Thursday, September 11, 2014

Shades of Resonance: Fond Reminiscence - Memory Log #7

Mario Bros.

Here's another one of those simple, early-era Nintendo games that everyone has heard about. Unfortunately, what they've probably "heard" is that Mario Bros. isn't very good; whenever its name pops up during their podcasts or roundtables, members of the games media frequently dismiss it as per their usual skewed sense of retrospect (though, hats off to Mark Bussler, host of Classic Game Room, for being one of the few from their field to actually have real passion for older games and the medium's history). Personally, I put Mario Bros. in the same category with Balloon Fight and Ice Climber as a game two friends can load up at any time, kill a half hour or so while waiting for dinner to arrive, and always have a frantic, fun-filled gaming session no matter its length.

I came across Mario Bros. a few times in arcades during that transition period between my early and more-resonant middle-years of arcade-going, but I only played it two or three times and never got a feel for its depth. For one, there was never anyone there to play it with me, since I hadn't yet met the people who would go on to become my best friends, and my brother was more interested in racing and flight-simulation games. Besides--I was never going to give it the proper attention or get the full effect, anyway, since I was more focused on newly arriving titles like Rolling Thunder and Rampage

It was just another lost opportunity I'd have to remedy in some other way.

I eventually had my first genuine Mario Bros. experience early 1987, when my friend Dominick revealed to me that there was an NES version of the game! I don't think I was unique in this regard, but I always found it wild when a console port of an arcade game looked exactly the same as its arcade counterpart, as if there had to be some type of wizardry behind its accurate replication (of course, the arcade Mario Bros. wasn't exactly taxing, and the NES version still had fairly perceptible differences, but I just didn't yet have enough understanding of video-game technology to know any better). 

In addition to being the forefather or games where the true fun was deciding whether to work together or screw each other over, Mario Bros. was fascinating for me in the sense that we could spot all of the formative elements that would evolve into the core mechanics Super Mario Bros., of which I was more knowledgeable. Some of the conversations we had while playing revolved around the more-familiar subject-matter: "Are Shellcreepers really just Koopa Troopers?" "Does this take place before or after Wrecking Crew?" "Taking into account their current plumbing occupation and all of these green pipes, can the conclusion of this game be anything but the point when Mario and Luigi got sucked into the Mushroom Kingdom?" There were times we actually did try to survive as long possible, just to see if it had an ending or any hint of a series' canon.

We didn't play it quite as much as we did Balloon Fight or Ice Climber, which engrossed us with their silliness perhaps more than their actual gameplay, but we put in our fair share of time trying to advance as far as possible before our general incompetence ended such a campaign. We decided that the best tact was to stay our of each other's way, but we'd usually wind up destructively colliding or accidentally propelling the other up into a Sidestepper or Fighterfly. All right--so maybe there were many more instances of me being at fault because, say, I had a penchant for spazzing out at the sight of a fireball and unintentionally blocking Dom's escape route, but it was all just an accident. Honest! In fact, if I'm lying, may Firefox only crash on me three more times this hour.

Mario Bros. likely isn't a game I'm ever going to break out for more than a randomly timed revisit (more so when it's included as an extra in a current-day Nintendo game) or some screenshot-capturing, but I'll always appreciate it for its classic vibe; its simple, charming aesthetics; and all that it contributed to the Mario universe. It established conventions that would continue to paint many of my favorite platformers--ever-recurring themes and mechanics like turtle-flipping, POW blocks, fireballs (those matching the kind Mario would later disperse), pipe-crawling and collision physics. Its patented cooperate-or-compete design was the basis for Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, and many other Nintendo games from which we derived so much enjoyment. Specially revised versions of it have appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3 and the Super Mario Advanced games, creatively applied and never feeling intrusive. Also, among other obviously borrowed elements, it inspired the respawning method in the Super Smash Bros. games, in which you return to the stage by floating down on a small, disentagrating platform. 

It's an important game whose scope of influence is easy to overlook, which is a shame since its contributions are all positive. May Nintendo continue to pay it tribute.

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