Mario. Say it loud and there's music playing. Say it soft, and it's almost like praying. Super Mario Bros. was, is, and will always be one of gaming's great masterpieces, and its availability on any additional format is a good thing. Now it's come to the 3DS Virtual Console, and we couldn't be happier.
For many gamers, probably including a large portion of you, Super Mario Bros. was an introduction to the vast and exciting worlds that video games had to offer. Its scope might seem rather quaint by today's standards, but on release in 1985 it opened eyes all over the world to what video games could do. Its sprawling levels, hidden secrets, optional sub-routes, legendary soundtrack and gorgeous spritework set standards by which all games, particularly platformers, continue to be judged.
That's for good reason. Super Mario Bros. holds up as well today as it did almost 30 years ago. Gamers are still discovering its secrets, and its endless charm has yet to be exhausted. However many times you might stomp the same Goomba, uncover the same 1-up or expertly dodge the same Hammer Bro., the experience remains fresh and timeless.
By this point, the story is well known. The evil Bowser — at this point still known as King Koopa — has kidnapped Peach — here Princess Toadstool — and hidden her away in one of eight trap-laden dungeons. Italian plumbers Mario and Luigi are dead-set on getting her back, even if their very bad luck means they clear out all seven of the wrong castles before they stumble upon the right one.
Along the way they stomp enemies, navigate dangerous obstacles and grab helpful power-ups. A time limit ensures a brisk pace for the brothers, but exploration is always rewarded, particularly in the case of underground coin rooms, sky-bound bonus areas and level-skipping warp zones. Your main task is to navigate treacherous platforms, a series staple that is every bit as devious here at the outset as it would ever be.
With as much evolution as we've seen in the series since, newcomers might expect Super Mario Bros. to feel a little limited. At first, it might. Spend a little bit of time, however, and you'll see that every hallmark of the later games' quality is present and accounted for: the brilliant level design, the varied locations, the clever enemy placement, the superb physics and the heart-pounding sense of danger that increases with every level you clear. There might be fewer items and villains than in later offerings, but by no means is there less creativity.
Finding fault with the game is difficult. It was such an enormous success upon its original release for a reason, and all of those reasons are valid today. It gets rather difficult in its later levels, but it ramps up at the perfect rate, and even young gamers will have a blast with the early levels. The 3DS Virtual Console release adds restore point functionality, which can be helpful for struggling gamers, but it's important to note that you didn't really beat Super Mario Bros. unless you beat it fair and square.
It is worth mentioning that the two-player mode (unlike many 3DS Virtual Console games we've seen) is intact and fully functional here. It does, however, require an awkward button combination to switch between the two players (L + R + Y), which seems like somewhat of a redundant step since the two players alternate anyway. That's the smallest of small issues in an all-time great, though.
Super Mario Bros. is one of those rare games that has never really gone away. It's been reissued and remastered so many times that we never really seem to be too far away from a chance to experience it all over again, yet it still hasn't worn out its welcome. There's always more to discover, and always one more reason to return to the Mushroom Kingdom.