Super Mario Brothers: How the Original Jump Man Saved Video Games

The history of Super Mario Bros. from the NES to Nintendo Switch

Screenshot of Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo

On the heels of the 1983 video game crash, Nintendo revitalized the home console industry with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super Mario Bros in 1985. More than three decades later, Super Mario remains the flagship series for the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS.

This article refers to Super Mario Bros. for the original NES, not the be confused with the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros.

The Minds Behind Super Mario Brothers

Super Mario Bros. was not the first platform video game, but it was by far the most successful, and it established the archetype that all other games in the genre would follow. The brainchild of legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, the concept for Super Mario Bros. evolved from his 1981 arcade hit Donkey Kong, a single-screen platformer that first introduced players to Mario (then called Jump Man).

Miyamoto continued perfecting his single-screen platformer designs with the arcade classicsDonkey Kong Junior (1982) and Popeye (1982) before giving Mario his own title. The 1983 Mario Bros. featured cooperative gameplay and introduced Mario's brother, Luigi, who served as the second player. While Mario's original occupation was said to be a carpenter, the brothers became plumbers who fight malicious turtles that emerge from drain pipes.

After Mario Bros., Miyamoto began work on his very first console title for the Nintendo Famicom (the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System), a ​Pac-Man style maze game called Devil World (1984). Miyamoto supervised a new developer, Takashi Tezuka, who would build out Miyamoto’s designs and concepts as well as design sections of the game on his own. While Devil World wasn't a platformer, it heavily influenced the villain designs in the Mario games.

From Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros.

The next game for the team was the historic Super Mario Bros., with Miyamoto creating the primary designs and Tezuka crafting them into a reality. The title brought together elements from all of Miyamoto’s previous platformers; however, instead of all the action happening on a single screen, the brothers had an entire world to traverse.

Unlike in the original Mario Bros., the two siblings cannot play simultaneously. Luigi remains the second player character, but each level is played solo, with players switching off between levels. The game consists of eight worlds, each broken into a series of levels, bonus rooms, and boss encounters.

The portable game New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS is a nostalgic remake of the original NES classic.

Super Mario Bros. Story, Characters, and Power-Ups

The goal of the game is for Mario to rescue Princess Toadstool, who has been kidnapped by Bowser, the King of the Koopas. His minions consist of both new and familiar enemies including:

  • Koopa Troopas: Killer turtles
  • Koopa Paratroopas: Flying killer turtles
  • Goombas: Walking mushroom creatures
  • Buzzy Beetles: Helmet-wearing bugs
  • The Hammer Brothers: Hammer throwing koopas
  • Lakitu: Cloud-riding turtles who toss their spiky pets
  • Spiny: Spiked shelled pets of Lakitus
  • Piranha Plants: Plumber-eating plants that pop up from pipes
  • Cheep-cheep: Flying fish
  • Bullet Bill: Giant bullets with eyes
  • Blooper: Squids with homing capabilities
  • Podoboo: Jumping fireballs

To do battle against their enemies, Mario and Luigi depend on power-ups that are hidden in brick blocks throughout the Mushroom Kingdom:

  • Magic Mushrooms: Makes Mario grow twice his size
  • Fire Flower: Gives Mario the power to shoot fireballs
  • Super Star: Makes Mario invincible
  • 1-Up Mushrooms: Gives Mario an extra life
  • Coins: Collect 100 for an extra life

Each level moves linearly from right-to-left and does not allow the player to backtrack. The platforms consist of landmasses, blocks, bricks, scaffolding, pipes, clouds, and the bottom of the sea (in the underwater levels). Each level has several hidden bonus areas, including warp pipes that let you skip levels.

The Legacy of Super Mario Bros.

The game received such a huge reception that Nintendo began combining Super Mario Bros. on a cartridge with Duck Hunt and bundling it with the NES to help promote sales. Millions of people would buy the NES just to play Super Mario Bros. Almost every Nintendo system since then has launched with a Mario game; for example, Super Mario Odyssey was the launch title for the Nintendo Switch.

Between sales as a standalone game and when bundled with the system, Super Mario Bros. became the all-time best selling video game for nearly 24 years with a total of 40,241 million NES versions sold worldwide. Wii Sports finally broke this record in 2009 having sold 60.67 million copies.