Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) review
"There are certain games that become legends. Games which become the benchmark by which all others of their genre are judged. In the heyday of the NES, Super Mario Bros. 3 was such a game, and although facing fierce competition from it's SNES cousin, many people still consider Mario 3 to be the pinnacle of 2D platform gaming. Because, well, it's pretty good, really. "
There are certain games that become legends. Games which become the benchmark by which all others of their genre are judged. In the heyday of the NES, Super Mario Bros. 3 was such a game, and although facing fierce competition from it's SNES cousin, many people still consider Mario 3 to be the pinnacle of 2D platform gaming. Because, well, it's pretty good, really.
Mario 3 follows almost the same plot as the first NES Super Mario game. The dastardly Bowser has kidnapped the Princess, and Mario must journey through eight worlds for a showdown with the B-man himself in order to rescue her. Only this time, Bowser has backup. Since Bowser was replaced by a giant frog for the (Western) Mario 2, he obviously had a lot of time on his hands, time which he took to produce baby Bowsers, each just as mean as their father (only ever so slightly more adorable). So now Mario must not only rescue the Princess from Bowser, but also rescue the rulers of the seven worlds surrounding Bowser's from his offspring. Blimey!
This game will feel instantly familiar to Mario fans, but while the gameplay is still along the lines of it's predecessors, it has had so much more added. For starters, each world is now huge. With at least seven or eight levels per world (and there are many more than this in later worlds), and eight worlds to conquer, this is a massive game. The worlds range from the traditional platform staple (Grass World, Desert World, Water World, Ice World and such) to the more unique (Giant World and Pipe World), a mixture that works very well. Each world is now presented in a map form, from which you can travel to the next level you wish to tackle. Occasionally you will find that the path forks, meaning that it is possible to skip whole levels. While the levels are so well designed and so darn fun that it is unlikely that you'll be taking advantage of this, the fact that it is an option makes the world seem that much more real in it's lack of linearity. And it isn't just the levels that are dotted around the map screen, either. Mushroom headed freak-boy Toad is often at hand. It seems that in his spare time Toad is a bit of a land baron, as he has several houses in each world. In some of these you are given the choice between three chests, each containing an item, while in others you get to try a simple yet endearing mini-game in which you must match up a picture to earn more lives. The Hammer Bros. are also lurking around the world maps, and if you run into them (literally, that is) you are sent into battle against them - winning gives you another item for your inventory (a storage space that is only assessable on the world map that allows you to equip yourself for the upcoming level.
While there is plenty to do between levels, that doesn't mean that the levels are half-hearted. Quite the opposite, the levels are superbly designed, with each level managing to feel just different enough to the last to ensure that the game never starts to feel stale. All the Mario favourites are back - Koopa Troopas, Gumbas, those annoying spinning things in the castles, Buzzy Beetles and the like, but there are also a number of iconic figures that feature here for the first time, such as Dry Bones, Thwomps and Boo Ghosts. There are pipes to go down, chasms to leap, blocks to headbutt, everything you expect from a Mario game, but it all feels so much... bigger. As well as the standard Mario, Super Mario and Fireball Mario player states, there's the Racoon leaf, which gives Mario a tail with which to whack the bad guys and allows limited flight, the Frog suit which allows better swimming abilities (naturally), the Tanooki suit, which allows Mario to turn into a statue, even a Hammer Bros. suit! Again, these serve to add a little more variety into the game - it's a long game, after all, so anything that keeps it fresh is very welcome. There are also a few nice touches that are unique to a particular level, such as the giant boot that Mario can climb in to stomp on enemies in Giant World. If it all sounds like this game is just too big to play in one sitting, though (there is, after all, no save or password feature), you can make use of the Warp Wings (if you can find them that is), which allow you to jump ahead several worlds. While the inclusion of the wings is welcome (without them the game takes at least a whole afternoon to play through), they do give rise to what is one of only a few minor complaints about the game - tactical employment of the warp wings mean that it is possible to finish the whole game in about an hour. While this makes the game good for long sessions or quick fixes, it can also make the difficulty curve far too steep for younger gamers. The jump in difficulty from World Two to World Eight, for example, is incredibly high, whereas playing the game fully through eases you more gently into the swing of things. It's not too much of a complaint, though, since you can just not use the Warp Wings (I guess it's just painful memories of world eight from my younger days resurfacing).
Completing a level gives you a card with a symbol on it, three of which you can hold at a time. Getting three the same brings in big rewards (up to five, count 'em - five, extra lives!), and adds another element to the game. Although this doesn't amount to much in the one player game, it really makes the two player game. On the whole the two player game is turn-based - one player does one level, the next tries the next level, but it is possible to engage the second player in some classic Mario Bros. action - in a one screen arena you take on your opponent in challenges such as getting a certain number of coins first. What makes this interesting is that in certain arenas it is possible to steal the other player's cards. This can be done out of pure malice (and this is very satisfying, believe me), but it can also be done tactically - being used to swap cards with your friend to ensure that both of you bring in as big a reward as possible. The only problem is that this is the only time that the game really feels like a two-player game. The rest of the time the player not currently attempting a level need not even be there. If one player finishes a world then the other player is taken to the start of the next, too, meaning that there's always one player who feels a bit superfluous to requirements.
The presentation here is superb, too. The graphics are bold and colourful, there is an astonishingly tiny amount of slowdown, and the animation is all very smooth. Graphically each world has a distinct feel to it, too. Although it is natural the levels from different environments would look different, there is so much attention to detail in order to achieve that in this game that every level is almost as much of a visual treat as it is a treat to play. The sound, too, is great. Mario veterans will delight to hear the 'underground' tune from the first Mario game return in a special funked up version, and the new tunes are just as good, if not better, than anything Mario had thrown at us up to this point. There's barely a tune in the game that won't get you humming along, consciously or subconsciously. The sound effects too are marvellously chirpy - the sound of Mario jumping, of Thwomp falling from the ceiling, of Bullet-Bills launching from a cannon all sound so tongue-in-cheek and cartoon-like that even the most cold-hearted and humourless NES players can't help but raise a smile while playing this game.
This game really is one of the high points of the NES, and of Mario's career in gaming - it is a game that has become synonymous with the system, and with good reason. The only major complaint is the lack of two-player action in the two-player mode, but this is forgivable, as the game is almost as much fun to watch as it is to play, and the loners out there won't even pick up on this point. It's not a perfect game, but it comes shockingly close, and it manages to stand tall and not only measure up to, but tower above, many modern games. Mario 3 is one of those all-too-rare things - a game that genuinely, unquestionably lives up to it's reputation. A true legend.
Community review by tomclark (February 02, 2004)
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