I’m pretty sure you already heard that music in your head before playing the audio file. It is burned into all our brains! The impact that Super Mario Bros has had on modern culture is astounding. And why shouldn’t it be? SMB defined the platformer genre and inspired generations of games. Although not the first platformer, it stands in history as the iconic grandfather of platformers and is the earliest memory I have from my childhood. Before I could even speak full sentences I was already defeating Bowser. Click “read more” to go down the pipe and take a look.
The last time we saw Nintendo, it was on the article for their 1983 arcade hit Mario Bros. Nintendo was continuing to enjoy their newfound success in the video game industry and was poised to take the console world by storm. SMB was originally conceived as a sequel to Mario Bros. and was meant to be the Nintendo Famicom’s swan song, since the Famicom Disk System was soon coming out. Funnily enough, the Disk System ended up being the shorter lived of the two. Thanks in part to the massive success of SMB, the Famicom lived on for well over a decade after its original release.
SMB wasn’t the first platformer, but it set the standard. Even today, every platformer owes some of its identity to SMB. The Famicom’s library was split into categories such as Athletic, Adventure, etc. This was one of the Action Series titles. Nintendo’s new mascot Mario left the single-screen arcade platformer to set out on a brand new adventure spanning 32 huge levels.
The sheer brilliance of SMB‘s game design is astounding. It’s easy to take it for granted because the game is so well known, but the designers put a ton of work into making the game as intuitive as possible. The levels are designed to guide and teach the player without needing to show a single word. Add to that a bunch of secrets (such as hidden blocks and warp zones), a catchy soundtrack, and iconic visuals, and you have an enormous success.
SMB was so successful that it actually revitalized the video game industry in North America. The US, as you may recall, was in the midst of the Video Game Crash of 1983. Although there were a few arcade and home computer successes, the industry by and large was comatose. It took some creative thinking and amazing games to revive it. Nintendo of America’s senior vice president Howard Lincoln (who previously defended Nintendo in their Donkey Kong lawsuit), along with Arakawa Minoru, the founder and president of NoA, came up with a plan to make video games palatable to the American market once again. Their plan was simple but effective:
- Change the name of the Famicom (abbreviation of ‘Family Computer’) to “Nintendo Entertainment System.” For marketing purposes, it couldn’t be a video game system–it had to be an entertainment system. The console was redesigned to feel like a VCR and look like a big, grey box of technology.
From happy and family friendly to “I’ll kick your butt,” the NES redesign made the console much larger so that it seemed powerful, mature, and not at all like a video game console. The simple top-loading cartridge slot was moved to the front and given a loading tray that made inserting a cartridge feel like inserting a VHS tape into a VCR. From the very first commercial, the NES was made to feel like an experience, journey into a world where you’re playing with power.
And indeed, within a year NoA adopted the tagline, “Now you’re playing with power!”
Welcome to the ’80s.
They used this tagline for several years, changing it to “portable power” for the Game Boy and “SUPER power” for the SNES. The additions such as R.O.B. and the NES zapper were just gimmicks for the most part. They were heavily advertised at the start so that the NES seemed versatile and not-a-video-game. The addition of R.O.B. was a huge help in inspiring confidence in retailers. Of course, Nintendo’s no-risk guarantees didn’t hurt. For their test run in New York City, Nintendo told retailers that they would pay Nintendo nothing up-front, and that Nintendo would handle all store setup and marketing costs, and would accept returns on any unsold units. Retailers agreed to these generous terms. An aggressive marketing campaign that included everything from demos in shopping malls, to telemarketing and a special Nintendo “swat team.”
By the time the NES was available nationwide the following December, R.O.B. and the light gun were no longer needed. A stripped-down version that included only the game deck and two controllers was available for purchase.
Next in the plan:
- The box art for every game had to feature actual graphics from the game. No more deceptive fanciful depictions; what you see is what you get.
When you looked at the box art for an Atari 2600 game, you would see this:
When you played the game, however, you would see this:
Understandably, customers were aggravated at the blatant deception. Obviously no one believed the game graphics actually looked like the box art, but when they were that different, it was a bit over the line. When you looked at NES box art, you saw these:
There were actual game sprites–embellished a little by the artist, but always within reason. The cover also displayed the Official Nintendo Seal so that the customer was certain it passed quality control. And as previously mentioned, the lower-left hand corner told you which category it belonged in so that you couldn’t accidentally buy a game in a genre you disliked.
With the exception of the Nintendo Seal, these rules applied only to first-party games. Third-party developers did pretty much whatever they wanted…
…but by then, the NES was already a hit with American consumers. And the biggest hit, of course, was Super Mario Bros. itself. SMB went on to sell over 40 Million copies, not including the various ports and the Virtual Console re-release. This made SMB the best-selling game of all time until finally being dethroned by Tetris.
Emulator: VirtuaNES .97