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Super Mario Bros (NES)

July 10, 2006

This review won the writing competition over on the official Nintendo magazine forums.

Two buttons and a d-pad, that’s all it took to craft a masterpiece for the system known as the NES, none of this fancy third dimension or polygon created character models, games were made with 8-bit sprites on 8-bit backgrounds in an 8-bit world. When given the idea nowadays that a game could have been brilliant with only running and jumping, and the occasionally spot of fireball throwing seems absurd compared with the complex dual character systems and fancy water backpacks people are treated to today. But due to the simple nature of this game, it is simply brilliant.

There is no need for a deep story with intense character development here, your thrown head first into a game in which you appear to be taking part in a drug infused hallucination of walking mushrooms, flying turtles and fire breathing dragons. But no, this is the world of Mario, and what a bizarre world it is. Gameplay is simple, you must guide Mario from the start of the level to a flagpole at the end, to do this you must traverse hazards such as falls, piranha plants and projectile throwing hammer brothers, the majority of enemies can be dispatched with a bonk to the head but fortunately, Mario has a few tricks up his sleeve to help him get out of tight spots. Grab a mushroom and Mario will grow in size, thus allowing you to survive one hit from your aggressors, once big you can grab a fire flower giving you a projectile weapon and an easier way to protect yourself from any unshielded enemies. The final pickup, the power star is the ultimate weapon, allowing Mario to charge through enemies with not a care in the world, but you still have to jump gaps. And that’s it, that’s how complex Super Mario Bros gets and while it sounds simple in theory, the level design is crafty enough to test any player that steps up.

The game is split into eight worlds, each one increasing slightly in difficulty and culminating in a castle in which one of the princess’ servant Toads will triumphantly exclaim, ‘I’m sorry, but our princess is in another castle’. When viewed methodically, the majority of these levels can be approached at a steady pace, (mind you, there is a timer which pushes you on) however certain levels feature pixel perfect jumps and require expert timing to avoid enemies, which make this a game that is easy to play, hard to master and in speed run situations requires the utmost skill. Upon finishing world eight you can replay the game with a slightly increased difficulty, seeing just how many times you can play around the game in an afternoon is fun in itself. However, as well as simply playing through the thirty two levels there are a number of elusive shortcuts in the game which can take a while to find, and once you know of their location it is possible to complete the game by only entering three worlds, an admirable party trick in itself. The game features a two-player mode but it is simply a matter of taking turns in the single player game however, between players of equal skill it is fun to see who can get furthest without dying.

The sound in this game is now the staple Mario theme music, its catchy nature was instantly loved by fans everywhere and the jumping and ‘pluck’ sound effects were in place until, with Super Mario 64, Mario was given a voice. However the upcoming New Super Mario Bros reinstates these sound effects coupled with Mario’s voice to create a real treat for fans.

In terms of a retro title, Super Mario Bros is the ultimate classic, combining simple mechanics, fiendish level design and intriguing secrets for the inquisitive player. The sequels that were to follow expanded the gameplay, created more interesting levels and improved the overall presentation, but in its simplicity Super Mario Bros is a fantastic title that plays well even today, proving that it is about the gameplay, and not swanky graphics.

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