Seeing as MAR 10 is Mario Day, I thought I’d take the opportunity to once more cover my experience with the very first Super Mario Bros game I ever played – along with the very first Super Mario game that I ever owned.
Sure, I’d played Mario-themed Game & Watch games, usually in the playground – thanks to other kids who’d brought them in from home – and I’d played Donkey Kong at the arcade. I didn’t know anyone who owned a NES, or at least not until many years after they were at their peak of popularity in the US (Sega’s Master System was the more prominent and common 8-bit console in the UK, at least in my experience). I had seen Super Mario Bros in the arcade, but next to games such as R-Type, Double Dragon or Out Run it just seemed so uninteresting and – at least visually – basic. With hindsight, it’s clear I was missing out – but then hindsight is 20/20.
So I was late to the Mario party (pun intended!). It was in the corner of a dingy pub – that my parents had taken me to on a Friday night – that I discovered a Nintendo PlayChoice 10 machine. With nothing else to do and no other machines available (the pub had just swapped their RoboCop coin-op for the PlayChoice 10), I decided to play some games – with the few 10p pieces that I’d been given by my slightly tipsy parents.
A PlayChoice 10 machine was an arcade cabinet loaded with ten NES games, from a surprisingly wide range. When a coin was inserted, it granted a set amount of time to play whatever games you wanted to; when the time ran out, you could insert more coins and continue. It was a refreshing change from the normal experience of playing a rock hard arcade game that would often kill you and demand more silver sustenance in the blink of an eye. I don’t recall the list of games that were on this particular PlayChoice 10 machine (though The Goonies II seems to ring a bell), because there was one game that captured my attention for pretty much the whole time I had a supply of coins.
And that game was Super Mario Bros 2.
It never occurred to me that I was playing what was originally a non-Mario game. Just in case you’re one of the few people that doesn’t know this, Super Mario Bros 2 is a reskin of a non-Mario game. When the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 was released, it was deemed too difficult for Western audiences, so Nintendo instead added the Mario characters to a game called Doki Doki Panic – a fact that seems to astound and blow the minds of Millennial YouTubers to this day.
In any case, it is a very different game to the others in the series, with a lack of fatal jumping on heads and barely a mushroom in sight. There’s an emphasis on more vertical design than just horizontal. Warping between the regular game world and ‘sub-space’, a sort of shadow world, is possible by smashing potions on the ground. For the first time in the series, Peach and Toad are both playable characters. The characters themselves have distinct abilities, such as Mario being able to jump further than the others, Luigi’s high jump, Peach’s floating and Toad grabbing objects faster than the other characters. Bowser is nowhere to be found, either – the main villain of the piece is a giant toad king named Wart.
It’s a wonderfully playable game and an appealingly colourful one too, with lots of variety in level design, environments and enemies. I found it incredibly addictive and compelling pretty much immediately; though I’d played plenty of platformers on the Master System, this felt like a real step up in design and gameplay.
I couldn’t get enough. Those 10p coins didn’t last anywhere near as long as I wanted them to. It’d be a while before I had a Super Mario game of my own, but again it turned out to be an oddity – when I got my Game Boy for my birthday in June 1991, the non-Tetris game I chose for it was Super Mario Land. Again, not being overly familiar with the series – beyond my experience of Super Mario Bros 2 a short time before then – I didn’t realise how different it was. I had no idea that Daisy was an entirely new Princess character, for example, nor that there weren’t usually side scrolling shoot ‘em up levels in other Mario games. Though it was an easy game to breeze through and I completed it in no time, I kept on going back to it; the gameplay was ridiculously addictive.
Of course, things get a bit muddier after that. I may well have next played through the very first Super Mario Bros on a NES that my brother acquired, but it could also have been Super Mario Bros 3 that was the next game I played in the series (weirdly, I went through a phase where I swapped consoles and games with my neighbours – my Master System and games would live with them for a bit, while I got my hands on their NES and accompanying software). Super Mario World was the next game I actually owned though, having acquired a SNES in order to play it.
In any case, it still amuses me that my first experiences of the Mario series were so different from what was expected, but – given how diverse and full of random little one off power ups and level designs the series became known for as of Super Mario Bros 3 (the Goomba Shoe, for example, just thrown in for a single stage of the game) – perhaps the leftfield kookiness of the two titles I’ve covered is less pronounced now. Games such as Super Mario Sunshine (with the water-based abilities of FLUDD) and even Super Mario Odyssey to a certain extent with the enemy-possession abilities of Cappy thrown into the mix) – have built their premises on mechanics that haven’t been seen before in the series, and may not be seen again. Though they’re competent, enjoyably raucous platformers in multiplayer, the New Super Mario Bros series almost seem too conservative for me, in a series known for its wild, cavalier approach to throwing in new concepts, they seem to play things a little too safe for the sake of familiarity.
Who knows where the Super Mario series is going next though? It’s nearly three years since Super Mario Odyssey was released; will we see another Odyssey game – a more direct sequel as we did with the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy games? Or is something more radical coming from Nintendo?
Whatever happens next, there’s no doubt that it’ll be a tremendously enjoyable, brilliantly designed game. They almost always are; Nintendo are incredibly dependable with the quality of the Super Mario games.
Happy Mario Day, everyone.
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