Super Mario Bros. at 30

Oh we have a good one for you today, folks. Honestly, I think we have the best one of all time.


Legendary. Photo comes from Wikipedia

Thirty years ago to the day, Nintendo released its seminal action side-scroller Super Mario Bros. in Japan for its Famicom video game system. A critical and commercial success (the game would go on to sell over 40 million copies), Super Mario Bros. made the character of Mario a household name and helped cement Nintendo as one of the enduring titans of the gaming industry.

Developed by Nintendo’s R&D 4 studio, young designer Shigeru Miyamoto directed, produced, and (along with Takashi Tezuka) co-designed SMB. Koji Kondo composed the game’s catchy soundtrack, which has been covered by rock guitarists and marching bands.

The game’s premise presents a simple case of search and rescue. As titular hero Mario (or his younger brother Luigi in the two-player mode), you fight to save Princess Toadstool from the clutches of the dragon-like creature Bowser (also called King Koopa). The game takes players on a fantastical adventure through several different levels (known in-game as “Worlds”) which range from the sunny, greenery filled stages to the bowels of dungeons. Along the way, you pick up a number of power-ups to help Mario and Luigi in their quest, such as the Magic Mushroom (which doubles their size and durability) and the Fire Flower (which enables them to shoot fireballs). Trippy? Absolutely. Fun? Definitely.

Super Mario Bros. is the game that made a lifelong gamer out of me. It was the first video game I ever owned (thanks, family!) and the first one I beat. Without question, my interest in video gaming persisted largely because of this side-scrolling classic.

Thanks for the memories, Nintendo! You’ve given us thirty good years of Mario, and here’s hoping for thirty more. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels















Rainbow Road Retrospective

As many of you may already know, Super Mario Kart recently turned twenty years old from the time of its Japanese release.

Released on the Super Nintendo, Super Mario Kart represents the first entry in the racing branch of the venerable Mario franchise. Known for its daft combination of kart racing and cartoonish combat, Super Mario Kart would become a massive hit, eventually selling over eight million copies worldwide and firmly establishing the “kart racer” as a sub-genre of racing games. The 2009 edition of Guinness World Records named the game as the greatest of all console titles based on its initial impact and legacy, which has endured across several other Nintendo platforms and even in the arcades.

But enough of the pleasantries; let’s get real.

For all the felicity surrounding Super Mario Kart, there remains a seed of iniquity sown deep in the bowels of its coding. When found, it sprouts into a hell flower of a road course, suspended in darkness yet paved in bright colors. People, this track might very well be the path of evil itself.

That track is called Rainbow Road.


Rarely has such ebullient nomenclature been labeled on something so harrowing. Rainbow Road sounds like a children’s show, one that would likely include talking cars and smiling suns. But there’s none of that here; Rainbow Road is anything but welcoming. Paved in tiles reminiscent of the disco floor in Saturday Night Fever, Rainbow Road hovers in a dark corner of the cosmos that even Brian Greene wouldn’t traverse. If you fall off the grid here, you fall into the abyss.

And you will fall. Rainbow Road has no guardrails, so you’re either going to stay on the track or meet the black. You can be driving along, knuckles white with fear as you’re just trying to stay in next to last place. Then suddenly “POW!” someone bumps you off the road and there you go, sailing into nothingness while being lapped.

Such evil…

It would have been merciful of Nintendo to leave Rainbow Road in the past, left with high-top fades, Skip-its, and British Knights. Oh no, that would have been too much like right! Rainbow Road came back. Again. And again. And again. In fact, there is no incarnation of Mario Kart that doesn’t contain a version of this tortuous track!

Happy Anniversary Super Mario Kart! And my prayers go to all who drive on that Road of Wiles…Rainbow Road.

Summer Olympic Video Games

The 27th Summer Olympic Games begins today and to celebrate, I thought we’d look at a few Summer Olympic related video games that have been released over the years. From a hurdle leaping toddler to a beloved blue blur, the following games represent some of the best and bizarre in Olympic gaming. Let’s get to it!

 Olympic/Microsoft Decathlon (1980)

Released by Microsoft and programmed by Timothy W. Smith, Olympic Decathlon is one of the first video games based on the Summer Games. As its title suggests, players participate in a ten event decathlon which included competitions such as the 100 meter dash, discus throw, and pole vault.  Olympic Decathlon first debuted on the TRS-80 computer in 1980, with a subsequent release on the Apple II computer 1981 and finally on IBM PC in 1982 under the title Microsoft Decathlon.

Atari Olympics (?)

Here’s an obscure title that might cause Tim Allen to deliver a grunt capable of befuddling the Richter scale. Released on Atari’s ill fated XEGS platform, Atari Olympics features some Summer Games staples such as the 100 m dash and pole vaulting. However, it’s the game’s playable characters that make the title unique. An old man, a robot, and diaper wearing kid make up some of the very unorthodox playable contestants available in the game. Fascinating. I actually don’t know very much about this title; even its exact release date escapes me. Still, this game is a worthwhile, albeit quirky addition to the list.

Track & Field (1983)

I’d be remiss if this title wasn’t on the list. Originally released in the arcades, the game has appeared on several platforms, including the NES, Atari 2600, Game Boy, Xbox Live Arcade, and even mobile phones. The original arcade game was played using two run buttons, (later in its life, a trackball was due to the abuse the buttons took) and a button used to alternate characters. The game features six Olympic based events: 100m Dash, 110m hurdles, long jump, javelin throw, high jump, and hammer throw.

Each event features a qualifying time that needed to be met in order to reach the next event. Failure to qualify meant the loss of a life, and after three lost lives the game was over. The arcade game features multiplayer for up to four human players; if fewer than 4 humans were available the remaining spots are filled by the computer. During the track events, the computer was very fast, leading to players constantly smashing the run buttons in order to win.

Daley Thompson’s Decathlon (1984)

Daley Thompson was the man in the 1980s, taking gold in the decathlon at both the ’80 and ’84 Summer Games. Thompson’s athletic prowess and popularity lead to this Ocean developed title, which was available for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, and the Sinclair Spectrum. True to its title, the game features a decathlon with events split evenly throughout a two day period. On the first day, players compete in the 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump, and 40om. Day two consists of 110m hurdles, pole vault, discus throw, javelin toss, and 1500m. The game is infamous for causing players to destroy their joysticks due to the rigorous wiggling of the device required for some events.

Stadium Events (1987)

A game well known amongst many video game collectors, Stadium Events is probably more noted for its market value than its actual game play. Developed by Bandai for the NES, Stadium Events is the second title (the first being Athletic World released earlier the same year) of a two part game series named Family Fun Fitness. When the game was initially published in the US, it carried the FFF brand, and could be used with a separate two-sided accessory called the Family Fun Fitness Mat. After Nintendo licensed the game however, the title was renamed World Track Meet and the pad was renamed the “Power Pad”. It is believed that about 2000 copies of the original game were manufactured and about 200 complete copies actually hit retail. Thus, the game is quite rare and sought after collectors who often pay tens of thousands of dollars for it.  For more information Stadium Events, read D.S. Cohen’s article on the title.

So how does such an expensive game play? Stadium Events focuses primarily on track and field competitions, and featured the long jump, 100m dash, 110m hurdles, and triple jump. The game was played with side B of the map accessory, (to simulate running) while the controller was used for navigating menus.

Olympic Gold (1992)

This title has the distinction of being the first video game to be officially licensed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Developed by U.S. Gold, Olympic Gold debuted on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Game Gear, and Master System. Olympic Gold featured seven events from the Summer Games (100 m dash, archery, hammer throw, spring board diving, and freestyle swimming) along with athletes from eight countries (France, UK, Unified Team, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and the US). Each athlete had individual strengths and weaknesses, which effected how each athlete would fair in certain events (for example, one character may be weak at diving but strong in hammer throw).

Team USA Basketball (1992)

Developed by Electronic Arts, this title is based on the basketball tournament of the 1992 Summer Games, which featured the eventual champions Team USA. Also known as the “Dream Team,” Team USA featured several of the NBA’s superstars, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. Team USA Basketball featured playable versions all of the country’s that participated in the 1992 tournament, as well as each country’s national anthem. The game features the same engine as some of EA’s early basketball titles (like Bulls vs. Lakers), which allows for large sprites but sluggish gameplay. Team USA Basketball is officially licensed by the United States Olympic Committee, and remains the first and only video game entirely dedicated to an Olympic basketball event.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games­ (2008)

A union once thought improbable in the 1990s, video game legends Mario and Sonic finally teamed up for this sports title released on Nintendo’s Wii and DS platforms. Officially licensed by the IOC, Mario & Sonic  features 24 events in eight categories (archery, swimming, gymnastics, table tennis, shooting, rowing, and aquatics) each based on actual Olympic competitions. Alternatively players can participate in “Dream Events,” special competitions set in locations from past games from the Mario and Sonic universe. In addition to Mario and Sonic, players can choose from 14 characters from both the Mario and Sonic games, while facing off locally or online via Wi-Fi.

I’d like to wish a safe games to all of those who participating Olympics this year. As a DePaul University alum, I have to send a special shout out to coach Doug Bruno who is an assistant for USA’s Women’s Basketball team. Get ’em coach!!

Peace & Pixels