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From Bits to Glory: A Retrospective on 2D Mario Games

The first ever print ad for the “Nintendo Entertainment System”

Super Mario. It’s a name that many people can easily recognize the second they hear it. A lot of people got their start with Mario with Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System. This was at a time where video games were definitely not as big as they were today, as the infamous Video Game Crash of 1983-1984 just happened prior to the game’s release. The market still reeked of buggy, unfinished products, such as the Atari 2600 versions of E.T. and Pac-Man. There wasn’t a single company who wanted anything to do with home video games anymore in the Americas. Until, in 1985, just a few short years after the crash, a company rose and advertised their new “toy”, the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The name “Nintendo” was barely heard of in North America. If anything, they would mostly be known for their smash hit arcade title, Donkey Kong, which released in 1981, and was ported to consoles such as the Atari 2600, and Mattel’s Colecovision. This was about to change.

In October of 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in a single test market, New York City, and the console was bundled with a light gun, an electronic robot pal, called the Robotic Operating Buddy, or “R.O.B”, all of R.O.B’s necessary accessories,  two wired controllers, and two cartridges with games loaded on them. Duck Hunt and Gyromite, which were basically tech demos packaged with the system to showcase the previously mentioned light gun and R.O.B’s functionalities. A home computer that was bundled with a light gun, robot toy, 2 controllers, and 2 games, all for the efficient price of $249.99. This was extremely competitive with home computers on the market at the time, such as the Commodore 64, which was almost $550 when it launched in 1982, and didn’t even come with any gamepads, or light guns, or even a screen.

Fast forward to September of 1986, as this was when the NES was released nationwide in North America. A much cheaper bundle was released, known as the Control Deck. It didn’t have a light gun bundled anymore, nor did it include everybody’s favorite Robotic Operating Buddy. That would also mean it didn’t include Duck Hunt, or Gyromite. After analyzing the results of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s soft-launch in NYC, Nintendo came to the conclusion that for their cheaper bundle, they only needed to bundle two things with the system. Two controllers, and a copy of their all-new game, Super Mario Bros.

Mario became just as well known as Mickey Mouse. This is where so many people got their start with not just Mario, but video games in general. A lot of them might have been turned off by the crap that was showcased on previous consoles, but by bundling Super Mario Bros. with every Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo showed that there was quality content on their system. Of course word got around. People wanted more, so Nintendo gave more. Of course, most people know the story of the fabled Super Mario Bros. 2, but if you don’t, here is a short summary of the story.

They released Super Mario Bros. 2, on the Famicom Disk System, an add-on to the Japanese Nintendo Entertainment System, called the Nintendo Family Computer, or “Famicom” for short.

The disk and case for “Super Mario Bros. 2”

The game was sent for testing to Nintendo of America, Nintendo’s American branch. The game was deemed “too hard” for American players, and was sent back to Nintendo of Japan.  They didn’t know what to do. They knew that people wanted more Mario. So, they took a game they had already released in Japan, and re-skinned the game, making all the assets related to Mario. They sent it back for play-testing at NOA, and it was approved, and the game was released soon after as Super Mario Bros. 2.

The game that they released in North America and Europe as Super Mario Bros. 2 wasn’t the Famicom Disk System title the Japanese got. Nintendo created a game called Doki Doki Panic after completing the original Super Mario Bros., in collaboration with a Japanese TV studio named “Fuji TV” for their yearly “Dream Factory Festival”. A lot of the developers that created Doki Doki Panic worked on the original Super Mario Bros., and because of that, Doki Doki Panic really felt like a Mario game, gameplay-wise.

Now, obviously, once word got around that there was ANOTHER Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan, people got confused.

“Which one is the real one, and why didn’t they released the Japanese one here,” people wondered. Well, people got their wishes granted, as in 1993, in Nintendo’s title Super Mario All-Stars, a compilation of Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3, with Super Mario Bros. 3 being released in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. All-Stars was released on Nintendo’s newest system, not the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System!

“Including the never before seen ‘Lost Levels’!” is how the commercials would advertise the game, as the game really was never before seen. In any region but Japan, that is. Yes, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. 2 under the moniker of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in North America and Europe. When Nintendo released The Lost Levels everywhere else, they also released the re-skinned Doki Doki Panic in Japan. What did they call it, you ask? It was called Super Mario USA. What a name. But, let’s backtrack a little, because I just forgot a game. Nintendo released a Super Mario Bros. 4 in 1990, alongside the launch of the Super Nintendo. Only it wasn’t called Super Mario Bros. 4 in North America and Europe, it was called Super Mario World!

Super Mario World took everything about Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3, and just made it 10x better. It brought in Yoshi, your dino pal who you can ride on and eat enemies with, only to betray by throwing him in a pit for a boost when you jump. Again, the game came bundled with every Super Nintendo, just like Mario 1 came bundled with every Control Deck NES, because Nintendo wanted to show the capabilities and quality of the SNES from the get-go. Nowadays, a lot of people I know call it their favorite 2D Mario game, and some even call it their favorite Mario game. Some even call it their favorite video game. It truly did a number on consumers, as the game made the SNES just as high in demand by children at Christmas time as the NES was.

After Mario World, we didn’t really get anything. Nintendo moved into the 3D era of Mario. Super Mario 64 released with their new system, some 6 years after the Super Nintendo was released. We didn’t get anything that was a 2D Mario game for a while. We got re-releases of previous Mario games, such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario USA, and Super Mario World, all on the Gameboy Advance. But, we finally got something in the year 2006.

New Super Mario Bros. came out for the Nintendo DS system in 2006. At the time of writing this, 2006 was 11 years ago, so we wouldn’t call it very “New” anymore. But, that’s besides the point, because this game sold nearly 1,000,000 units in Japan alone. IN THE FIRST FOUR DAYS. Clearly, this was something people didn’t know they wanted. Except, some people did know they wanted it? I don’t know, but this wasn’t the first Mario game on a Nintendo handheld.

You thought I’d forget about the Super Mario Land series? Of course not, I loved Mario Land! 2. I liked Mario Land 2. I wasn’t a fan of the first one, but I’m not bringing opinion into this article more than I already have. The Mario Land series was Nintendo’s attempt at bringing the Super Mario Bros. experience from your TV to your pocket, and it worked! Super Mario Land was good, but Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins was a, how the cool kids say nowadays, “hoot and a half”. I don’t really have much to say about them, other that…well, they were there. I’m not all that familiar with them. I should really go play them. After Mario Land 3, the game just evolved into Wario Land, so it isn’t really a Mario game anymore.

Back to the New Super Mario Bros. series, Nintendo kept making new ones. They made New Super Mario Bros. Wii, for the Wii, in 2009. It introduced simultaneous 4-player action into the formula. No longer did you have to wait for your brother to die in the game for your turn, even though you knew he was never going to die.  It also brought back Yoshi, who you were still betraying by jumping off of while above a hole. The game sold many copies, clocking in at around 28 million of them sold to this day.

After this, the series got stale. They released New Super Mario Bros. 2, and New Super Mario Bros. U, for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U respectively, but were basically just more of the same. The games were short, and didn’t really feature anything “new” in them. Which begs the question, what is next for the 2D Mario games?

The future of the 2D Mario games probably lays in the hands of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo’s newest console. Or…is it a handheld? It’s bothWhatever the new game is, whether it’s Super Mario Land 4, New Super Mario Bros. Switch, an entirely new Mario game, or maybe even Super Mario Bros. 5. Mario got his start scrolling from one side of the screen to the other. It’s what got a lot of people into playing his games. Nintendo definitely knows to never forget their past. So, the future of these games are unknown for now. But, I have a hunch that something will come very soon.

About RyboRobo

Ryu loves to play video games and write. His first system was the Nintendo 64, and has fell in love with Nintendo ever since.

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