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Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) artwork

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) review


"We miss the point. The majority of the video game demographic is comprised of young males, so it's no wonder. We are a petty, short-sighted, goal-oriented animal. When Brad asks Sheila, ''how was the sex?'' she replies emotionally, ''an hour of wondrous lovemaking,'' seemingly putting her whole being into the response. Even so, Brad wonít be impressed: ''but did you come?'' "



Entertaining to no end

We miss the point. The majority of the video game demographic is comprised of young males, so it's no wonder. We are a petty, short-sighted, goal-oriented animal. When Brad asks Sheila, ''how was the sex?'' she replies emotionally, ''an hour of wondrous lovemaking,'' seemingly putting her whole being into the response. Even so, Brad wonít be impressed: ''but did you come?''

Gamers often carry this unfortunate tunnel-vision into video games as they would any other facet of their lives. Again, witness Brad, ''I just got Final Fantasy XVII last week!'' We all know what Tedís response will be, but for the sake of completeness: ''Did you clear it yet?''

Yes, itís always all about the end result. I know of very few games that can so completely shatter our predisposed attitudinal affliction as the subject of this review. Indeed, Super Mario Brothers (SMB) 3 is one of the special few. I will explain momentarily.

But first, pardon me while I get cloudy eyed. Donít laugh; SMB3 has a way of reducing the most jaded gamers to piles of blubbering sentimentalism.

I remember being at my friendís house. I remember finding it odd that he had silver cups. We drank juice from these silver cups (I joked that they were actually tin) and played SMB3 almost every day during that summer. It was a beautiful summer really, one where much time was spent outdoors doing exciting things; like playing road hockey, ringing doorbells and running, cruising the mall to talk to girls (certainly we helped popularize the ''talk to the hand'' trend), and so on. The activity of conquering video games was at a severe disadvantage in engaging us, in sharing our valuable leisure time.

Only Mario, in his third adventure, managed to earn an even playing field, due in large part to the way his game can have you playing for hours, with no real thought given to finishing your mission.

If you follow video games, even casually, youíll have heard of Mario the plumber. He wears a red hat, and has a best friend named Luigi, who wears a green hat. The original Super Mario Brothers had Mario (or Luigi if you were taking turns as Player 2) running and jumping through eight worlds, each containing four stages, on his way to the final confrontation with infamous princess-napper, Bowser.

While SMB2 was quite a departure from the first outing (due mainly to the fact that it was to be a different game entirely), SMB3 returns the franchise to its roots. Bowser is back, after taking some time off during the days of SMB2, and he returns with a vengeance. His seven Koopa kids have stolen the seven royal wands from seven kings, who each rule a different kingdom in Mushroom World. Luckily for us, Mario also returns (and Luigi too, though SMB2ís Princess and Toad are not playable characters in this installment), with more moves, more machismo, and more magic in this chart-topping, best-selling conclusion to the brothers' 8-bit run.

The look, sound, and feel of SMB3 are positively enchanting. The little guy bounces on the heads of cutesy enemies to squash them, propelling himself back up into the air. He bumps blocks with a raised fist to release power ups like Mushrooms, the consumption of which turns mini-Mario into Super Mario. Once heís fully grown, Mushrooms are no longer available to our hero (presumably Nintendoís self-censoring at work - they wouldnít want their mascot overdosing on the stuff). Instead, the pumped up plumber can now look forward to uncovering, in these same blocks, Flowers for fireballs, and Leaves for levitation (more on the latter, later).

Sometimes a Star falls Mario's way, wrought from these same magic squares, and should our hero touch it, he finds himself invincible from all manner of creatures. Not a hard-backed Koopa, nor an explosive-tempered Bob-omb, nor any pipe-dwelling Piranha Plant can touch him now. Mario might even run through the dangerous attacks of the Hammer Brothers and do them in while his body still flashes, and the music still races. He might win a hammer to unblock obstructed paths on the clean, well-laid out Overworld map, or else win an actual authentic Hammer Brothers get up, allowing him to emulate their tool-tossing capabilities. Fancy deep sea diving? While Mario can swim without it, donning his new Frog suit will facilitate his navigation of the murky depths. Fancy flying? Sure, the aforementioned Super Leaf item can make it happen, but there is also the option to suit up adorably as Tanooki Mario, so that when you wag that aileron-like raccoon tail affixed to your backside, you look the part. Feel free to play dress up in any of the three outfits (just be wary of Paparazzi). SMB3 is all about feeling free.

Remarkably though, the magical ingredients donít end there. There are hidden whistles available - invaluable to the adventurer pressed for time. They allow Mario to warp from world one, to two, three or four; from there, to five, six or seven; and from there, to the ultimate test at world eight. Secret pink-red blocks with musical notes on them propel you to Coin Heaven above the clouds if you manage to stumble upon them. Once there, in the thin, white, bright atmosphere, coins galore, and other goodies, are yours for the taking.

There are even areas on the map where you can play a concentration card game to earn items, and a variation on a slot machine game to earn extra lives. And while the adventure is meant for one player at a time (two players can take turns as they finish levels, or die), there are three mini-games where players can go head-to-head for a spell of competitive fun to determine who sits a turn out and who continues on.

Certainly Mario runs incredibly fast through the grassy hills and valleys; sprinting through sandstorms, chased by angry suns through flat arid deserts; bounding through the stage of giants crowded with giant things; and gliding through gleaming green pipes in the world inspired by a plumberís worst nightmare. But the soaring, gliding, falling Mario is what youíll remember most.

Iíll ask it again: fancy flying? Besides making use of your striped tail and a running start to increase Marioís altitude temporarily (wagging his tail as he falls slows his descent), items called Magic P wings can be uncovered throughout the course of the game, enabling you - in a pinch - to soar through stages with the greatest of ease, high in the creamy sky above the dangers below.

There is nothing quite so special in gaming as directing an airborne Mario through these resplendent storybook backgrounds, sashaying around coloured platforms, skirting pipes and Goombas to the tune of jazzy, upbeat instrumentals that you canít help but find catchy. Truly, SMB3 features some of the most memorable music in a video game. Surely the score isnít Mozart-like in its complexity of composition, but you remember it, and when you hum it (you might fight this, but to no avail), screenshots of your own heartís making will flash through your mindís eye.

The booming track that accompanies the game's darkest and most exciting scenario is especially priceless. Every world ends with an airship infiltration by Mario (the fortresses from SMB are still here, but they no longer close out each world). World eight strings a parade of these airships together. The experience is thunderous, from the music, to the crushing cannons that the continuous contingent of massively armed airships train on you in the darkness.

And the best thing about all this gameplay excellence is that all the while, you wonít care how far youíre getting. Itís not that the game isnít challenging, or that itís too difficult. Itís the simple fact that there is so much going on that is so enjoyable, that clearing SMB3 takes a back seat to just being in the thick of things. So engaging is it, that often times, when I have, say fifteen minutes of time on my hands, I load up the game, find my first warp whistle, simply choose a level to warp to, and just play it for awhile. Any level, for any slice of time. SMB3 is fun as far as the horizon, with no end in sight.

If I could take you back (as Iím apt to do) one more time, to my earliest memories of the game: to the way the sunrays streamed into the room where we played it, to the way the dust danced in that same slant of sunlight above the T.V., to the way our fingers worked nimbly at this one special video game in the cool indoors in the sticky summertime. Super Mario Brothers 3 made for us, indelible memories. You should take every opportunity to make your own memories with it as well. There is a strong chance that scenes from the game will be etched into your heart, with a potent emotional point of reference blended in. Something like an adventurous plumber collecting coins in clouds with silver linings. Something like sunny days and silver cups.

Rating: 10/10

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 07, 2004)

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