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.