Saturday, May 15, 2010

Super Mario Bros. ~View 2~ What Is This Game and How Does it Work?

So here's the plot from the game's instruction manual.

"One day the kingdom of the peaceful mushroom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horse-hair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin.

The only one who can undo the magic spell on the Mushroom Kingdom and return them to their normal selves is Princess Toadstool, the daughter of the Mushroom King. Unfortunately, she is presently in the hands of the great Koopa turtle king.

Mario, the hero of this story (maybe) hears about the Mushroom Peoples' plight and sets out on a quest to free the Mushroom Princess from the evil Koopa and restore the fallen kingdom of the Mushroom People. You are Mario! It's up to you save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!"

As someone who started out playing Mario games during the Nintendo 64 era, I have to say I find this description to be really...archaic? Morbid? DISTURBING?

What obviously sticks out is the whole "black magic" detail. I mean, what can I say about? It doesn't fit. In terms of Nintendo ganes, I could see them including elements of this in The Legend of Zelda or Fire Emblem...but Mario? It's too absurd to be believed. I suspect that this was probably added in by the game's localizers, as game storylines back then could be surprisingly blunt. "Famous for their black magic," my ass. They're walking turtles. They're famous for walking in patterns and being stepped on.

Also take note of the sarcastic "maybe" when the summary states Mario as the hero. What purpose does this have being there? Is it trying to imply he's a coward? The hell? Out of all the video game characters you could say this about, you'd do it to MARIO? I've grown up with the guy for twelve years, and there's really just no point in saying how lovable, radiant, and friendly the guy is. I mean, geeze, listen to the guy speak! Does he sound like a dogkicker to you? Who wrote this crap?!?

...actually, now that I think about it, I've heard that the Japanese use a different form of sarcasm then we do, and there's also the assertion that it doesn't exist at all. So I guess whoever penned this took too many liberties with the original summary. And has earned my eternal scorn. Another reason for me to pursue the understanding of the Japanese language. Mystery solved!

...I hope.

Finally, there's the use of terminology. This is is the only use of "Mushroom People" we ever see, as the race is eventually labelled "Toads". Interestingly, the princess had the name 'Peach' in Japanese from the beginning, but was changed to 'Toadstool' and kept the name until the release of Super Mario 64. On the flipside, Koopa keeps his name, but is eventually changed to 'Bowser' around...I think Super Mario Bros. 3?

I think it worked out for the best. I mean, man, just say "BOWSER!" to yourself. Doesn't it just sound so awesome?


I'd like to get on with the game itself, but I'd like to set that aside for a bit and make things a little more clear for our non-gamer readers.

Meet the controller for the NES.

It's really simple. In fact, it's probably the simplest controller ever made for a Nintendo console. And it works wonders for this game.

See that weird black thing on the left? That's the directional pad. That's how your character moves around, depending on the direction you're pressing in.

Take a gander at those two red buttons on the right. The A button is required here, as that's how Mario jumps around. The B button can make him run if you're pressing the directional pad to the right. The start button is just pausing the game.

Easy, right? On with the show.


So let's look at this here game.

Super Mario Bros. is a sidescrolling action game. The game works as a platforming action game in which as you move, the screen scrolls along with you and you have to jump past various obstacles in your path.

While I was searching for screenshots to use for the blog, I noticed how they all seemed to vary in terms of color. The gameplay looks the same, but they all seem to have varying colors, particular in the case of the sky which changes between shades of blue and purple. For the record, it's a bright blue. Even though 25 years have passed since the game came out, the game remains incredibly vibrant and colorful. This eye-popping element has become a welcome, familiar staple to every Mario game.

So when you take your first few steps, you come across this dude.

The Goomba is the basic foot soldier of Bowser's army. Defeating him is a snap. OBSERVE!

You jump directly onto him and squish him. Instant one hundred points. There's nothing quite like squishing a Goomba. Perhaps their feeble, yet noble attempts to stop our favorite plumber are why they've won the hearts of many.

So wait, what are those question mark block things? They're vital to every Mario game. If you jump into one and bop it, you usually get a coin. If you get one hundred of these, you get an extra life. Sweet! But sometimes, this happens.

A mushroom?

Yeah, a mushroom, and if you leave it idle...

It comes towards you. Come in contact with it, and....

You grow in size!


Already, Super Mario Bros. has more stuff going on then your average 80's arcade game. There were probably many gamers that made the mistake of running into the first Goomba and losing a life. What does this all mean to the player, especially that strange mushroom? And why is there a random green pipe in the way?

Recently, there was an interview regarding the Wii game New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and two of the participants were Nintendo of Japan's current CEO, Satoru Iwata, and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Super Mario Bros. and lord of all living things. There's an exchange between the two that deals with this subject:

"Iwata: But if you avoid the first Goomba and then jump and hit a block above you, a mushroom will spring out and you'll get a shock. But then you'll see that it's going to the right so you'll think: "I'm safe! Something strange appeared but I'm okay!" But of course when it goes against a pipe up ahead, the mushroom will come back! (laughs)

Miyamoto: Right! (laughs)

Iwata: At that point, even if you panic and try to jump out of the way, you'll hit the block above you. Then just at the instant where you accept that you're done for, Mario will suddenly shake and grow bigger! You might not really know what's just happened, but at the very least, you'll realize that you haven't lost the turn.

Miyamoto: But you'll wonder why Mario suddenly got larger.

Iwata: You'll try jumping and see that you can jump to higher places and smash through the ceiling, so it'll be clear that you've become more powerful.
Miyamoto: It's at that moment that you first realize that the mushroom is a good item.

Iwata: That's the reason why it's designed so that whatever you do, you'll get the mushroom.

Miyamoto: Of course it's because we wanted the player to realize that this item was different from a Goomba."

Another reason why I love Miyamoto so much. More on him later.


I don't really fit the category of gamer that they're speaking about, right? So as a gamer with many years of experience under his belt, how do I normally venture through this iconic level?

I begin by quickly dashing towards the first Goomba and stomp on him while simultaneously bopping the first question mark block and earn a coin, then I make quick work of the remaining blocks for more points and grab the mushroom. I leap over the Warp Pipes with ease and continue stomping Goombas in a rhythmic pattern. Leaping over a bottomless pit, I come across more of those Goombas marching to assault me from those floating bricks. Unbeknownst to them, this is their undoing. As they drop, they land on another set of blocks right above me, and that's when I get right to hitting the bricks from below and effectively knocking them off the stage. One of the blocks I hit produces a strange flower, and as I consume it, I become...

Fire Flower Mario! Random? Who cares! I'm blasting away baddies with fireballs!

As I'm mowing down the forces of Bowser, a lone Koopa Troopa approaches me. They look this.

Do you stomp on them? Well, yes, but it's a bit different from beating a Goomba. Once they're hit, they retreat back into their shell, but they'll pop back out if you leave them alone long enough.

So that's when you kick 'em!

Papink! The shell zooms off into the distance as I hit another block that launches a star. Grab this star and...
You turn invincible! Until it wears off, nothing can stop you!

The shell is a missile like no other, as it gives no mercy even to its comrades. The following Goombas are massacred as my point total begins to rocket. The shell hits a hill of blocks and ricochets back to me, but it can't match up to the star's power. I'm leaping over bricks and blazing through Goombas while I'm rushing to to the endzone. A towering mountain greets me, but I swiftly make my way up and make a great leap to the top of the flag pole.

Bwwwooooo! As the victory music plays, Mario heads into the little house and disappears.

It's never said what he's doing in there. Personally, I think he's gone-a-plumbin'.

What this post shows is just how astounding the game is in terms of versatility. Super Mario games that are in 2D always have linear maps, but just about every single stage has some different way of completing the level differently. When looking at the screenshots, did you notice those flying bricks near the top of the screen. I could, for example, not have kicked the Koopa shell and simply walk along the sky, feeling like the king of the world. Maybe I'm not really in the mood to use the star, either. Would I have nabbed less points? Yes, but who cares? It's fun! Did I also mention that you could use the Warp Pipes to travel underground and grab coins? Did I talk about the invisible blocks holding mushrooms that give you an extra life?

Super Mario Bros. isn't just rich in depth, it's full of secrets and little oddities that makes it stand out that makes you come back for more.

And it's for that very reason that it's sucked me completely into it's spell. Now I just want to spend all day playing it.

Next up: The Level Patterns

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