variety seeing as they're all Bowser standing on his drawbridge, but I was glad that they weren't a big leap in challenge from the standard gameplay. I'm not interested in cakewalk levels followed by brick wall bosses.

My biggest problem with the game really, is that you have to finish it in one sitting and I can't finish it at all because they only give you three lives and I'm not interested in using the continue game cheat. Three mistakes is nothing to a gamer of my skill, I can burn through that in seconds, and I'm not going to get better at World 4 by repeatedly replaying World 1. I mean Super Meat Boy has infinite lives and even Castlevania has infinite continues, and no one whines about either of them being too easy! Well actually I'm sure someone does, of course someone does, that's how we ended up with The Lost Levels after all. In fact I remember hearing Dr. Sparkle of Chrontendo fame mention on his famous Chrontendo videos that he didn't consider Super Mario Bros. to be a hard game. But then I suppose he was comparing it to the first three years of Famicom games at the time. Super Mario Bros. isn't the greatest platformer ever made, but back in 1985 it sure was, and it's unusually fair and free of frustrations for a game of its era.

I'll never be obsessed enough to actually complete the thing, but I can throw this on at any time and know I'll get some entertainment out of it, so it more than qualifies for a Gold Star (for Not Being Crap) sticker.

I'm taking a short break from Mario next time to play a requested game, but what could it be? It's a mystery!

Anyway, feel free to leave a comment about Super Mario Bros. or my humble website. The message box down there hungers for your words.

7 comments:

  1. > It's always nice to have another 'Super' game

    You don't have a tag for games with "super" in their names.

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    Replies
    1. I thought about adding one, but then I realised that people can just click "Game List" up there, wait two seconds, and then scroll down.

      Delete
  2. I was going to say "you forgot Great Giana Sisters!" but then I remembered that you already reviewed it. Carry on.

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  3. Super Mario Bros is one of the most legendary games of all time!!
    I think that s.m.bros has not aged well, Mario (and Luigi!) are hard to control, and some traps can be annoying because they take advantage of it...... but it was the best back in time =D
    And look closely at Bowser's death animation that you shall see that the princess was not the only one in another castle XD
    Oh, and happy superadventurousbirthday! The new logo is pretty cool!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Supposedly you can continue if, once you lose and have lost all turns for Mario or Luigi or both, hold A+B and then press Start at the Game Over screen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've edited the article to reference this.

      Delete
  5. Super Mario Bros is awesome, it reminds me of so many sweet childhood memories.

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