Super Mario Bros. still remains the measuring stick for a lot of casual gamers. I never got neck deep into the industry's in-and-outs, and I'm sure I've probably never played most of the games on serious enthusiasts' top ten lists. When it comes to home consoles, I'm a mainstream whore. And perhaps there's never been a game so mainstream than Super Mario, but that doesn't mean it wasn't fantastic.
In fact, it's still fantastic. Sure, it's frustrating to play it today since the control you have over your character is so outdated compared to the new stuff, but there's a few pleasures in life that never sour or wear out their welcome. Jumping atop turtles, for instance. Never gets old. Shooting a little mushroom creature with a fireball and watching him fall to the depths of Hell. Again, never loses it's luster. Even after the seventeen thousand different Mario-inspired games that've come out for a multitude of Nintendo systems, they never lost sight of the original's fun themes. With this series, they went well beyond just capturing lightning in a bottle. They captured lightning in a bottle and figured out the precise recipe for a mutant cork to keep it there for what, fifteen years or so? So, with every new game I play, with every new game I've ever purchased or even simply thought of purchasing, there's one question I always ask myself: how does it stand up to Super Mario Bros.?
It's not my civic duty to pay tribute to the game with an article, but I'm going to do it anyway because it's Sunday and I've got nothing better to do. Thing is, I think the world has heralded Mario as God more than enough times. If I'm gonna gush, it may as well be towards those special characters doomed to spend eternity with midcard stature: the villains.
Super Mario didn't have that many different bad guys, but boy, did they ever make some serious armies out of what they did have. While a mushroom Goomba wasn't all that tough an adversary, when you factor in that there's 46,555,210 different Goombas in the game's entirety, and his stock flies up big time. With that, here's my tribute to every enemy character in the original Super Mario Bros. game. Without these guys to serve as stepping stones, all Mario would be is a guy who knew how to navigate through pipes and brick tunnels.
Goombas: Apparently, at one point these things were friends of the heroic Mushroom Kingdom, but betrayed their former friends because King Koopa was handing out long-term contracts with cushy deals and great dental plans. You really can't fault them for looking out for themselves, but at the same time, they're always right in your path and you've got no choice but to kill 'em with extreme prejudice.
Don't mistake these tiny creatures as being 'small,' either. Remember, before Mario grows larger, Goombas are about as tall as he is. They might be easy to defeat, but consider the psychological edge they must've had over Little Mario. If you were being attacked by mushrooms with eyes who were taller than you, I'd bet you'd say 'fuck it,' turn around, and justify the situation by explaining that Princess Toadstool wasn't so great looking anyway. You're a plumber, not an exterminator.
Green Koopa Troopas: The manual claims these guys are soldiers of 'Turtle Empire.' I won't deny that - if a 'Turtle Empire' is to have soldiers, it only makes sense that they're, you know, turtles. Still, there's a part of me who can't accept them as enemy characters. They just look so cheerful and indisposed; it's not their fault Mario runs into their granite-hard shells face first all the time.
Besides, Koopas come in handy. After you jump on them once, they hide inside their shell. I told you, they're downright pacifists. But when they're hiding, you can knock their shell into oodles of other enemies, racking up points and clearing the way for Mario to get to one of the many abandoned friendly castles strategically placed at the tail end of each villain territory.
Red Koopa Troopas: Unlike the green turtles, the red ones have a method to their madness, in that they'll typically turn around if they notice they're about to walk into a bottomless pit. Green turtles are cursed with eternal blindness and stupidity, and a death wish. The red ones realize that it doesn't take that much effort to walk in another direction.
The manual dares to call these guys 'timid,' even 'scared.' Scared?! Just because they don't want to willingly walk into the Pits of the Unknown, they're scared? I think differently. I think these are smart turtles with the mental capacities most amphibious reptiles only dream about. We should be studying these guys, not killing them.
Koopa Paratroopas: Some Koopa turtles, both red and green, are adorned with wings that enable them to fly or hop. Don't mistake them for angels, they're gonna kill you no matter how Catholic they look.
The Paratroopas, I think, are an artform within themselves so wondrous and unique that we as a society will feel mighty dumb for not realizing it sooner. Cartoonish turtles with googly eyes who must be at least 2' tall according to scale, with heavenly wings on their shells that allow them to glide gracefully across the cloud drenched horizon, decisively silent but still seemingly able to inspire song. They're beautiful creatures and amazing specimens. I'll think a little harder next time when I'm about to kill 'em dead with Mario's fireball. Or maybe I won't, fuckers are 200 points.
The green variety of Paratroopas are usually the land hoppers, while the red ones scour the skies in their eternal quest to make vague attempts on Mario's life. I wonder if the Paratroopas think they've done an extra special job if they manage to kill Mario right after he nails a 1-Up mushroom. 'Yo now we even plumma, we even. Mama mia this, bitch.'
Piranha Plant: Mario's first instinct upon seeing a giant green pipe is to try to get inside of it. After all, many of these pipes are portals to dark treasure rooms where the coins are plentiful and the women are easy. But there's a few problems. First, not every pipe is a secret entrance, so rookie players may waste much-needed time and energy trying to get into the locked ones. Secondly, many of these tubes serve as homes to huge carnivorous plants who WANNA EAT YA - THEY WANNA EAT YA!
'Piranha Plants' emerge at timed intervals to chomp at thin air, hoping you'll be stupid enough to jump into their mouths. Luckily, oftentimes Mario is indeed stupid enough to do just that. Aside from falling into a pit, there's probably no more of an annoying way to die in the game. It's such a waste to get all the way through a board and have to start over just because you're a horticulturist at heart and you're drawn towards plants.
Modeled after the real-life Venus Fly Trap, these guys remind me of my old grade school plant sales, where all the boys tried desperately to resist that one special plant that promised to eventually grow and eat flies. We were all convinced our Venus Fly Traps would grow large enough to eat mice, or even people. Of course, they never grew. Little boys certainly can buy plants, but we never really grasped the concept of watering them. Unless it was pissing on them after a dare, but I'm not sure urine works the same way shit does in terms of organic fertilizers. By the way, you can blame the Piranha Plant on having to read this last paragraph.
Bloopers: At one point in the game, Mario swims underwater. Amazingly, he's able to hold his breath as long as he wants. Even though he can't die from drowning, there's still enemies down there to do him harm. Chiefly, a small albino squid called a 'Blooper.' Able to move in any direction in a pattern which can best be described as a fiddler crab ritualistic mating dance, Bloopers are one of the only enemies in Super Mario Bros. actually tough enough to warrant avoiding.
It's a good thing Mario's Italian. These squids are scary looking, and he'll need that calamari/food-food connection to feel superior. Bloopers may be big and powerful, but Mario eats them for breakfast. Squids, mushrooms, and hopping happy stars for breakfast. No wonder he's such a fat freak.
Cheep Cheep: Aside from the Bloopers, Cheep Cheep fish are the only other enemies Mario will encounter underwater. Well, besides pruned hands and the temptation to piss himself. I never really considered them 'bad guys', as they rarely go out of their way to hunt Mario down, and you can't exactly fault them just because their skin is poison.
They come in a few colors, but I like the red ones best because it means they eat a lot of beta carotene. Any time video game fish can inspire kids to eat their veggies, they're a-okay with me. In another part of the game, Cheep Cheeps actually fly out of the water, and that's when they're really dangerous. They know they're gonna die anyway, so they're far riskier with their moves.
Lakitu: Up in a suspiciously mobile cloud, Mario must watch out for a peculiar shelled turtle who's taken residence. Lakitu is the self-proclaimed 'Turtle of the Sky,' and also the self-proclaimed 'King of Kansas'. Both titles should inspire fear into your heart.
Lakitu isn't so bad on his own - there's rarely a time when Mario needs to go anywhere near him. Of course, it hurts matters a little when Lakitu starts throwing hundreds of spiny eggs at our hero, which puts a serious cramp in your plans.
Now, Mario's a simple plumber from Brooklyn, right? It's hard enough for him to get around this mythical world where breaking bricks equals ten points and wild mushrooms should be eaten without question. None of this is easy enough in of itself, but add a crazy cloud-driving turtle who keeps throwing things at him into the mix, and you've got one confused, pissed off plumber. The next enemy we're taking a look at hatches from the eggs Lakitu hurls at you...
Spinies: A Spiny is essentially a Koopa Troopa in it's methods, but is far more protected. In other words, you can't just jump on his back and do a celebration dance, because jumping on a Spiny's back will make Mario's expletive vocabulary extend well past anything we've seen on The Sopranos in a heartbeat.
Covered in thick spikes, Spinies would almost look cute if they weren't so numerous and deadly. They can only be defeated by a fireball, or in the common cases where they're idiotic enough to walk into pits. But because you've got that damn trigger-happy Lakitu up in the sky constantly throwing more of the them at you, Spinies should just be avoided entirely. Run as fast as you can without breaking the B-button.
Buzzy Beetles: These guys frighten me so much, I misspelled their name in the above picture. That's how scary Buzzy Beetles are. They move like every other enemy in the game, but their shell is bulletproof and even one of your glorious fireballs just ricochets off them like so many pebbles. But while their shells are bulletproof, they're not plumber-proof - just jump atop them and send their shells scooting to oblivion. Then smile and slap someone five because you did a damn good job, son.
Bullet Bill: In some stages of Super Mario Bros., you'll encounter strange black machines standing still in the middle of the ground. Don't assume these to be Satanic soda machines or condom dispensers, because you'll have a giant bullet impaled into Mario's forehead before he has a chance to count his change. 'Bullet Bills' are living, breathing cannonballs - pointed pricks who don't move all that fast, but pack a lot of power.
Mario can kill the things by jumping atop 'em, but it's best to just avoid them entirely, since you never quite know where you'll fall afterwards.
The Hammer Bros.: If there's any enemies worth a shit in Super Mario Bros., it's these turtle-like Hammer Brothers. Humanoid reptilians who walk forwards and backwards trade spots on platforms while chucking endless streams of hammers at you. Mario first coined the phrase 'Mama Mia' when he realized he needed to get past these two. It's also the first time he said 'Fuck!' and 'Shit on me!'.
It takes a good player to get through them - the only way to really kill the Hammer Brothers is by waiting for them to go directly above a brick. After you smash them from underneath, they'll fly to Hell and you're safe. But since they're throwing dozens of hammers at such a rapid pace, you'll probably die a few times before getting past them. It's a good thing free guy power-ups grow on trees in the Mushroom Kingdom.
Podoboo: In Bowser's many castles, there's few enemies. Podoboo is the fireball who spits himself out of pools of lava, seeking to annoy Mario with deadly intense heat. I'm not sure why they named the thing. I never considered Podoboo alive. Then again, it did seem to have this uncanny ability to know exactly when I was going to jump over it's home pit. So either they were alive, or some nasty devil turtle was down there laughing to himself while throwing fireballs at me whenever he saw my ass flying overhead.
Fire Rod: Not really a live enemy so much as a nuisance, a Fire Rod is a string of bright fire spheres connected and swinging around in a set pattern. They're not incredibly tough to avoid, but they're totally invincible and you'll just have to deal with them. If you study their movements even for a moment, they shouldn't be a problem. Just don't try to rush past a group of 'em, since Mario isn't agile enough to make it through without turning himself into a walking inferno.
They're not so terrible in themselves, but Fire Rods are a constant reminder that Bowser is nearby - and that's scary, because Bowser is the only thing in the game taller than Mario. The guy came all the way to Mushroom Kingdom to denounce his Napoleon complex, and Bowser's right there to ruin it. Speaking of which, he's the final and most powerful enemy in the game...
Bowser: The big cheese, the main enemy. 'King Koopa' is the guy who kidnapped Princess Toadstool, brainwashed the Mushroom Retainers, taught turtles how to be evil, and forced Mario to leave behind the luxurious life of urban plumbing to fend off bullet monsters and man-eating plants. He's the reason for all the trouble, and you can't win unless you face your fears: Bowser must be destroyed, no matter the cost.
Fortunately for you, he's placed a mechanism that makes his fabled platform disappear right next to him, so if you're a good enough player to know how to jump, you can send him down to the fiery abyss. If you play the game straight without using any of the warp zones, you'll have to face Bowser eight different times. Occasionally he throws hammers, other times he just hops around while spitting huge logs of fire at you. Either way he's dangerous. Beat him and you're on the fast track to a kiss from Peach. And that's what it's all about in the end, right? Getting Mario laid? That's the unmentioned goal in 80% of the Mario games, and it all started here.
Bowser would take a break in Super Mario Bros. II, but came back later and still remains Mario's top adversary to this day - on and off the go-cart racing track.
And those are the enemies of SMB - love them and cherish them as I have. Maybe start a fan club. They weren't that amazing, I know. But these guys set the template for strange nonsensical video game villains for years to come. If you like your games the way I do - completely without logic - you can thank this band of evildoers. And if ya don't like your games that way, take out your frustrations by firing up the ol' Super Mario Bros. and stomping on some Goombas. Always works for me.
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