Super Mario Bros.: The blueprint

A personal history with the middle-aged game

There's nothing more to say about Super Mario Bros. It's all been written. This is a waste of time. Everyone knows everything about it. Isn't that strange, when you think about it? My parents don't play or like video games, but they can recognise the music from this game within an instant. Now that I think about it, that's really weird. The few games my mother recognises. This, Puzzle Bobble and - bafflingly - Sonic R. I think mine might be the only circumstances in which Super Mario Bros. is compared to Sonic R

I never had an NES as a child, but I occasionally borrowed one from a local "toy library", a service that existed at my local hospital and a privilege I never questioned. I later learned said toy library was one of the benefits I received for having an extremely learning disabled sibling. Do not take my flippancy here as ignorance or malice; believe me when I say it's no picnic, and the best you can do in such a situation is make light of it.

Being allowed to choose a toy, of course I'd always gravitate to the NES "Action Set", which included the Zapper gun and a Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge. Naturally, Duck Hunt's novelty lasted as long as it took me to repeatedly fail the clay shooting mini-game, so I threw on Super Mario Bros. And it was a bit of a revelation.

An Action Set, in much the same condition as the Toy Library's.

I was so young that I wasn't exactly reading games magazines yet - Sega Power was quite beyond my ken - but somehow, I already knew about Mario. I don't recall the shock of the new. I must have encountered it somewhere, somehow. Possibly from a Saturday morning cartoon on the UK's "Cartoon World" block, which may have played the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. I know it ran Captain N: The Game Master. Or maybe I'd just seen some sort of commercial for the game. At any rate, it was there now, in my house, being played by me. And I was discovering the bonus area in stage 1 through sheer intuition; of course you could go down the pipes, they're pipes. Things go down them. Usually unsavoury things, but Mario's a plumber, he's used to that. The Warp Zone hidden in stage 1-2 - pure instinct. So I'd warp to 4-1 and be absolutely destroyed by Lakitu, ending my game. I mean, come on, how was I supposed to know where he'd throw those Spiny eggs? Pattern recognition was an alien concept to young me. Why do you think I keep buying Sonic games?

So time wore on, I grew up, I got my own systems. A Master System, then a PS2. But I'd stick with Mario using the SNES9x and Nesticle emulators, then later a copy of Super Mario Bros. DX on a friend's borrowed Game Boy Color. And whenever Super Mario Bros. would come back around, sure, I'd play it. My last experience with the game was at the marvellous Museum for Computing History, here in Cambridge (Come and visit, we can hang out. I'm 100% serious). They have an array of consoles set up running some of their more popular games - stuck in the resident NES is, of course, Super Mario Bros. So I picked up that NES pad and ran through the game using the shortest route I'm aware of (1-1, 1-2, 4-1, 4-2, 8-1 to end), lost no lives and cleared the game. Hardly a speed run, but an impressive display nonetheless. And I turned and smiled, happy with my achievement, only to find nobody there - hovering around other exhibits, possibly pointedly avoiding me. Well, I enjoyed those endorphins while they lasted.

So that's Super Mario Bros., I suppose. A game I know back to front. A game everyone knows back to front. Unassailable, unmatched and unforgettable. And a great way of keeping me out of my parents' hair while they dealt with much more serious things.

Sonic's still better, though.