When people think of the iconic gaming character Mario, they usually think of Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System. However, Mario’s history in gaming dates even further back to the glory days of the arcade. While Mario made a few appearances in other titles prior, the original Mario Bros arcade game was the title that set everything into motion.
Often overlooked in favor of the sequels, Mario Bros is an incredibly important origin for two of the most popular gaming characters of all time. As Mario Bros celebrates its 40th anniversary, let’s take a look back at this amazing game that laid the foundation for the franchise we all love.
Mario and Luigi Make Their Debut
In the early 1980s, a few years after making Donkey Kong, Nintendo developers Shigeru Miyamoto Gunpei Yoko were brainstorming ideas for a new game. Eager to continue featuring Mario (known as Jumpman at the time) as the main character in their games, the duo began to work on a new prototype that revolved around the character’s jumping and running abilities. Inspired by the classic arcade game Joust, they designed a stage layout with three floors, peppered in some enemies, and fine-tuned the game’s difficulty. Other variables were added as the game continued development, and the rest is history.
Mario Bros was unleashed on arcades in 1983, but there are conflicting reports about the official release date. While publications cite its first North American release at the Amusement International Expo in March of 1983, other sources cite June 14th as the day it hit arcade floors. Either way, Mario Bros was already a hit halfway through the summer, as Nintendo had already sold over 2,000 units by July of 1983. While the home console industry crashed and burned in the background, Mario Bros saw decent success among other Nintendo arcade titles.
That said, Mario Bros wasn’t the most popular game of the year, as the early 1980s arcade market was crowded with quality. Other games like Dragon’s Lair, Q*Bert, and even Nintendo’s own Punch-Out earned more quarters and praise from critics. Despite the ruthless competition, Mario Bros was a hit in arcades with all players, acting as an obvious signpost to Nintendo that the character and series had far-reaching potential.
How Mario Bros. Arcade Shaped the Future
In his earliest adventures, Mario was simply known as Jumpman, a humble carpenter trying to save his girl from a crazy gorilla. Then Mario Bros came along and established some important Mario lore, laying the foundation for the franchise moving forward. Now, Mario was a plumber living in New York, and together with his brother, defeats enemies in the pipes below town. Speaking of the sidekick sibling, this is also where Luigi gained his signature green getup.
Apart from the lore, Mario Bros quite literally laid down the rules for the franchise to follow. This game established that Mario was an action platformer, where accurate jumps and quick reactions are king. It also introduced coins as Mario’s main collectible, sparking a long-lasting relationship with the metal money. Mario Bros was also created with multiplayer in mind, something that has long since permeated the series, especially in spin-offs like Mario Party.
That’s not all, as Mario Bros also introduced key items like the POW block, fireballs, and more. It also was the runway for several enemies to make their debut, most notably the turtle-like “Shellcreeper”, which would later become the iconic Koopa Troopa. Overall, while the series has definitely evolved over 40 years, it’s interesting to see just how much stems from the original arcade game.
Mario Bros Thrives Outside the Arcade
The reach of Mario Bros extended far beyond the arcade and into the home console market, as the game was ported onto almost every available system at the time. Even as the rest of the industry failed to meet sales expectations, Mario Bros was selling. This helped the franchise permeate pop culture more thoroughly, preparing audiences for the next big adventure. By 1985, there were already plenty of Mario fans who were more than excited for the release of Super Mario Bros on the NES.
While Super Mario Bros often overshadows the original, the Mario Bros arcade game has not been forgotten by Nintendo in the slightest. In fact, Mario Bros has popped up on almost every Nintendo console since its release. If not in the form of a traditional port or re-release, Mario Bros is often included in games as a fun add-on or bonus. Even official variants of the game have cropped up, like the cheeky Luigi Bros game found in Super Mario Bros 3D World on the Wii U.
All told, Mario Bros is a simple game, but it succeeds despite its limitations. It’s endearing, fun, and offers plenty of challenge. That’s why people still play it to this day. We’re glad to see the continued success of the Mario franchise, as it often acts as a beacon of kindness and charm in the gaming landscape. It’s wild to think that the Mario Brothers have been bouncing on turtles and collecting coins for over 40 years, all set in motion with their humble beginnings in the arcade.