It Was 25 Years Ago Today... Mario Taught Us How to Play
by Evan Elden Eller
On September 13th, 1985, 25 years ago, Super Mario Bros. was released in Japan.
For the first time, the world heard those first few 8th notes by Koji Kondo, with a tempo designed to match the speed of Mario's jumps, and notes selected to harmonize with the game's sound effects. That theme has become the most famous and most instantly recognizable game music of all time, and was recently in the top ten most downloaded ringtones for 226 weeks straight, through February 2009. No matter how tone-deaf you are, you can definitely hum every single note. In fact, you probably hear it in your head right now, just from reading about it. Nobuo Uematsu, the famed composer of the majority of the Final Fantasy series, believes that this Mario theme should become Japan’s national anthem.
For the first time, the world's gamers found their first ? block, and as intended by game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, they thought "what's this ? thing?," clenched their fists, and gave it a swift jumping uppercut. We were each rewarded one coin and 200 points for our curiosity. Then, now that we all knew how to jump, a walking mushroom thing approached us. Some of us jumped on this first Goomba’s head, and were rewarded with another 100 points. Some of us didn’t make it and had to start over, or let a second player learn from our mistake.
After this, we had all learned a valuable lesson about how things were going to work from now on. Now we knew some things must be jumped into from below, while others must be jumped on from above. There’s a very important metaphor for the real world somewhere in there. Thirsty for more, we hit our second ? block. A mushroom came out of it and seemed to float away, but as intended, it bounced off a pipe and ran right into us (those who tried to jump out of the way were thwarted by the low ceiling). This mushroom made us bigger and stronger, and gave us a clean 1000 points. We had now been rewarded for our courage.
Thus began a quarter of a century in which we all played this game. It has gone by many names, in the form of many games, but it has always followed the same basic rules. One dream team (usually but not always led by Shigeru Miyamoto and/or Takashi Tezuka, with a constantly growing and rotating cast of friends) would leave us clues, obstacles, secrets, traps, puzzles, and gauntlets, and those of us who were still curious and courageous enough would continue to find them and follow them. And for those who still wanted more, most games offered an extra optional challenge, just for fun. This was the beginning of the "Hard Mode" or "New Game Plus" that many games feature today.
That first level of Super Mario Bros., 1-1, has now been remade in every game with a level editor or modding tools, and even some without. It can be played in LittleBigPlanet, World of Warcraft, and everything between. But we didn't stop our quest there. We have now journeyed through the eight (or nine) worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom, the seven dream worlds of Sub-Con, the four kingdoms of Sarasaland, Dinosaur Land, and the Star Road, and even across time and space. We’ve traveled by airplane, tail, cape, spaceship, dinosaur, rafts made of bones, cannons, winged hats, and stars that launch us across space, and we’ve turned into frogs, raccoons, tanookis, ghosts, springs, balloons, drills, clouds, boulders, penguins, solid metal, and more.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first release of Super Mario Bros., and a quarter century of adventures with gaming’s biggest hero, Nintendo has released the following retrospective video:
But what else was going on back then, in that strange time right before pipes meant warping, question marks meant mushrooms, mushrooms meant extra lives, and extra lives meant more chances to find out our princess was in another castle? Let’s travel back to the year 1985, when the highest grossing film of the year, Back to the Future, was about traveling back to the year 1955.
- The most popular TV show was The Cosby Show.
- An 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico City, resulting in an estimated 25,000 deaths.
- The 1985 Academy Award for best picture was awarded to Amadeus, written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Miloš Forman. It won 8 Academy Awards out of 11 nominations, and inspired the song “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco, the only German-language song to ever reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
- The #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 the day Super Mario Bros. came out was “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” by John Parr.
- The biggest U.S. single of the month was “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits.
- The biggest single of the year was “We Are the World,” written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian, and performed by 47 artists using the name USA for Africa. It was the fastest selling American pop single in history. It was also the first song to be certified as multi-platinum by the RIAA, and more specifically, quadruple platinum. Within a year it raised about $50 million for Africa, and the Ethiopian famine in particular.
- The best-selling album of the year was Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen.
- Wham! became the first western group to perform in the People’s Republic of China, and to release records there.
- The World Wrestling Federation produced their very first WrestleMania event for 19,121 fans at Madison Square Garden. It was watched by over one million fans through closed-circuit television, the largest closed-circuit TV event in the U.S. at the time. André the Giant defeated Big John Studd in a $15,000 Body Slam Challenge, and Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. teamed up to win the main event against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. Muhammad Ali was a special guest referee, and he even punched Piper in the middle of the fight.
- 1985 was the first time since 1914 that the U.S. became a debtor nation, owing more money to foreigners than it was owed. Ouch.
- Mikhail Gorbachev became the seventh and final General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak received the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan. Also in 1985, Jobs resigned from Apple and founded his own company, NeXT. (Apple would buy NeXT in 1996, and Jobs would become Apple's CEO in 1997.)
But most importantly, where were YOU on September 13th, 1985?