Super Mario Bros. 3 review
Third Time's The Charm?
Great level design
A lot of levels to go through
Play with a friend
Complete lack of a save system
A bit too generous with items
A lot of Nintendo characters started out on the age old NES system. Mario, one of Nintendo's most recognised gaming icons, established himself as one of the best platforming stars of the video game world on this very system. Super Mario Brothers 3 marked Mario's third foray into full size platform adventures, and it turned into one of the biggest NES games ever.
The problem when reviewing an old game is how to approach things considering the limits of the system a game is on. Is it fair to judge a game on current generation standards? This dilemma is no more pronounced than when judging how a game looks.
In a world of 3D polygons and high definition displays players may look upon SMB3 (and indeed many older games) and think how inferior they look. What is with this 2D stuff? Oh no, I want my HD display.
SMB3 may not be capable of competing with current generation games on the technical level, but despite that the game still has a nice charm to its looks that, while not perfect, do still manage to look nice.
There is a suitable level of detail in the various 2D sprites that litter the levels. The different characters are well defined, with individual characteristics very clear. There is a clear variation on the sprites used too, so despite the shortcuts used the levels look quite varied.
Animation is kept basic but enough is done to kept things moving fluid. Mario and Luigi have good running animations, as well as traits like moving their hands to throw objects and wagging of a tail.
The colours are a bit odd though. Mario's and Luigi's overalls are inexplicably black instead of blue, and the fire power colouring just washes over the brothers in monotone orange. The colour of fireballs also tends to change to green in mushroom houses for no apparent reason.
Colours look right elsewhere though, as enemies have good colour schemes, as do the different environment aspects and objects.
The backgrounds can also get a little boring and repetitive as well. Unlike the foreground these tend to lack detail or much of interest. A few clouds in the sky tends to be as good as it gets.
The NES could be rather limiting in this respect as well, so it is only natural that SMB3's tunes aren't going to be outstanding on the technical level.
Regardless of that, some of the tunes do manage to be pretty catchy, even if they're not the sort of tunes you'll want to stuff in the nearest CD/MP3 player. There tends to be a good beat going that matches the levels well.
Sound effects can be rather hit and miss though. Quite why fireballs are accompanied by a plopping sound is beyond me, and jumping sounds a bit too much like going off a spring. Some of the others work well though, like the transformation sound with a leaf or suit. It tends to lean more into the bad side of things.
Eh, well, yes, there is a plot of sorts in here. It's not incrediably deep or anything though. The evil King Koopa has kidnapped the Princess, and his group of children Kooplings cause trouble across various worlds, including transforming the kings of each land into creatures.
See, not exactly a bestseller. The idea of character development or story twists isn't entertained either. This is merely there to give you a reason to go all over eight worlds beating on bad guys. It does that, but nothing more.
Super Mario Brothers 3 is entirely a platformer at heart which takes elements from the previous games and adds in some of its own attributes for a (at the time) unique experience.
Play in this game is split into two segments - top-down map play and side-on platforming.
Unlike previous games each world is now represented by a map, whereby the player moves around a chibi-styled Mario or Luigi along spot markers, much like a board game minus the dice. Most of the levels are marked as black squares with a number, to show what number level it is, while some levels are the castles in the game. Level markers can't be passed until the level associated with that marker is completed.
This layout offers a more flexible experience than other platform titles, as some worlds offer multiple routes or alternative side-paths. This means that it is possible to skip some levels altogether if you don't want to play them, or take on additional levels in the hope of some benefits.
Benefits? Yes, one kind of benefit would be in the form of items. Players can now collect items during the game, which can be used while on the map view to help in clearing levels. Some of these items are the standard powerup items you can pick up in play, like the mushroom or flower. Other items are designed specifically for map use, like the cloud that lets you pass over a level marker without competing item or the hammer that lets you destroy one rock on the map.
These items are typically picked up from mushroom houses. These houses sit on each map and allow a player to pick a chest from a selection of three. The available items depends on the house visited, but the order of the items offered is random so getting a good item is all down to chance. Houses can only be visited once per playthrough.
Mushroom houses aren't the only non-level features of maps though. The Spades spot lets you play a game where there are three sliding rows with thirds of items on each row. The idea is to stop each row to line up all thirds of the same item for bonus lives. There are also enemy icons that move around the map between turns (unhindered by level spaces) that causes a fight against them as soon as you touch them, with some item as a reward.
The bonuses don't stop there. Sometimes a special bonus space will appear and float over an existing space. The N Spade space is essentially a game where you try and match pairs of cards from face down cards, gaining items. The silver mushroom houses offers a good item based on the world you are in. The coin ship is a level with no enemies - only lots and lots of coins (ironically, it is still possible to die here).
That said, the game can be a bit too generous in giving items out. I find myself easily stacking up lives and items, and while the more powerful goodies like suits are harder to come by it still feels like it gives out too much. This problem is lessened in two player since such things have to be split between them.
Maps also tend to offer some other features as well. Rocks block your path, but can be destroyed with single use hammers. Pipes connect different parts of the world you are in.
Platforming in the game essentially takes the basis set by SMB and improves it in every way. Mario and Luigi moves fluidly and the controls are responsive.
The D-Pad moves them left and right, as well as used to ascend and descend pipes and vines. A is the jump button and B is used to run if held down, as well as throwing objects if the ability is there. It's simple and yet works perfectly well. You never feel as if you're ever out of control. Missed a vital jump? You only have yourself to blame.
There are a lot of powerup items this time around to use. Mario and Luigi start off small, where one hit would kill them. Grab a mushroom to become "super", which basically acts as an extra hit shield. However, once super you can grab a myriad of other items to use. The flower returns from SMB and is the same thing. Press B to throw fireballs out, which can defeat certain enemies. The star returns too, which grants limited invincibility when grabbed.
The Raccoon Leaf is new, which grants a raccoon tail and ears to the plumber. Pressing B performs a spin that knocks out enemies with the tail. Raccoon Mario/Luigi can also tap A to descend slowly through the air. In addition if they run they build up a P gauge. When full they can jump into the air and fly with the raccoon tail. This flight only lasts so long but adds a lot onto exploring the levels. There is also a P variant of this that can be used from the map. This is the same except that the P gauge is maxed out throughout the level. After one level's use this becomes the normal raccoon power though.
SMB3 also adds in three special suits to the game. Most of these can only be used as items from the map, although there are occasional places where a suit can be grabbed during platform play.
The frog suit has poor mobility on land but is faster underwater. Tanuki offers the same benefits as the raccoon but adds in the ability to become an invincible statue for a few seconds. Changing in the air and crashing down can also take out certain enemies. The hammer suit lets Mario throw hammers, as well as crouch down to survive small fireballs.
Enemies tend to wander around the stages, and there is a lot of variety involved with these too. Goombas are pretty basic and can be defeated in various ways. Chain Chomps are rooted to the spot but are difficult to kill. Each of them need to be approached in different ways both in terms of how to defeat them and how to avoid their attacks.
Indeed, since the powers Mario can use are useful you have to be careful not to touch any of these enemies, as a slight tap causes you to lose whatever powers you have at the time.
Leaping about the stages poses its own threat as well. The earlier stages will likely pose little problems but later on platforms become harder to land on, especially without the raccoon/tanuki power to float. Sometimes running jumps are needed too. Things get more complicated when some stages autoscroll as well.
One of the most interesting things is how many stages aren't entirely linear. There can be hidden rooms or alternate paths to progress through the stages. This offers incentive to look around the stages instead of just blitzing from A to B. The end of each normal stage consists of a black zone with a box that cycles between three icons. Hitting the box ends the stage and gives the player the icon they hit. Every three icons collected gives bonus lives, with multiple lives given for all the icons being the same type.
Some stages differ from the normal levels though, in the form of castle stages. The brown castles initially plays out like a normal stage, but at the end is a sub-boss instead of the black zone. This sub-boss is always the same (some maniac beastman lizard thing), although increasing in speed and altering patterns as you move through the worlds. It does get a bit boring fighting the same kind of thing though.
Reaching the royal castle lets you board the koopa ship. This is an autoscroll stage with lots of hazards, like flamethrowers and cannons. The aim is to reach the end of the ship and descend through the pipe to fight the koopa kid boss for that world. These bosses fire magic circles off and will withdraw into their shells to ram you. There is variance in battle area layout and attack patterns used too.
If you happen to fail this level then the koopa ship appears on the map and moves to a random location (unless the anchor item was used). All this means is that you have to go to it again, although this can be a pain if you used a cloud item to skip any of the levels.
As with SMB there is a two player option available, where player two uses Luigi to play through the same quest, and this is a massive improvement over the two player in SMB.
Players take it in turns to play through levels or games. Unlike SMB, any level cleared by one player does not have to be cleared by the other. This does have the adverse effect of having to split the beneficial spaces between players though.
In addition, if a player moves to where the other player's marker is and presses A the players can actually face off in a dual game. Look familiar? Yes, the dual is played out in the style of Mario Brothers Classic. Most duels consist of enemies wandering out of pipes, which must be knocked upsidedown first by striking the ground they are on from beneath, before running around and kicking them away. The winner is whoeve defeats the most out of five enemies. Some stages offer a coin collecting challenge instead, but the same out of five rule applies.
This kind of player interaction is nice too, allowing for some competitive play away from the main game instead of just taking turns. The interaction present during normal play is also good, as it actually feels more than just running two single-player games in tandum.
There is a lot to do in this game too. There are eight worlds to play through with a lot of levels to play through. Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with this, which is the complete lack of a save option. Unfortunately, SMB3 on the NES does not allow players to save their game, meaning your have to dedicate a good portion of time while playing if you want to get any decent distance into the game.
The technical limits couldn't be more obvious, yet the gameplay is still one of the better platforming experiences to date. The lack of a save system really hurts this title though, as not everyone will have the time to dedicate to proper playthroughs. Regardless, if you're looking for NES titles then this is certainly one to look out for.
About the author
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