Not a lot came out this week to draw inspiration from, so it’s time to do the Fascinating Facts thing with a game I know people will always be interested in no matter what week it is — Super Mario Bros.
Do I really need to explain what Super Mario Bros. is? It was the most popular game of all time for over 20-years (until Nintendo topped themselves with Wii Sports). The game inspired literally hundreds of imitators, and nearly every aspect of it, from its music, to its backgrounds, enemies and items have become iconic cultural symbols. Here are a few things you might not know about the game that changed the world…
1) Super Mario Bros. was supposed to be Nintendo’s grand farewell to the NES. Wait, what? Wasn’t Super Mario Bros. the first major NES game? Well, it was in North America. Nintendo’s Japanese 8-bit system, the Famicom, came out nearly two-and-a-half years before the American NES and by the time SMB came along, Nintendo was already planning to replace it with the Famicom Disk System, an upgraded Famicom that read games off rewritable floppy disks. America never got the Disk System, as Nintendo of America opted to stick with cartridges (most of the later, more advanced NES games like Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania were Famicom Disk System games in Japan).
So, basically the impetus behind the creation of Super Mario Bros. was to make one last epic game for the cartridge-based Famicom before Nintendo tossed it on the scrap heap in favor of the Famicom Disk System. Ironically the game that was supposed to be the Famicom’s send-off became the title that launched the NES’ successful run in America.
How the addiction began…
2) Jackie Chan indirectly influenced the game. Shigeru Miyamoto has mentioned numerous times that the game Kung-Fu was a major source of inspiration for Super Mario Bros. Arcade developer Irem created the original game, but Nintendo itself developed the NES port of Kung-Fu, a project Miyamoto and his team were deeply involved in. Kung-Fu’s smooth scrolling and bright colorful backgrounds set it apart from most games at the time, and got Miyamoto thinking about creating his own scrolling action game with colorful graphics.
Now, here’s where the Jackie Chan connection comes in. In America Kung-Fu just starred some random dork named Thomas, but in Japan it was actually a licensed game based on the Jackie Chan movie Spartan X (more commonly known in America as Wheels on Meals). So gaming’s most agile, jump-happy star was indirectly inspired by action movies’ most agile, jump-happy star. Appropriate really.
Mario needs to start punching more dudes in the face.
3) Super Mario Bros. didn’t star Mario initially. In 1985 Mario was a popular character, but he wasn’t Nintendo’s be-all, end-all yet. All Miyamoto and his team knew early on was that they wanted to make a big, scrolling action game, so initially they used a filler character…a blank square 16 pixels wide by 32 pixels high. Yup, Super Mario Bros. originally starred a featureless box.
Eventually SMB co-director Takashi Tezuka looked up the sales of the NES version of Mario Bros. (you know, the arcade game where you punch crabs) and found that, while it wasn’t a huge initial hit, it continued to sell solidly long after it was released. Based on this Tezuka suggested to Miyamoto that maybe Mario could replace the 16×32 square and Miyamoto was all, “Eh, sure, I guess that’s an improvement” and the rest was history.
4) Mario was originally going to ride a rocket and carry guns. Turns out our genteel moustachioed hero was originally going to be a bit more of a badass. It took a while for Nintendo to nail down chasm jumping and turtle crushing as the core tenants of Super Mario Bros. — initially the game was more of a straight-up action game, with Mario wielding a beam gun and a rifle. Also, the game was to be split evenly between on-foot stages and shooter stages in which Mario rides a rocket or cloud.
An early design document featuring cloud riding Mario.
5) You originally pushed up to jump. This early shootery Mario also had completely borked controls — of course in the final SMB you use A to jump and B to run and throw fireballs. That’s how all proper 2D platformers or action games work. Games that assign jumping to the B button just don’t feel right, and don’t even get me started on games where you jump by pressing up on the d-pad. Ugh.
Well, brace yourself dear readers, because Mario’s original control scheme was a horror show. In early versions of the game you jumped by pressing up, ran with B and attacked with A. Shudder — I don’t even want to think of a world where that became the standard control scheme for 2D games.
Mario’s original appalling control scheme.
6) Super Mario Bros. borrows elements from The Legend of Zelda. Huh? Didn’t Zelda come out years after Mario? How could Super Mario Bros. have borrowed anything from Zelda? Well, the Japanese versions of SMB and The Legend of Zelda hit stores only five months apart, and were, in fact, developed in tandem throughout most of 1985. Yes, Shigeru Miyamoto designed and directed Super Mario and Zelda at the same time.That would be like if Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel with one hand and chiselled David with the other, or if Francis Ford Coppola directed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now at the same time. If you want to know why Miyamoto is a legend, look no further than this fact.
The Legend of Zelda actually started to gel sometime before Super Mario Bros. Back when SMB still starred a featureless square, Zelda already had a lot of its elements in place, and some of these elements would sneak into Mario’s game. For instance, the iconic firebars encountered in all of Bowser’s castles were actually created for The Legend of Zelda and later appropriated for SMB.
Thanks a lot Zelda.
7) There was a version of Super Mario Bros. released on a non-Nintendo system. Mario has moonlighted on non-Nintendo systems a couple times in obscure educational games, but there’s no way a Mario platformer ever appeared on a non-Nintendo system, right? Well, actually, there was a rather strange semi-sequel to SMB released for NEC and Sharp computers in Japan. The game, developed by Hudson Soft, was called Super Mario Bros. Special and retained the look of the NES SMB and some of the level layouts, but was mostly a completely original game. Unfortunately Super Mario Bros. Special had weird physics and lacked the smooth scrolling of Nintendo’s original game, so it’s really more of an oddity than a lost gem.
8) The Warp Zones exist because of Excitebike. In Excitebike (Miyamoto’s last game before getting to work on Mario and Zelda) you’re free to choose any one of the game’s three courses right from the start. Want to start with the hardest track? Go right ahead. Miyamoto liked this dynamic and wanted to bring it to Super Mario Bros., but was afraid everyone would start right at level 8 without learning how to play the game on earlier, easier levels. The Warp Zones were the solution to this, giving players an easy route to the end of the game, but not before they learn the ropes in Worlds 1-1 and 1-2.
9) Japan got a different version of the Minus World. Okay, I’m not even including Minus World as a fact on this list, because come on, everyone knows about Minus World. For the few of you who don’t know about the most famous glitch in gaming history, you can pass through a wall at the end of World 1-2 and get to the first Warp Zone via a method the game didn’t intend. Enter the far left pipe and you’ll enter World -1, an infinitely looping underwater stage.
Now, here’s where things get even weirder — in Japan SMB was remade for the Famicom Disk System. In this version of the game, Minus World still exists, but it’s completely different than the one in the cartridge version of SMB. The Disk System version is very much like World 1-3 (the level with the big mushroom platforms) except you can swim through the air as multiple Princess Toadstools and a slightly terrifying headless Bowser float around. Most interesting of all, you can actually finish this version of the Minus Word, leading to World -2 and World -3. Finish World -3 and you’ll be taken back to the title screen with Hard Mode unlocked, a reward you usually have to beat the game to earn. Were these new Minus Worlds a case of Nintendo taking a glitch and turning it into an Easter egg? It certainly seems like it.
10) Minus World isn’t the game’s only secret world. You can actually access 256 more, but only if you also own a copy of Tennis. Now, warning, doing this could hurt your system, but hey, you can get a replacement NES for five bucks at any flea market these days, so I’m not too worried about passing on this trick.
First off, this will only work on the mini top-loading NES Nintendo released in the early 90s. Put your Mario cartridge in, then take it out with the system still on. Put the Tennis cart in, then reset. Serve once, run around for a bit, and then take Tennis out with the system still on and put Mario back in. Reset Mario, then press A and start together and you’ll start on one of the 256 glitched out “secret levels”. There’s actually a logic to why this happens, but I’ll let the guys at GameTrailers explain it for me…
11) The Mario sprite on the game’s box art is actually from Donkey Kong. Also, it’s pretty clear Mario is about to run face-first into a wall, fall in lava and die horribly.
12) Super Mario Bros. is stored on a 256-kilobit cartridge. Note I said kilobit — 256 kilobits translates to 32 kilobytes. To put that in perspective, it would take around three Super Mario Bros. cartridges to store the single JPEG screenshot of the game you see below.
13) The bushes and clouds are the same sprite. The makers of Super Mario Bros. were pretty into recycling — not only are the clouds and bushes the same sprite, but the big castle that proceeds Bowser levels is just cobbled together from multiple small castles.
14) The sound of getting hit and going down a pipe are also the same. Yeah, I know, the sound Mario makes when he gets hit and when he goes down a pipe are totally different! Well, that’s just your brain playing tricks on you — they’re actually the exact same sound effect. Weird.