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The Super Mario Games Series

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The Super Mario Brothers
The Super Mario Games Series | Mario Kart - the Video Game Series
Super Mario Bros plains level

For over 30 years the Super Mario console games series has set the standard for the whole genre of jump-and-run games1. Though through all this time gameplay, story and characters have essentially stayed the same, every new release remains an enjoyable challenge.


To this day, the Super Mario series is the epitome of jump-and-run games. There are usually only a small number of controls: one to control the direction in which Mario runs, one for jumping and sometimes one other action. The player uses these to lead Mario and his brother Luigi through different levels full of enemies and other obstacles which have to be stamped on, jumped over or jumped against. While this is always rather easy to do in the first levels, things usually get more and more difficult following the appearance of moving platforms, lava, blocks which fall down as soon as you jump on them and many other obstacles. Good timing, good reflexes and strong nerves are essential. It is not only important to press a button but the way the button is pressed influences whether Mario lands where he should or ends up falling into an abyss.

The classic Mario games are side-scrolling, meaning that the whole game is seen as a section through the landscape and characters appear in profile. Each level starts on the left and the screen follows the player character on his way to the right hand side. Many of the newer games have a full 3D environment, which is not better but simply a completely different kind of game experience.

Most Mario games are divided into eight worlds with different themes, like a desert world, an ice world and an underwater world. All worlds are divided into a number of levels and the last level of a world frequently has a special enemy boss2. There are also non-level places on the map, like Toad Houses where the player can obtain certain items. The way through the world is also not completely linear but there are crossroads where players can choose between two levels to progress. The last level of the game is usually Bowser's castle, a place full of lava and traps, but after overcoming Mario's arch enemy the player is often rewarded with a number of bonus levels.

The player has only a limited number of lives which can be increased by collecting certain items in the game. Lives can be lost for instance by running into enemies, being hit by them, running into sharp objects or by falling into an abyss. As long as the players still have lives, they can retry solving a level from checkpoints or from the beginning of the level. The levels in a Super Mario game also usually have a time limit, with the exception of some of the 3D games that need time for exploration. When the time runs out the player has to start the last level all over again – or restart at the last checkpoint reached. Once all lives are spent the 'Game Over' screen appears. In many games the level has to be started all over again, no matter how far they have already got, but no further game progress is lost. However, this is not true in some of the older games where all progress is lost and the player has to restart the game from the beginning.

All the games feature the famous '?' blocks, which can be found all over the place. By jumping against them Mario reveals their contents, which are various items, coins or even plants which grow to let Mario access high up places. They always give Mario a boost of some kind that gives him an advantage over opponents.

Side Scrolling games

Super Mario Bros

Released: 1985
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance (download available for Wii, 3DS and Wii U), part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection

This game introduces the Mushroom Kingdom and many recurring characters as well as all of the major gameplay features and items in the series. The evil Koopa Tribe, a family of tortoises, has transformed the inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom into various objects. Only Princess Peach Toadstool can lift the spell, but she has been kidnapped by King Koopa (later known as Bowser). Mario and Luigi set out to rescue the Princess.

The game is made for one or two players who control Mario (Player 1) and Luigi (Player 2) on their way through the Mushroom Kingdom. It consists of eight worlds, each of which has four levels. All of them have to be solved in their pre-defined order. At the end of each world there is a castle with a boss. The game cannot be saved, so the player starts from the beginning every time and has to finish playing in one go.

Super Mario Bros. was the game which made side scrolling games popular. It is considered to be one of the best video games ever. With 40 million copies sold for the NES it was the bestselling Mario game in history as well as the best-selling video game of all time for almost three decades. Its popularity was mainly responsible for the success of the NES console. Because of all this there have been a large number of re-releases and remakes for different systems.

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels

Released: 1986
Platform: Famicom Disc System3 (Download available for 3DS, Wii and Wii U), part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection

The Lost Levels is known as Super Mario Bros 2 in Japan. It was not released anywhere else until it was part of the game collection Super Mario All-Stars, released for SNES in 1993. The reason for this was that it was believed that this game is too difficult for American and European players. The game is basically the same as the first Super Mario Bros. but has completely new levels and is lacking a two-player mode. The number of levels and their basic design is the same as in the previous game.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Released: 1988
Platform: NES (Download available for 3DS, Wii and Wii U), part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection

While on a picnic, Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and Toad come across a doorway to an alternate dimension. King Wart from the land of Sub-Con and his legions of Shy Guys, Ninjis, and Piranha Plants try to prevent the heroes from making their way back home. Our heroes have to pick vegetables from the ground and hurl them at their enemies. A health-meter is used instead of Mario dying when he is hit in his small form. By the end of their adventure, it is revealed that the whole story was Mario's dream.

This game is very different from the first, and for good reason. It was originally titled Doki Doki Panic and featured three guys in turbans, plus a princess. The fact is, this isn't a true Mario game at all. It was made for the Western market as substitute for the original Super Mario Bros. 2 and not released in Japan until a few years later4. The player can switch between all four characters at the beginning of each of the 20 levels. Each of them has different strengths and weaknesses concerning speed, jump abilities and power.

Super Mario Bros 3

Released: 1988
Platform: NES, Game Boy Advance (Download available for 3DS, Wii and Wii U), part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection

In the third adventure, the Kings of the Mushroom World have been transformed into different creatures, and the Princess has been kidnapped. Bowser and his children, the Koopalings, take to the sky in their warships, and it is once again up to Mario and Luigi to make everything right.

Super Mario Bros 3 introduces an amazingly large number of new power-ups into the Mario world. When a brother stumbles across a leaf, he transforms into a raccoon and, if running, is capable of flying great distances. Other key power-ups are the frog suit, which gives the brothers an advantage underwater (but nowhere else) and quite possibly one of the most bizarre power-ups ever: Goomba's Shoe. This makes Mario hop in a giant shoe and mercilessly stomp on enemies.

Super Mario Bros 3 is considered to be one of the greatest games of all time. It was the first Super Mario game to have an actual world map on which the players can move from one level to the other. This new feature has been copied in all later games. The game also has a two-player mode in which Mario and Luigi take turns in solving the levels.

Super Mario World

Released: 1990
Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Game Boy Advance (Download available for Wii and Wii U)

Hailed as one of the best videogames ever, Super Mario World debuted alongside the Super Nintendo (SNES). Upon setting out to rescue the princess once again, Mario and Luigi stumble across a strange egg from which hatches a green dinosaur-like creature - Yoshi. He tells the brothers that the Koopa Kids have captured its friends, the other Yoshis. And so, with a new friend to ride on, the Mario Brothers journey through Dinosaur Land to find Princess Toadstool and to thoroughly beat the tar out of Bowser.

All power-ups that were introduced in the previous game were completely left out of Super Mario World and one new one made its debut: the cape feather. When wearing the cape, Mario is able to spin jump and fly. But the much more important addition to the game is Yoshi. When riding a Yoshi of the right colour, Mario and Luigi can use the creature's abilities such as spitting fire, pounding the ground, or even flying. Mounting a Yoshi even changes the music of the game, adding 'galloping' Congo drums.

New Super Mario Bros.

Released: 2006
Platform: Nintendo DS (Download available for Wii U)

After ten years of only producing Super Mario games in a 3D environment (see below), Nintendo made another side-scrolling Mario game – this time for a handheld device. The games of the New Super Mario series are not truly 2D games, but rather they are made in 3D but shown from a strictly sideways perspective. The story is the same as before: Princess Peach is kidnapped and the player can choose to take on the role of either Mario or Luigi to go and rescue her.

New Super Mario Bros. takes some of the new ideas featured in 3D games and puts them into a 2D environment. These include the wall-jump, which lets the character jump higher by jumping against a wall. The game again consists of eight worlds which the players cross on their way through the map. The graphics are not the old pixel style of the previous 2D games but are upgraded to a more cartoon-like design.

In addition to the normal game mode, there is also a 2-player mode available. The players who control Mario and Luigi compete in one of five repeating levels by collecting stars. All levels are similar to levels in the normal game. There is also a series of mini-games for one or more players.

Super Mario Bros. Wii

Released: 2009
Platform: Wii (compatible with Wii U)

In the second part of the New Super Mario Bros. series Princess Peach can be rescued by up to four players at the same time. All characters are shown on the same screen, meaning that if a player falls behind the others they lose a life because they 'fall off the screen'. Players who have lost a life re-appear in a bubble floating above the others, from which they can be freed by them. It is also possible to get into a bubble voluntarily and that way skip difficult sections of the game. If the players are unable to finish a level after eight tries, they have the option to summon Luigi (the 'Super Guide') who will do it for them. The players can get back control at any time. If Luigi finishes the level the players can progress to the next but will not get any rewards for the level they could not complete themselves.

The game again offers a competitive multiplayer game mode. In 'Coin Rush', players have to collect coins in different levels.

New Super Mario Bros. 2

Released: 2012
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

New Super Mario Bros. 2 was the first ever Nintendo game that was available to download as well as buy in stores. The goal of the game is to collect one million coins and it can be played by two people on two individual 3DS handheld consoles. Players can choose whether they cooperate in beating the levels or play against each other. 'Coin Rush' is also available again.

New Super Mario Bros. U

Released: 2012
Platform: Wii U

In this game, Bowser does not kidnap Princess Peach but simply takes over the whole castle and shoots Mario and Luigi to the other end of the country. The game is very similar to that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It can be played by up to four players on the same screen, killed players end up in a bubble and again there are the Super Guide function and Coin Battles. Players can join or leave the game at any point within levels. One additional player can also use the Wii U's touchscreen on the game pad controller to aid other players, for instance by creating blocks to jump on from thin air or by stunning enemies so they cannot harm other players.

For Luigi's 30th birthday Nintendo launched the add-on New Super Luigi U, which features Luigi instead of Mario as the main character.

Super Mario Maker

Released: 2015
Platform: Wii U

Super Mario Maker was released for Mario's 30th birthday. It allows players to build and play their own Super Mario levels and share them online. For this the player has a large number of different elements from Mario games which they can arrange to form courses. More elements are unlocked by spending time on designing game levels. Players can arrange their own levels and downloaded levels into worlds. There are four different game styles to choose from, which pick up the graphic styles and gameplay elements from different games in the Super Mario series. There is also a large number of pre-installed sample courses for players to complete.

Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS

Released: 2016
Platform: 3DS

This game is basically the same as Super Mario Maker for WiiU, with some items removed and some added. Most of the stages created on the WiiU are also compatible with the 3DS version. Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS also includes 100 new pre-installed levels. Players can share and edit their levels together on different 3DS consoles.

3D Games

Super Mario 64

Released: 1996
Platform: Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS (Download available for Wii and Wii U)

Bowser has kidnapped the princess and hidden the Power Stars in the various paintings hanging on the walls of the castle. Mario can enter these paintings, which serve as doors to the different levels, with each level offering a few different tasks to complete. The castle itself takes the place of a world map. This game was not only made possible by the better graphics of the N64 but also the new kind of controller, which features a small joystick.

Super Mario 64 is a landmark in videogame history. Not only is it the first 3D Mario game, but it also heavily influenced the whole range of 3D console games which would follow. Almost all the classic Mario enemies return and there are also a few new ones, but not a single power-up from the old games (except the one-up mushroom) makes an appearance. Instead there are three caps: one for flying, one to pass through walls, and one to transform Mario into living metal. Mario also learns a whole range of new moves like jumps and kicks. This was the first time Mario, Princess Toadstool, or Bowser had ever spoken in a game, and it was also where we finally learn Princess Toadstool's first name: Peach. The game is only for one single player and Luigi does not make an appearance at all.

Super Mario Sunshine

Released: 2002
Platform: GameCube (compatible with Wii)

Mario, Princess Peach and an entourage of Mushroom People fly to the sunny Isle Delfino. Unfortunately a strange doppelganger of Mario covers the whole island in a paint-like substance and Mario himself has to clean it all away.

The island serves as a map through which various levels are accessed. With the help of the F.L.U.D.D. (Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device) Mario has to clean the paint from all levels and finish various tasks. Because of the island theme of Super Mario Sunshine, the game levels are not as varied as before. The game is for only one player.

The only power-ups in the game, aside from the one-up mushrooms, are the three nozzles for F.L.U.D.D. One makes Mario hover, another makes him run or swim very fast, and the third launches him straight into the air.

Unfortunately the camera does not stay fixed behind Mario and does not turn automatically when Mario turns. Instead the camera has to be controlled by the player. This adds an extra difficulty because players have to adjust the viewpoint at the same time as they control Mario, otherwise they may be unable to see where they are going. This has caused players to fail at the levels they are attempting.

Super Mario Sunshine is regarded as a poor Mario game when compared to others of the series, but still a good jump-and-run game if compared to others of the genre.

Super Mario Galaxy

Released: 2007
Platform: Wii (compatible with Wii U)

Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach together with her whole castle and brings them to the centre of the universe. Mario himself is shot to a small planet where he finds new friends who help him to travel the galaxy and free Princess Peach.

Super Mario Galaxy and its successor are certainly the most 3-dimensional Mario games which have ever been made. Each of the 42 levels consists of a number of micro planets and gravity is the main aspect of gameplay. Mario can run all around the differently sized planets where he encounters various enemies and puzzles which require 3-dimensional thinking.

Super Mario Galaxy can be played by two players. One controls Mario while the other helps for instance by collecting special items and shooting them at enemies. The game is visually stunning and very inventive in its design and also has a very sophisticated orchestral soundtrack.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Released: 2010
Platform: Wii (compatible with Wii U)

The story and gameplay of Super Mario Galaxy 2 are very similar to Super Mario Galaxy. At a later stage of the game Luigi is available for playing instead of Mario and Yoshi also makes an appearance. As the game is more difficult than the original Super Mario Galaxy, there is also a feature similar to the Super Guide in New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Super Mario 3D Land

Released: 2011
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Super Mario 3D Land goes back to a more 2D-like level design in which paths are very much pre-determined. The game combines elements from both 2D and 3D Super Mario games. The graphics style resembles that of the 2D New Super Mario games series. In case a player does not manage to beat a level there are various items designed to get them through after a certain number of failed attempts. The game is designed for only one player.

Super Mario 3D World

Released: 2013
Platform: Wii U

Super Mario 3D World is very similar to Super Mario 3D Land, but the path through the game is not quite as linear and there are more puzzles. There are even whole puzzle levels featuring Toad. It is possible to play Super Mario 3D World with up to four players simultaneously, taking on the roles of five different characters with different abilities. The players work together to beat the levels, but get individual scores based on how well they played. Additionally the game pad controller can be used as a booster in a similar way as in New Super Mario Bros. U and the bubble-feature for dead players re-appears.

Super Mario 3D World is probably the Mario game with the largest number of bonus levels. The game starts with a very family friendly level of difficulty, but after encountering Bowser for the first time things really start to get interesting.


Super Mario Bros desert level

With over 300 million copies sold, the Super Mario series is the bestselling video games franchise after Tetris. It is also one of the longest running games series in the video games business, and there is no end in sight. Every new game to date has been a success and new Super Mario games are constantly being developed.

Apart from the main Super Mario games series there is also a very large number of spin-off games. Some of these are jump-and-run games, but there are also Super Mario role-playing games, the Mario Kart racing games series, puzzle games and many more.

The Super Mario Brothers
The Super Mario Games Series | Mario Kart - the Video Game Series
1Also called 'Platform Games' as the aim often involves jumping onto different platforms.2An especially powerful enemy who has to be hit a particular number of times in a particular way.3The Famicom is the Japanese version of the NES. The Famicom Disc System is an extra module which can be connected to the console and can read floppy discs.4Under the name of Super Mario USA.

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