As revolutionary as Mario 64 was, even it owes a debt a gratitude to the original Bros tile that helped launch the NES. The first SMB is so well-known it’s barely worth explaining, but for the sake of completion, let’s start with the fact it’s almost entirely responsible for establishing Nintendo as a hardware leader and making the Mario franchise a worldwide craze, as well as saving what was left of the games industry after the console crash of 1983.
So it was a big deal. Sold 40 million copies in its life. But what made it so irresistible? For us, it was mostly the sense of exploration, that there was more going on in this side-scrolling world than what you could immediately see. Hidden warp zones meant you had to think outside the boundaries of the level, while invisible blocks and secret pipe areas rewarded you for constant experimentation. This wasn’t a game about score or even really seeing and ending – it was about fun, about having a virtual playground. The NES was an outstanding machine with plenty going for it (better controllers, gimmicky peripherals and the template for today’s third-party licensing deals), but it was Super Mario Bros that rocketed it to the top as the world’s most-sold videogame – until Wii Sports took that crown in 2009.
1 - Tetris (Game Boy, 1989)
Earlier in the Top 7 we gave a shout-out to Lumines as the best possible launch title for a portable system. That’s still true, but the reason it’s true is because of what happened with Tetris, the worldwide phenomenon that put Game Boy in more homes than any videogame device up to that point. With gameplay this pure, you didn’t need colors or even more than a d-pad and a button – literally anyone could play Tetris, either in bite-sizes sessions while in transit or hours-long brain dumps after another 10-hour work day.
Above: The immortal tune, Music A
Above: And then a live rendition from The OneUps at PAX 2007 (I’m somewhere in there…)
The story of how Tetris came to be a Game Boy pack-in is actually quite interesting, perhaps most notably told in the go-to Nintendo tome, Game Over. There are condensed versions all over the net, but to really appreciate the multiple layers of conflict (including Nintendo, Tengen, creator Alexey Pajitnov, a gaggle of suits and even the USSR) you should read the original work. Such amazing effort for a seemingly simple product, which was rewarded with millions of sales and a 16-page feature in Nintendo Power. Sixteen pages for Tetris, people.
Above: As this Australian ad shows, Tetris wasn’t just marketed to the usual “gamer” crowd. It hit big with almost every demographic
It’s easy to dismiss Tetris in 2010, but there’s no doubt in our minds that it’s the most appropriate and infinitely replayable launch game in history. Publisher Henk Rogers said it best while convincing Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa to use Tetris as the pack-in game:
"If you want to sell Game Boy to little boys, then pack in Mario. If you want sell Game Boy to everyone, pack in Tetris."
“Little boys” may seem like a slam, but at the time that was the primary target for just about all of videogames. The foresight to attach Tetris to the Game Boy put Nintendo on the map in way even the NES couldn’t, and planted the seeds of Wii’s eventual outreach to the widest possible audience for a Nintendo console. This list may change a bit over the next 10 years, but we can’t imagine a game will ever come along that’s a better fit than Tetris was for the Game Boy.
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