When was Super Mario Bros. released?

At Gamasutra, Frank Cifaldi tries to pin down a fact that's suprisingly slippery: when was Super Mario Bros. released in the U.S.? The official date—October 19, 1985—is somewhat unconvincing. The console industry crash turned the era into a crater of press inattention and poor record-keeping, showing that even in the computer age, the hard facts of mass culture can slip weirdly into the memory hole.

Assuming as we are that Super Mario Bros. was available for sale on the same day as the NES, all of this research is pointing to that first sale being on October 19, but without any real paper evidence to prove it, I'm just not satisfied.

I got in contact with FAO Schwarz ... [which] acknowledged that the store was indeed the site of the first NES sale: or at least, that's what they're saying as part of the 150th anniversary celebration. They don't seem to have any actual record of this, nor do they have any sales data going back that far to verify the date. The claim seems to have come directly from Nintendo.

My favorite part are the arguments over whether there was a Super Mario Bros. arcade game in 1984 or not. Anyone who remembers the 19A0s will know exactly why we can't quite pin down this stuff. Voxel Mario by *cezkid


  1. SMB was available at the 1985 limited-market US release of the NES according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_Entertainment_System#North_American_bundle_packages 

    At that time, the NES was available either barebones or in a deluxe set with the Zapper and ROB (plus the Duck Hunt and Gyromite games that used them)

    SMB was added as the pack-in game with the nationwide release of the NES in 1986. In 1988 the “Action set” was released with the zapper the Duck Hunt/SMB cart just about everyone has.

    SMB was not yet developed at the 1983 release in Japan. The Famicom was released with Donkey Kong.

    The SMB arcade game was released after the NES game, and runs on the “Nintendo VS. System” hardware. (basically a NES in an arcade cabinet, allowing arcade operators to change games as easily as you change cartridges in a NES)

  2. Wouldn’t the remaining SMB arcade cabinets have a copyright date and/or old state “gaming license” stamped on them?  I’m more than happy to do this… eh… research, if I can find a suitable retro arcade around here.

  3. Was there really nobody on hand over the age of 35 to help with this article?   It did come out in the US in ’85 because, well… I bought it when it was released.   Or are they simply confused about the exact day in 1985?

    Maybe a book written in the 90’s by an actual journalist could shed some light.  http://www.amazon.com/Game-Over-Nintendo-Conquered-World/dp/0679736220

    Use the “click to look inside!” feature.  It’s there on the first page. 

  4. Hi, I’m the author of the original article. I’d like to thank everybody for suggesting I read Wikipedia and the most famous Nintendo history book in the world, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of doing either of those things before writing a three-page article! Boy is my face red!

  5. I don’t have the receipt but I have one of those first NES. We were living in PA at the time and my parents were in NYC for something. They went into FAO Schwartz that morning and the guy was setting up the display. My dad got to chatting with him and he said they were launching a new video game console that day. Right away my dad was hooked but the guy wouldn’t let him have one. He said it was a simultaneous launch with another location (SF I think) so my dad would have to come back later. Sure enough he did. We were supposed to get all sorts of things for buying one of the first ones, I don’t remember what now, but in the end all we got was a survey phone call. I’ve been meaning to hunt the console down – but my family has splintered across the country. Last I knew my sister had it, but that was three moves ago for her family. Serial number on that baby was like 00009.

  6. In the event that this helps settle a portion of the debate, I have some first hand experience with this subject.  Below a link and excerpt from an interview I did in January of 2008.  Since then, several gaming websites confirmed the story though I’ve since lost the links.


    True confessions time: I haven’t owned a video game system in quite a while. I purchased an Xbox when it first came out, played it for a week, and now it just gathers dust. I sometimes feel like a recovering alcoholic when I hold a game controller. I’m going to digress again, so feel free to skip this answer if you like.I use to work at FAO Schwartz, the famous toy store here in NYC, back in my twenties, way before I was even reintroduced to the world of comics with “The Dark Knight” and “Watchmen.” I was a salesman in the “Games Department,” and the store expert on strategy games like Avalon Hill. I also had to learn how to play nearly every board game on the shelves because back in those days. FAO really prided themselves on their sales people being experts in what they were selling, especially since so many of their clients were high rollers and celebrities (the stories I could tell). Over in the darkest corner of the department, we had old Atari consoles and games gathering dust that we were selling for dirt; the video game boom was dead and buried.In one day comes this very nice gentlemen. He’d spoken to our store manager who directed him towards me. He said that he was representing this company called Nintendo out of Japan and now with headquarters in Seattle, and he wanted to show me this new video game system, the NES. My eyes rolled back into my head and he laughed because he said that was exactly the response my store manager gave him. He handed me the very original NES system, the one that had the robot and the gun for the “Duck Hunt” game. He told me to take it home and to try it out free of charge, so I did. It was my understanding that FAO would be the first store to carry the game based on my say-so and outside of perhaps focus-group testing. I may have been the first layperson in the US, at least in NYC to play with the unit. I could be wrong, but if I’m remembering correctly, I don’t even think it was seen in trade shows yet at that point. Hey, it’s my fantasy, let me have it.I went home and was blown away by it. I went back to my managers and told them that we had to invest deeply in the system, they thought I was crazy, people didn’t want video games after the crash, but they took a flyer, put some trust in me and went for it. That Christmas, there was interest from consumers but the toughest hurdle was the time I had to spend, literally explaining to every customer how this was not like Atari, how this was special. In some cases, I even had to tell one of my regular costumers that I would take the unit back if they didn’t like it. It was only a matter of time, but slowly word started to go around about the system and I started to see more and more people coming back to FAO for the unit and before we knew it, we couldn’t keep it in stock. We were also the exclusive store for that time period, if I recall correctly, so there was nowhere else in NYC to get it.Once the game went into other stores, my pal from Nintendo game back and offered me another opportunity to test-drive another product. It was this game called “Legend of Zelda,” he said it would rock my world.It did.I became so obsessed with “Legend of Zelda” that suddenly both my girlfriend at the time and I found ourselves thinking of nothing but the game. We didn’t go out, we barely ate. It got to the point where I found myself showing up to work late and, in some cases, not showing up at all because I had to figure out the game — it was insane. Needless to say, I knew that Nintendo had another hit on its hands, but I had to ultimately give my unit away because I was an addict. When the Nintendo rep came back in, I told him that I was going to inform my managers to stock to the rafters with “Zelda,” but that I never wanted to see the game again. As an aside, I asked the rep how he became involved with Nintendo and he told me that he was one of the guys who originally bought the rights from Nintendo to license “Donkey Kong” as an arcade game in all of North America. I was blown away — not only was this guy a multi-millionaire, but he was still going store to store selling Nintendo product. I wish I could remember his name, he was a tremendously nice guy.

    1. Hi Joe! Thanks for sharing your story, that was awesome. Three questions:

      1. Do you happen to remember if Super Mario Bros. was there from the beginning? Did you take it home?

      2. I know it’s a stretch, but is there anything you can remember that might help me put a date on when that first FAO Schwarz sale happened?

      3. Do you still have that NES somewhere? I’d love to know the serial number on the bottom.

      That gentleman you encountered was more than likely named Ron Judy. I haven’t had direct contact with him myself, but if you’d like I can point you in the right direction. fcifaldi@gmail.com

  7. Hi, 34 year old over here. I distinctly remember the arcade game being released prior to the SNES. I used to watch older kids play it in a grocery store in the east village.

  8. Frank, I was in my early twenties and it was at the time when FAO was still at its 745 5th Avenue location.  I’m going to guess that this was probably sometime between 1984-1985 as FAO moved later in 1986.  

    It’s a bit of a blur, but I remember Duck Hunt and  Gyromite (with the robot) being bundled with a deluxe version of the system.  I also recall playing Mario at the time, but I’m unclear as to whether it was sold separately or bundled as well.  I couldn’t help you with the arcade question as I wasn’t frequenting them at the time.

    As for the serial number, that NES is long gone just like that ex-girlfriend.

    Ron Judy sounds like the guy.  As I mentioned, there was a gamer sight that did some research on my story and apparently found nearly the identical tale but told from Mr. Judy’s POV only he couldn’t remember my name.  What I do remember was that he was just a great guy to deal with and really believed in the product.  


    1.  Joe, fair warning. Once I get around to writing this book I’ve been threatening to write for years now, you’re getting a call from me. Thanks again for your insight.

  9. I distinctly remember playing the coin op game on my 13th birthday at the local Korger. It sat just to the left of Spy Hunter.
    Since the store was where the video games were, I was always begging to go. It was a big deal for me because I wasn’t allowed to go to the store on my own until I turned 13. I went first thing in the morning of my birthday.
    That was November of 84.

    1. Sorry, you’re mistaken. You’re either remembering the original Mario Bros. (not Super Mario Bros.) or you’re confusing years. Vs. Super Mario Bros., the first arcade version of the game, came out in early 1986.

      There was no arcade version of Super Mario Bros. in 1984. The game that became Super Mario Bros. didn’t even start very basic prototype development until December, 1984, and wasn’t completed until around August, 1985. We have dated paperwork to prove this, and a firsthand account from the original team. See here: http://iwataasks.nintendo.com/interviews/#/wii/mario25th/4/0

  10. According to this article in the
    Cumberland Evening Times – October 25, 1985, Cumberland, Marylandthe package available in 1985 would only feature Duck Hunt and Gyromite. http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7084/6884120380_de578ebe7c.jpg

    1. Yeah, this is a syndicated column. The earliest printing I have of that is 11/17 in an Alabama paper. This one’s really frustrating because he’s SO CLOSE to mentioning Super Mario Bros. by name but doesn’t quite get there.

  11. That spinning Mario logo is almost as cool as this:


  12. Sounds like a fantastic subject for a book, long overdue.  Always here if you need anything and if you ever speak with Ron Judy, please pass along my regards, I’d love to catch up with him someday.  

    For the record, FAO had the exclusive on the NES for a while, which probably wasn’t a tough thing to promise as most stores saw video game systems as radiative at the time.  FAO did have a brisk mail oder business so while only available in the NY area we did start to get an extensive amounts of calls to ship out of state.  I know this because we didn’t have a mail order department at the time, out of state shipping calls came straight down to the sales people on the floor.  I believe the next store to eventually get the system was Toys R’ Us.Best,JQPS: Why can’t I get that god awful shiny gold Zelda cartridge out of my head… make it stop.

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