Super Mario Brothers has a whimsicality to it now that has gone beyond the reverence much of the gaming community has for the title and embedded itself within the greater human conscience of popular culture the world over. Show almost anyone a picture of a mustached, red-overall wearing plumber and not more than a few moments will go by before they recognize him as Mario, the intrepid hero ever called upon by the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Peach and the her loyal Toadstool populace. So, it should come as little surprise that growing up, the first game I ever had my hands on was Super Mario Brothers in the now-classically vintage front-loading Nintendo Entertainment System that still sits quietly stored to this day.
Born in the same year that Mario, and to a lesser extent his brother Luigi, began their up-and-coming rise to stardom as they left behind myriad roles such as facing off against Donkey Kong as the simplicity of the original Mario Bros. title, it has been fascinating to watch the series, video games as a medium and myself grow as time has gone on. After all, by the time I was able to grip a controller in my hands with some degree of dexterity, Super Mario Bros. had been being played for roughly 3 years. Yet, it was the first game my dad ever incited me to play and, since then, he still wonders why I haven’t grown out of being a gamer to this day.
Frankly, I still don’t ever plan on telling him it’s his fault.
From the opening splash screen through the entirety of World 1-1, it is nothing short of an exploratory dream for a child. Being greeted into the Mushroom Kingdom by the iconic music and encountering the first “?” block, mushroom power-up and Goomba all within the span of a few moments seems so simplistic now, given what gamers are expected to digest within the opening of a game. Back then though, it was an wide-eyed introduction into what the world of electronic video games held.
A satisfying “Ding!” of acquiring a coin, growing bigger than Mario had been previous and the satisfying “squish” sound of mushing a Goomba underfoot was the reward for the inquisitive gamer who quickly learned their way around the diminutive “A” and “B” buttons sharing the face of the NES controller with the directional pad. Happening upon a warp pipe, it at first seems so static, blending into the sky blue background, white clouds and green bushes of the 8-bit background. But a hapless press of the down direction on the d-pad nets a sound previously unheard.
Quickly, Mario has descended to a deep blue underground, a fascinating change that is only the tip of the iceberg for what else could be seen in the inviting environment. Nabbing all the coins in a rapid fire set of “Dings!” again; I watch the number of cached currency climb quickly as I make my way to another warp portal. Pressing onwards, Mario ascends to the surface and is welcomed back by the bright atmosphere of the surface.
Attempting to go backwards is a pointless endeavor as the limited memory contained within the cartridge quickly accesses and deletes the area already behind the intrepid hero. Sadly, there is only one direction and that is forward. However, within that simple metaphor of a solitary direction, the seeds of additional playthroughs are sewn. What would I find if I stayed above ground, bearing witness to everything the surface of that simple level had to offer me? I’d have to find out another time, there was a Princess to be rescued and I wasn’t about to disappoint her.
Ascending a set of blocks similar in appearance to an 8-bit ziggurat, I climb to the top and without thinking twice jump as high as I can to clear the flag on the other side of a harmless gap. Hitting the top, I watch as a victorious tune plays over Mario’s descent from the flag. As he enters a castle, fireworks bloom over the ramparts. My mind dazzled, I waited as I he moved onward for our next set of obstacles.
As the game went on, I would see things, wondrous to my young mind. The Hammer Bros., vile equals of the Mario Bros. who packed an unforgiving long-range punch. Bullet Bill, set on his one path to stop Mario from ever reaching the Princess or Bowser. Flying fish, which my dad and I affectionately referred to as “Flying Chi-chis”, to this day the name has invariably stuck despite being corrected several times by a plethora of people. The enemies were as varied as the levels they inhabited, constantly encouraging an adaptive, yet inquisitive mind to overcome every last thing the game threw at you.
Reaching the final castle after an indeterminate amount of first introductions and impressions, which ended with me restarting amidst my frustration but always hungry for another round of play, I finally reached Bowser. Bowser, the big, bad reptile who wanted nothing more than the Princess for his very own. Not on my watch.
Despite failing miserably the first time I reached him, I wasn’t deterred. I kept trying and trying until finally, it was all over. The determined, stubborn attitude would stick with me long after I had put Super Mario Bros. on the shelf where, nestled, it would slowly collect its own languishing layer of dust. But as I sat and watched my victory apparent, I knew it was short lived. In my youthful mind, Bowser was just waiting to kidnap the Princess again and I’d be there to answer that call of duty happily.
To this day, despite owning the cartridge for SMB, I’ll still open the game via an emulator or website and play a bit before getting back into the groove of my routine. Not because of nostalgia, but because of the true-to-word timelessness that the game and the franchise it helped established has cemented over the last decade and a half. It’s a testament to the popularity of Mario, Luigi and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom that the game is accessible in so many formats solely because it is a cornerstone of not just the video game community, but popular culture.