So I contemplated which games I’d choose to write about for some time, bouncing between a few ideas but I struggled a little of how I’d tie three random games together – so I thought it’d be best to talk about one series of games, and one that’s been on the go for quite some time. And by this I meant over console generations and as many years as possible. I thought this’d give a better talking point.

But even then I wasn’t totally sure on which series to talk about. My original thought was Zelda, then I moved onto another series I love – Metal Gear, then I thought about maybe Castlevania, but I eventually decided on a series that I’ve literally grown up with and loved for what seems like forever: Super Mario Bros. 


NES. 1986

Crammed onto a 40KB cartridge, (which is less data than the average letter is written in MS Word), the game revolves around you taking control of Mario and guiding him through 16 progressively difficult levels to rescue Princess Toadstool from the clutches of Bowser. Along the way you’ll collect power-ups and coins, 100 of which will earn you an extra life. Levels are split up into three areas; above land, underground, and underwater. There’s a variety of hazards to encounter, defeat and avoid along the way from enemies to bottomless pits that’ll rob you of those precious lives you’ve earned.

Largely influenced by the limitations of the system and technology of the time, Super Mario Bros. features simplistic artwork with repeatable patterns scattered throughout – its well known that the pixel bushes were repainted and used as clouds while the walking animation of the Goomba’s is one sprite continually flipped to save memory.

Super_Mario_Bros._-_NES_-_Level_1-1That said, there’s a ridiculous amount of content scattered throughout the game in the form of hidden power-ups or coins to collect. These are in the form of warp pipes, some of which allow the player to go down into bonus areas, certain brick blocks that can be hit for bonuses and even bonus blocks that are invisible, only showing themselves when the player makes a jump in the right position.

Level design is so tightly crammed together that after the first two introductory levels, the game begins to challenge your skills by throwing more enemies at you with different abilities and bigger, more dangerous jumps to make. It never seems unfair though and its been designed to not only tempt you to carry on, but putting that platform or route within touching distance if you fail. Additionally the technology of the time dictated these rules too. There just wasn’t enough space on those early cartridges to allow pandering, the stretching out of tutorials or even hand holding. It was you and your objective. Its as simple as that. If you made it great, if you didn’t then you had to try again. Designers couldn’t afford, nor rarely had the luxury to stretch ideas out or introduce things slowly hence why the levels are compact, tight and challenging.

Its mechanics can be explained and understood by anyone of any age. What it introduces in level 1-1 is still the same in its final level. It doesn’t stray from that formula, it stays with it throughout and builds upon it through its level design.

This video explains much better the point I’m trying to get across.

From 1:27 – 3:20.

I can’t really feel like I can critique the game too much or find faults with it. Most of what I would call a ‘fault’ or critique against it would be purely down to the massive technical limitations of the NES and what the designers could only do with it.

Have different sprites for the clouds maybe so they weren’t identical to the bushes? More varied colours thoughout the game?


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