by Jed Pressgrove
Note: This “review” is inspired by commentary on the obligatory first-person option in next-gen Grand Theft Auto V.
When Nintendo announced the rerelease of Super Mario Bros. with a first-person mode, I thought, “C’mon, you’re just trying to make more money by playing off of next-gen hype.” But now that the game is here, anyone can see what the $60 price is going toward. Playing as Mario for real, for the first time, only adds to the legacy of the original game and its world. Against all odds, a simple change of perspective has given us the definitive version of Super Mario Bros. Once you see the detail in the brick blocks you’ve been busting for years, you’ll bust something else.
A more intimate interpretation of the Mario classic wouldn’t have seemed possible five years ago, much less in 1987 when Super Mario Bros. came to the United States. This transformation of Mario the classic platformer to Mario “the life as you live it” suggests a rare intersection of artistic vision and technological advancement. Unlike the original, this game isn’t just about jumping on enemies, hitting question-mark blocks, or gaining the ability to throw fireballs (I’ll come back to this later!). Finally, you ARE Mario. This game is literally about being Mario and having face-to-face encounters with the enemies who want to stop you. What was once a delightful routine — approaching a Goomba to jump on it — becomes something more profound. You realize what it really means to close the distance between Mario and the Goomba, the latter’s teeth only a few feet away from you. With this added tension, jumping on the Goomba’s head is not a familiar action with a predictable end. You’re fighting for your life.
Indeed, what has been old for years is startlingly new. While the uncountable added details are jaw-dropping, it’s the shift in perspective that makes every classic idea and moment reborn. As you see everything from Mario’s eyes, the truths hit home. Yes, you’re in this to save the Princess, an unquestionably noble effort even in its trope-filled simplicity, yet you’re leaving behind your profession and livelihood to do so. In the traditional Super Mario Bros., the pipes of the Mushroom Kingdom were an oddly endearing method of travel. Here, they’re that and an ironic reminder that your quest has taken away your life as a plumber in Italy — a humble life of sewage and waste that informs your present heroism and sense of hope.
This new perspective rejects the tired label of platformer. Touching the Fire Flower to gain the ability to throw fireballs has always been exciting, but it’s always been claustrophobic in the sense that Mario is forever seen as a platforming mascot. That limitation no longer applies. With the Fire Flower ability in first person, Nintendo has dared to challenge all other first-person shooters. Neither Mario nor first-person shooters will ever be the same again after you watch the Mushroom Kingdom burn.
The ending doesn’t disappoint. For years and years, fans have speculated about some physical bond between Mario and Princess, a connection that goes beyond the tropes and the excuse for another quest. The climax of Mario’s newest adventure is a risky move, just like anytime two people come together and share their vulnerabilities. In a third-person remake, this updated bond might have seemed exploitative or silly. Thank God Nintendo knows that perspective precedes experience.