Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Super Mario Bros

The first game I am going to examine is Super Mario Bros. I chose this game first because I know basically everyone, non-gamers and gamers alike, have at least a passing knowledge of it. Even people who do not own a video game console still recognize Mario and can maybe even hum the theme song.


Origin of Mario

Super Mario Bros. is not the first game to feature Mario. He notably appeared for the first time in the Donkey Kong arcade game. He was originally called "jumpman". His name changed to Mario when the Nintendo of America crew noticed that he looked similiar to their Italian landlord Mario Segali. Mario earned his trademark look from his primitive arcade graphical capabilites. Shigeru Miyamoto (creater of Mario) wanted to work around the blocky pixels in order to make a realistic looking human. Mario was given a mustach in order to outline the fact he had a nose, without the classic mustach his nose would look more like a pixelated tumour portruding from his face. He had overalls on so they could animate arm movements. If the character had one uniform colour for his clothes his arms would blend into the body. Finally Mario aquired the trademark hat because hair was too difficult (and most likely impossible) to animate. Rather than having a stiff looking block of brown on top of Mario's head to resemble hair, a hat was put on therefore removing that animation hurdle. Mario was born out of the need for attractive visual art on a primitive arcade cabinent. And it worked! Mario's look has basically remained unchanged since 1981.

Art Design of Super Mario Bros

Even though Super Mario Bros was on new techonology that seemed advanced at the time, the artistic direction was aware of its limitations. Many Nintendo games looked dated when seen today. But, Super Mario Bros played with the system's strengths and created a game that still is visually appealing today. I already discussed how Mario (and coincidently Luigi) used simplicity to create an icon, but nearly every character in the game looks just as polished as in 1985. The main enemies in the game were all simple and to the point. They all were small with easy to identify real world counter parts.

The levels were also very colourful. On top of that each level had a different colour scheme from the last. Most games at the time had one singular art direction throughout the game. Super Mario Bros though, changed the way the game looked in each level and only recycling backrounds a quarter of the time.

Level 1-1. The intro level. It's basic and has an easy design. The colors are brighter and more cheerful.

Level 1-2. The first underground level. It immediately changes the tone of the game. It goes from bright and cheerful to dark and mysterious.

Level 2-2. The first water level. These levels remove Mario's basic gameplay, jumping. It changes the way you play the game.

Bowser's castle levels are some of the most difficult in the game. The game changes from shades of blue, green and brown as its main colors, to red, black, and grey.

A new level of interaction

Items were hidden all over the place, and Mario Bros was one of the first games that seemed linear but encouraged exploration. All the hidden secrets in the game led to the players immersion in the game. It was easy to get lost in Mushroom Kingdom when you had more to explore and discover then in most other games. The level design also made the world seem more alive. A game that just has simple left to right orientation seems limited as if there is nothing but a void above and below. Super Mario broke this trend by offering players the ability to go underground via pipes, climb bean stalks and run around on the clouds, and even use warp pipes to skip entire sections of the game. It may seem like nothing now but everything mentioned was groundbreaking at the time.

Super Mario had another thing that very few games had at the time, physics. The physics didn't match the real world but there was still a fluidity to the movements in the game. Mario didnt just jump straight up and down he had momentum. His walk also could smoothy turn into a run. Turtle shells could be kicked and bounce around the level. It was simple and intuitive. Mario and his surroundings reacted the way we expected them to. Before this it was normal for jumping in games to feel stiff and out of control. Now the original Super Mario Bros stands the test of time in its playablity, and some current games do not even control as well. This game set the bar in control and it has stayed there since.

The music we now all know

Finally I have to mention the music. Most early games had one song that usually played through the entire game. Super Mario Bros had many songs, one to go with each sub-level. This technique was not unheard of but Super Mario Bros had some of the best composed music at the time.


The game starts with the tune we all know, an upbeat bouncy beat that goes with the rythym of the player. The coins you collect and the blocks you break add to the overall score. That first song is welcoming and fun.


Next Mario goes underground, the song changes drastically. It is now lower and has kind of an echo to it. It fits perfectly with the underground levels since the music sounds a bit more cautious and overall darker.


Then we have the water levels. This song returns back to the fun that the original tune had but is a bit slower and the notes flow together. This song is perfect for swimming. It sounds aquatic and the music progresses as slowly as you move through the water.


Bowser's castle music is almost a 180 from the previous songs. The beat is very fast and almost frightening. it is a bit more action oriented then the other songs. It lets the player know the climax of the level is here. The music also goes with the sounds of fire in the level. When bowser is blowing his fireballs at you they time perfectly with the music.


The last song(s) is/are not level specific at all. It is the quick pace the music picks up when the players time is running out. I explained this effect in my first post, but I will reiterate it. The music changes from fun and welcoming into a panic. Nothing makes the situation more tense and nerve racking then hearing the "times almost up" tune.

Super Mario Bros is one of the earliest representations of video games as an art form. Games before it were more about high scores and competition. Super Mario Bros was a labour of love and was created as an experience above being just a game. Never before was there a game that had such a unique look, sound, and interactivity to it. Sure the story line was simple but it was the point. The cliched plot of "save the princess from the monster" only helps it entrench itself into the fantasy realm. There may have been side-scrolling adventure before this game but it was Super Mario Bros who prefected the genre. Every game in this genre uses Super Mario as a blue print. You can even see the influence this game has today.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog! Super Mario Bros was a great game. I can't recall how many times I went back to it over and over. Im with you and support games as art.

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