Gamachronicles: Super Mario (part 2)

Today we are going to focus on the first two 8-bit installments of the Mario series on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

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.

Super Mario Bros (NES)

Ah, the one that started it all. The team that designed Super Mario Bros, led by his famous creator – Shigeru Miyamoto, had worked on other games for the NES, and they felt Super Mario Bros represented the “grand culmination” of all they had learned over the past three years developing previous games such as Excitebike, Devil World, and Kung Fu.

The team purposely designed the first level to be a tutorial of the main mechanics a player would need throughout the rest of the game. For example: the first level design was focused on teaching players that mushrooms were distinct from Goombas and would be beneficial to them, so they designed the first mushroom to be difficult to avoid when it is released.

The unavoidable mushroom

In an interview with Eurogamer, Miyamoto explained that he created “World 1-1” to contain everything a player needs to “gradually and naturally understand what they’re doing”, so that they can quickly understand how the game works.

According to Miyamoto, once the player understands the mechanics of the game, the player will be able to play more freely and it becomes “their game.”

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo sound designer Koji Kondo wrote the score for Super Mario Bros, as well as all of the game’s sound effects. At the time, video game music was mostly meant to attract attention, not necessarily to enhance the experience. Kondo’s work on Super Mario Bros. was one of the major influences in the shift towards music becoming an integral part of video game design.

Check out the first level’s music below on YouTube:

Super Mario Bros 2

After the breakout success of the first Super Mario Bros, Nintendo wanted to quickly release a sequel to keep the Mario momentum going. It decided to rush out a sequel in Japan the following year and ended up releasing a very different game than North American gamers ended up getting.

Japan’s Super Mario Bros 2 looked almost identical to the first game, but with different level design and increased difficulty. The game resembles what modern gamers today would think of as an expansion pack, or 1.5 version.

Super Mario Bros 2 in Japan for the Famicom disk system
Nintendo’s Famicom Disk System in Japan
Super Mario Bros 2 Japan title screen

While Japan’s version was developed by the original Mario team, and designed for players who had mastered the original, Nintendo of America deemed the title too difficult for its North American audience and instead chose another game as its region’s Super Mario Bros. 2: a retrofitted version of the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic.

Doki Doki Panic for the Famicom Disk System

Doki Doki Panic was created at the request of Fuji Television to compliment their Yume Kōjō festival. The team at Nintendo took a game prototype they had been developing as a potential future Mario game, designed all new levels, and inserted Yume Kōjō festival characters into it. The game was released in 1987 and only in Japan.

Doki Doki Panic screenshot

To convert the thematically unrelated Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic into a Mario sequel, several graphical changes were made to the look, animation, and identity of its scenery and characters. The likenesses of Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad were built upon Doki Doki’s character models, and this resulted in the first time that Mario and Luigi had noticeably different heights. In fact, Miyamoto created the fluttering animation of Luigi’s legs just to justify the enhanced jumping ability of the character (an effect still used to this day for both Luigi and Yoshi).

Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic needed only a few gameplay tweaks for its conversion into the Mario series because its elements were already heavily aligned to it: Starman for invincibility, the sound effects of coins and jumps, POW blocks, warp zones, and its soundtrack was even created by Super Mario Bros’ composer, Koji Kondo.

Super Mario Bros 2 box art

Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on October 9, 1988. It eventually sold over seven million copies and is the fourth highest-selling game ever released on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The game was named one of the NES best games ever by IGN, saying that the game offers greater diversity in graphics and gameplay than the original, making it a great bridge game between the other NES Mario titles.

Check out gameplay from the first level below, from YouTube:

In the next post we’ll be looking at the next few entries in the Super Mario series. Check back for updates.

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