It’s a great game. After 20 plus years of being released you still can say that the original Super Mario Brothers is a great game, realistically still one of the best ever made. Recently Alfred Trujillo and I started a marathon of the Mario titles, so I ended up revisiting this classic all these years later. It says a lot for any game to be able to stand up today in a world far beyond the 8 bits of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Not every characters golden age roots are truly playable these days that any gamer could pick up, figure out, and even enjoy. The original Zelda is one of these but look at the beginnings of Kirby’s Dream Land which barely reflects what Kirby is today. Super Mario Brothers on the NES is still recognizable as Mario today. Compared to a game like New Super Mario Brothers 2 it shares the sidescrolling style, the jumping mechanics, the power up system, and even the slowly rising incline of difficulty. The formula for Mario was perfect in the 1980s and nothing changed on that.
As a kid growing up during the late NES era and entire SNES era, it all makes sense why there were so many mascot games on those two systems. Failed mascots like Aero, Bubsy, Croc, Wild Woody, Glover, and hundreds more have tried to emulate that perfection but always tried to put their own spin on it. The part they skipped was the brilliance of Super Mario Brothers, not that anyone could pick it up and know it was a platformer but the fact they couldn’t keep it simple. Super Mario Brothers is a platformer with powerups that goes left to right. There are secrets, shortcuts, bonus zones in the sky, and pipes to go into for coins. The game limits the path you take but allows you to explore it the way you want to. The only other platforming game to nail these concepts was Sonic the Hedgehog, which if you slow down the blue animal his core concepts are exactly the same as Super Mario Brothers.
There are only a couple of challenging points on the way to overthrowing King Koopa. Most of them though occur in the last two levels, more so though in 8-3. That level is an endurance test to any player seeking to finish the game. 8-1 offered a few hard jumps and 8-2 taught patience instead of speed is the key to getting through it. 8-3 though throws the Hammer Brothers, who had been seen slightly to this point, in your face. Not only do they protect their traditional hiding spot of three lines of brick blocks but they also patrol the ground in this level. This is the backbreaker of levels in the original game because you are never prepared for tackling Hammer Brothers without any bricks to protect you. It is also a good bet you lack a fire flower here which would instantly solve the problem. It is Super Mario Brothers only trial by fire in the game as everything else is introduced to you in an easier format then made harder the next time you see it. If you can make it past 8-3 what awaits you in 8-4 is an ultimate test of everything you’ve encountered from water level swimming, to navigating a maze correctly, to a Bowser that also happens to chuck hammers at you. Mastery of this rewards players with the rescuing of the Princess and the option, if you want to, to do it all again.
Super Mario Brothers fields the same questions we ask of any game from last generation to five generations ago. Is it still playable? The answer, thankfully, is that Mario’s roots on the NES as a platforming hero instead of a jump man are solid. I just wouldn’t recommend the awkward port of the game to Gameboy Color. That game has some weird camera stuff going on!