Super Mario Bros. review
A 'How-To' For Platforming Games
While you young 'uns may be used to sprawling 3D environments, a myriad of special techniques and collecting various special items to reach the end, we of the older generation had a more simpler straightforward experience with our Mario games growing up. Yes, this game is pretty far back in the Mario line of games, and probably helped mold the platform genre into what it is today.
Based on its looks the game is fairly mixed. There's a lot of blandness with the sprites used, with a general lack of definition in the details. It's not quite at the level of a blotchy mess, but they could certainly look better. The environments certainly look much better, with a much cleaner look to the objects and a great use of colour for a vibrant kingdom. The animation seems to work well enough, although some of them could probably use with a few extra frames for a smoother transition there isn't anything bad there.
The music is more agreeable. The music quality is held back by the limitations of the console, but that simply doesn't matter since the actual tunes playing are just so catchy. It's hard not to find yourself humming along at times as you bounce off enemy heads and leap for that next platform. The different tunes are either the cheery fantasy tunes used in the overworld sections or the more subdued melodies that match the darker settings of the underground and castles.
The plot itself is pretty basic. King Koopa (as he was known to us back then) kidnaps the princess and Mario's the one to rescue her. That's about it too, so don't go expecting the finer details or any developments anywhere. The concept may be tired now, but back then this was actually pretty new.
This is primarily a platforming romp through the mushroom kingdom. Hitting the A button sends Mario skyward, although once airborne the player has little effect on his current direction and velocity, forcing the player to carefully judge jumps before taking off. As basic as it sounds, that's the key appeal of the game. Each level in the game is littered with a number of obstacles - whether they be pits, bricks, pipes or enemies - and each one presents its own degree of challenge when leaping over it. While some will hardly cause any concern there are many that will require some precise leaps, and in the later stages you'll find yourself performing a series of jumps at different key areas to progress. The further you are into the game as well the more often the consequences for a failed jump will result in death.
It's not all basic leaping about though. The different stages are filled with hordes of enemies that will do everything to hinder your progress. Some of them are pretty basic, like the Goomba that simply tries to walk into you. Most all have some pretty interesting traits though. Koopa Troopas retreat into their shells when stomped on, which can then be sent flying to knock out further foes (although watch for it rebounding off solid objects). Lakitu flies about the top of the screen and constantly tosses spiny baddies down at you until you knock him out.
Generally the baddies by themselves aren't that bothersome outside of a select few, but it's when they appear around critical areas that things become a big concern. Ever tried negotiating a series of tricky platforms while avoiding a barrage of bullet bills? That's the kind of challenge SMB presents to you, and it really offers a sense of accomplishment when you finally pass each section.
The game also features a wealth of collectable items too. Coins are scattered throughout each level, and while individually they mean nothing collecting one hundred adds an extra life to the counter. 1up mushrooms can also be found to gain a life instantly. Mario can also benefit from powerup items. Mario starts off as a small hero, where a hit will instantly kill him. Grabbing a super mushroom and he will become Super Mario, which allows him to take a hit and survive (causing him to revert to small Mario). As Super Mario a fire flower can appear, which grants the ability to throw fireballs by tapping B. These fireballs bounce along the ground, and some enemies can only be defeated with these. A star sometimes comes out too, although it tends to bounce away quickly. The star grants temporary invulnerability, in addition to killing enemies simply be touching them.
The success of SMB is in part thanks to the fantastic level design. Each stage is set up to challenge the acrobatic skills of the player, as well as send a healthy dose of hazards their way. Even better than that is how open the stages are in terms of progression. Few stages can really be called linear, as many of them offer alternate paths and hidden chambers that alter the way players make their way to the finish. Much of this is achieved through the pipes that are scattered throughout the game. While some of these are merely obstacles to jump over, others can be entered to reach other rooms. Often filled with coins and even perhaps the odd powerup, these rooms will then exit to a later part of a level. Skipping the normal section can be the safer option, although it can also mean missing other powerups and coins.
Some stages offer less conventional means of taking an alternate path. Underground stages tend to have a roof of sorts that players can scramble up to and then run along, bypassing all the hazards and goodies beneath them. SMB also provides the more adventurous players with warp zones, which allow gamers to skip ahead to later stages.
Some stages differ from the norm by dropping Mario into water, challenging him to swim to the end. Obviously there is no longer any emphasis on jumping in these levels, although the layout and traps can still result in being pulled into the odd pit if you don't hammer A enough to swim past them. Enemies are much more of a threat in here though as, unless you possess fire power, you can't defeat these baddies. Though oddly, Mario seems to have no problems holding his breath underwater, meaning you don't need to worry about his air supply running low.
While air is not an issue, all levels feature a timer that ticks down as you play. Allow the timer to hit zero and a life is lost. Hang around for too long and you'd regret it, although the timer is never really short enough to cause any actual risk of death to the average player except in the few castle puzzle segments.
However, there is a notable drawback here. Gameplay involves starting at the far left side of the screen and making your way to the far right. The issue is that while the screen scrolls to the right, it doesn't scroll back to the left. This can result in missing some things and limits general exploration of stages.
At the end of each world Mario must travel through a castle stage, filled with the usual mix of dangerous pits and lethal traps. Some of these castles also possess a certain puzzle element to them, as certain sections repeat until the player can work out the correct order to run through them. Each castle level finishes with a boss battle against King Koopa. Shortly before arriving at the bridge where Koopa waits fireballs are fired off that Mario has to dodge on his way there. Koopa himself continues to launch fireballs when you arrive, and later incarnations also toss hammers much like the hammer bros enemies do. Koopa himself is also moving back and forth and jumping into the air. He can be defeated with fireballs, but if the player lacks that ability then an axe sits behind him, challenging the player to try and dodge past the lizard to succeed. It does get a little repetitive though as, with the exception of gaining hammers so far in, Koopa's attack pattern really doesn't change.
The game has a pretty decent length too. There are eight worlds in all, with four levels in each world, totalling 32 levels overall. Completing the game once also opens up a harder playthough. This typically means more enemies and goombas being replacing by beetles. A shame that the game doesn't actually allow for saving the game. Having to complete a playthough in one sitting is quite an issue, but it's even worse when the unlocked difficulty and high scores aren't kept after powering the system off.
The game technically has a two player option, but I would not call it as such. This option gives control of Luigi to player two (who only differs from Marion in his appearance), but gameplay involves alternating play, with control switching when one player completes a stage or dies. Essentially, this means that the gameplay doesn't actually differ from the single player and only really serves to extend how long it takes to reach the end. The lack of interaction between the two players is kinda disappointing.
But forget the small niggles. While video games have advanced since those early days, Super Mario Bros still retains a certain level of appeal. It set the stage for the Mario series to flourish, it's challenging and varied in its approach. Every Nintendo fan needs to experience this game in some form, whether it be the original title or one of the various ports of it.
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