Posted on March 10, 2020
Super Mario Over the Years – A Tale of Growing up Geeky
By Lindsay Carter
Super Mario Bros. remains a staple of current gaming and pop culture alike, with Nintendo still releasing new renditions of the classic game, as well as extensions to the lore via titles such as Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. and my favorite of the three, Mario Kart. Is there a better way to build upon (and maybe strain) our friendships than going toe to toe in a digital arena?
If there is, I have yet to find it!
Living in a time now where video gaming has become especially popular and mainstream, with numerous consoles to choose from, emulators and applications such as Steam at our collective fingertips. It is easy to forget not just how far video gaming and its culture has evolved over the years, but where did it all begin?
I intend to show you through the pioneering steps of everyone’s favorite plumber through a linear journey via his most popular and influential console games. I’ll be setting aside any handheld variations and completely forgetting that awful, live action movie ever existed.
While not his initial debut, Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System and is the successor to the 1983 arcade game, Mario Bros. A platform game that was developed and published by Nintendo and was released stateside (and Canada too!) in 1985. With this development, not only was the side scrolling, platform game thrusted into popularity, it’s release also ushered in the now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers to produce and distribute games for gaming systems. Frequently cited as one of the greatest video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. is still one of the best-selling games of all time with more than 40 million physical copies sold and is also credited with being one of the key factors in reviving the video game industry after the 1983 crash.
The game play of the titular title would become the standard for the games that would follow. The players, player 1 controls Mario, while player 2 controls Luigi in two player mode, guiding their character of choice (or in my case, playing with my older cousin, I was always Luigi) and moving them through an array of hazards and enemies with the goal to rescue Princess Toadstool from the wretched, Bowser. Power ups such as the Super Mushroom, Fireflower, & Starman would become another staple to the title and would be imitated by wannabe knockoffs and built upon in the predecessors of Super Mario Bros. in the years to come.
With the arrival of Super Mario Bros. 2 into consoles all over the United States and Canada in 1988, while still a commercial success the game play was different, based around tossing items (seriously, radishes? Turnips?) or disabled enemies opposed to an item fueled agility race against the clock and there was a good reason. You see, Nintendo of America had decided that Japan’s version (aka the real version) of Super Mario Bros. 2 was simply too frustrating and similar to the original game to be worth releasing into the American Market.
Doki Doki Panic would act as the base game and then was cosmetically modified to give it some of that Mario Bros charm. It would be released as the International release of Super Mario Bros. 2. Japan’s Super Mario Bros 2 would eventually be released in the United States under the title The Lost Levels would be released in 1993 for the second generation console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. After playing the Lost Levels as an adult later in life, the corporate overlords may have been on to something.
The SNES was an amazing system (released to the North American market in 1991) and it was on this console where I first played one of my favorite games (not just Mario) to this day.
Super Mario Bros. 3.
Another top seller in Nintendo’s fold, it was remade and then re-released on the 16 bit system allowed for a larger color palette and faster processing speed.
Super Mario Bros. 3 did what any great sequel should do. Build upon what has already been established, add to the world, improve on the game play and more of those juicy power ups in the form of the ability to fly. As a kid playing this game I was not very adept at the whole flying aspect part, but it was still fun and the more you explored the sky in this game, you would find secret tunnels, bonus levels and shortcuts.
This game was amazing from it’s interactive map to navigate the levels of all 8 worlds, warp whistles, mini games, hidden bonus areas and secret exits would come to be a part of the series as it grew and flourished.
The SNES also boasted another great Mario Bros game in 1991’s Super Mario World which built upon much of Super Mario Bros. 3 footwork with enhanced power ups that allowed the player to float and fly. The map has hidden areas to unlock and explore. The game has 96 levels in total, (some of which had alternate exits) and finally, Yoshi. Everyone loves Yoshi and because of that a once power up would become a playful character in later versions of the Mario franchise such as MarioKart and Smash Bros. This game was huge and still to this day, I have yet to finish it in its entirety.
The introduction of the phenomenon that is MarioKart raced onto the scene on this console as well and while this original game was little more than a simple race game, it would go to revolutionize multiplayer gaming and party games as a whole with it’s big brother and the next console to come.
The Nintendo 64
Named for its 64-bit CPU, it hit the shelves in North America in September of 1996. One of the N64’s flagship games, (and the first three-dimensional outing for our favorite plumber) Super Mario 64 boasted an open world concept with levels contained in individual worlds via paintings or hidden walls and allowed the player to move Mario through all three axises in space to an increased degree of freedom. An epic 3D platform with all new moves, new power ups and the introduction of a true health bar. No longer bound to the staple of running, jumping and flying.
MarioKart 64, Mario Party and Super Smash Bros respectively were genre defining subsets of the classic Mario games. As the N64 boasted 4 player capabilities, I believe that Nintendo set the bar for multiplayer gaming with this console, it’s titles and those that would follow with the DS, the Wii and finally the Nintendo Switch. The most important thing about these titles is how they influenced multiplayer party games and player vs player gaming as we know it today and would continue to be molded by Nintendo in the coming years.
I still coin these above games as the source to some of my happier times gaming with my friends in my earlier twenties as I didn’t have a next gen console, but had managed to hang on to a N64.
With the arrival of the take on a classic New Super Mario Bros. Wii utilized the side scrolling and mini maps from the classic games for the NES and SNES but with a 3D flair to the player’s character and enemies alike. Both games allowed for coop and competitive multiplayer play. The Wii also brought a brand new variation of the beloved MarioKart title and a 3D Mario adventure game akin to its predecessor on the N64, Super Mario Galaxy and it was challenging from my experiences as a long term player of these games.
The Virtual Console, a concept originally created for the Wii is still alive and well, allowing long time fans of the older games (and not just Mario themed) to purchase and download classic NES, SNES and N64 games to their more modern consoles.
Speaking of modern, I’ll skip the Wii U and it’s games because I believe the Nintendo Switch really knocked it out of the park. A handheld console with two detachable controllers instantly allows for 2 player gaming and is true to Nintendo’s triumphs of the past. Along with the aforementioned virtual console, the Nintendo Switch offers a plethora of Mario Games including but not limited to the excellent Super Mario Kart 8, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros Ultimate and the super unique, creative styled (if not at times, frustrating) Super Mario Maker 1 & 2. The latter allows players to build their own levels, using building aspects, item blocks, enemies and obstacles from all prior variations of Super Mario games while the prior three tended to stick to the basic standards of their early variations but building upon them and in most cases, improving on not only the game play itself, but in the way we look at Super Mario games. Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. have become online staples for young and adult gamers alike.
With the arrival of an all new, adventure game, Super Mario 64 Switch, announced for release in 2020, it’s more clear than ever that our favorite plumber isn’t going anywhere and will surely continue to influence pop culture and gaming culture as we know it.
I think it’s about time for this geek to fire up the Virtual Console and try to speed run Super Mario 3.
No Warp Whistles!
Until next time!