Kickin’ It Old School – Super Mario Bros. 1, 2 and 3

Yes, you never truly forget your first time. Oh, get your mind out of the gutter children, you know what I mean!

No, I mean my first experience with a video game. 17 years ago (whoa, suddenly I’m very tired…), way back in ’89, when the first Bush was in the White House, Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture, and none of this meant anything to me because I was 2, I first played the Nintendo Entertainment System, and specifically, Super Mario Bros. Level 1-1 started, I marched Mario straight ahead and right into the oncoming Goomba; been hooked ever since.

Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

So what can you say about the very first Super Mario Bros. game that encompasses the impact it had? It was responsible for the explosion of popularity the video gaming industry experienced, and that popularity continues to this day with the release of the next-generation of systems causing riots and stampedes by people trying to get one before everyone else.

Mario started it all. He became the mascot of Nintendo, and undoubtedly its most popular character. Since the game’s debut in 1985, Mario has starred in an incredible amount of full adventures spanning every system Nintendo has produced, several sports and party games, RPG’s, educational games, a television show, and a major motion picture. Regardless of people’s opinions of the quality of Mario’s forays into other modes of entertainment besides platformers, no other character can boast that kind of resumé. And it all started with the popularity of the original Super Mario Bros.

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past 20 years, the basic idea of Super Mario Bros. is this: you control Mario (in two player mode, the other player takes control of Luigi, who has no different abilities than his brother), who is charged with rescuing the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Toadstool (she was only Princess Peach in Japan until Super Mario 64 , after which she was Princess Peach in Japan and North America as well. They either decided they should have some continuity between the two or that “Peach” is a much more regal sounding name than “Toadstool”), from the clutches of the evil Bowser (known as “King Koopa” in Japan; unlike Peach, this name has not found its way to this side of the Pacific yet).

Over 8 levels, each including 3 stages and a dungeon, you must guide Mario past various traps and Bowser’s Koopa army, such as the aforementioned Goomba’s (mushroom shaped, easily stomped on monsters), Koopa Troopa’s (turtles coming in green and red; when you jump on them they retreat into their shells for a time, allowing you to kick them away or into other enemies), Koopa Paratroopa’s (Troopa’s with wings), and Buzzy Beetle (a beetle with a hard shell, similar to the Koopa Troopa), among many others. You can find hidden areas by going down various pipes found through each stage, but some pipes are home to Piranha Plants, which have no problems eating you.

In the dungeon of each level, there are more enemies and traps to get by, in addition to battling with Bowser himself. You fight him on a bridge over lava and beat him by getting past him and using the appropriately placed axe back there to knock the bridge down and send Bowser to a fiery grave (considering this goes down every level, it’s unclear whether or not Bowser can be reincarnated or if he uses doubles like Saddam Hussein). After Bowser’s defeat, you are allowed access to the next room to set free whoever he had captured. In Levels 1-7, you rescue only Toadstool’s attendant, Toad, who informs you that your princess is in another castle, which really started to get on my nerves towards the end. I mean, I’m glad the Toads were rescued, but could one of them point me in the direction of the Princess , who I would think they consider more important than some lowly attendant?

Mario has three forms in this game: Normal/Little Mario, Super Mario (by finding a red mushroom power-up), and Fire Mario (using a flower power-up). Other power-ups include Green Mushrooms, which give you an extra life, and Starmen, which make you invincible for a time.

The scenery changes with the different levels. Some levels have a continuing theme, such as taking place during the day, at night, or in the snow. In addition, stages have some variation among them: most of the stages take place above ground, while some take place in underground caverns, under water, and in the sky on the tops of trees or giant mushrooms.

A classic game in every sense of the word, Super Mario Bros. directly influenced many games that came after it, and remains one of my favorites to this day. I have spent so much time, which would’ve been better spent doing actual work, doing a speed run of this game. So far my best is just under 6 minutes, which I thought was some kind of record until seeing a video on youtube of someone beating it in less time. Dream shattering bastard!

Anyway, following the success of Super Mario Bros. , a sequel was inevitable. Super Mario Bros. 2 was released in Japan in 1986, though it is a far different Super Mario Bros. 2 than what was released to North America. This SMB2 was very similar to the first game, only differing in difficulty. As it was considered too hard for us silly Americans to handle, the version of SMB2 released here in 1988 was a modified version of the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic , with the characters from that game replaced with Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad. The Japanese SMB2 was found its way to North America later on with Super Mario All Stars , released on Super Nintendo in 1993.

Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES, 1988)

The North American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was substantially different than the first game released here, as it was of course a completely different game. The game takes place in the world of “Subcon” as opposed to the Mushroom Kingdom. This world is populated by new enemies, including now-perennial Mario enemies Shy Guy’s and Snifits, but back then (well, when I got it anyway, which was a few years after its release) I was wondering where my damn Goombas and Koopas were.

The plot of this game is to save the world of Subcon from the vile Wart, a giant, vegetable hating frog. Bowser must have been between schemes I guess. Enemies were defeated either by picking up available vegetables (such as turnips) out of the ground and hurling them at the enemy, or by picking up the enemy itself and throwing it at another one. There is also a “POW” block, that, when thrown, gets rid of every enemy onscreen, and Starmen, that have the same effect as the original SMB.

You picked one of the aforementioned characters before each stage. Each has their own special abilities to help you through each level. Mario is well rounded; he is fast and has a good jump. Luigi gets more distance on his jumps by fluttering his feet (a skill I tried to use during the long-jump contest in gym class; it didn’t work), but gives up a little speed. Princess Toadstool has the ability to float for a time after jumping, which can work to your advantage at times. And Toad is very fast, but not a good jumper, since he’s a little on the short side.

There are seven levels, with 3 stages each. At the end of several stages, but not all of them, you face an egg spewing dinosaur by the name of Birdo, whom you defeat by jumping on the eggs it throws, picking them up and tossing them back at it. Further, at the end of every third stage, you face a harder boss, such as Mouser, a bomb throwing mouse, Tryclide, a three-headed snake, and Fryguy, a (goodness, gracious) great ball of fire. The final boss is, of course, Wart. He is defeated by taking advantage of the machine that spews out vegetables which you can throw at him, avoiding his bubble attacks. After Wart’s defeat, Mario wakes up, meaning that the entire thing was one long, crazy dream.

This game kind of irritated me, in that it was so radically different from the Mario game I was used to. I stuck with Mario and the Princess as characters, as with Luigi it was too hard to not over-jump my mark, and Toad I thought was just generally useless. The enemies were weird, the gameplay was way different, it had little to nothing to do with the first one…damn it, nothing was right about this game! Although, I have to say, once I got Super Mario All Stars and played the original Super Mario Bros. 2 , well…let’s just say I could understand why they didn’t send that one over instead (come on, to a 6 year old, that game was HARD). It should be noted that there is an extraordinary amount of people who like this game, but I’m obviously not one of them.

My prayers for a good sequel were answered when I received Super Mario Bros. 3 . This game is widely considered to be one of the best games ever. It brought back (to North America at least) the good-old Goombas and Koopas we were used to, and Bowser made a return as well. In addition, many improvements were made on the original SMB formula that expanded the gameplay and made the game that much better.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990)

The plot of the game is basically the same as the first SMB; you as Mario traverse over 8 levels to rescue Princess Toadstool, retiring as a playable character and returning to her old role as your damsel in distress. This time, however, the levels were expanded from the old “3 stages and a dungeon” formula. Now, a level had upwards of 8 or 9 stages each, with smaller “fortresses”, or less-difficult dungeons.

Also, instead of going straight through the game stage after stage, after beating one, you return to an overworld map to choose the next stage. Most of the time, stages are accessible only in order, (so you would go through stage 1, then 2, then 3, and on and on) but sometimes stages were set up on the map in such a way that you could skip over one or more. You could also acquire an item that allows you to skip over a stage. There are also ways to warp over one or more levels like in the first 2 games.
Each level had its own theme. Themes included a grassy area, a desert, under or around water, ice, and, my personal favorite, BIG land, where everything, blocks, enemies, pipes, etc., are blown up to extraordinary sizes.

The boss battles took place in an airship rather than a castle or dungeon, and the battle with Bowser is saved for last. For the first 7 levels, you face one of his Koopa Kids to take back a magic wand that transformed the king of the level into a monster. Winning the last battle with Bowser, of course, awards you with Princess Toadstool, who makes a crack about how “your princess is in another castle…just kidding!” Hardy har har. Bitch.

The old power-ups reappear in this game, as well as a few new ones. One of the more common ones, a leaf, tuned Mario into a raccoon, with a tail and ears. This for some reason gave Mario the ability to fly for a short time. I never questioned this as a kid, since at that age (I want to say 3 or 4) I wasn’t aware that raccoons couldn’t really fly, and I was ready to believe, but it does seem a little strange now. In addition to the leaf, you can get a frog suit, which helps you swim, a Hammer Bros. suit, allowing you to throw hammers much like the Hammer Bros. enemies of this game and the first one, and the P-Wing, allowing you unlimited flying time for a level, among many others.

With excellent gameplay expanding on a formula that’s already worked, very few flaws, and amazing, challenging levels, Super Mario Bros. 3 can very well be labeled a masterpiece. The series as a whole could be labeled this way as well, though I’d give you a doozy of an argument on SMB 2, and I’d probably lose, but that’s neither here nor there.

Before Super Mario Bros. , the video gaming industry was kind of stuck a rut, and needed a serious spark to get out of it. Super Mario Bros. was that spark. These were just the first of many, many, many classic games (and some duds here and there) that Mario and Co. would be a part of.

So there you go. My first column where I actually talk about a game (or two, or three). Let me know what you think, if you’d like, by emailing me or going to the forums and leaving a little message in the Official Kickin’ It Old School Thread. Otherwise, see you next time.

Next week: A young man follows his mutated frog into an underground city filled with evil robots and he takes it upon himself to destroy every last one of them! 1960’s sci-fi movie or 1980’s NES game? Find out next week.