Round Table: Let's Talk About Super Mario
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Get a comfortable seat
We've already unveiled our favourite Super Mario games, but it's a series with plenty of talking points. We're in the middle of the busiest spell of new Super Mario games in the history of the franchise, with two 'New Super Mario Bros.' titles arriving this year, which will mean that three new entries will have arrived within a 12 month period — counting Super Mario 3D Land from Holiday 2011. It's also a series with a truly impressive history, with some titles that have defined the platforming genre, in 2D and 3D, and delighted multiple generations of gamers.
Some of the Nintendo Life staff decided to get together and chew the fat on everything Super Mario. Joining features editor Thomas Whitehead are community administrator Desiree Turner, U.S. reviewers Christopher Ingram and Joe Walker, and contributer Gaz Plant. There was a lot to talk about, so grab a snack and find a comfortable chair.
Thomas Whitehead: First thing, please introduce yourselves to the readers.
Christopher Ingram: What's up guys? I'm Chris and I'm one of the US reviewers here at Nintendo Life and over at our sister site, Push Square.
Joe: I'm Joe and I'm the same things as Chris just said!
Desiree: I'm Des, also known as 'theblackdragon'. Most of you already know me, and if you don't, it's probably because you've been paying attention to our Community Rules.
Gaz: Hi everyone, I'm Gaz, contributor here at Nintendo Life and the guy whose first article said Nintendo make too many Mario games.
Tom: Thanks guys. To get started, what was your first experience of a Super Mario game?
Joe: My first experience was the original Super Mario Bros for NES. It was 1988, I was four and my neighbour had just gotten an NES. I can still remember the thrill of actually controlling something on the television. That Christmas my parents got me my own NES and the rest is history.
Desiree: It was Super Mario Bros. for me. We got our NES for Christmas the year they came out with that big Zapper set, and it was love at first playthrough; though we were so young we sometimes had to ask mom and dad to beat the game for us! (Laughs)
Christopher: It was my fourth birthday, and while I don't have many memories of those younger years, I fondly remember unwrapping my NES on that fateful day. While I was so excited to play it as it was being hooked up to the television, minutes later I was screaming and crying because I couldn't beat the pyramid jump at the end of 1-1.
Gaz: Much like everyone else here, my first Mario game was Super Mario Bros on NES. My parents bought a NES when I was 2, and along with Duck Hunt came my first Mario experience. Many hours of my early life were spent on that console thanks to a plumber and a dog that kept mocking me...
Tom: This may discredit me on here forever, but my first encounter was Super Mario 64. Game systems were pricey in the UK back in the late 1980s to early 1990s, compared to today, and my parents bought us a SEGA Mega Drive (Genesis) as our first dedicated console: we had a ZX Spectrum before that, the UK equivalent of a Commodore 64. My brother bought a Nintendo 64 years later, and Mario 64 blew my mind.
Christopher: That means you started out with the best, Thomas!
Tom: It was a good start, yes!
Desiree: Mario 64 was pretty revolutionary for its time, there's no shame starting there at all.
Not unless you're talking Super Mario 64 DS... (Laughs)
Joe: Super Mario 64 is the first game to ever make me forget to eat.
Tom: For those that did play Super Mario Bros. back in the day, did you sense that it was potentially something special, or was it just another NES game?
Gaz: To be honest, I don't actually remember that much of playing Super Mario Bros on the NES as a child (my memories are almost exclusively Duck Hunt related). We got rid of the NES and upgraded to a SNES soon after, so much of my early Mario experience was in fact on the SNES.
Christopher: Definitely! Even as a youngster, I grew up playing Atari with my family and the transition to sidescrolling 2D was fantastic. I still remember my family's excitement when they played it for the first time.
Desiree: Before we got our NES, we had an Atari 5200, and the only games we had for it were things like Pac-Man, Breakout, Galaga... I'd never played a platformer in my life. It was awesome! Running around stomping goombas and koopas, exploring all the hidden places and even after you'd played the game sixty-bazillion times over, coming up with challenges and fun things to try and do.
Joe: For me, I was very young so there was no distinction between "Mario" and "video games”. They were one in the same for a long time, I wasn't really thinking about its effect on entertainment or anything. I just loved how my family would gather around the TV, passing the controller around, and have a great time.
Christopher: I'm with Gaz though, the real appeal for me was Duck Hunt as a young child. Funny thing is Nintendo still appeals to the younger generation with innovative peripherals nearly three decades later.
Gaz: What with you all talking about Atari systems, I suddenly feel very young...
Desiree: Duck Hunt didn't really interest me back then (laughs). Once you figure out you can get close to the TV and point and shoot, that kind of took the fun out of it — especially when your siblings were too young to play fair and stay back anyway.
Joe: Who didn't sit right on top of the TV when playing Duck Hunt back then?
Desiree: People who wanted to play fair.
Joe: Well, I was four!
Christopher: (Laughs) I only got to get in front of the TV when my family wasn't around. It was serious gaming when it came to Duck Hunt!
Tom: Back to Mario! The next two games on NES were strange, if you weren't in Japan. Super Mario Bros. 2 US is an oddity because it's a reskinned alternative, but Super Mario Bros. 3 took the foundations of the debut and went to amazing lengths, in retrospect. How do you rate SMB3 today, and do you think it would have amazed players back then?
I’m skipping SMB2, as I’m not sure it would have amazed anyone in the same way!
Gaz: It had vegetables as weapons, that amazed everyone.
Desiree: Hell yeah!
Joe: It (SMB3) is absolutely one of the finest video games ever made. The fact that it's still so highly regarded, and universally loved, is a testament to how perfect it is. I played it so much after school my parents actually no longer allowed me to play video games on school days. I still get it out and play it regularly. It's really what kicked off my lifelong passion for video games.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is kind of like high school; we were all in different places when we experienced it, and yet we can all share stories that everyone can relate to.
It (SMB3) is absolutely one of the finest video games ever made. The fact that it's still so highly regarded, and universally loved, is a testament to how perfect it is.
Gaz: So I first played Mario 3 on the SNES in All-Stars, much like everything post-SMB, and it was by far my favourite of the lot (Super Mario World wasn't on that cartridge). There's something immensely satisfying about the game, and the whole stage feel of it just adds to its fun. That and Raccoon Mario is perhaps Nintendo's finest creation ever. Oh and it spawned the Super Mario Bros 3 cartoon - if you haven't seen it, go watch it now. Go on, we'll wait.
Christopher: I absolutely adore SMB2's weirdness, but SMB3 still holds up wonderfully today, which is a testament to how great the title was back then. I was a teenager when I finally got my hands on SMB3, and I remember that it seemed every time I turned around, I'd find out something else cool that I could do in the game. Maybe it was another hidden P-Wing, or realizing that I could swim under the boats in World 8 with the Frog Suit — SMB3 was a game that continually kept on giving.
Desiree: Super Mario Bros. 3 is my favourite of the entire main Mario series. After Mario 2 did its thing, SMB3 took the series back to its goomba-stomping roots with a vengeance, and still it managed to shake things up with the different worlds and the awesome power-ups. You can play it almost any way you like, too, if you pick up the whistles — do you want to skip the entire game and just get to Bowser's Castle, or do you want to take the long road and enjoy the trip? Need to stop off to pick up a Tanooki Suit or a Hammer suit? Or perhaps you'd like to just pick one of your favourite worlds to trash and then head off to kick Bowser's butt? I do think it amazed players back then, and Chris is right, it's the game that keeps on giving even now.
Tom: Maybe it's because of the annoying 50Hz frame rate that’s the curse of retro PAL games, but I still can't beat SMB3: I’m also a bit old-fashioned in that I want to beat it without using the whistles. I've beaten some tough games in my time, but it's still got the beating of me. I love it though, the level design is amazing.
Gaz: Way back when I was younger, I always got stuck in World 2 on the level where the sun drops down to attack you. It took me many years to get past that and onto World 3...
Joe: That sun is still one of the scariest enemies in all of video gamedom.
Christopher: I'll never forget being dumbfounded and amazed at the same time the first time I saw someone drop through the screen on a white block! How many times had I stood upon that and never knew that I could hold down for a bit and drop right through!
Desiree: I love going out of my way to make the match-two game appear to pick up extra power-ups. The only thing that sucks about it is that you inevitably pick up numerous instances of the slot-game for 1-ups... there was one time I had to play it through like five times straight when I reached World 3 (laughs).
Tom: The final home console 'old-school' platformer was Super Mario World on SNES, assuming we treat SMW2 as a Yoshi game with Mario branding. What did you think of its own way of moving the series on with power-ups, so many secrets etc? Seeing as he loves it so much, maybe Gaz should kick us off here.
Gaz: First up, I think we should introduce it as the Greatest (Mario) Game of All Time! Now that's sorted, for me, this was the game that made me a gamer. Super Mario World was my defining moment in gaming — it was exciting, it was fun and it was just so enjoyable to play. The map screen, the interesting and exciting new levels, and perhaps most importantly, Yoshi, just made it the greatest thing I had ever played. And it still holds up perfectly today; if you checked out what I was playing a few weeks ago, you'll know that I finally 100% beat it, discovering new stuff even 20 years on. It's THAT amazing.
Oh and the Cape. The cape is awesome.
NB! For those of you who went and watched the SMB3 cartoon on my advice earlier, go track down Super Mario World. You might thank me (or not).
Joe: I didn't have a SNES (my best friend did so I opted for the Sega Genesis when given the choice on console upgrades) so while I don't have the emotional attachment to it that I do Super Mario Bros 3, I still played a hell of a lot of it at his house.
I think in a lot of ways it improved on Super Mario Bros 3; it was just so much BIGGER. More levels (which had crazy verticality to them), more secrets, more enemies, more moves... there's a LOT of game in there! I personally like it more that Super Mario Bros 3 now for those reasons, as unpopular an opinion as it may be.
I think it's really the size that made it so wonderful, something that I think is sadly lacking in the newer 2D Mario games.
And like Gaz, the Cape and Yoshi really put it over the top for me!
Desiree: I think SMW handled the transition perfectly, and it's an amazing game in its own right. Hiding multiple exits in plain sight, giving us the Cape Feather and the 3-up bonus, and then not only Star Road with its multi-coloured Yoshi kids and their differing powers but also the 'Special' world to get through... I remember the first time I made it through all of those levels. Tubular was hell! And even then they still had hidden things for us to find, like when you leave it on the 'Special' world screen for too long and the music changes. They changed up the level formats quite a bit with SMW — the one that stays with me even now is that level on Choco Island where the level itself changes depending on how quickly you're running through it, and how many coins you've collected. As innovative as SMB3 was, SMW changed it up just as much. The only reason it's not numero uno on my personal list is because there's no Hammer Suit. (Laughs)
Gaz: I got stuck for a few days on Tubular a few weeks back... Maddening
Desiree: It's easy once you've gotten past it a few times.
Joe: The level names in the Special world are a wonderful reminder of innocent times long gone...
Christopher: I remember going to a buddies house and playing Super Mario World every day for months. The game is so big, with so many secrets to discover that it launched the SNES off, not with a bang, but with a massive KABOOM! It's a close to 2D perfection as it comes in my opinion.
Desiree: I don't think I could've limited myself to only playing it at a friend's house!
Christopher: But I was a SEGA fanboy!
Joe: We had Sonic to hold us over!
Gaz: If I'd have just played it at a friend's house I would have had to have moved out...
Desiree: To label yourselves is to limit yourselves…
Tom: Sorry to be a contrarian, but I only really like this one. I don't mind secrets, but I like a relatively straight-forward experience in my Mario 2D platformers. Run, jump and hit a flag, and SMB3 kept enough of that with a few little secrets and tricks. SMW is excellent, but I don't love it as much you guys.
Joe: TO THE PLANK!
Desiree: TO DAVY BLOOBER'S LOCKER WITH THEE!
Christopher: I'll bring the rum!
Gaz: If you'd like to apply for the suddenly vacant Features Editor position, please send a stamped address envelope to "I like Super Mario World unlike former Editor Thomas Whitehead, Nintendo Life"
Tom: Pah, it’s only my 6th favourite SM game.
On page two we talk about Mario's first ever 3D adventure, the return to 2D and his stereoscopic 3D debut.