Super Mario Brothers. These three little words helped to completely change and reinvent the entire videogame industry into the behemoth that it is today. No other game even comes close in terms of global recognition, as you could ask almost anyone from any walk of life about this 23-year-old videogame. Everything about Super Mario Bros. has become synonymous with videogaming, but it’s important to know what makes this game such a global classic.
When looking back at SMB, it’s important to look at the state of videogames prior to its home console release. Two years before the release of Super Mario Bros. came the great North American videogame crash of 1983, when gamers everywhere finally gave up on home videogames. While most people cite scapegoats like the Atari 2600’s E.T. and Pac Man as the bringers of the videogame apocalypse, in reality the entire videogame industry had become so congested with clones and crap that people stopped caring. To add insult to injury, home computers also made their way to the scene, giving many consumers who had lost faith in videogames a new home on more educational and multi-functional devices.
It was a dark time in videogaming, and one that few people expected home consoles to recover from. Sure, arcades still had their place in popular society, but consoles couldn’t compete with them, right? Over in Japan, a little company called Nintendo begged to differ. In 1983, the “Nintendo Family Computer” – or Famicom – was born, bringing, well, enough ports of arcade classics like Donkey Kong and Popeye to the Japanese masses. It instantly became a success, and Nintendo entered into careful negotiations to bring the Nintendo Entertainment System into the barren videogaming wasteland known as the United States.
In 1985, gaming as many of us know it was born. The NES was launched to almost instant adoration, as many gamers fed up with computers and stagnant home consoles gobbled up titles like Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt like Halloween candy. Within a few years, the double Entertainment Pak, featuring both games together, was included in the NES box, marking the beginning of many gamers’ childhoods.
What made Super Mario Bros. so special? Much of it has to do with its many subtle gameplay tweaks that we take for granted today. For starters, Super Mario Bros. was the first game of its kind to feature smooth horizontal scrolling, a staple of practically every platformer afterwards. It allowed Mario to rocket through levels like never before, giving the game a sense of urgency and epic proportions that made it unlike any other adventure.
Likewise, SMB’s emphasis on exploration and experimentation through block-hitting and pipe-squatting served as the basis for other adventure games like Zelda and Metroid, which encouraged players to shoot, jump and burn everything in hopes of finding a secret. This obviously repetitive yet seemingly effective form of exploration brought a whole new dimension to gamers everywhere and influenced many other games.
Other little things, such as Mario’s rate of speed, the amount of time he seems to “hover” in midair and the idea of stacking power-ups all helped to give Super Mario Bros. a little something extra that made games worth playing all over again. It became essential and synonymous with the word “videogames,” a token representation of what videogames are, have been and will continue to be.
Regardless of your personal gaming skills, Super Mario Bros. is the one game that will always mean “videogames” to the world. Its characteristic 8-bit soundtrack is still downloaded to cell phones and computers everywhere, while the game itself has appeared on almost every single Nintendo system ever released. In fact, if it weren’t for the indefatigable power of Super Mario Bros., videogames may not have rebounded, and games as we know them might not exist. Any way you look at it, Super Mario Bros. is a truly classic title and the one game that even the most casual of players has probably enjoyed.