Nintendo's most iconic mascot celebrates his 35th anniversary this year which is a milestone that few gaming heroes have been able to reach so far. Earlier this month, I revisited the Italian plumber's past by playing through Super Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy as part of the 3D All-Stars Collection, and it caused me to reflect on the original trilogy of titles that helped to establish his legacy. The original three Super Mario Bros. titles are among the finest on the NES and have aged spectacularly well even looking back over three decades later.
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
I dread to think what the gaming industry would have been like if it wasn't for Super Mario Bros. arriving just on the back of the video game crash of 1983. Just when it looked like gaming was just another trend on its way out, Mario hopped in with one of the most charming and accessible adventures that the industry had seen to date. This really stood head and shoulders above what was available for the NES at release, and it's one that Nintendo is still celebrating today (it recently released as Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros).
It is pretty strange to think that this one release pretty much laid groundwork for the next 35 years, as it did so much right off the mark. Sure, entries like Galaxy and Odyssey have revolutionised the franchise since, but right from the get-go it established everything that makes this particular collection of games so special. The typical Bowser captures the princess plot is present, as are iconic powerups, such as the Fire Flower and the Super Mushrooms. The Overworld and Underworld themes that debuted here are still being recycled within modern day entries too and stand out as being some of the most instantly recognisable melodies in all of gaming.
Sadly, due to my first console being the PS1, I missed out on this platforming gem and wasn't able to dive in until many years later. At this point I had played the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and World on the GBA and found it to be a little lacking compared to what subsequent entries were able to offer. There's no world map, castle fights with Bowser are pretty much the same, and it's easily the ugliest entry within the entire mainline series. That said, upon reflection, I have come to hold a great deal of respect for this first outing and it's one that I occasionally return to through the Nintendo Online service.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)
Many are probably familiar with the confusing history behind Super Mario Bros.2, but for those who aren't up to speed, here's a quick recap. Fearing the sequel they had created may be too challenging for Western audiences, the developers instead opted to reskin another game known as Doki Doki Panic and release it as a replacement. The sequel that Japanese players received was later released as 'The Lost Levels' within the Super Mario All-Stars Collection on the SNES.
It has found its audience with some fans, but I have always found Super Mario Bros.2 to stick out like a sore thumb compared to its other NES brethren. Instead of running left to right and smushing Goombas and Koopa Troopas, Mario now has a much more vertical plain of movement and can only attack through throwing items such as turnips. Despite being jarringly different, it is still an enjoyable game by its own merits and was even able to introduce some ideas that still remain within the Mario franchise to date.
Something refreshing that Mario 2 did was enable players to choose between either Toad, Princess Toadstool, Mario, or Luigi before a stage and each of these handled on their own different ways. Toad, for example, has excellent speed but a poor jump height, and Luigi has a crazy high jump but only has mediocre stats when it comes to power and speed. The sequel also introduced Shy Guys, Pokeys, and Bob-ombs, which are recurring threats even today.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
With the third entry Miyamoto and co were able to get their act together and made a sequel that existed as both the same game within Japan and the rest of the world. Unlike Super Mario Bros. 2, the third entry looked to build upon the foundation of the original and is often regarded by fans as the finest Mario entry within the NES catalogue. It helped to elevate Mario's pop culture status even further as it was the focus of a 1989 movie known as The Wizard and went on to be the third best selling NES game selling over 17 million copies.
Personally Super Mario Bros. 3 is my favourite 2D Mario title to date. As a late release for the console, it was able to utilise the hardware's full potential to deliver more vivid and vibrantly colorful visuals, and its stages featured more original and creative concepts. One of favourite stages sees you cross the desert as an angry sun swoops in to scorch you and another sees you make your way off to the right on the back of Para-Beetles. It added a level select system that allowed you to freely return to previous levels, and mini-games to help break up the flow of intense platforming.
Mario's iconic Tanooki Suit and the Hammer Suit made their debut here as did returning enemies, such as the Angry Sun, Dry Bones, and Thwomps. Here we were also introduced to Bowser's Minions The Koopalings for the first time and these offered fresh boss encounters within each world. Instead of having to dash and knock Bowser in the lava within each castle, a new Koopaling would take you on and have their own patterns of movement and attacks for you to learn and exploit. All in all, its an excellent platformer that shouldn't be missed.
If you haven't already, I would highly recommend you check these classics out, especially as they are available right now on the Nintendo Online service in their original forms and remade as part of the Super Mario All-Stars Collection for the SNES.
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