Blog ♥ My ten most influential NES games: #5 Super Mario Bros.

For those just tuning in, I decided a few weeks ago to share my highly subjective, personal top-ten list of NES games based on how influential they were to me, one at a time and in no particular order. Number 5 on the list is Super Mario Bros.

Watching my cousins play Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985) is one of my earliest NES memories. Sometimes, I'd be lucky enough to get in on the rotation for a turn at the controller, and since I was a little kid without an NES and therefore without practice, I'd die almost instantly. Poof! My turn was over just as soon as it had begun.

Super Mario Bros.

It's widely agreed that Super Mario Bros. is a good game, groundbreaking in its expansiveness, beautifully executed, and forever impressed into the cultural consciousness. I've studied the disassembly of the game, and even its code is elegant and clever. A lot of people have written about this game—there's a book dedicated to its soundtrack—and of course many, many more have played it. I don't know that I have much to add to this, so I'll speak more to how this game has been influential to me personally.

The appeal of Super Mario Bros. came to me in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I discovered an emerging 8-bit art scene and NES game hacking. I wrote about the experience of modifying NES game graphics in an article for the Journal of Peer Production:

While the aesthetic was somewhat familiar to me, it felt entirely new. Iconic video game characters could be modified, improved, and blown up to inordinate sizes on screen, allowing a detailed study of each pixel placed. Game sprites could be redrawn, recolored, and placed back into their native games. And so we got Mario with a cowboy hat, Fat Mario, Astronaut Mario, Nude Mario.

I began to see Super Mario Bros. not just as a game but as a symbol for something, a canvas that could be iterated on again and again to say different things about gaming and game culture. It seems simple. It is. But it was a profound idea to me 15 years ago.

As I mentioned in my post on Hello Kitty World, Super Mario Bros. was the first game I hacked. I remember the first time I changed its color palette. I felt so powerful! My first homebrew NES ROM was a simple starfield with the 1-UP mushroom from Super Mario Bros. scrolling by in a looping animation. I hacked Super Mario Bros. again in 2015 for a little experiment called Social Media Bros.; that project became ConnectedNES. I've learned important coding concepts from the game, and I've used it to teach others. It continues to represent something above and beyond its gameness.

Social Media Bros.

Thanks, Super Mario Bros., for teaching me and inspiring me to make stuff.

If you've missed any of the previous entries in this series and want to catch up, here's the top-ten list as it currently stands:

  1. ?????
  2. Zooming Secretary
  3. Hello Kitty World
  4. Pinball
  5. Super Mario Bros.
  6. Dance Aerobics
  7. ?????
  8. ?????
  9. Tecmo Super Bowl
  10. Apple Town Monogatari: Little Computer People

Posted January 3 at 9:50 PM while trying to forget about my headache.