The Average Pilgrimage - 1983: Mario Bros (NES)
The Average Pilgrimage is an adventure through time. I aim to play 1 game from each year chronologically from 1983 up until the present day to broaden my horizons in regards to the gaming world. Whilst doing so, I will share my opinions and experiences until I reach the current year. At which point I will reset and start again in 1983. In this article, I will get the ball rolling with Nintendo's Mario Bros.
Mario bros laid the foundations for one of the most successful and longest-running franchises in gaming history. Originally intended to be a spin title offff to Mario's fifirst outing, Donkey Kong, he has since gone on to rule the gaming world. This is why I decided to choose this game in particular for my 1983 choice, as I was curious to see where it all began.
To my surprise, the game doesn't follow suit to the other mainline Mario games. Intended as an arcade experience, Mario Bros is a single screen platformer as opposed to a side-scrolling adventure game. For the fifirst time, Mario is tasked with clearing the stage of various adversaries but not with a stomp, rather with a kick. To be specifific, you have to incapacitate them fifirst from below and then kick them whilst they're down. Brutal. At fifirst, this seemed a little bit annoying and unsatisfactory, but the more I played the more I realised that you can knock multiple enemies down and then destroy them in one fell swoop. When executed, this feels great and adds an extra layer of strategy and foreword thinking into the mix. This technique became pivotal to achieving high scores when harder and more complex enemies are thrown at our favourite plumber. Well... our only plumber... has any other game featured a plumber? As my skills increased, so too did my enjoyment of the game. I was admittedly a little underwhelmed at the beginning. I remember thinking "is this it?". But what's important is the thrill of seeking out a high score and having a clean run. This is the sort of aspect that I'm looking to evolve my appreciation for on this pilgrimage.
Mario Bros isn't too foreign to its successors. It established many of the tenets we still see in the modern entries. For his premiere appearance as fully credited Mario and not Jump Man, he looks wonderful. It's no surprise that he became such an icon as his design is simple yet endearing. I'll be the fifirst to admit that I'm in the minority in that I've never been a huge Mario fan. But, what I've always loved about his character design is that he's not your stereotypical action hero. He's just a stumpy little plumber man going about his business, not some maxed out beefcake.
The prototypes for Koopa Troopas, spinning coins, POW blocks, and green pipes are all present here, so too is Luigi. Who'd have thought that Luigi has been there since the very beginning? In fact, he's not only featured here but he's a playable character in the 2 player mode as well. It's fascinating to see what made the cut moving forward and subsequently became hallmarks of the franchise. I am happy the lobsters got ditched though because they caused me some serious problems.
In regards to the gameplay, it was overall fantastic. I found the movement to be a little cumbersome at fifirst but I slowly got used to it. Mario can sometimes feel as though he's sliding on ice, but upon reflflection, I actually grew to like his skidding deceleration as the animation looked good, for the time. The jumping can be a little inconsistent, especially considering that when standing still you can only jump directly above you with no ability to adjust the trajectory. It's much better to keep on the move and jump as you go. Aside from this and some imprecise hitboxes, the gameplay is smooth and satisfying. I only wish that it had offffered difffferent levels aside from pallet swap though as apart from trying to beat your high score it can get a little stale. Some bonus levels are sprinkled in throughout but it's just not enough to vary the gameplay up significantly.
No story of any kind is to be found here, but there seldom ever was on arcade games. From what I can gather though it does take place in a sewer, hence the pipes. My headcanon was that Mario has fallen down a manhole and has to fend for his life, buying himself time whilst Luigi looks for him. A much better motivation than saving some damsel in distress if you ask me. Whether or not it takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom though is anyone's guess. I digress, what matters is that the stage looks aesthetically pleasing and offers a fun arena in which to play, which it does.
The music and sound effffects are primitive but serviceable. Mozart's 1st movement plays at the begging of your run but apart from that, you'll mostly hear Mario's scampering footsteps and his jump. I did notice that his footsteps are quite musical so it never becomes annoying. This is one area that had a huge overhaul in Super Mario Brothers, which I might play for 1985's year. The music and sound effffects featured in that title are nothing short of legendary. But like I said they're serviceable in this one.
In conclusion, I had a blast with Mario Bros even if I wasn't very good at it. I managed to wrack up a measly high score of 76,930 after a few hours on it, but it's the taking part that counts... or so I've been told. It's always good science to see a famous franchise's roots, and after having put the most hours into the next instalment than any other entry, it truly was enthralling to see its predecessor. Apart from a few annoyances here and there and a lack of variation in the stages, this was a stellar start to my Pilgrimage. I can only imagine what it was like playing it back in 1983, I wonder if people had any idea of the impact it would have on gaming and humanities culture.
Written by: Joe Wilcock