|Developer:||Nintendo|||||Release Date:||1988 (JP)|||||Systems:||NES, SNES|
Today on Super Adventures my Mario Marathon Month continues with Super Mario Bros. 3, the final Super Mario for the NES! It's not the last game he showed up in on the console though, as he got his medical degree just before the SNES was released. Sadly his career as Dr. Mario lasted just four months and then it was all Yoshi games and edutainment after that.
I've timed this one better than most, as today is the game's 25th anniversary... in the US. It's not a particularly special date to me seeing as it came out 18 months later in Britain and a year or so earlier in Japan, but I'm being
Super Mario Bros. 3 has actually appeared on Super Adventures before, about four years ago now, but I wasn't the person who played it and the guy who did absolutely hated it. Seriously, I found someone who dislikes Super Mario 3, how amazing is that? Uh, not that I'm implying that I like it, I'm not giving that away until the end, but I have definitely played it before and I have... opinions.
This little skit they've got set up here helps introduce the game mechanics, but there's no intro here to set up the plot. It's a bit of a step back from the American Super Mario Bros. 2's two whole pages of text, but better than the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2's absolute nothing. Super Mario 3 is in a weird situation where it's a sequel to a different game in the West than it is in Japan, so it's simultaneously a return to the old formula and an evolutionary step forward. Still no title music though.
Hang on, I've just realised something for the first time. The way they're on a literal stage here, with the curtain and the flat wooden hills... this is what inspired Paper Mario isn't it?
|Paper Mario (N64)|
The character select from the Super Mario 2 games has gone, and I'm back to having a choice between 1 player or 2 player hotseat multiplayer, with Luigi restored to being a identical double of his brother in a green hat.
the best map music ever (youtube link), awesome.
If I was playing two player mode right now I could put both characters on the same tile and have a game of the original Mario Bros. (here called Battle Game), but I'm not, so I'm going off to stage 1. Oh, it turns out that I was wrong when I said there was no in-game set up for the story. Someone in the castle down there is yelling for help; what more justification does Mario need to go jumping on turtles?
Wait, this isn't Super Mario Bros. 3... this is the Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement demo created by Softdisk employees John Carmack and Tom Hall in 1990 to demonstrate how smooth scrolling could work on a PC! This was a huge deal at the time, as the EGA video cards of the era couldn't even compete with NES visuals, but the other folks at Softdisk didn't see it that way, so along with fellow employees John Romeo and Adrian Carmack he formed id Software to make the Commander Keen series.
Of course this happened the same year that Wing Commander came out, so PCs weren't entirely rubbish if you stuck an expensive VGA card in there, but id Software would later work miracles with that hardware too when they developed a slick first person shooter engine and made Doom with it, properly kicking off the FPS genre.
So yeah if you trace it back far enough, the current dominance of first person shooters in the AAA market is basically all Super Mario Bros. 3's fault. Kind of.
this music, while you look at how perfectly this first bit of the level is set up and try to tell me it's not awesome. Man, how did they get those steel drum sounds out of a NES sound chip?
Granted I've played this before and I'm running off muscle memory here (plus it took me two tries), but this section is designed in a way that anyone who figures out the buttons and avoids charging into that first Goomba can quickly pick up the basics of the game just by reacting instinctively to what they see. Then they come out the other side fully powered up and feeling like a badass in less than 20 seconds. A badass wearing a raccoon tail and cute little ears.
Why a raccoon tail? Because in Japanese folklore, Japanese raccoon dogs (known as tanuki) are said to have the ability to shapeshift into other forms, sometimes by sticking a leaf on their head. Why growth mushrooms, fire flowers and invulnerability stars? I've no bloody idea.
|Super Mario Bros. All-Stars (SNES)|
One change I don't get though, is why they made the the blocks in the background look so rounded. They were fine as they were! They've also added a bit of parallax scrolling, which makes it looks more like a real place and less like a theatre set. For better or worse.
One thing that's worth mentioning perhaps, is that vertical scrolling only activated once I was airborne. Check out the difference in how the screen moves up and down when I'm jumping on the clouds here to how it utterly failed to move in the previous shot. Then once I get close enough to the ground it turns off again. A cunning trick to keep the Super Mario Bros. feel.
I was going to say earlier that I was glad the clouds don't have smiley faces any more, but I guess clouds are just happier (and more solid) at high altitudes lately, far from the plumbers who judge them. There's also stencilled pictures of power ups here which definitely reinforces the theory that stage one (and all the world) is literally on a stage.
Also you can see here that if you run into the exit at top speed you basically always get a star card from the... WHAT? I got a mushroom card? But I was running! You can see my P Meter flashing! Does this mean that all my memories of the game are a lie?
Actually I think I just jumped a half-second too late.
For whatever reason, the mid-level checkpoints from the other Super Marios (both before and since) are missing this time around, so I'll have to replay this from the start.
|Super Mario Bros. All-Stars (SNES)|
Huh, I just noticed something... why are the stage tiles twinkling in the All-Stars remake?
Oh whatever, I'm going to go play stage... 1-3.
The ability to actually pick up and carry shells like this is semi-new for Super Mario Bros. 3, as you can find shell pick ups and throw them in the US version of Super Mario 2. That game was all about the throwing. But I'm pretty sure that smashing bricks and triggering coin blocks with them like this is 100% new for this, and it's a smart addition to the gameplay. It opens up new options for the observant and looks cool when you pull off something like this.
I managed fly back up and hit the brick at the last second, but the 1UP hidden within was eaten by the auto-scrolling screen. Bit of a shame that, seeing as those things are worth a 100 of these spinning coins... literally.
This warp whistle I've collected is basically the game's equivalent of the hidden warp zones in Super Mario Bros. 1, with the advantage that I can hold onto it in my inventory until I feel like using it.
|Super Mario Bros. All-Stars (SNES)|
Inventory items like this can only be used on the world map and most give me a power up for the next stage. They're not easy to come by though, so I plan to hoard the things and never use them.
I think it kinda works though. It looks like a cheerful sentient alien ring pull.
STAGE 1-UH, CASTLE.
Oh by the way, something weird happened there just then: I took damage and didn't turn back to tiny Mario. In the Japanese version it's two hits and you're out, just like the first game, but they changed it for the Western releases, making the game a little easier. In All-Stars and Super Mario Advance 4, on the other hand, players in all regions get to retain their Super Mario height after losing their superpowers.
I like how the Mario games never try to justify anything and somehow get away with it. I'm taking rides on floating rails that zig-zag across the sky, and there's no hint of an explanation why this would exist. Some wooden platforms have tracks, some don't have tracks, some have a spinning thing on either end, some only come with one (or less)... and what are they even attached to anyway, the stage backdrop?
STAGE 1-HAMMER BROS.
With him out of the way there's nothing left between me and the castle, and I can walk straight over to see what the problem is.
Dude, you don't need me for this! I was half-raccoon myself a few minutes ago, it never lasts. Just throw a turtle shell at him and he'll be fine.
|Super Mario Advance 4 (GBA)|
There's absolutely no in-game reason give why the screen's constantly scrolling like this by the way, it just makes it a bit more challenging and adds to the tension. The music's gone all serious business as well; no happy ragtime piano or steel drums playing here, shit is getting real right now.
With the wand returned to the castle, the King is returned to human form (or maybe he's an ugly mushroom, I can't tell) and Mario gets his reward! A letter from Princess Toadstool.
Whoa, I just noticed that her image is talking. That's not right man.
I should probably turn the game off now that I'm an eighth of the way through it, but I want to see what it's like when the challenge is turned up a little. I can finish World 1 in my sleep, but I haven't seen what's past the second one (I could never resist using the warp whistles to just skip to the end).
WORLD 2 CASTLE.
I can't remember if I already knew that Thwomps and those bashful Boo ghosts were both introduced in this, so it's possible I've learned something today. I've learned not to go into haunted castles.
Also I love the way that Mario sticks his arms out when he hits top speed. I'm not so keen on the way that his lower half disappears against a black background though, but hey, at least he still has feet.
I actually had to look up how to get through the whirlwind by the way, because simply jumping through it seemed like such a dumb move that my brain dismissed it entirely before it could enter my conscious thoughts. I'd been trying to duck and skid underneath it, which only got me span around and spat back out.
NINE LIVES LATER.
On the plus side, I have infinite continues this time, which puts it way ahead of Super Mario Bros. 2's two continues, and Super Mario Bros. 1's absolute lack of them (without hitting the right inputs to make use of an... unreferenced game feature). But I still have to start again from the beginning of the world if I choose to keep playing, and my 1UP count will be reset back what I started with, so I've got to get through these tricky stages with less lives the next time.
Super Mario Advance 4 on the other hand lets you just save the game mid-world, which makes it the clear winner here. This handheld remake doesn't seem to change the game anywhere near as much as Super Mario Advance 1 reworked Super Mario Bros. 2, but I think I'll be switching over and leaving the NES game behind now that I'm in danger of making some progress.
LATER, ON SUPER MARIO ADVANCE.
|Super Mario Advance 4 (GBA)|
It turned out that the next zone was Water World, which is pretty fitting seeing as I crash and burned worse than the Kevin Costner movie did. I just about managed to crawl through to the end of the World 3 mid-point castle, a crappy 'try every door until you find that one that doesn't dunk you in water' level, and hit that save point about two mistakes away from having wasted a ton of effort. I think I need a break now.
I think the main thing I've learned by playing Super Mario Bros. 3, is that the more NES games I play in a row, the less interest I have in restarting at the beginning of a world every few fuck ups I make. I'm not the kind of person who practices a game, works out all the secrets, and eventually masters each level, I'm the type that hammers away at the same stage over and over until I make it through with either dumb luck or a stroke of inspiration. Being kicked back a half-dozen stages every time I empty my lives counter makes me feel like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill, and there's no way to quit and walk away for a bit without forfeiting all progress.
I guess that's the biggest problem with Super Mario Bros. 3 for me, and it's the same problem that all the other NES Marios have had: it's a reasonably big and challenging game that you have to finish in one sitting. Of course there's the hidden warp whistles to skip ahead, but they're not earned through making progress or mastering the game mechanics, the game doesn't tell you where they are when you beat World 3 or whatever, so they're basically a secret level select cheat.
Fortunately the remakes come with a battery backed up save feature which pretty much means I can never go back to the NES game again. Which is a shame really, as I think I actually prefer the way the NES version sounds and looks. This is the best music in the series right here in my opinion. I've even kind of grown to like the way that reality breaks down across the right hand edge of the screen. In fact I wish Nintendo had thrown in a few stages from Super Mario Bros. 1 that make use of this newer engine with its more forgiving movement, because I love how many chasms I haven't been accidentally throwing myself into this time around.
It seems like the Super Mario Advance 4 GBA port may be the one to go for, but it's not without its downsides: it's got a smaller screen for one thing, and Mario keeps yelling things like "Lucky!" "Just what I needed!" and "Let's a-go!" all the damn time. It wouldn't be so bad if he sounded like Lou Albano in 'The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!' but he doesn't.
So I'm giving the game a shiny Gold Star. It is clearly one of the best platformers ever made, but I doubt I'll ever seriously try to finish it because its level of challenge soon rises to become incompatible with my personal level of skill and patience, and the 'one more try' hook I need to push past that only lasts as long as my lives do.
On the other hand, the Super Mario Advance 4 port was nice enough to let me continue on the stage I was stuck on, so I don't see why I shouldn't throw one of these its way as well: