The Iconic World of Super Mario Brothers

The gaming industry as we know it wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Nintendo. After the 1983 video game crash, Nintendo brought the home console scene back to life when it released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super Mario Bros. in 1985. After over three decades, Super Mario is still famous among Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS players.

Overview

a Mario toy

Often hailed as one of the greatest video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was based on the 1983 Mario Bros arcade game and was the first of the Super Mario Series.

In the game, players guide Mario (or Luigi in multiplayer mode) through the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Toadstool from King Koopa (later known as Bowser). Navigating side-scrolling stages, players must avoid hazards like enemies and pits. They must also use power-ups like the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman.

Super Mario Bros. is enjoyable because of its precise controls and storyline. It’s been re-released on different Nintendo systems and stands as one of the best-selling games worldwide – with over 58 million copies sold. It’s a legendary classic game that’s often credited for reviving the video game industry after the 1983 crash, and it also helped popularize the side-scrolling platform game genre.

The Birth of a Legend: The Creation of Super Mario

While Super Mario Bros. wasn’t the initial platform video game, it was by far the most successful, setting the standard for the entire genre.

Super Mario Bros. was the brainchild of the legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, whose concept for the game evolved from his 1981 arcade hit, Donkey Kong. Mario was first introduced in Donkey Kong (he was then called Jump Man).

Miyamoto first perfected his single-screen platformer designs, bringing life to arcade classics like Donkey Kong Junior (1982) and Popeye (1982) before giving Mario his standalone title.

For Super Mario Bros., Miyamoto created the primary designs, and Takashi Tezuka brought them to life. The game represents a culmination of three years of game mechanics and programming by the Famicon team, who worked on side-scrolling games like Devil WorldExcitebike, and Kung Fu Master. They also built upon their earlier work on athletic games (a term that later became synonymous with platformers) like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. Notably, the first level, World 1-1, acts as a tutorial for platform gameplay.

The game brought together some elements from all of Miyamoto’s previous platformers. Still, instead of confining the action to a single screen, the brothers now had an entire world to explore.

The 1983 Mario Bros. featured cooperative gameplay and introduced Mario’s brother, Luigi, as the second player. Mario was originally meant to be a carpenter, but he changed their occupation to plumbers who fight turtles that emerge from drain pipes. Unlike the original Mario Bros., the two siblings couldn’t play this game simultaneously. Luigi still served as the second player, but each level was a solo endeavor, with players taking turns between levels. The game featured eight worlds, each broken into levels, bonus rooms, and boss encounters.

Miyamoto initially considered Bowser an ox, inspired by the Ox King from Alakazam the Great (1960). But Tezuka decided he should look more like a turtle, so together, they crafted Bowser’s final design.

To meet the year-end shopping season deadline, Nintendo made the game simple. The team began with a basic prototype, and Tezuka suggested Mario after the success of Mario Bros. The name “Super Mario Bros..” came out when they introduced the Super Mushroom power-up. Although they thought of having Mario fly a rocket ship, the idea was discarded, leaving behind sky-based bonus stages. The team also addressed the logic of Mario being hurt by stomping on turtles and decided that in future games, players could freely jump on turtles.

Initially, the team based the level design around a small Mario, and they wanted him to increase in size in the final version. But they decide to make it more fun by letting Mario change his size via a power-up. The early level design aimed to teach players the distinction between mushrooms and Goombas, so in the first level, they intentionally made the first mushroom difficult to avoid. The concept of using mushrooms to change size was inspired by Japanese folktales involving magical mushrooms, thus the birth of the Mushroom Kingdom.

The team started levels with a small Mario to make getting a mushroom more satisfying. Features like the shell-kicking 1-up trick were carefully tested, while others, such as blocks containing multiple coins, were inspired by programming glitches.

Super Mario Bros. was finally released in 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. NES was nationally released in September 1986, featuring 17 games, including the iconic Super Mario Bros.

By 1988, Nintendo dominated the American console market, thanks to the automatic inclusion of Super Mario Bros. with later NES versions. Mario became a phenomenon because Nintendo intentionally propelled him to stardom, placing him in different innovative games across genres.

In the 1980s alone, Mario appeared in 12 NES games – sometimes, even when he wasn’t essential to the plot. Nintendo made Mario their quality control symbol – if Mario approved it, then the game was expected to be good.

In the decades since his debut, Mario has featured in over 200 games. The Mario Bros. series alone has sold over 240 million units, with Nintendo releasing sequels across different console generations. Despite the industry’s quest for realistic experiences, Mario’s enduring battle against Bowser, the spike-shelled turtle, remains one of the most beloved games in history.

The Mushroom Kingdom

Continuing from the events of Mario Bros., the game unfolds in the whimsical Mushroom Kingdom. In this fantasy world, Mario and Luigi find themselves after emerging from a clay pipe connected to New York City.

The Mushroom Kingdom is the fictional world within Nintendo’s Mario franchise, serving as the primary backdrop and a consistent feature in most Mario video games. The specifics, like the geography, presentation, and included regions, aren’t formally defined and tend to differ across appearances.

In this magical kingdom, a tribe of turtle-like beings, the Koopa Troopas, invades. Led by their King, Bowser, they use magic to transform the Mushroom Kingdom’s inhabitants – known as the Mushroom People – into lifeless objects like bricks, stones, and horsehair plants. Princess Toadstool – the ruler of Mushroom Kingdom and the only one with the power to undo Bowser’s enchantment – is also captured by the Koopa Troopas. Upon learning of these events, the brothers embark on a quest to rescue the princess and free the kingdom from Bowser’s control.

As they journey through various parts of the kingdom, they confront Bowser’s forces along the way; Mario and Luigi ultimately reach Bowser’s last stronghold. They successfully defeat him by striking an axe on the bridge suspended over the lava where he stands. This action breaks the bridge, defeats Bowser, releases the princess, and restores freedom to the Mushroom Kingdom.

The Mushroom Kingdom is primarily inhabited by Toads, although other species from the franchise, such as Yoshis, Goombas, and Koopas, are also frequently depicted as residents. The latter two and other enemies can vary between being portrayed as wildlife or fully-fledged citizens. Only a few Mushroom Kingdom citizens, including Peach, Mario, and Luigi, are depicted as humans.

The kingdom’s primary fictional currency is coins, usually gold. It’s a recurring element in almost every Mario-related game. Other elements and entities like brick blocks, question mark blocks, and warp pipes are commonly shown throughout the kingdom in different forms of media.

Gameplay Mechanics

a man playing Super Mario Bros

In Super Mario Bros., you are playing the role of Mario. You will navigate the Mushroom Kingdom while trying to survive Bowser’s forces and rescue Princess Toadstool. The goal is to reach the flagpole at the end of each level to progress in the game.

There are lots of coins scattered around for Mario to collect, along with special bricks marked with a question mark. Hitting these bricks may reveal more coins or special items. Some other bricks may also contain coins or rare items, so it’s worth hitting them if you have the time.

If Mario eats a Super Mushroom, he transforms into Super Mario – he doubles in size and gains the ability to break bricks above. If he gets hit in this state, he reverts to regular Mario instead of losing a life.

Consuming a Fire Flower turns Mario into Fire Mario, allowing him to throw bouncing fireballs. Touching a bouncing Super Star (a rare power-up) transforms Mario into Star Mario, making him invulnerable for a short time and allowing him to kill enemies with just a simple touch.

Players start with a set number of lives. You can lose one life if Mario takes damage, falls into a bottomless pit, or runs out of time. They can earn more by discovering 1-up mushrooms, collecting coins, bouncing successively on enemies, and defeating enemies with a Koopa shell. The game ends when the player uses all lives, though a button input on the game screen allows the player to continue from the first level of the world where they died.

Mario attacks enemies by jumping on top of them, and the enemies have different responses to this move. For instance, a Goomba is flattened and defeated, while a Koopa Troopa retracts into its shell, allowing Mario to push it to destroy other enemies. Some enemies, like those underwater or with spiked tops, can’t be jumped on and instead damage Mario.

The game consists of eight worlds, each with four sub-levels called “stages.” The final stage in each world is a castle where Mario faces Bowser. Spoiler alert: the first seven Bowsers are decoys – minions disguised as him. The real Bowser can be encountered in the 8th world. To defeat them, Mario has to jump over them and reach the axe at the end of the bridge.

The game also includes underwater stages with different enemies, bonuses, and secret areas. Most secret areas offer more coins for Mario, while some come with warp pipes that allow Mario to advance directly to later worlds without completing the stages.

After completing the game once, players can replay with increased difficulty, such as replacing Goombas with Buzzy Beetles.

Power-ups and Items

Mario and Luigi rely on power-ups concealed in brick blocks throughout the Mushroom Kingdom to defeat their enemies. These include:

In their quest against foes in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario, and Luigi rely on power-ups concealed within brick blocks. These power-ups include:

  • Magic Mushrooms: Causes Mario to double in size.
  • Fire Flower: Gives Mario the ability to shoot fireballs.
  • Super Star: Renders Mario temporarily invincible.
  • 1-Up Mushrooms: Provides Mario with an extra life.
  • Coins: Earn 100 to earn an additional life.

Each level progresses in a linear right-to-left fashion, so players cannot backtrack their steps. The landscape features different elements such as blocks, bricks, landmasses, scaffolding, pipes, clouds, and even the underwater environment at specific levels. Each level comes with hidden bonus areas, including warp pipes that let you skip levels.

Characters and Villains

As mentioned earlier, the goal of this game is for Mario to rescue Princess Toadstool, who was captured by Bowser, the turtle-like King of the Koopas. Here are the main characters in Super Mario Bros.:

  1. Mario: Mario is the central figure in the Mario franchise and the overall mascot of Nintendo. Mario can jump and use power-ups.
  2. Luigi: Luigi is Mario’s younger twin brother who harbors a sense of envy and admiration towards Mario.
  3. Princess Peach Toadstool: She is the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom in the Mario franchise. Typically portrayed as a damsel in distress, Peach often requires rescue by Mario.
  4. Bowser: Also known as King Koopa, he’s the King of the turtle-like Koopa race. He wants to dominate the Mushroom Kingdom, and he’s Mario’s arch-nemesis. His minions include:
  • Goombas: Walking mushroom creatures; the basic enemy that the player encounters in the first levels of the game.
  • Koopa Troopas: Bowser’s foot soldiers. They are killer turtles that retract in their shells when stomped on.
  • Koopa Paratroopas: Flying version of the Koopa Troopas.
  • Buzzy Beetles: Helmet-wearing beetles that are immune to fire attacks.
  • Hammer Bros: Hammer-throwing koopas. They have several variations that throw other projectiles, like the Fire Bro, Boomerang Bro, and Sledge Bro.
  • Lakitu: Cloud-riding turtles who toss their spiky pets
  • Spiny: A red, wall-crawling beetle that damages the player if touched from above.  
  • Piranha Plants: A leafy plant with sharp teeth that pop up from pipes.
  • Cheep-cheep: Circular, red fish that can jump or fly.
  • Bullet Bill: Giant bullets with angry eyes and clenched fists shot out of a cannon called Bill Blaster.
  • Blooper: Squids that chase after the player.
  • Podoboo: Fireballs that jump out of lava and can bounce off walls.

The succeeding installations in the Mario franchise include more characters, including Toad, Yoshi, and Princess Daisy, among others.

Legacy

a collection of Super Mario games

The success of Super Mario Bros. paved the way for many more Mario games in the Super Mario series, forming the heart of the broader Mario franchise. The franchise has spawned over 200 games of different genres and several sub-series, including Mario Kart, Mario Golf, Mario Party, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Mario Tennis, and Paper Mario. Other supporting characters in the Mario universe also had successful franchises of their own, such as Luigi, Wario, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong. Among the most notable sequels in the Mario franchise include:

  • Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988) – this sequel achieved comparable commercial success. It introduced unique gameplay mechanics, allowing players to choose between Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad.
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990) – widely regarded as one of the best video games of all time, this installment was by far the most expansive Super Mario game on the NES. It featured many levels, items, species, power-ups, and enemies.
  • Super Mario World (1990) – this sequel was the first to be released on the newer Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), which upgraded the game from 8-bit to 16-bit graphics.
  • Super Mario 64 (1996) – widely acclaimed as one of the greatest games ever, credited with revolutionizing the platforming genre as it transitioned from 2D to 3D.

The foundational gameplay concepts from Super Mario Bros. persist across nearly every entry in the Super Mario series, totaling over 15 titles released on nearly every Nintendo console. The series ranks among the best-selling, with over 310 million units sold worldwide as of September 2015.

Besides saving the video game industry after the 1983 market crash, Super Mario Bros. elevated Mario to a global cultural icon. Everybody knows Mario, and Koji Kondo’s iconic musical score – especially the overworld theme – has been a pop culture mainstay that is featured in nearly every Super Mario Game.

Because of its legendary status in the gaming industry and being an early Nintendo game, mint-condition copies of Super Mario Bros. are highly sought-after collector’s items. In 2019, a near-mint, sealed box version fetched over a whopping US$100,000 at auction! A year later, in July 2020, a similar near-mint sealed box copy set a record as the highest-priced single video game. Dating from Nintendo’s transition to shrinkwrap, the copy sold for US$114,000.

Mario has been the trademark of Nintendo, just like Mickey Mouse is to Disney. During Nintendo’s 25th anniversary in 2010, the company released special red variants of the Wii and Nintendo DSi XL consoles in limited edition bundles featuring Mario-themed packaging. For their 30th anniversary, Nintendo introduced Super Mario Maker, a Wii U game that enables players to craft custom platforming stages using assets from Super Mario games.

Super Mario Bros. was also credited as the inspiration for the highly successful 1991 Sega Genesis game Sonic the Hedgehog. Yuji Naka, a game developer for Sega, said the general idea for Sonic the Hedgehog came to him when he was playing Super Mario Bros. while trying to beat the first level as quickly as possible.

Conclusion

Super Mario Bros. is an iconic video game that has amused generations since the 1980s. It’s Nintendo’s flagship game that revived the gaming industry. So the next time you grab your Nintendo DS, Switch, or your old Game Boy, try to play a Mario game and relish its awesomeness. If you enjoy nostalgia, the New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS serves as a remake of the original NES classic.