Don’t get me wrong, I love Super Mario! Having never played Pitfall!, this is really where my favorite video game genre (the platformer) began. It’s as much a treasured work of art as it is a significant artifact of popular culture. Five clams for all that is a pretty great deal.
Yet my apathy persists. I’ve owned three prior versions of Super Mario Bros., the first being an NES cartridge that also included Duck Hunt. The second was the 1999 deluxe edition for the Game Boy Color, which added extra challenges, game saves and a world map. The third was included in the 2010 rerelease of the Super Mario All Stars compilation, which I’d played repeatedly at my cousins’ house in 1993 and ’94.
The All Stars version is my favorite.
Even as a kid, it just seemed far improved. Mario had an outline and enough detail to consistently set him apart from his environment. The personalities of the items and enemies I’d grown to love had been amplified; goombas seemed meaner, bloopers squishier, koopa troopas more brainless. Mario himself got shorter and pudgier, even less likely a hero than before. All of these little touches (along with the ability to save my progress) appeal to me as much today as they did almost 20 years ago.
In some ways, Super Mario Bros. is a victim of its own inventiveness. Its visuals are iconic for their economy, quirkiness and familiarity but, by the standards of 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 3, the persistent lack of contrast and depth is less charming than it is disruptive.
What I’d love to see, and what I think this series deserves, is a new All Stars compilation with 8- and 16-bit versions available. There’d be no better way to allow gamers young and old to experience the foundations of Mario firsthand, with or without all the baggage of 1985.
Can we at least ditch the lazy “virtual console” version in favor of a “3D Classics” release? I just can’t accept that Urban Champion is more deserving of that attention.