Gamachronicles: Super Mario (part 1)

This week, Gamachronicles feature the Super Mario series from Nintendo.

Gamachronicles are multi-part features on a famous or noteworthy game series, diving into some of its most memorable moments and providing additional perspective on its history.

Saving Gaming

In 1984, one year before the release of the Nintendo’s flagship game, Super Mario Bros, the video game industry was in ruin. In 1983 the industry’s revenue peaked around $3.2 billion, but just two years later, it fell to about $100 million, loosing almost 97% of value.

This crash abruptly ended what is retrospectively considered the second generation of console video gaming in North America. Lasting about two years, the crash shook the then-booming industry, and led to the bankruptcy of several companies producing home computers and video game consoles in the region. Analysts of the time expressed doubts about the long-term viability of video game consoles and software.

Just a year prior the videogame industry was booming with new companies popping up right and left. What happened to change the industry’s trajectory so drastically?

To understand the crash it’s first necessary to understand how we got there.

The Rise

Atari launched its 2600 home console in 1977.

After a few years of weak sales, Atari released it’s first killer app in 1980: Space Invaders. Sales of the 2600 quadrupled and the game itself sold more than a million copies… unheard of success for a video game at the time.

The Fall

After the massive success of Space Invaders and the Atari 2600, a bunch of other companies created their own game consoles and entered the business.

After a few short years there were more than twelve different video game consoles released in the market, each with its own library of games. It didn’t take long for the marketplace to become saturated with mediocre-quality games.

One of the most infamous games of the era just before the crash was E.T., based on the Stephen Spielberg movie. E.T. was a huge box office hit and cultural phenomenon, so when Atari decided to make a game based on it, everyone thought it was a slam dunk sure hit.

Box art was great

Unfortunately the creator was only given 5 1/2 weeks to make the game, and the result was one of the most famously horrible games of all time. Some even think it had a large role in the 1983 industry crash.

The title screen was the best part of the game
I dare anyone to explain what’s going on in this game

Rumor has it there are hundreds of thousands of unsold and returned E.T. cartridges buried somewhere in a New Mexico landfill.

E.T. landfill

Nintendo to the rescue

Luckily for gamers, Japan didn’t suffer the same fate as North America. In 1983, just as the U.S. market was crashing, Nintendo was launching their Family Computer in Japan, more commonly known as the Famicom.

1983 Nintendo Famicom

After a stalled launch, the Famicom’s popularity soared and in 1984 it became the best selling video game console in Japan.

Nintendo had originally planned to launch the Famicom in North America in partnership with Atari, but luckily negotiations fell through just as the market was crashing, and Nintendo decided to release it on their own.

Originally Nintendo was planning to release a repackaged Famicom, along with a full keyboard and cassette data recorder, called the Advanced Video Entertainment System (AVS) but ultimately decided to redesign the system with a front loading cartridge system, based on popular VHS players of the time, and call it the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

Concept for Nintendo’s AVS
1985 Nintendo Entertainment System

The Control Deck version of the system came with two controllers and the game that would save the industry and set a new standard for gaming excellence: Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros

Super Mario Bros is frequently cited as one of the greatest video games of all time, selling more than 40 million physical copies. It is credited alongside the NES as one of the key factors in reviving the video game industry after the 1983 crash, and helped popularize the side-scrolling platform game genre. Koji Kondo’s game soundtrack is one of the earliest and most popular in video games, and was one of the first to make music a centerpiece of game design.

In the following posts we’ll be looking at some of the best games and moments in the Super Mario series’ over time. Check back for updates.

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