The Anatomy of Super Mario: XX. Immortal, beloved

Super Mario Bros. tells a story. It’s not a very complicated story — Mario saves the princess from an overgrown turtle — but it’s a story nonetheless. And the game embellishes that story through small details. For instance, after liberating the castle of the second world and the illusory Bowser within, Mario resumes his quest […]

The Anatomy of Super Mario: XIX. Twisted parallels

World 2-3 continues the trend established by the previous two stages: Paralleling the design of Worlds 1-1 through 1-4, but in a sideways manner that goes beyond mere cyclical repetition. And in a way that makes sense, too. Just as World 2-2’s journey underwater echoed World 1-2’s descent underground but played out in a completely […]

The Anatomy of Super Mario: XVIII. Glub

Lest you think Super Mario Bros. will be content to simply cycle through variants on the first four stages over and over again until you reach the end, World 2-2 demonstrates that this is not the case at all. Yeah, it begins with a little cutscene of Mario leaving a fortress and taking a pipe […]

The Anatomy of Super Mario: XVII. The other shoe

With World 2-2, Super Mario Bros. officially breaks from the standard cycle of previous Mario games. Rather than cycling back through the previous four levels after conquering them, the hero moves on to new and bigger challenges. The classic arcade level-cycle approach still holds some vestigial sway here, as the subsequent seven worlds do generally […]

The Anatomy of Super Mario: XVI. Great bars of fire

Do you get the impression that Super Mario Bros.‘s levels are somehow getting smaller? Ah, well, that’s because they are. World 1-4 is the briefest level yet, clocking in at a couple of screens shorter than 1-3, which in turn was shorter than the stages that preceded it as well. But it makes sense: This […]

The Anatomy of Super Mario: XV. Jump in

Super Mario Bros.‘s first couple of stages ease players into the rules of the game’s world: Walking, jumping, stomping, fireballs, secrets. With World 1-3, however, the game properly becomes a platformer. At this point, you’re expected to have a handle on the basics so you can contend with the more complex demands ahead. World 1-3 […]

The Anatomy of Super Mario: XIV. Whether underground

Once Mario automatically descends the pipe beyond the first fortress, World 1-2 begins in earnest. It brings about a significant change in setting: Mario goes underground, leaving behind the blue skies and calliope music of World 1-1 in favor of gloom. In fact, the blue-tinted Goombas who live down here have retroactively been renamed “Gloombas,” […]

The Anatomy of Super Mario: XIII. The path not taken

The funny thing about Super Mario Bros.: After conquering World 1-1 — which really only takes a few minutes of your time — Mario marches past the flag pole to the fortress stationed at the end of the World. And then, once World 1-2 begins… he keeps right on marching. Instead of fighting through the […]

Anatomy of Super Mario: XI. Learning the ropes

If the month-and-a-half gap between Parts IX and X of The Anatomy of Super Mario gave you the impression I was procrastinating… well, it’s because I was. This first stage of Super Mario Bros. may well be the single most analyzed and written-about stage of any video game in the medium’s history. Countless critics have […]

Anatomy of Super Mario: X. Super-sized

Editor’s Note: The best way to read this series is to go page-by-page through the site index. Or you can grab the entire series in print from… You know what makes a game great? Well, lots of things can make a game great. But a really good place to start is when that game offers you […]