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The Beautiful Drawings Behind Super Mario Sprites

Super Mario sprites, the pixel artwork used in the game Super Mario Bros, are known and remembered by all gamers, but few are aware of the drawings that spawned them.

First teased in a Nintendo Direct for Super Mario Maker, Callvention has obtained photos of a wider set of design documents drawn by Nintendo in-house, and it’s revealing how close they are to the Super Mario sprites featured in-game. The drawings were likely made by Nintendo veterans Shigeru Miyamoto or Takashi Tezuka, who take credit for the graphics for the game.

Last week we premiered an alternate title screen for Super Mario Bros, and this week we go in-depth on the game’s original sprite drawings.

While reviewing these documents, we were surprised by two things. First, we learned about a new character that wouldn’t appear in video game form until Super Mario World. Second, we found that the drawings are remarkably similar to the Super Mario sprites seen in the game. Despite primitive technology, the NES does a fantastic job of representing the artist’s original intent.

Super Mario Sprites Drawn from the Designer’s Notebook

First, let’s look at the original drawings of several characters, complete with descriptions from the designer.

The Japanese notes are translated by Twitter’s Cheesemeister, known for translating Japanese gaming news.

Bowser

Bowser Original Super Mario Sprites and Drawing

Bowser’s original form mimicked The Simpsons’s Mr. Burns more than the horned creature we know today.  The text written next to Bowser reads, “Boss Shellcreeper Death spits energy balls and won’t die unless [hit?] from below. Jumps up and down through the floor.”  It’s important to note here that the original turtle enemies in Mario games in Japan were called shellcreepers.

A Naked Shellcreeper

A Naked Koopa became Super Mario Sprites in Super Mario World

Here’s a character that never appeared in Super Mario Bros!  Shigeru Miyamoto originally planned to have a Koopa in the game that was outside of his shell.

Translated as “Bare Shellcreeper runs around naked,” this character would move through the Super Mario Bros. map and potentially use a weapon (shown in his hands) to hurt Mario.

Interestingly, a bare Koopa character would eventually appear in a real Super Mario game – in Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. Super Mario sprites from the SNES version are included above for reference.

Flying Shellcreepers

Flying Koopa Super Mario sprites

Flying characters were always a part of Super Mario Bros.’s design, as evident in this drawing.  The text reads, “Flying Creepershell Green flies through the air in one direction.”  This is important as it clarifies that the color distinction was always in place for the game’s design: green shelled Koopa characters would move in one direction, while red shelled characters would change direction.

Comparing Level Drawings to Super Mario Sprites

In addition to design notebooks, drawings were also used to create each level for Super Mario Bros. Below we compare the drawings for each level to completed Super Mario Sprites. NES Super Mario sprites are provided by Beam Luinsir Yosh at Mario Mayhem.

Goomba

Goomba Drawing and Super Mario sprites

The Goomba, Mario’s first enemy in Super Mario Bros., is differentiated in design drawings by diagonal eyebrows.

Blooper

Super Mario Sprites of Blooper

These underwater creatures, called Bloopers, were drawn accurately as sprites, with four tentacles hanging from the creature’s body.

Koopa

Koopa Super Mario Sprites

Koopa sketches evolved significantly from the shellcreeper design illustrated earlier in this article.  Even the drawing here doesn’t capture the more detailed design in Super Mario sprites.  The drawing here mimics the enemies from the original Mario Bros. arcade game.

A Hill Changes

Super Mario Sprites of Hills

While the art style itself is similar, hills represent a significant change from the game’s original level drawings.  Super Mario Bros. hills consistently have grass spread beyond the hill/mountain, as shown in the Super Mario Sprite.  In the video game, grass always spreads a full “sprite box” beyond the mountain.  However, in original level drawings, the grass would not spread beyond the hill itself.

Shiny Pipes

Super Mario Sprites of PIpes

Even in level drawings, the beautiful shadowing and lighting effect placed on pipes is illustrated.  The added depth presented by such a subtle coloring of the pipes makes a significant difference on the game’s presentation.

Wait, That’s Not Donkey Kong

Super Mario Sprites from Donkey Kong

Interestingly, floating platforms changed significantly from original level drawings.  The drawing here closely mirrors floating platforms from Shigeru Miyamoto’s other big game of the time, Donkey Kong.  The diagonal design of platforms would be simplified for Super Mario sprites, becoming the more boxy version we know of today.

 

The Many Vines of Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Sprites of Vines

Underwater Vines in Super Mario Bros.

Vines found above land in Super Mario Bros. have a more simplistic design than what ended up in the real game.  The drawing presented here more closely resembles vines in Donkey Kong Jr., another title created by Shigeru Miyamoto.

Vines found underwater also appear differently than they ended up in the end-game.  The final Super Mario sprites for underwater plantlife appear far more dangerous and uncontrolled than the original level design’s drawing.

Powering Up

Super Mario Sprites of Powerups

Drawings of Magic Mushrooms capture perfectly the characteristics of final Super Mario sprites.  From the randomly sized spots to the iconic mushroom shape, it’s all here.

Mario is Walking Tall

Super Mario Sprites of Mario

This original drawing of Mario walking through a level emphasizes the movement of his arms and legs, which would later be animated into Super Mario sprites.  Interestingly, the design of his face seems similar to his design in Donkey Kong, Mario’s first appearance in a video game.

There’s Plenty More Coming

Callvention has plenty more to share on the making of Super Mario Bros, as well as many of your other favorite games.  We have more drawings, animations and more on the way.

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