Review by Shirow
"The little (and fat) plumber that could"
Once upon a time in China…er, I mean, in Mario World, there was a chap who went by the name of Mario (well, what were you expecting ?) and he was a plumber. The plumber also has a mustache but this fact was never considered because of the one sported by a certain man called Hercule Poirot who was very famous for his grey cells. Why am I mentioning Hercule Poirot and his grey cells ? Well, this is because Mario is quite the contrary of Mr Poirot, he is very stupid. But that doesn't really interest us since there is no need for video game characters to be smart. Oh, Mario also has a thin, tall friend (i.e. quite his opposite) who managed to live with the pathetic name of Luigi.
Anyway, Mario was not really a plumber. At least, he was but he liked to take himself for a hero and would go around castles, trying to rescue a princess. He would never find the princess until about eight castles afterwards but our silly hero would never stop. And yes, this again shows how he is stupid. After finally saving bitch…er, I mean, Princess Toadstool, Mario is urged to go on various quests for the king. Of course, Toadstool (who isn't comestible by the way) manages to get kidnapped at the end. How surprising coming from her !
Hence begins Mario's adventure featured in Super Mario Bros 3, his third and last platform game on the NES. But this is not just a revamped version of either of its prequels -well, it is close to SMB but there's more in it-, SMB3 follows new concepts although the basic ideas are still present. As usual, the first player will control Mario while the second one will get to play as Luigi who can also be considered as the hidden joke character -- the fact that he got his own game doesn't change anything ! As you progress through the 8 worlds of SMB3, you can get a lot of power-ups and will encounter several types of enemies that will bring about your death quite often if you are not careful enough.
The variety of items available for Mario and Luigi to use throughout the quest is truly fascinating ! From the mere flower which enables you to shoot fireballs at enemies to the P. Wings which allow you to fly through an entire level, Mario and Luigi have a lot of neat items up their sleeves. Of course, each item will prove useful during a certain part of the game. It must also be noted that some items can actually hamper your gameplay. For example, the aforementioned P. Wing enables to just fly to the goal but at the same time, you are missing an entire level in which you could get some helpful items and possibly a couple of lives.
Now, some of the most impatient players -also known as 'scrubs'- will not think about such things and will just go about using all their P. Wings and find them suddenly unable to get past a given level. Yes, you will need them but what I'm trying to say is that you can miss a lot of the game through this sort of playing. As usual, you can warp to certain levels through Magic Whistles. The most amazing part is that I never bothered with those. Sure, they are great since you can skip a few difficult stages but think about what you will be missing too.
If there's one thing nice, it is the ability to store items and get a lot of lives -which you will need- in SMB3. At the end of each stage, there is a roulette which features several of the known items like the Mushroom and the Star (which makes you invincible for a short time during gameplay). However, these are not real items. Your aim here is to try to match all the three items to get some more lives. So, after every three stages, you can claim more lives if you're lucky enough. Even if you fail to match them, you will still get one life to reward you for getting through the 3 levels but succeeding means netting up to 5 lives.
SMB3 is also packed with mini-games to assist you further in your long adventure. From time to time, you will get to a point where you just have to choose from 3 chests. The items you get here add to your inventory. You cannot use them while in a level but you can do so on the world map when you know you have to tackle a particularly frustrating stage along with a tough boss. To do so, simply press B while on the map and choose the item you want. Mario or Luigi will then transform on the world map and will have the given attributes.
There is also the 'Memory Game' which shows up whenyou get a certain score and this is, without doubt, the most challenging of the lot. Here, you need to match pairs of cards and as there are 18 cards, this isn't a piece of cake. Thankfully, once you have managed to claim a pair, these stay as such and you don't have to go through the same cards over and over again. In this mini-game, for each pair of cards you get, that item adds in your inventory and in the case of coins, your total increases by the given amount. Hence, you can get lives through this game.
The visuals of SMB3, although not the best of the NES, are excellent. The 'big' versions of Mario and Luigi are adorable. The normal, small versions look goofy but you can't help but falling in love with the 2 friends in their smart outfits, whatever their current form is. The Tanooki Suit is the icing on the cake with the comical look it gives Mario who could just go ahead and be a clown if nobody required plumbers in a world which has huge pipes everywhere. The backgrounds themselves are a bit dull but are colorful and give the game a fun atmosphere.
As in the 2 prequels, the designs seem to be quite 'blocky' but this isn't a problem and actually suit the purpose of the game. Anyway, what would be Mario without the varied settings ? You'll have to jump from platforms to clouds to flying tortoises and all the time, crazy but somptuous creatures will try to stop you by charging at you with all their might. Uh, yeah, the enemies are not particularly bright in this game but they do get credit for coming in groups to increase their chances of winning ! Yes, being particularly nasty and resistant to your attacks don't seem to be enough.
You will also be attacked by a returning Angry Sun and all the Hammer, Boomerang or even Fire Brothers. They can also be encountered on the world map and should you be able to defeat them, you will gain yet another item to store for future use. Some levels even have you dealing exclusively with heavy artillery where it is extremely difficult to avoid the numerous bullets that hover around poor Mario. And, of course, Koopa and Bowser themselves await you to show you how they have become stronger thanks to all those years of training although they are still stupid ! Despite having an incredible amount of enemies, all of them are well-done and will have you run for all you are worth.
The soundtrack is quite enjoyable although the different themes resemble each other a bit too much. This can be slightly irritating if you are of those who like to have a nice variety of music but otherwise, you won't really notice it since they are all enjoyable. The real problem concerns the sound effects, or rather, the lack of sound effects. Sure, there are some but they're not that fantastic and barely manage to be realistic. In any case, don't expect anything memorable here.
The controls are simple and smooth but they can still be frustrating in the early stages of the game. This arises due to the slippery ground which causes jumping on ledges above gaps to be hazardous. However, practice makes perfect and you'll be accustomed with all the subtleties of the controls of SMB3 such that you will know exactly how to deal with this. However, there are still parts where you'll be infuriated at the controls. If you are in a level where the exit pipe is located at the top and only have a Leaf, getting to fly will quickly get on your nerves and having Mario fly to the pipe is even worst. Thankfully, everything runs on smoothly most of the time but the controls are the main reason why I'm giving the game only an 8.
If you are looking for a fun platformer with tons of replay value, look no further ! SMB3 has a close to perfect gameplay and the presence of all those worlds and secrets you can take which increases the replay value if such a thing was ever needed. There are literally dozens of routes you can take to beat the game as some levels are not compulsory and you will always start the game over and over again as you try to see what you may have missed previously. This alone makes SMB3 a solid platformer -probably one of the best despite all the years which have gone by- and you can just guess how it is with its excellent graphics. The controls can be a drag though as well as the repetitive soundtrack but the funfactor more than makes up for these.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/14/02, Updated 11/09/02
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