My first GotW for the NES, Super Mario Bros, will seem like an obvious choice. The iconic plumber’s first real adventure after having been featured in various Nintendo arcade titles (Donkey Kong, Mario Bros) as well as cameos in others (Donkey Kong Jr, Tennis, Golf, basically all black box games) was THE reason to own a Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1986-1987 and it was my reason to own one as well. I had been playing video games for a couple years in the arcades prior to my first encounter with Super Mario Bros on a Playchoice 10 arcade machine then seemingly at the same time, playing the home port for the NES on some of my friend’s consoles in late 1986 and early 1987. Arcade games were for me, at ages 9-11, quick ways to spend quarters on something other than candy and soda. I wasn’t yet very good at video games and my attempts would last only a few minutes which always left me feeling a little unfulfilled. Arcade games of the early 80’s were notoriously shallow which didn’t make them as appealing to me for extended playing sessions. Your missions were murky, the screens repetitive and while this all has a certain nostalgic appeal and part of the reason why I still love early 80’s games/consoles, Super Mario Bros was different. You had a clear mission to save the princess and the scrolling backgrounds while you progressed forward to the right gave you a sense of accomplishment when you improved. Each area of the level you uncovered by advancing further was like slowly working your way through a movie or book. You weren’t exactly sure what was going to be revealed to you which made the game exciting as well as challenging. The Playchoice 10 version of Super Mario Bros was great but it was more difficult than the home port as arcade games tend to be. To get through just the first level, you might have to drop a few quarters in the machine. Owning a NES and SMB for your home meant never having to put a quarter in the machine to try and save the princess again which was infinitely appealing to my childhood piggy bank.
As I mentioned in my console of the month post, SMB was my pack-in title when I finally got my NES for Christmas in 1987. The next few weeks included multiple SMB marathons and I’m grateful that my parents had two TV’s in the house so I could monopolize one of them for my SMB sessions without irritating them too much. One of SMB’s greatest appeals was that all of the secrets of the game were not evident to you upon first play through. My friends and I would mentally and physically document each time we discovered a hidden power up/1-up, vines that reached into the sky, pipes that you could descend and of course the warp zones. In 1987, the only way you could discover SMB’s multitude of secrets would either be trial and error or discussing amongst your friends on playgrounds or after school/weekend Nintendo sessions. These sessions usually involved 2-5 kids sitting around a TV watching someone play SMB and then mentally taking note when they did something you’d never done before so you could try that either at home or when it was your turn. Nintendo Power hadn’t come out yet and the Nintendo Fun Club News wasn’t as prevalent or as informative. I was always proud of knowing many of the game’s secrets before the Nintendo magazines informed the masses. “Did you read how to get the infinite extra lives in level 3-1?” “Yeah, I discovered that a few months ago, its cool though.”
Super Mario Bros remains one of my top 5 favorite video games of all time. Super Mario Bros 3 is widely considered the better game, and while that may technically be true, the memories I have associated with this title combined with its significance as the game that officially hooked me on video games as a player and a collector make SMB’s impact on me unmatched.
Currently in my collection: game, manual, box – all original from my collection circa 1987
I was one of those kids that actually wrote in the “memo” section at the back of my SMB manual. Looking back, here are some of my notable milestones:
12/7/87 – My first documented score of 568,200 which means I likely got my NES on the 5th or 6th of Dec 1987.
1/6/88 – Defeated Bowser and saved the princess for the first time. This also happened to be my 13th birthday.
1/8/88 – Saved the princess in the 2nd and 3rd quests as well.
10/1/88 – First completed game without warping.
12/22/89 – Scored 1,006,000 points.