Thursday, March 14, 2013

Super Mario Bros. (NES) Review

Rough Draft: March 3rd-12th, 2013 / Written: March 12th-14th, 2013
Year: 1985 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

Disclaimer: Spoilers (for the few who haven't played this game)
And so, a legend is born!
Almost three years of talking about video games in my blog, and I haven't once reviewed a Mario video game?  =/  That is just wrong; I should rectify that right away!  Pretty much everyone should be familiar with the events that eventually led up to this game's release.  But for the few that are not in the know, it went something like this: an unfortunate series of events led to the infamous Video Game Crash of 1983, which gravely impacted video games and consoles of the time for the next two years.  Video games were on the verge of being passé and less viable until a pack-in title with a new console arrived on the scene late in '85.  The console was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and the video game that came along with it was Super Mario Bros.

Hopping on mushroom-tops!
Prior to this game a few others that had the likable main character were around, from the 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game where he was known as "Jumpman", to its 1982 arcade successor Donkey Kong Junior where Mario would serve his only role as villain, to the original Mario Bros. arcade game in 1983 which both revealed his profession as a plumber and introduced us to his brother Luigi, and forevermore giving the titular character the name he would always be known as: Mario!  Eventually the Big N decided to create something new and big with Mario in it, so what better time to do it than at console launch?  This was inevitably a big moment at the time, and clearly it was a big chance they were taking.  But when it got released, it was a huge hit and not only did it help revolutionize the platformer genre as we know it, but it also helped to end the Crash.  =)  And now, over a quarter of a century later, gamers still fondly look back on and enjoy this game.  Let's go on an adventure to discover the importance of this sidescrolling platformer!  *cues the Map Room/Dawn theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark*

I hope you like this message, because you'll
be seeing it a lot!  XD
The plot, like most games at the time, is pretty simple and straightforward.  Her Highness Princess Toadstool (anyone ever wonder who the King and Queen are?) has just been kidnapped from the Mushroom Kingdom by Bowser, King of the Koopas, because... he's evil?  He's been snubbed by Mushroom royalty in the past?  He's got the hots for her?  I don't know, Bowser's real light in terms of motivation.  *shrugs*  News of her kidnapping spread around the locale, and the short Italian plumber Mario decides it is his duty to save her.  If you take into consideration the year this game came out, it's actually not a bad plot.  Maybe not an entirely new premise, but there's lots of creativity in here.  As I said before, trying to save Princess Toadstool is a pretty decent plot....  That is...
...until Nintendo decided to abuse this plot in minor and major intervals in the game series, making the plot point tired and overdone.  I mean, doesn't she get tired of getting kidnapped all the damn time??  But despite all this, the Mario games are (for the most part) a very enjoyable and entertaining series of games.  =)

Thus has come the inevitable battle with Mario
against Bowser... or so it seems!  =<
Super Mario Bros. is a sidescrolling platformer where you star as the titular character Mario (or Luigi if you play as him with the second controller).  One button makes you jump (A), and how light or hard you push it determines how high or low you jump; and holding down the other button (B) while moving towards either the left or the right will allow you to dash.  You can also duck down to avoid certain obstacles when the time arises.  Any time you start a game or after you lost a life, you begin as little Mario, who can only bop his head on "?" blocks (whether they are visible or when they are disguised as brick blocks, which cannot regularly be broken as little Mario); however, you can bop your head on any block if an enemy is on top of it, rendering them defeated a la 1983 Mario Bros.

Sometimes if you hit your head on a "?" block a mushroom will pop out, but you must get to it before it crawls away... which brings up so many questions considering there are mushroom characters (Toads) to save too, but never mind; once you grab the mushroom you'll become big Mario, who can now break through bricked blocks.  If you're big Mario the next power-up you'll come across is a fireflower, which will enable you to throw flames towards your foes with the B button, thus turning you to Fire Mario!  =D  If you hold down the B button before you move during this, you can fire at your enemies while running simultaneously.  A few blocks might have a star jump out, which will bounce up and down until it's either acquired or lost; once you grab the star you'll be Star Mario, who will become invincible for several seconds.  You can jump on top of most enemies, and this was the first game to utilize the concept of earning a life should you collect a hundred items (in this case, coins), which would inspire a lot of games outside the Mario series to mimic it and put their own spin on it.  At the end of each world you must face off against Bowser.

Cheep-Cheep attack!!!  =O
This game came out during the early years of Nintendo's 8-bit generation, and as blocky and aged as they may be now by today's standards, the visuals still hold up in their own way.  The animations are decent and fun to watch, even if you are reduced to just a few frames, like the animation where Mario runs or the animation of a Paratroopa's wings flapping, or the simple one-frame take of a stomped-on Goomba, even the shimmer of the gold coins.  When you play as little Mario he looks like a small child; a small, mustachioed, child, but after he consumes a mushroom he becomes three times tall (in a red and brown combo prior to obtaining the Fire Flower, in which he's got a brighter tan/red combo).  While I'm at it I'd like to discuss about the enemies: each of them have got a discernible and unique design, and while they might be palette swapped every once in awhile, they still look cool, and it amazes me how much they have evolved throughout the years design-wise.  There's the Goombas, the Koopa Troopas, the Paratroopas, the Cheep-Cheeps, the Bloopers, the Bullet Bills, the Lakitus, the Spinies, the Buzzy Beetles, the annoying Hammer Brothers, and of course the main baddy in the game himself, Bowser!  Any time a star lands on Mario he becomes a living rainbow, with colors coming and going for a short bit.

Lakitu, only Koopa to fly on a cloud
The visuals for each stage and background look particularly good, with a hint of freshness and variety despite the basic look.  For the most part you'll see a bright sky with clouds, grass, hills, bricks, pipes, and more.  Some stages might take place right on top of treetops or giant mushroom-tops, some might be occurring underground or you might even have to swim underwater at times.  What's neat is how from time to time the game might take place at night as opposed to day, and some areas may take place in a snowy setting.  In the fourth and final stage of each world (there are eight in total) you find yourself in Bowser's castle or fortress, where for the most part it's all dark and gray, save for the lava and fireballs that you might have to dodge.  Honestly, I like the colors Nintendo chose for this game, as I feel they do a job well-done representing the game.

Say, if Mario can breathe underwater
indefinitely in his 2D games, they why does he
need bubbles to breathe in his 3D games?  =/
Composed by famed Koji Kondo, I think he has made good use of the 8-bit sound chip, creating one of the most popular and well-known video game soundtracks for many generations to come.  And the songs are pretty good too, like the famous Mario theme which has a fun and catchy beat.  The underwater theme is slow and relaxing, the underground theme is short but cool, the invincibility theme is brief but energetic, and Bowser's theme sounds both ominous and dark.  The short fanfare that plays whenever Bowser's been ousted is reassuring and positive, and the short ending song is playful yet rewarding.  The game's  sound effects are also memorable, from the bling sound you hear any time you grab a coin, the sound that plays when you climb down a pipe, especially the jump sound, among others.

In bonus rooms such as these there are lots
of coins to collect
Well I've talked about everything else for this game, but how does the challenge value hold up after all these years?  Honestly, incredibly well!  While the first Super Mario Bros. isn't exactly a hard game (for the most part), it has got what I feel to have a very fleshed-out difficulty and tons of variety in terms of what challenges await you.  I'm not certain where to begin, but I may as well.  The goal of the first to third stages in each world is to reach the flapole all the way to the far right so you can move on to the next one, and in the fourth stage of each world you must eliminate Bowser once again to the far right so you can enter the subsequent stage.  What's quite notable is how every stage offers a new and unique challenge, as well as introduce a new enemy for you to face (e.g. you'll be seeing Cheep-Cheeps and Bloopers for the first time in Stage 2-2, and you'll be putting up with Lakitu every few stages from Stage 4-1 onward).  A few stages are even reused, except this time there are some added obstacles to make it slightly harder; that is clever.  When it comes to battling Bowser, or a lackey disguised as him... just roll with it; you have either one of two options: A) shoot some fireballs at him enough times until he falls down (but only if you are Fire Mario), or B) you can take the easy route and grab the axe positioned in the right end so you can cut off the bridge, thereby forcing him down to fall into the lava.  A lot of the times you may wind up shooting for method B (regardless of whether you have a choice or not), but if you're fortunate enough to reach him as Fire Mario, then so long as you avoid his fire breath (or hammers) then method A will be a surefire way to take him down.  ...no pun intended.  =|

There's a steady challenge flow the longer you progress in the game, and it is very manageable; the only stages you may have real trouble with, like I do, are the final two stages, 8-3 and 8-4.  What's frustrating to me about 8-3 is how there are a lot of Hammer Brothers, who are so annoying and you have to time your movements just right otherwise they may either jump down on you or hit you with their hammer(s) (and believe me, that has happened one time too many), especially when you're little Mario.  Stage 8-4 requires that you take a sequence of pipes, and picking the right one will ensure that you're on the right track; and those paths are simple enough to follow if you're careful.  Here's what gets to me about this stage: near the end is a lone Hammer Brother guarding the way, and you have to get past him.  If he jumps then you know you have to run past him, but be sure neither it nor its hammers hit you, otherwise it's bad news for you.  =(

Mario has found himself in coin heaven
Is Super Mario Bros. a perfect game?  No, but back when it came out it was it the game that everyone could only dream of before, and that's exactly what they got and a lot more.  As simple as the gameplay is, what really set the bar was the different ways that it would try to challenge you (i.e. in a couple of the Bowser stages, there are a few paths to choose from, and only by taking the correct route will you be progressing farther; take the wrong one, however, and you'll be forced to keep moving until you find the set of paths again and take the right one).  I think it's quite impressive, and above all, the first adventure starring Mario has really stood the test of time.  With the exception of the final two stages, it's a largely manageable game with decent enough challenge.  There are secrets here and there, and you can climb down some pipes to warp to more subsequent worlds, but if you want to hear my thoughts I think that doing a warpless run can be more rewarding in the long run.  There is a secret way to continue from the world you left off if you lost all your lives without starting from the beginning (and most of you should be aware of this secret), and from time to time there are invisible blocks that turn visible once you jump towards them (will require trial and error).  As hard as the last two stages are in terms of survival, they're not impossible and perseverance to the very end is key.

Duck!!  Incoming Bullet Bill approaching!
For the longest time Super Mario Bros. was one of the few Mario games (well, canon and mainstream anyway) that I played but never finished.  I beat it a few times in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color, but it doesn't exactly count seeing as it's a port (and a heavily cropped up one at that); I wanted a chance to try to beat the game in its original format, outside the GBC.  Stage 8-3 and 8-4 were so difficult that it was getting to the point of being frustrating.  There was a moment that I thought, "All right, one more time and that's it!"  I was feeling compelled to play this game to the end, and I persevered to my very best.  There was a moment that I only had a few lives left where I was little Mario in the final stage, and I was worried that I was going to lose a life and start the stage over (I was very lucky).  To my surprise, I have evaded the Hammer Brother, defeated Bowser, and rescued Princess Toadstool.  I was so excited I just could not believe it!  =O  I beat the first Super Mario Bros. for the first time!  O_O  Holy crap, I actually beat this game!  =D  And it turns out that in 1985 Toadstool was a redhead; if you beat the game you get chance to see her for the first time and will be rewarded for your hard efforts with this screen.

Looks and sounds better, but it still plays
as solidly as the original  =)
I suppose I may as well share my thoughts on the SNES remake on Super Mario All-Stars (which was my introduction to Mario's first adventure when I was little, plus the compilation itself was also one of the first SNES games I ever played) as well, but in brief.  The visuals and sound were revamped and vastly improved upon.  The game is a lot colorful and beautiful this time around, with signicantly more detailed worlds replete with parallax scrolling and slightly updated character and enemy design and animation.  In the remake there is a new cutscene for when you save Princess Toadstool (and there are various animations occurring whenever you save any of the Toads), and you can save your progress in here as opposed to playing the game in one sitting.  Just as it looks pretty, so too does it sound beautiful.  The 16-bit remixes of the songs sound wonderful, and in some cases are more atmospheric and imposing; in my opinion, the added instrumentation adds a lot.  There are even a few songs exclusively made for this remake; now anytime you take on Bowser a menacing song will pop up, there is now music playing in the title screen, and when you're in a bonus room a cheerful and bright song will play in its stead.  It might just be me but the controls feel slightly different here and the Hammer Brothers seem more difficult to evade, but aside from those bit of differences it is still a very solid platformer.  =)

Thanks for the memories, Mario!  =')
While I'm a little more partial to the SNES version, I must admit that over the years I've grown more fondness and appreciation towards the NES classic.  While not as visually flashy or as better-sounding, there's something about the 8-bit original that feels timeless and remarkable.  Even with its many rereleases that have emerged over the years (including the heavily cropped up Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color that I mentioned earlier), it is still quite an incredible video game.  As a game on its own it works really well, but as a part of a series it's even better.  It truly amazes me how long this series has been around.  While I wouldn't go so far as to call it the best in the series (and trust me, there would be lots of competition in the following years to come) it does fall somewhere along "one of the best of" category.  Over the years the Mario series would be going through its series of ups (take your pick) and downs (*cough* live-action movie, *hack* animated shows, *cough* spin-off games not officially involved by Nintendo *cough*), but with Super Mario Bros. it was the beginning of something new, leaving a legacy that would go on for years that no one would ever forget.  I don't know what the state of video games today would be like if not for this game, but for all intents and purposes, I have unconditional love for it!  =)  God bless you, Super Mario Bros.!  *proudly salutes*
9.5/10
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  =)
P.S.: March 3rd, 2013 will be a day I remember, always!  =D
P.S. 2: This is the second video game I reviewed in one solid color after Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion.
P.S. 3: If you haven't played this game yet, then what are you waiting for???  Do it right now, you're missing out big time!!!
P.S. 4: I couldn't have chosen a better first Mario game to review!  =)  What game in the series shall I review next?
P.S. 5: Yes, I'm aware that there are borders on the left and right side of the screen.  A lot of NES games did that.  =(
P.S. 6: Yeah, I know everyone has been calling her Princess Peach since Yoshi's Safari came out, but I don't care, to me she'll always be Princess Toadstool.

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