The secrets of Super Mario Bros and its jumps: Why is it still so much fun?

Today we are going to discuss some of the secrets of Super Mario Bros and its different levels techniques. There are few games that you can catch after 35 years and say that they continue to have fun almost like the first day. This is the case of Super Mario Bros. It has something special, and today we wanted to explain what makes this NES classic great. What’s your secret and why is it still so much fun?

 It seems incredible that 35 years have passed and Super Mario Bros. continues to be enjoyed almost like the first day. Therefore, it does not surprise me that Nintendo wanted to celebrate the anniversary with an initiative as curious as collecting the gameplay of the classic and putting it on a Battle Royale platform. Crazy, but it fits perfectly with that philosophy of combining tradition and modernity that has always characterized the Kyoto company.

SMB is one of those games that you can return to year after year without regret. It has not lost its shine, something that I have been able to discover through the Game and Watch edition with which this anniversary has also been commemorated. That has made me wonder what makes this title special, and what I have found is fascinating. It was created by just seven people, with Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka at the helm, true novices at the time. But they did magic. Super Mario Bros. sold more than 40 million games on the NES and was even said to have helped overcome the industry crisis in 1983 . In addition, his legacy is fascinating, mainly because it was the origin of a multi-million dollar saga.

How was it achieved? What is behind its development? Why is it still playing so well today? It is the objective of this article to determine the keys to its design , something that I will accompany with very interesting data about its development, which incidentally took only a few months. Miyamoto outlined its first specifications in December 1984. By September 1985, the game was already in Japanese stores, with a brand-new yellow cartridge and case that were powerfully eye-catching. And that is precisely what they wanted: to dazzle the world with their genius.

Super Mario Bros secrets : The game that revolutionized platforms

From the beginning, Shigeru Miyamoto’s goal was to present players with something amazing that they have never seen. At that time, games in which the screen moved with the movement of the character (scroll) were limited to the genre of shooters. According to Miyamoto, the Super Mario Bros. secrets of this video game was the first to make use of horizontal scrolling. Its precursor, Mario Bros. (1983) was based on a fixed screen, and although it had inspiring elements, the intention was to demonstrate the potential of the NES based on more colors and larger characters.

Hence the term “super”. In Super Mario Bros. you start with a small character so that the player is surprised to see how it doubles in size when eating a mushroom. Everything was empowered: sprites, colors, backgrounds … and instead of being a game in which the score prevailed (the typical thing in the eighties), SMB was an adventure with eight worlds, with four levels each. Meadows were shown by day, by night and even snowfalls, as well as subterranean landscapes, aquatic areas and of course the iconic castles run by King Koopa. The main programmer, Toshihiko Nakago, went so far as to say that it spawned its own genre, similar to the Manzai comedies, which have evolved over time, but its foundation remains intact.

Indeed, one of the bases of SMB is jumping , a fundamental unit of playable expression in the Super Mario saga. In its initial design, Miyamoto focused on jumping to allow the user to navigate various obstacles. It was then that a software test was carried out to verify the feasibility of the idea. Mario was a simple square in this demo, but it worked. Later the game would arrive as we know it, with its blocks, pipes, piranha plants and goombas. But what happened in between? Building the gameplay experience, the award-winning level design that has entertained millions of players and was the cornerstone of a franchise.

How it was made? Tezuka comments that it was not by chance: “When we designed a level, we did it anticipating what we thought the player would do in each situation.” He also comments that Miyamoto was the teacher, and that every day a level was designed, so that the programmers would immediately put it into the game code. It was a troublesome task, because any subsequent changes would be difficult to correct. Everything had to be very well planned in advance, hence Nintendo used these 32×30 position mockups , each of which was equivalent to 8×8 screen pixels.

A very handmade work, but charming. They comment on Nintendo that they made the levels more fun or challenging first. In fact, level 1-1 was created near the end of development , because they wanted it to be an introduction to mechanics. This was essential, because we are talking about the mid-eighties, a time when video games were a novelty, and therefore there were many inexperienced players. The design of this phase explains the success of Super Mario Bros. and is something of a design bible for novice developers. Here are some of its basic but highly effective principles:

  • 1. At the start, Mario is shown on the left side of the screen, indirectly suggesting to the user to move the character to the right: horizontal scroll principle.
  • 2. A goomba is shown. The only way to dodge the enemy is by jumping. NES had two buttons, so there wasn’t much of a mystery. This is how jumping action is taught.
  • 3. A block with question marks appears, suggesting that the player interact. A coin comes out, rewarding the user, who will continue hitting blocks.
  • 4. Surprise! The second block has no coin, but a mushroom. It is made in such a way that the player ends up meeting him. The player discovers that it is a power-up.

Phase 1-1 design explains the success of Super Mario Bros. and is a design bible for developers

The rest of the level goes in the same direction: teaching the basic gameplay principles in a very intuitive way, without requiring an instruction manual . This involves placing blocks and pipes at different heights so that the player understands that Mario can modulate his jumping ability, or that he can gain different abilities (like Mario Fire). At level 1-1 there are knockdowns, but also the invincibility star or the now classic end-of-phase flag. Once the main characteristics are shown, all the elements are conjugated in successive levels to make them more challenging and also fun. Elements of variety are also introduced, with castles and their labyrinthine paths, which became iconic at the time.

Super Mario Bros secrets : A feat of game engineering

The secrets of Super Mario Bros. can be considered a platform adventure, and in fact it is based on the story of a kingdom invaded by evil turtles led by King Koopa, who has kidnapped Princess Toadstool. But it is not the key, and in fact the protagonist is a simple plumber. It’s actually a parody of a fairy tale that doesn’t take itself seriously. Nintendo has never been very about telling complex storylines. Rather, they use simple stories as an excuse to create great experiences, in this case with formidable accessibility and great response, following the term tegotae.. Satoru Iwata himself commented on this that Mayasaki Uemura, a former Nintendo engineer, showed the game to his university students one day and they were surprised: “Without any explanation, they understood how it had to be played and they enjoyed it instantly.”

Apart from having little staff and development time, Super Mario Bros. was difficult to make due to the enormous restrictions imposed by the NES hardware. The memory of the cartridges was extremely limited: 256 kilobits. Even so, Miyamoto and company say that they enjoyed fitting elements together to make the most of the space. That was one of the reasons why Koji Kondo was asked to work on music from an early stage of development, which was not usually done that way. The goal was not to have to juggle it all together at the last minute.

One of the most curious and least known aspects of Kondo is that he came up with a tune for the game without having tried it. As they say, it was a disaster because the rhythms did not correspond with the gameplay. It was then that Nintendo realized that it had to change the process, and only when the composer tried the game could he imagine a song that fit perfectly , that was fun to listen to. Mario’s iconic jump sound would not have been possible without this practice, as they felt something was missing when they pressed the jump button. Nowadays a leap of the plumber without sound is unimaginable. We would think the game is broken.

The development of Super Mario Bros., despite being short, is loaded with anecdotes. Tezuka proposed that Mario fly on a cloud and throw fireballs. The famous goombas were actually included at the end of the creation process, because they believed that turtles were somewhat difficult to defeat. The castle that you see at the beginning is used at the end of some routes to make room for a larger one; And the sound you hear when you grow up is the same as when you go through a pipe: this saves memory. The trick of moving from one world to another via pipes was incorporated so that experienced players could reach the advanced levels in less time (and resulted inone of the keys on which speed-runs are based ).

Super Mario Bros secrets

The video game was going to be one of the last created on a cartridge by Nintendo, since they thought that the Famicom Disk System (floppy disks) was going to be the standard for cost and capacity. Paradoxically, the success of the game contributed to change the perspective, and the NES decided firmly on the cartridges. It’s all due to the ambition of Miyamoto, Tezuka and the rest of the workers who made Super Mario Bros possible: “We wanted to create something that had never been seen before . ” And boy did they …

Leave a Reply