Mario Brothers: The Beginning – Atari 2600

By Mark Michel

One of the most iconic video game characters in the past forty years can be identified by one name – Mario. That joyful robust little plumber we’ve all come to know, and love has been giving gamers lots of wonderful memories since he came onto the gaming scene in 1981 – when he first appeared on a home gaming console in the Atari 2600’s classic Donkey Kong.

Mario had no voice, but showed his pluckiness as he jumped, ran and bashed his way up various scaffolding in order to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of his first nemesis, Donkey Kong.

He also appeared in the sequel to Donkey Kong not long after, in the hit Donkey Kong Junior for the Atari 2600. In this game, Mario was portrayed as the villain, when he held Donkey Kong in a cage – forcing Junior to traverse many varied vines and trees in order to free his dad from Mario’s cage.

But the title that would begin a franchise that would last right through the 2000’s, would come in 1983, when Nintendo released the game Mario Brothers for the Atari 2600. This time, Mario and his curiously-near-identical looking brother, Luigi, were charged with the task of ridding the sewer system of creatures and strange objects, which were possibly inhibiting the sewer lines.

Gamers today probably never new a time when there wasn’t a time that there wasn’t at least one Mario Brothers game in the list of each year’s game options. But back in 1983, no one had ever heard the name Mario Brothers.

Being a life-long gamer, and having a pretty sizable game collection – especially for my Atari 2600, I decided to break out my copy of Mario Brothers and give it a play myself, so I could give my fellow gamers my opinion of the very first installment of the Mario Brothers franchise.

I pulled out my signed copy of Mario Brothers (Signed earlier this year by the amazing voice talent Charles Martinett – who’s voiced Mario since Mario was given a voice) and read the instruction booklet. The instruction booklet was thin; maybe three pages long, but was somewhat helpful. The game seemed simple enough; hit the enemies from below to stun them, then run over them to knock them off the playing field.

When I tried to do what the instruction manual said, I kept having Mario get killed and re-spawning for me to try again; only to have the same thing happen repeatedly for the next ten minutes. I then accidentally jumped and hit the “ground” just beneath one of the lizards, and it fell onto its head. But then I had to figure out how to knock him off the field.

Jumping was very similar to the jumping mechanics in Donkey Kong; The jump needed to be done at a certain point, in a certain way. In order to reach the downed lizard, I needed to backtrack to a spot near the wide opening near the lizard’s location, then run and jump. If I merely just jumped, I wouldn’t levitate to the next level in order to knock the lizard off the screen.

After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally began to get the hang of it, and started to rack up kills, and points! I found Mario Brothers pretty fun, once I had the hang of it, and played for about ten more minutes to get a good feel of the game.

Interestingly enough, Luigi looks an awful lot like Mario in the game. He didn’t get his iconic lanky look until years later in one of the later installments of the franchise. And as I mentioned before, Mario didn’t receive a voice until 1992, when voice actor Charles Martinett was tapped to give Mario his iconic voice in the game “Mario Teaches Typing” for the PC.

Mario Brothers has the beginning look and feel of what the franchise turned into; with pipes and jump-based actions. It is also among the least-complex of the Mario Brothers games, but from a gaming history standpoint, it is a pretty revolutionary step in the platformer.

Many of my fellow gamers are avid Mario Brothers and Smash Brothers fans and players, and I’m sure they – like myself, would be intrigued to get their hands on, and play the very first Mario Brothers game.

Personally, I will be spending some more time playing this sometimes forgotten installment that gave the Mario Brothers their start.

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