Retro Review: Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Content Warning: Fantasy violence



I've always loved the way these mushrooms looked.

I’ve always loved the way these mushrooms looked.

One fateful day, the hordes of Koopas invaded the peaceful Mushroom Kingdom. Its citizens were transformed into stones and plants, and the peace was shattered. The only person with the magic needed to break the curse is Princess Toadstool, but she has been kidnapped by the evil King of the Koopa–Bowser. In order to rescue the princess, Mario must travel the diverse terrain of the Mushroom Kingdom. Unfortunately, the occupied kingdom is now home to an entire army of nefarious baddies. The only true assistance Mario has to combat these abominations are a small assortment of power-ups, and his brother Luigi, who is playable in 2-player mode.

 Along the way, Mario will meet up with captive mushroom retainers (7 times), encouraging him ever-forward through day and through night, through water and through air.


Go for the high score!

Go for the high score!

Play consists of moving continuously toward the right side of the screen in famous 2D platformer fashion. You either stomp on enemies or try to avoid them as you blast through 32 levels of timed coin-grabbing mayhem. The coins increase your score, and every time you collect 100 coins, you receive an extra life. There are coins all over the place: hanging in the air, sitting on platforms and hidden inside ‘?’ blocks. There are also bonus areas in the sky and under the ground, which are accessed by finding hidden vines that reach to the sky or by sliding down the right pipes, respectively. At the end of each stage, you stop the timer by jumping on to a flagpole. The higher you land on the flagpole, the more points you will get, to a maximum of 5000 points for grabbing the top of the pole. Then, in the fourth stage of every world, you’ll enter a large castle for a showdown with Bowser.


Warp Zones: for expedited gaming.

Warp Zones: for expedited gaming.

This is one of the games that truly set the standard for 8-bit awesomeness. When people discuss retro games and the classic look & feel of 8-bit graphics, this is the kind of game they’re taking about. While all environmental elements are reused throughout the game, this in no way detracts from the gameplay. Each stage has a unique feel, and contains its own challenges & rewards. While many people have never even seen worlds 2-3 through 7-4 because of warp zone abuse, those of us that have played through all 32 levels have gained appreciation for Nintendo’s hard work. The colors are vibrant and they pop off the screen, making you feel like you’re running & jumping through a comic strip. The enemies have good details, which was no mean feat for 1985, and the assortment of enemies you’re up against provides a good challenge without forcing the player to excessively memorize behavior patterns (with the notable exception of Hammer Bros.).


The origins of shell-kicking.

The origins of shell-kicking.

Home to one of the most well-loved, recognizable and catchy themes in all of video game history, Super Mario Bros. raised set the bar for epic music in video games. The main Mario theme is known to virtually everyone, while the underwater music, underground music and castle music remain memorable to long-time fans. The 1up sound is without a doubt one of the most recognizable sound effects in video game history, followed very closely by the pipe sound and the shell kick sound. Finally, I’m sure most of us have a special relationship with the sound heard when you have only 100 “seconds” remaining, and the subsequent tempo spike.


Unlike modern Mario games, Mario can hold his breath indefinitely while underwater. However, there is a time limit...

Unlike in modern Mario games, Mario can hold his breath indefinitely while underwater. However, there is a time limit, and you cannot stomp on enemies in the water, so swim for your life!

You’re probably wondering why I even decided to include this category, since there are only two speaking characters in the game, each having only one thing to say. Well, Toad’s famous line has been the target of parody and the subject of memes for a number of years. Nintendo even reused the line in Super Mario Bros. 3. Additionally, what little text you get is actually helpful. Toad is letting you know that the game isn’t over yet, and Princess Toadstool is telling you how to extend your play time even further. So, despite having little writing, what you’re given hits its mark.

Christian Concerns

As best I can tell, there is nothing questionable in this game outside the 8-bit combat using your boots, fireballs, and star power to crush Goombas, fry Koopa Troopas or plough through buzzy beetles. However, it’s probably a good idea to teach your kids that Mario is actually using his fist to punch coin blocks and not slamming his head into them, like many people think. This will make sure your kids don’t seriously injure themselves should they play it and suddenly decide to pretend there are coins in the bricks in the side of your house.


Super Mario Bros. is a positively terrific game. It as all the retro graphical & musical charm and intuitive playability you expect from memorable games from the 80’s and 90’s, and it honestly never gets old. If you haven’t played it, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Find a friend that has it, scour the secondhand shops, browse online merchants, or find a digital re-release. You absolutely must play this game.

Warp Zones: for expedited gaming.

Warp Zones: for expedited gaming.

Photo Credits: Moby Games & GameFAQs

The Bottom Line



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Steve Schoen

Live to game; game to live. Nominal Christian from birth; practicing Christian since 2002. I love to talk all things gaming, from console classics to Dungeons & Dragons.

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