Nostalgia Lane: Super Mario Bros.

Christmas, 1985.

As a kid — as with most kids — Christmastime was a terrifically special time of the year.  I was nine years old and a slave to the Toys ‘R Us catalogue that would come in the mail that time of the year.  My brothers and I spent hours pouring over the pictures, circling our favorites, and making lists for our parents to look at and say, “You want me to spend HOW much on molded plastic figures with ‘realistic battle damage’?”  Since it was the middle of the 80s, toy consumerism was at its height, with everything from Transfomers to He-Man to Ghostbusters to Teddy Ruxpin to G.I. Joe to what have you.

But probably my strongest memory of that particular Christmas from a present that I didn’t get.  It was a day or two past Christmas and I went to my friend Andrew’s house to stay overnight.  We were high on sugar, since we got and promptly consumed those Lifesavers “books” that are popular even today, and he was eager to show me his new toy: a Nintendo Entertainment System.  Now, I’ve mentioned in the past that due to family finances and my parents’ hilarious non-understanding of how technology advances, the NES was never to visit our home since we had a “perfectly good Atari 2600.”  But that didn’t really matter, because just about everyone I knew had one and I enjoyed it throughout my childhood anyway.

However, Andrew’s NES was the very first one I ever saw, and it absolutely blew me away.  It helped that one of the two games that came packed in was the masterpiece Super Mario Bros., although of course I had no idea how big this game was or how important  it would become at the time.  All I knew was that (a) the graphics put anything on the Atari 2600 to shame, and (b) it was downright addicting.  I think I was most entranced by the concept of power-ups and how they transformed my character — from a small guy who would die in one hit to a larger version, then a larger version who could shoot fire.  Plus the invincibility stars and 1-Up mushrooms and coins were all part of the fun.

Did we get any sleep that night?  Nope.  Andrew was just as much in love with the game as I, and we kept passing the controller back and forth between lives.  I don’t think we got very far, maybe to the first Bowser castle or so, but we kept trying and totally geeked out when we found where that first hidden 1-Up mushroom was (the internet was of surprising little help back in 1985 for some reason).

It was following this overnighter that I began a lifelong habit of designing games in my head to improve off of what I had played.  I imagined a Super Mario Bros. level editor that would let you create your own worlds, perhaps with new power-ups and the like.

And while my kids will be growing up in a technological wonder age, they’ll never really have that singular experience of seeing the industry lurch forward so far, so fast as it did in 1985 with the advent of a little jumpy carpenter and a previously-unknown company that took console gaming to the next level.

6 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Super Mario Bros.

  1. capnjohn December 23, 2011 / 10:39 am

    It was the early 90s, my nephew was about 4 years old, and I was watching him play SMB and I didn’t think he quite had the hang of it because he had been running along quite happily then stopped and started jumping around in this one area, even though nothing was there.

    And then…Bing! A block appeared in the middle of the air and a 1-Up Mushroom emerged, which my 4 y/old nephew promptly grabbed then continued with his game.

    I knew the 1-Up was there, I’d just forgotten about it, but my nephew had not. Clever kid 🙂

  2. Syl December 23, 2011 / 11:19 am

    I saved up all my birthday, Xmas and allowance money to buy the NES, I must have been 5 or 6 years old. I still actually remember that – it was my older brother who got the Atari ST and we also had an Intellivision console at home, but I was the one who brought the NES into our household. 🙂 the rest is history…think I’ve played every Mario in existence up to the N64 one. absolutely loved 2 and 3 on the NES. good times.

  3. Gank December 23, 2011 / 11:24 am

    I had a similar experience, except I was stuck with an Intellivision instead of an Atari and my friend was so good at Mario Brothers that I only had the chance to play for about 10 minutes every hour or so…. he just never died lol!

  4. swtorSPEC December 23, 2011 / 3:11 pm

    I’ve been feeling the same way. I recently dusted off the old Nintendo, purchased a few games and an extra controller. I let my 3 year old son play Super Mario and he is hooked now. It brings back great memories for me. It was the early 90’s when my dad purchased a Nintendo for the family.

  5. moxie December 24, 2011 / 10:40 am

    My younger cousins actually got the NES a year before our family did, but I remember being at their house that Christmas and playing SMB and Duck Hunt. Up until that point my only gaming experience had been on my Aunt’s old Atari… but the NES blew it out of the water. It even had the (decidedly non-geeky) adults in the house enthralled. We kids were terrible at it at first, and struggled to make it through 1-1… but once we got the hang of it, we were hooked. We got an NES the next year and enjoyed it for a long time, even after the SNES came out a few years later, because of the HUGE selection of games, many of which were family-friendly and easily rentable.

  6. Gabriel M Dickey January 25, 2013 / 1:01 am

    Great story about your early experience with the NES. As a 70s baby, I too got my first taste of the home arcade with an Atari 2600. NES came out in the mid 80s but I was already quite smitten with my Commodore 64. I did love playing Nintendo games like SMB at the arcade though.

    BTW, and you probably even know this, but when you wrote that Nintendo was a previously unknown company I just had to throw a comment down and say ‘Donkey Kong’. Hehe. Anyway, thanks for sharing the memories. I just happened across your page for the first time today – it’s awesome.

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