The delight is in the details
Super Mario Bros., both the original game and the many it spawned, has an almost intoxicating level of detail hidden inside its weird fiefdoms full of mushrooms, dinosaurs, turtles, and monarchs. Thirty years ago, that first game on the NES (or Famicom if you prefer) seemed mind-boggling in its intricacy. Hidden coin boxes! Warp pipes! Even the clouds in the sky were grinning at the player.
To toast gaming's most famous mustachioed icon as he enters his fourth decade, we've compiled a look at our very favorite small things from the series, those little details that have always been its signature.
Kuribo is the Japanese name for the Goomba, hence why you find the little fanged mushroom riding that green bootie around in Super Mario Bros. 3. Forget the game's logic, though. Why the hell is there a sudden, out of nowhere, invincible green boot to ride around in a single level of the game? Why not! That sort of gleeful weirdness is the Mario way embodied in sudden fungal footwear.
You may not know Hawkmouth by name. Hawkmouth is the terrifying bird face you have to jump in to escape stages in Super Mario Bros. 2. Name another game where you have to exit through a giant bird mouth.
The ending of Super Mario Bros. 2
There is no ending lazier than the it was all a dream! ending, yet Super Mario Bros. 2 makes it awesome. First, it justifies some profound weirdness like Mario and company traveling through interdimensional doors that pop out of potion flasks. Second, it makes sense that these are the dreams you have when your days are spent fighting Bowser.
The Double Cherry in Super Mario 3D World
The Wii U's marquee Mario game feels like an infinite gift bag of fun, strange ideas. The Double Cherry power-ups are among the best. Touch the cherries and suddenly you split in two. Touch more cherries, and split into four. Suddenly you can have eight Princess Peaches in cat suits running around causing chaos. Pure chaotic delight.
Super Mario World's Star Road level names
When you finally unlock the secret levels inside Super Mario World's Star Road, it feels like the game is about to get super, duper hard. And it does! The levels waiting in there are the toughest in the game. Their ridiculous 90s slang names - Gnarly, Tubular, etc. - just make them so damn approachable and sweet.
Yoshi is a dinosaur that uses his/her reproductive cycle as projectile weaponry, and yet that's not the awesomest thing about Yoshi breeding. All Yoshi are born wearing Timberlands. Seriously. Sweet boots are a part of their natural anatomy. That is too awesome.
The Blue Yoshi in Super Mario World
There were different colored Yoshis hidden away in Super Mario World, and each had different innate powers when holding a Koopa shell. Red Yoshi, as you might expect, could spit fireballs and Yellow Yoshi could ground pound, but Blue Yoshi was the best of all, because he could fly. He lifted Mario high above the saws, enemies, pits and spikes, tiny wings a-fluttering and making those adorable flap noises. Blue Yoshi was a rare companion, and hard to hang on to for long, but he will always be my favorite dinosaur pal.
Cheese Bridge Area
There's an elegant simplicity to the original Super Mario Bros. level names - World 1-1 tells you everything you need to know. But nothing can compare to the nomenclature majesty of the Cheese Bridge Area in Super Mario World. It's not just a bridge, it's a bridge area, though its connection to cheese is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the saws you have to avoid are used in some sort of fondue preparation? Tough to say. Others may praise Cookie Mountain or Soda Lake or even Green Switch Palace, but search deep within your soul and you'll see that the glory of CBA lives on forever. Forever.
Going behind the scenery in Super Mario Bros. 3
Every Super Mario Bros. game has at least one little "thing" that makes you rethink what's possible in the world. In Super Mario Bros. 3, the ability to shift behind the scenery was a huge surprise, and let you sprint virtually carefree through the level.
Boos were deeply upsetting when they first showed up in Super Mario Bros 3. Why are you following me, you little freak!? Somehow they became a lot more personable when they started their own franchise of haunted houses. Full of invisible traps, secret exits, and feelings of dread in both basements and attics, the ghost house fixtures in Mario games since 1990 always provide a welcome change of pace from other stages.
The Sun in Super Mario Bros. 3
The sun, when personified, seems indefatigably happy. It's always smiling or offering you two scoops of raisins. Sometimes the sun is a brutal nightmare, okay? When the sun shows up in Super Mario Bros 3, it's a nasty, cantankerous jerk that insist on swooping down to try and incinerate you. Thank you for portraying the sun as a vindictive curmudgeon, SMB3.
Super Mario Sunshine asks a pertinent question: when a regular part of your life is eating mushrooms to get gigantic, what do you do to relax? Apparently you go to an island populated exclusively by what appears to be gelatinous Jimmy Buffet fans with palm trees growing out of their heads. While the game's squirrely camera can make it a chore to navigate, Delfino Island is a fascinating place full of dangerous water parks and treasure-rich islands. Plus: Tom Nook's cousin rocking a Proto Man scarf apparently runs a shop there.
The townspeople in Super Mario RPG
Nintendo Power used to run the same dumb tip for every RPG under the sun: talk to everybody. It's good advice for RPG neophytes of course, but it seems like a moot point since all there is to do in most RPGs is talk to people before the action starts. Usually it's a chore. Not in Super Mario RPG. Every last town you go to is full of wonderfully personable goofballs. Jerk Yoshi obsessed with cookies and footracing! Violent bakers living in Marrymore, wedding destination to fungi everywhere! A seaside town of surly, noble shark pirates! Mole mining towns full of loving families and explosives! And everyone's just so pumped to see Mario jump. What a fun place.
Using the Frog Suit on land
Super Mario Bros. 3 has several different suits that give Mario special abilities: the Tanooki suit lets him fly or turn into a statue, the Hammer Brothers suit lets him hurl carpentry tools like a pro, and the frog suit lets him swim like a particularly graceful amphibian. There are only a few water levels in SMB3, however, and if you're conservative with your items, you'll end up with several frog suits in your inventory, so you should really, really slip one on when you're on dry land. It won't last very long because...well, you're a frog so you can only make tiny little hops, so you're gonna get hit pretty quickly, but you'll look ridiculous until you do. I mean, sure, it also has the benefit of making you big and giving you an extra hit, but the real value is in just how stupid you look hopping around on all fours.
It's always fun to exploit glitches in games, but this particular bug in the first Super Mario Bros. game sends you to a bizarro world with no end, whose only way out is death. Perhaps it's a hidden philosophical message from its designers, perhaps it's just a weird oversight in the game's programming. Either way, it's one of those things you hear that sounds totally fake until you actually pull it off.
In Super Mario Sunshine, Mario is still wearing his trademark blue overalls, red hat and white gloves, but unless you pay attention, you may miss that he's also wearing a short-sleeve version of his red shirt. It's a look that says, "I want to keep cool in the hot Delfino weather, but I still want people to know that it's a-me. Mario."
Slope-sliding in Super Mario Bros. 3
If you didn't read the manual for Super Mario Bros. 3, you were never explicitly told that Mario would go for a grand buttslide if you made him crouch at the top of a hill - which just makes discovering it all the more memorable. Suddenly Mario goes from a fragile creature who wilts at the touch of a turtle shell to luging death projectile, knocking aside Buzzy Beetles like so many bowling pins. For once in your platforming life, gravity is your friend.
Messing with Mario's face
A little Easter egg that appeared in Super Mario 64, this feature let you pinch Mario's face and move it around using the small hand cursor that appeared on screen. At first it's cute, but by holding down the right button, you can freeze Mario's twisted features in place to create truly horrifying abominations.
Mario Kart in Super Mario 3D World
The second you load up World 3-6 of Super Mario 3D World, you know this one's a little different. A familiar tune is playing in the background and a racetrack stretches out to the right. Hit the first dash panel and the realization sets in - the entire stage is a gleeful, sidescrolling homage to Mario Kart. The only problem is that it's over too quickly - you'll want to start again as soon as you hit the Goal Pole.
The Super Mario Death Ditty
When death inserts a sudden stop in Mario's happy march, it does so with a peculiar, jolting sound - it almost sounds like an auto-tuned UGH of a man being jabbed in the gut - and a cute little ditty. It's catchy, it's cheerful, and it's the nicest, most encouraging way to say YOU DIED.
The Super Mario Bros. 3 box art
It shouldn't be hard to conjure up the Super Mario Bros. 3 cover art in your mind, not when it's so simply exuberant. It's just a popping yellow background and a raccoon-tailed Mario, arms outstretched and flying somewhere new. There's no better look for a fondly remembered game.
Plessie's plunge in Super Mario 3D World
Yeah, yeah, Yoshi is the king of cute, the one everyone loves, but have you SEEN Plessie? He's a little plesiosaur wearing a red scarf and shining with the texture of a balloon animal. By the time you reach the end of his aquatic slalom in Super Mario 3D World, you're friends for life. Yoshi who?
Getting Peach and Bowser to join your party
The plot of Super Mario games is a cliche among cliches, and for the first few hours, Super Mario RPG doesn't deviate from that stale trope. But after you rescue Peach, the game keeps going, as there's still a much larger threat to face, and she sneaks out of her castle to tag along on your adventure. Then you meet up with Bowser, who is so upset that this alien force has shoved him out of his castle, that he sucks up his pride and joins you as well. The series's iconic villain and damsel, kicking butt alongside our favorite plumber. It's the best.
Swiping Lakitu's Cloud
Lakitu has long loomed over Mario's head, chucking spiny eggs at him from the safety of a fluffy cloud, but starting in Super Mario World, Mario could get a bit of revenge and cloud-jack that sucker. Hit Lakitu with a projectile and you can swipe his cloud, using it to float over obstacles or up to hidden areas. It eventually goes poof (you're presumably a bit heavier than the bespectacled Koopa), but it's a great ride while it lasts.
Dancing hills in Super Mario Bros. 3
The overworld map for Super Mario Bros. 3 was helpful for navigating the Mushroom Kingdom, but I always appreciated the simple dance animations for the hills. Why were these hills dancing? Why did they have eyes? Who cares, just bob along!
Seriously, these are the original cheat codes. Who's got time to go through each and every level? Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is gonna be on soon! So hop in a warp pipe and jump ahead a few worlds. No one's gonna judge.
Buzzing around in the Bee Suit
Super Mario Galaxy adds some spiffy new suits to Mario's supply, including the oddball Boo Mushroom and Spring Mushroom. But being able to morph into an Italian bee - complete with an adorable little stinger - after snagging one of those furry, striped Bee Mushrooms provides the most interesting tweak to the dynamics of Mario's usual movement. The power to briefly hover or wall-crawl up chunks of honeycomb is a refreshing change of pace from the weighty leaps and long-jumps that feel most familiar.
Shell-surfing in Super Mario 64
Koopa Troopas aren't common enemies in Super Mario 64 like they are in other Mario games, but when you see one of those green-shelled goons you know you're in for a treat. Touch a stunned Koopa Troopa's shell in any other Mario game and you'll kick it across the screen, but in Mario 64 the plumber hops on that thing and rides it like a skateboard. Shells turn the typical level into a skatepark letting you ride on top of water, over lava, and over obstacles like you're a mustachioed Tony Hawk.
The launch stars in Super Mario Galaxy
Few games do kitschy, possibly disastrous gimmicks better than Super Mario Galaxy and its signature silly apparatus, the launch star. Yes, spinning the Wiimote around to make it work is goofy, but the way it's implemented brings joy to my heart, from the satisfying POP as you blast off to the feeling of pride when you hit the next star at just the right moment. Heck, I even like the way it sounds through the Wiimote's janky speaker - not even technology can keep a good star down.
The act of jumping on enemies' heads
There is something fundamentally satisfying about pressing a button to make a character jump, then watching him descend again on top of an enemy, bumping it off the screen, defeated. The very word 'Nintendo', for me, is this action, possibly from my first ever experience of a NES pad as a mini-me struggled to make sense of this foreign name. The phonetic 'Nin' of 'Nintendo' has always brought this action to my mind, and that's a great connotation to have. It's pure video gaming.