Thursday, 12 February 2015

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

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 impatient considerate of my American readers. Whoa, I just did the math there: that's three years that we were left waiting for this, while Americans were already playing Super Mario World! I say 'we'... I didn't get a NES until something like 2001, so it's not like I was personally inconvenienced by any of this.

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.



Wow, Luigi... what a dick. First he jumps on his brother's head, then he kicks a shell at him!

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)
Oh damn, it's not just a similar concept, it's the same stage, with the same chequered floor! Well I've learned something today.

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.

A Mario game with a proper world map at last! Alternate routes, bonus rooms, dancing hill... cactus... things and 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?

Huh, none of these coin blocks aren't working. Plus didn't this used to have 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.

I really love this game... oh shit, I wasn't supposed to reveal that until the end. But just listen to 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)
Here's a shot of the same place in the Super Mario Bros. All-Stars remake on the Super Nintendo. The graphics and sound have had an upgrade to 1993 standards, but the gameplay is the same as ever.

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.

Now that I've got my furry costume I can charge up my P Meter, tap the jump button, and temporarily take to the skies in search of secrets. The Mario games have smooth vertical scrolling at last! Also I can scroll the screen backwards now! This isn't just because the programmers had gotten better at coding for the machine, the game cartridge itself has better hardware in it, basically giving NESs and Famicoms a memory expansion.

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.

Hey, the coins spell out a '3' for Super Mario Bros. 3! And they're spinning!

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.


WORLD 1-2.


There's no vertical scrolling on stage two, but I did find a P Switch that turns bricks into coins and vice versa. That's a brand new feature for the series, and presumably all platformers ever. It's kind of a dastardly trick though, as first time around most players would only find the thing after collecting the suspicious rows of coins that would've formed their platforms.

Slopes are new too, missing a jump because I'd disappeared off the top of the screen... sadly not so new. Now I have to turn in my mushroom and my furry ears and go back to the world map, my first life lost.

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.


SOON.


Super Mario Bros. All-Stars (SNES)
Okay stage 1-2's done, but now I have an actual choice to make. I can either continue downwards through the world map to the castle, or I can try to reach the mushroom house on the right for some kind of bonus. I've got a choice there as well, as there's two routes to the mushroom house (so if I get utterly destroyed by stage 1-3, I can try stage 1-4 instead). I can't go back to stage 1-2 though, as replaying levels to stripmine them for lives is strictly forbidden.

Huh, I just noticed something... why are the stage tiles twinkling in the All-Stars remake?

The tiles are supposed to look like the transition at the end of each level, right? How does that have anything to do with twinkling? I'm genuinely confused right now.

Oh whatever, I'm going to go play stage... 1-3.


STAGE 1-3.


Uh... I meant to do that!

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.

Secrets within secrets in the clouds above the note block.

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.

I sometimes complain about hidden secrets being a double edged sword in games, as rewarding players for doing things like ducking at every pipe and headbutting every ordinary looking block ends up encouraging them to do it, but I doubt anyone's ever tried ducking down for six seconds on every piece of scenery just in case this trick worked again. This is the kind of secret you have to be told about, and I'm pretty surprised I remembered the exact place on the right stage to find it.

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)
Completing stage 3 let me through to the mushroom house, and another box to open!

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.

The spade tile on the map is another bonus room, which gives me a rare chance to see a giant-sized version of Mario. Well, unless I was only regular-sized Mario when I came in, then I get to see how tiny he is compared to Toad. Here's another thing you don't often see in this game: his blue dungarees.

Mario's sprite has taken a turn for the dark side in this game, becoming entirely black and red and gaining an outline similar to his US Mario 2 look, though he recovers his normal cheerful colour scheme in the SNES All-Stars remake. It seems that they coloured in his NES sprite for the 16-bit version, then flipped the colours and made him a little taller to create a 16-bit Mario 1 sprite out of it too.

This bonus room's bonus round involves three spinning strips with a third of a picture on each, and I had to stop each at the right moment to form a complete image. I failed.

I think it kinda works though. It looks like a cheerful sentient alien ring pull.


STAGE 1-UH, CASTLE.


The castle levels and those bloody lava pits from Super Mario Bros. are back, though they seem to come halfway through a world now, and they have skeletons in them! These undead Koopas are annoying as they just come right back to life again after a few seconds, and I need that stretch of ground turtle-free so I can use it as a runway. There's another warp whistle on this level and I need a full P-Meter to take flight and reach it.

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.


STAGE 1-5.


Well it wasn't a 5UP, but it was something at least. In two player mode you can actually knock cards out of the other player during the Battle Mode mini-game to get rid of rogue mushrooms ruining your set.


STAGE 1-6.


There is nothing safe about any of this.

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.


Man, the Hammer Bros. really aren't so tough when there's only one of them. That poor idiot's been patrolling the world map all this time impatiently waiting for me to reach him, and then when I arrive the first thing he does is accidentally throw the fight by putting himself in the worst possible place. Mario's been punching bricks from underneath since 1983 mate, you don't want to be standing above him.

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.

The King has been transformed into a dog? So... no Princesses then? No damsels in distress need saving? Just a transdogrified regent with fleas who wants to be re-humanificated? Or re-fungified perhaps, seeing as this is the Mushroom Kingdom.

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)
The Game Boy Advance remake (named Super Mario Advance 4 to confuse me) features a new intro showing the King being attacked by a punk turtle with incredible jumping skills, and the Princess personally sending Mario and Luigi out to save the day. Oh plus the King is transformed into a snake instead of a dog for whatever reason. That's Super Mario Bros. All-Stars' fault though really, as that was where the change was made, SMA4 is just reusing its graphics.

Okay, whatever, time to do my action hero thing then.

Damn Bowser, have you ever thought about having a few cannons facing away from your own deck? You can tell this guy's more scared of one plumber than a kingdom's entire armed forces. I guess because one plumber is this kingdom's entire armed forces.

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.

Whoa. I wish all boss fights could be so painless. Three hits and down, and now I can get back to the proper gameplay! I'm sure the later fights will be a real bastard, but this one at least was made just for me.

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.

Uh... that's not a jewel, that's a P-Wing power up. She makes it sound like it's some anti-ghost defence ward, when it actually gives me unlimited flight for an entire level. Everything's a P-something in this game. P Switches, P-Meter, P-Wings...

Whoa, I just noticed that her image is talking. That's not right man.


WORLD 1-2.


With one airship down I'm onto World 2, where even the blocks have turned against me. This is a concern, I'm concerned now. Though now that I look closer, I can tell the evil blokes by their lack of gleam. Plus they stand out from a mile away in the remakes.

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.


Damn... is there another door I can try maybe?

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.

Oh shit, now the sun's after me! Gotta reach a pyramid fast, so I can arrange some kind of human sacrifice and appease it, because I can't kill the sun! It would mean the death of everything on the planet!

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.


Well I out-manoeuvred that mass of hostile incandescent gas without too much drama, but the next couple of stages burned through my stash of lives in a minute or two and now I'm staring at a game over screen.

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.

On the plus side, destroying the castle has permanently removed it from the map, along with a lock that was blocking off this pipe above me. That means I can skip stages 1 and 2 entirely this time around, basically giving me a mid-world checkpoint!

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)
I finally fought my way up to the final level of World 2, made it across the second airship, and what I found inside was incredible. Sorry, I meant 'identical', to the the World 1 boss. All I had to do was bounce on his head three times like the last one, and the second wand was mine.

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.


CONCLUSION

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:


Thank you so much a-for-to reading about me playing a game! If you want to leave a comment about how much I such at Mario games, how Super Mario Bros. 3 is or isn't the best of the series, or something even better than that, then feel free to use the message box below. Maybe you could even guess what the next game is (it's not Half-Life 3).

8 comments:

  1. 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.

    Now I hate SMB3. Thanks.

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  2. Wow I had never seen Dangerous Dan in Copyright infringement before, although as a Keen fan I was aware of its existence.

    Great review as always - now to find another SMB3 hater who can do a review in your newer style ;-)

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  3. "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"
    No, I told you when you did the original Super Mario Bros. at the "Game Over" screen, hold A. When the "1 Player/2 Player" screen appears, press START. I think this was never even meant to be a secret.

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    Replies
    1. Well I just tried it and it works, though if it wasn't meant to be a secret you'd think they might have mentioned it in the manual. You make a fair point though, and I'll edit something in.

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  4. Oh plus the King is transformed into a snake instead of a dog for whatever reason. That's Super Mario Bros. All-Stars' fault though really, as that was where the change was made, SMA4 is just reusing its graphics.

    ...and it looks like SMBAS made the change so they could use the Cobrat sprite from the SMB2 remake instead of redoing the dog sprite. In fact most of the replacement King sprites in SMBAS seem to be borrowed from elsewhere. The "new" King sprite from World 7 looks so much like Yoshi from Yoshi's Island that I wonder if they took it from an early work-in-progress version (SMBAS came out more than two years earlier).

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    1. It never even occurred to me that they might have used different animals to give themselves less pixelling to do. Doesn't really explain Donkey Kong Jr. though.

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    2. Thanks for reviewing my favorite game of all time Ray. I beat this game after weeks of playing it in the late 80's.early 90's as a child. I am an only child, my mother spoiled me btw! The music is fantastic and so is the gameplay and graphics as well

      On aside note I olay this game on an emulator with save states but some of my friends have actual NES's which I will someday again have hopefully or play it on their Wii.

      P.S. A certain website had a SMB 3 article about favorite childhood memories.

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  5. Also great childhood memories, thanks to my Mom and my last name is pronounced Keen. And I am so patient with games I like, including this one, on my 6th play through of Morrowind this year I still read all the text and books, lol.

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