25 years on and still going strong, Super Mario still never fails to impress Steven Balbirnie
This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most definitive events in video gaming history: the release of Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Super Mario Bros is something of a phenomenon, not only because of its immense success (it was the best-selling video game in history until Wii Sports recently surpassed it in sales figures) but also due to the fact that the game, and its star, have become such an enduring part of mainstream culture. The character of Mario, and even his theme tune, can be recognised by people who’ve never even played a Mario game.
The game’s success is incredible when you consider the outlandish concept behind it. You play as an Italian-American plumber who, with the aid of his twin brother Luigi, must travel through the Mushroom Kingdom stomping on turtles and eating size-changing fungi, before confronting a giant, fire-breathing lizard to save a princess. Clearly, the game’s creator (Shigeru Miyamoto) is either a genius, insane or, most likely, both.
The plot may be surreal, but the game design is superb. Consisting of eight worlds, each game also contains four levels. The locations boast great diversity, with Mario having to brave his way through levels set amid the snow, the sky, dungeons, the underground and the sea.
Equally diverse is the variety of enemies populating these levels, ranging from hammer throwing turtles to smiley-faced giant bullets; all of which require different strategies to defeat.
To assist in this, Mario has several power-up items that he can use, including a mushroom that causes him to double in size, a flower that allows him to throw fireballs and a star that grants him temporary invincibility. This arsenal was greatly improved by Super Mario Bros 3, with the ingenious addition of the frog suit, tanooki suit and a giant clockwork boot.
The best thing about Super Mario Bros however, is that it is a genuinely challenging game, requiring precision platform jumping and quick reflexes for the player to succeed. To do well enough to receive a firework salute at the end of a level gives you a real sense of accomplishment.
Super Mario Bros is a brilliant game in its own right, but the true mark of its enduring popularity is how many sequels and spin-offs it has spawned.