This morning, for their allotted video game time, my two oldest children (9 and 8) decided to play the NES Super Mario Bros. (they have been enjoying New Super Mario Bros. on both the Wii and the DS recently). I wanted to be part of this, as I figured they might have some trouble with it—if you haven’t played it in a long time, as with many older games, it’s actually quite difficult.
What I was not ready for were the barrage of questions about very basic things, most of them related to changes in how games are designed and play between my childhood and theirs. I’m still watching them and other than an adventurous warp zone expedition to World 4-1 by my son (who had seen me do that the other day) only one of them has managed to make it past World 1-2 in the last 30 minutes.
So here’s the list of things your children won’t understand if you try to get them to play Super Mario Bros.:
- Neither of them knew of two-player alternating as a concept. They certainly were unfamiliar with the alternation taking place when one player died rather than when one player cleared a level.
- The idea that a game would not permit you to continue and would force you to start over if you lost all your lives was alien to them.
- So was the idea that you couldn’t save your game and had to play through in one sitting.
- They had never played a game where once you scrolled to the right you couldn’t go back to the left.
- The stinginess of this game in handing out extra lives is shocking to them. Games from about Super Mario World on (maybe Mario 3) started handing out extra lives like candy.
- Things Mario and Luigi can’t do compared to their experiences:
- butt stomp
- wall jump
- slide (no slopes until Mario 3)
- go from Fire to Super instead of small when getting hit
- spin jump
- pick up shells instead of kick them right away
- They started whining and complaining in the way I am certain my brother did when I was a kid when I would just keep playing and playing and playing and he wouldn’t get to be Luigi for a pretty long time.
If you’ve done this with your kids or can think of any other likely things they don’t understand, post a comment and let me know. I doubt these two know anything of what a password is to continue a game, either.
On the other hand, there are some things that are still pretty masterful about this game and that play well. The jump “feel” is still awesome and they picked it up without too much trouble—I’m still watching them get a grasp on the acceleration and air control. They both knew about holding B to run and had a good understanding of the basic rules and physics of the game, and in that way I don’t think Mario has changed all that much (which is part of its appeal for me). They both knew 100 coins earns you another life.
What was most interesting to me was that other than the complaining about how they weren’t any good at it or that the other child was getting to play more—and both of them did this at different times—is that they had fun. As limited as the technology was at the time and as rough as the game looks compared to contemporary games, they still found aspects of it interesting and fun to discover. Joshua just warped to World 2 instead of World 4 just so he could see what it was like and how it’s different.
They’re even commenting on influences they see that went more or less directly into New Super Mario Bros. It’s interesting to think that in a small way the Mario series, with games separated by two decades, has provided us a shared language for games.