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It all began with an oversized ape kidnapping a lady in red. A man in red overalls came to her rescue, wielding a hammer and amazing jumping ability. This hero was known only as Jumpman Not long after, Jumpman was given a proper name and a younger brother, and sent off into the sewers to clean up an infestation of crabs and turtles. This was the first appearance of the Mario Brothers.
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Super Mario Bros.
The brothers' next appearance was to be their first true adventure; a grand quest through the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue the fair Princess Toadstool from the wicked King Koopa. The game was a whopping thirty two stages long, with unique challenges in every level. Players sent the brothers leaping over chasms, pouncing onto snapping turtles, and racing across expansive levels to reach the goal before time ran out. Power ups were available in hovering boxes to make the job a little easier, but it took only one or two hits from an enemy to end a Mario brother's life. Many jumps had to be precise, and some foes could not simply be stomped upon. It was not an impossible feat to beat the game; but it took skill, patience, and a fair bit of effort. All in all, it was a successful game that would be the benchmark for many adventures yet to come.
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Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3
As Mario's presence took the world by storm, two sequels were released. The original version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was deemed too difficult for North American gamers, and so a game called Doki Doki Panic was modified to take its place. During the Super NES era, and now on the Wii Virtual Console service, the original version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was released as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.
It wasn't until 1990 that the rest of the world saw a real Mario sequel. Super Mario Bros. 3 featured more levels, more power ups, and more enemies. Worlds were so large that they required overworld maps to track player progress. Power ups earned outside of the game's many stages could be saved for when a player really needed them, rather than hoping they would find something useful during a stage. In addition to all of that, Super Mario Bros. 3 had graphics that were a vast upgrade from those of the original Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Bros. 3 captured the feeling of the original and added to it, making for one of the most memorable games of the generation.
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Super Mario World
Not long after the third game in the series was released, Nintendo released the Super NES. With a new generation system, Nintendo was given the opportunity to make a bigger and better Mario. Super Mario World was released as the flagship title of their new system, with astounding sixteen bit graphics. More colours, the addition of layering effects, and the potential for bigger objects made for a more complex gaming experience.
Now the levels were even bigger, the puzzles were tougher, and the enemies more numerous. Super Mario World contained an amazing ninety-six levels, and the game cartridge was capable of saving the player's progress in one of three files. The game's world map allowed Mario to go back to stages previously beaten, whether to find hidden goals or gain extra power ups and lives. And, most notably, Mario gained a new ally in the lovable dinosaur, Yoshi. While riding Yoshi, Mario could safely bounce on top of spiky enemies, and Yoshi himself was able to devour some of Mario's foes whole.
Despite using the same gameplay and plot as previous games, Nintendo sold a great many copies of Super Mario world. As with with Super Mario Bros. 3, Nintendo proved that you shouldn't mess with a good thing.
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Super Mario 64
Once again, the big N ran with Mario as their choice for a launch title for the Nintendo 64. This time, however, they tried something different. Super Mario 64 kept the same plot of the Mario series, but decided to try a fully 3D approach to the game. If Super Mario World was leaps and bounds ahead of Super Mario Bros., then Super Mario 64 was equally ahead of Super Mario World. Though it was solely a single player game, Super Mario 64 offered a huge adventure spanning many worlds, each with multiple goals to acheive.
For simplicity's sake, the number of power ups was reduced, and Yoshi was limited to a single cameo. To make the game a little more forgiving, Mario was given a life meter that gave him more than just two chances before losing a life. And to make things a little more challenging, one had to acquire a certain number of stars from completing level goals in order to access later levels and confrontations with Bowser himself. Of the one hundred and twenty Power Stars to collect, only seventy five were needed. That left forty five stars for the player to collect after the adventure was over, and some of those stars posed great challenges to achieve.
One could say that Super Mario 64 set the standard for 3D adventures, but Nintendo wasn't done there.
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Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy
As the years passed, Mario saw no other real adventures on the Nintendo 64, and only a single adventure on the Gamecube. Super Mario Sunshine took the play style of Super Mario 64 and gave Mario a high tech water cannon, which was used to clean sludge off of objects and take down enemies. While fun, Sunshine isn't often seen as one of the better games in the series.
Then, with the coming of the Wii, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy; a 3D adventure title worthy of the series' name. Gravity played a large part in the title, but otherwise it played a lot like Super Mario 64. The Wii showed gamers just how spectacular Mario's adventures could be. As was the case with Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy was a single player game. Super Mario Galaxy, however, offered a second player a chance to help by firing star fragments at enemies. The goal of the game was, once again, to rescue the princess and collect all of the power stars belonging to a visiting space station. Instead of large, mostly solid levels to roam around in, Mario was given huge portions of space in which he could shoot from one portion of ground to the next. Floating objects in space often ad their own gravitational fields, which presented a challenge all their own.
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New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Now we come to New Super Mario Bros. Wii. After years of 3D, free roaming levels, the newest Mario game goes back to its roots. While the graphics are still the kind of quality art that is to be expected from the Wii, the game is a sidescrolling platformer with a comfortably linear feel. An overworld map shows where the player is in each world, and levels can be repeated to collect items that were missed the first time around. Each level comes with its own challenge, and collecting all of the well placed Star Coins actually requires some skill (especially in later worlds, where surviving the level is a challenge in itself.)
And then there is the addition of simultaneous multiplayer. Never before has a second player been able to play alongside Mario at the same time, let alone a third or fourth player! While having four players in the game at one time can be utterly hectic, it can also allow the players to bypass challenges that they may not have been able to clear themselves.
The Super Guide was also put in place for New Super Mario Bros. Wii, allowing players who cannot complete a level to allow a computer controlled Luigi to do it for them. While a little cheap to be considered by most experienced players, someone new to gaming could learn a lot from this feature. Hint videos were also included for those who might need a helping hand, but didn't want the computer to acheive all of the goals for them.
To sum it up as best I can, New Super Mario Bros. takes all of the best things from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, and adds loads more content to make it one of the best Mario games yet. While it's not a difficult game by today's standards, it's one that I know I'll come back to time and again, just because it feels like the old games. In fact, it's making me want to dust off my old SNES again...