Maybe, just maybe you've never played a Mario game. If that's the case, we're very sorry that this week's community question doesn't apply to you, and we promise to come up with something more general and inclusive for next week. But for most of you, we imagine you've played one or two Mario games, and we're sure this question applies to you.
And that is - what was your first Mario experience? With Super Mario Bros celebrating its 30th birthday this week, we thought it was the perfect time to ask this question. Maybe you can remember playing Mario when you were but a wee child - or perhaps you were older when you first encountered everybody's favorite plumber. Whatever the circumstance, we're interested in hearing about it.
Yes, go on and laugh at the old man. I first met Mario when his name was still Jumpman, the would-be hero of arcade hit Donkey Kong: No Junior, no Country, no Konga — just plain ol' Donkey Kong. I was barely tall enough to see over the control console at that age and certainly lacked the skills to play Donkey Kong with any degree of competence on the rare occasion I was allowed, but I loved it.
I knew even then that Donkey Kong was something special. At the time, my grandparents were the resident supervisors of the men's dorm at the local Christian college, so their apartment literally opened out into a lobby where, in the golden age of arcade games, somewhere around a half-dozen different cabinets enjoyed regular rotation. Tempest! Centipede! Galaga! Zaxxon! Ms. Pac-Man! Joust! Robotron! And of course, Donkey Kong. When one machine failed to bring in sufficient money, the vendors would swap it out for a new one. And I seem to remember Donkey Kong being basically occupied by players for its entire run — college students who didn't seem to mind some little kid hovering at their elbow, eyes wide and fixed on the screen.
During holidays, when students had cleared out of the dorms to return home, the vendor would put the machines on free play — a gift to me and my siblings. Any trip to grandparents' place over Christmas or spring break mostly saw me lurking in the lobby, playing whatever was deemed a safe investment to lift the pay gate on. Donkey Kong was never included in that group, though. I suppose I was trained to associate Nintendo with a resistance to price drops and "devaluation" from a young age.
Donkey Kong taught me another life lesson: My aunt's awful ex-husband — the kind of guy you're relieved to no longer have to refer to as your uncle when the divorce hammer finally falls — owned an Intellivision and would bring it over to family gatherings to play Donkey Kong with my other uncle. As my family only had a second-hand Pong clone at that point, you'd better believe that console filled me with techno-lust… but being an awful person, he refused to let anyone besides himself and my actual uncle to play it. I get it, kids can be unintentionally destructive to expensive machines, but shooing me from the room as they ascended those angled girders in pursuit of Pauline went way beyond the pale. In other words, I learned that some adults are real jerks to kids, which is why I'm always careful to let my nephews, nieces, and cousins hop on my consoles and handhelds while they're around… even the destructive ones.
Donkey Kong probably influenced my interest in game preservation, too. Eventually, my family bought a ColecoVision on the cheap, post-Atari-crash, and naturally it came with a Donkey Kong cartridge. I played the game extensively… but I was always bugged by dim memories of seeing those towering college students playing some weird level with pies on conveyor belts, or something. With no Wikipedia or YouTube to refer to in those days, I had no way to satisfy my curiosity about the differences between the arcade and console versions of Donkey Kong until years later. That curiosity took root in my mind, growing like a pearl, until I ended up somehow making a career out of researching old games. Just imagine — if it weren't for Donkey Kong, I probably would have ended up being, I dunno, a teacher or doctor or something useful to society! Video games really are terrible.
My first Mario game was Super Mario Bros, like a number of people here, but my secret shame is I still haven't beaten the game to this day. Young Mike got close to the end of the game, but that final level with the weird maze ended up being the point when I quit. I believe that's when the local video rental place started offering NES games, so I didn't need to rely on one game anymore.
I know I should feel bad about this. Hell, I've had a number of chances to correct my mistake. I purchase Super Mario All-Stars on Super Nintendo. I even bought the Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition for Wii. And yet, throughout all of this, I've never had it in me to just power through and remove Super Mario Bros from my checklist.
In the end though, I see no pressing need to jump back. I played most of Super Mario Bros, I just never put the final nail in Bowser's open coffin. And I've found that I enjoy the 3D Mario titles more than I do the 2D ones. Super Mario Galaxy and Galaxy 2 remain two of the franchise's high points in my opinion. I'd rather go back and play those than drop 30 minutes on the first game.
The NES reached the peak of its popularity when I was around five-years-old. You could find one pretty much anywhere: Friends, family, even preschool, where they would occasionally wheel out a boxy CRT TV with an NES and Super Mario Bros. and Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Hence, I was introduced to Mario at a very early age.
Not surprisingly, Super Mario Bros. marked my first foray into the Mushroom Kingdom. My first real exposure to the NES was through my cousins, who were a few years older than me and had the works - an NES, a subscription to Nintendo Power, and a sizable library of Nintendo game. Super Mario Bros. was part of the regular rotation; though when we played it, I was usually reduced to watching as my cousins cruised the game on a single life.
In 1990, I finally got an NES of my own for Christmas, which came with a bundle copy of Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. From that point on, Saturdays were spent honing my skills, slowly progressing to the point that I could beat Super Mario Bros. on a pretty regular basis. After a while, I started trying to run through the entire game without using any warps; and I was pretty good, though I would often to get stymied by 7-4, which would repeat until you figured out the right sequence of levels to take. It was much later that I found out that my parents had secretly bought the NES for themselves, and that they would play Mario Bros. themselves after I had gone to bed.
Years later, my friends downloaded Super Mario Bros. on the Wii Virtual Console, and we took turns racing through the game and seeing who could finish it first. This was when the concept of legally downloading old games was still quite fresh, and the Wii's controller did just enough to approximate what it felt like to hold the old NES controller. For a brief time, I was thrown back to when I was seven-years-old and Mario was still brand new. Those days are now long gone, but even after some 25 years, I can still play and enjoy the original Super Mario Bros. today. Even if it's not entirely novel anymore, it's still timeless.
Since I'm nearly as old as the most nascent form of Mario, my experience with his games date back to before he was Super. I'm sure I played Donkey Kong at some point before this, but a Mario Bros. machine in the lobby of a Big Lots store managed to grab at least five minutes of my attention whenever I tagged along with an errand-running grandma (my own, thankfully). This was a period when I was still trying to figure out what video games were, exactly, and if I even liked them—I sunk plenty of time into our home Atari 2600, but don't remember feeling a strong attachment to any particular game. But something about that original Mario Bros. planted a seed in my mind: maybe it was the expressive, cartoony characters, the reliable controls and novel concept, or possibly that bold and evocative cabinet art really did it for me.
But it wasn't until I first experienced the NES' Super Mario Bros. that a switch practically flipped in my head. It was probably late 1986 or early 1987, in the home of a distant relative I've long forgotten, that I saw SMB for the first time. Of course, a kid used to Atari games on the family TV would no doubt be blown away by its graphics—where things actually looked like what they were supposed to be—but the revolutionary design and the bizarre world of The Mushroom Kingdom pushed Super Mario Bros. over the edge. Here was a game that begged you to explore every corner, and where anything seemed possible, set in a world of flying bird-fish and hammer-chucking turtles—which did plenty to overstimulate my overactive imagination.
From that day forward, I decided video games were My Thing, and proceeded to incorporate Mario's cast of characters into my drawings, even going so far as to design my own levels (on graph paper, no less) more than a year before getting an NES. Thankfully, my family supported my enthusiasm, and if not for Super Mario Bros., I'd likely doing something pointless with my life, like practicing medicine or teaching the future generations of America. So kudos to Nintendo for helping me dodge that bullet.