Thursday, July 2, 2009

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. is perhaps the single most influential and important game ever made. It revolutionized the industry and possibly even prevented the death of the video game as a form of media. It's seen countless sequels and spinoffs, and even a (terrible) Hollywood feature film. Yet for all this hooplah and mystic reverence surrounding the game, there's still one vital question. Is it actually good?

The first thing you'll notice about this game is the lack of a title screen. It jumps straight into the select menu for a one or two player game. That tells you right off the bat that this game is all about getting you into the hardcore action early.

Coins and shrooms.The story is simple enough: you are Mario, a plumber from somewhere not here, and the Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom has been kidnapped by a giant evil turtle bent on forcing her to marry him. All previous attempts to rescue her by her servants have resulted in their also being captured, so it is up to you to go save her from, presumably, interspecies rape.

The Mushroom Kingdom is, with a few exceptions consisting of overgrowths of enormous mushroom towers, a total wasteland. The entire ground has been paved over by a nasty reddish-brown brick. Any sight of plants that aren't coming out of pipes trying to devour you are distant. And the landscape is dotted with inexplicably floating bricks and golden boxes with question marks on them.

Flaming booger.The contents of these boxes are puzzling to say the least. Inside you will find gold coins, which are the standard Mushroomian currency (and collecting 100 of which give you an extra life without ever visiting a banker), smaller, edible mushrooms, sentient stars that make you completely invincible to everything but gravity, and glowing flowers that, when touched, ignite Mario's snot into flaming bouncing balls of doom.

The mushrooms themselves can either make Mario double in size or give him an extra life, depending on their color. Personally I have never eaten a mushroom that enables me to either become giant or die and resurrect automatically. If anyone knows where I can find either of these morsels, please let me know.

Fireworks.In any case, each level consists of running from one little castle or outpost to the next one, lowering the enemy Koopas' flag, raising a new flag that is a little reminiscent to the flag of Vietnam, killing some of God's heavenly host, and then repeating on the next stage.

Along the way are an assortment of opposing creatures that have no business existing. Goombas are little brown mushrooms with feet, Koopa Troopas are happy looking turtles bent on killing you and everything you hold dear, Lakitus are owls (?) riding around on clouds dropping spiked stuff on your head, and of course there are the Hammer Bros. who spontaneously generate hammers and throw them non-stop without eating, sleeping, or even using the bathroom.

Water stage.All this is great and exciting, but then you come to a place where your enthusiasm dies with your soul and you begin to wish this game had some sort of warp zone: I am speaking, of course, about the dreaded water levels.

In hindsight, if they knew how this game was going to change the face of it all and would become a template for so many other games, I like to think the good people at Nintendo would have said "You know what, let's scrap the water stages." It's not so much that the water levels in Super Mario Bros. are bad; it's that invariably when you get to the obligatory water level in any video game, you groan. You know you do. We all hate them, yet they keep coming. And it all starts here.

The upside is that apparently all those years as a plumber dealing directly with the bodily waste of portly Italian men like himself taught Mario how to survive without breathing. Those air bubbles? From the squids. Squids have to breathe. Mario doesn't. It also helps that his fiery mucus is incapable of being extinguished even on the ocean floor. And that cash money is floating around free for the taking.

Mario under attack.The game starts out easily enough, though by the eighth and final world, the difficulty has ramped up quite a bit. As you can see at right, the enemies become more populous and cannons start firing at your face and it's all just quite the mess. There are usually safe areas to stand, but even then, good luck. The game is a challenge for sure, though it becomes far easier with practice and is never unreasonably hard by any degree.

Probably the best thing about the game is its control. It plays very tightly and responds about as well as you could hope and expect it to. Complaints about hit detection and the like are minimal, and mid-jump maneuverability was a big plus. So at least when you're fighting your way through 32 levels of acid trip, you'll have some command over it.

Saved the princess.Of course, after every castle and supposed fight with Bowser, the King Koopa, you only find a little mushroom man telling you that the Princess is in another castle. By the time you get to the real Bowser, he's spitting fire and throwing hammers like it's his job. All you have to do is run by him to win, but that can be easier said than done. Unless, that is, you're giant Mario. Then you can just run into and through him. You'll shrink, but he'll die. Hey, it works.

And when you finally do, you get treated to the screen above. A butt-ugly redhead giving you a cursory thank you while sending you off on some other errand. That errand, if you follow her directions to find out, ends up being to save her captured ass all over again, with harder enemies. No thanks wench. Call me when you eventually get hot. We both know you will.

Bottom Line: 14/20


  1. How come you didn't mention that you can play as Luigi? I mean, c'mon! Multiplayer Mario at it's finest with one simple caveat: Player 2 must wait 4 1/2 days to take their turn...

  2. Luigi will get his discussion in later games for sure. I thought about mentioning multiplayer in more detail, but it struck me that a turn-based system with no functional difference in gameplay didn't provide much to talk about. The system in Mario 3 was refined in such a way that I'll be sure to talk about it then.