Review by Hagatha

"Mario flys, explores caves, traverses the sky, and bests giant tanks in the pinnacle of NES gaming!"

''Super Mario Bros. 3'' is the sequel to ''Super Mario Bros. 2'', of course, but that rather obvious statement is deceptive. ''SMB 2'' was really completely different from the original (''Super'') ''Mario'' game, and although an update had been released in Japan, American gamers had gone five years (I think) without catching ''classic'' ''Mario'' action. The game, when announced, was so eagerly anticipated that video game freaks went to see a movie with ''SMB 3'' footage in it just for that. Would I have done that? No, but you never know. ''SMB 3'' supposedly sold more than any other NES game, and it mostly still holds up today. Let's review the game's ups and downs from a 2003 perspective.

STORY: The game's story received an upgrade over the original's, but it's still mainly an excuse for the new play mechanics. Bowser (King Koopa) has taken over again (this time, the entire Mushroom World) and has assigned his subordinates (also his kids) to control all the sub-lands. Of course, Princess Peach (Toadstool) is captive once more. The kings who rule each land have been changed into animals by their own magic wands (wielded by the Koopas). It's up to you, Mario, to solve this situation -- all by yourself. Well, maybe with Luigi, if you're playing 2-player. I'd have to say the story, while still pretty lame by modern standards, holds up well for NES games. There are cutscenes when you enter the castles, and when the king is back to his old self again. You also get letters from the Princess after each land beaten, complete with a free gift. All in all, it's no ''Final Fantasy,'' but for a ''Mario'' game, it's fine.

GRAPHICS: For NES standards, they're very good. Not as good as I expected, actually, since I played the SNES version first, but they get the job done. One of the things I like best is how everything has a black border around it like on GameBoy. That's a real graphical problem with the NES -- it rarely has borders around sprites, so things look fuzzy. What I didn't like was the flickering on the edge of the screen, but that may just be my cartridge. Overall, very good.

SOUND: ARRGH! Very much inferior to the SNES version. The ''Mario'' series has a tendency to possess annoying sound effects, and this version is no exception. From the ''boing'' sound when you jump (you'll be hearing that a lot) to the chime when you collect a coin (you'll be hearing that a lot too) to the -- worst of all -- sound when you collect a life (it may sound harmless, but wait 'til you get a 5-Up!), the game's sound is harsh, especially for those in the room who aren't paying attention to the game. Be careful if you're collecting many coins in quick succession: others could get angry.
MUSIC: Still somewhat limited by the NES, but very good still. We've got the main theme, which in my opinion is even better than the original's (it's just so catchy, plus the original is too famous) repetitive and catchy tunes in the land maps (Land 2's sounds great -- on the SNES), and an alternate theme that sounds like a mischievous day in the park (in my opinion!). Fortress themes are appropriately foreboding. Airship themes are grudging and gritty -- appropriate for all the guns going off. Sky themes are slow but appropriately heavenly. Hammer Bros. themes are appropriate for a one-on-one battle in this fashion. The original underground theme returns, and is much improved. I could go on, but I'll just close by saying -- all (or almost all -- the castle theme comes to mind) of the songs here are great and appropriate - even more so on the SNES.

CONTROL: Typical of most ''Mario'' games: tight and functional. Actually, I kept forgetting which button to press when I had the menu up, A or B, but we'll just excuse that as my fault. The only problem here is the UNDERWATER CONTROLS! Urrg! They haven't changed since the original! ARRGH! What's more, there are more difficult to avoid underwater enemies now. I know swimming is supposed to be a lopsided affair, but this is a video game! If Mario can breathe underwater, shouldn't he be able to swim smoothly? Whew. Anyway, it's decent.

GAMEPLAY: Lots of it. ''SMB 3'' threw out the linear structure of the original and replaces it with a map for each land. (By the way, if you're not familiar with the ''Super Mario Bros.'' gameplay style, tough cheese. Find out for yourself or read my ''SMB'' review -- I will only be discussing what changes this game brings to the table.)
You start off in Land 1 -- there is a map for you to traverse. You can only move along the designated path, but you can skip levels, go to bonus areas, and so on. Bonus areas include houses with minigames and treasure houses, where a Toad gets you to pick an item from one of three treasure chests. The minigame has a Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman sliding along in three parts. You have to press A when the appropriate piece slides along the middle part of the screen. The pieces slide faster as you get further, and needless to say, I usually flub on the last part. Your prize? Varying amounts of extra lives. There is also a minigame that appears every now and then a few spaces back from where you are. You have to flip cards and match them to get the item pictured on the cards. It's impossibly hard unless you have a guide. If you do, you can rake in the rewards! My only complaint? You can't go back to levels you've already beaten!
On to the actual levels. The level design has improved tremendously since ''Super Mario Bros.'' There are so many secrets now, I'm always surprised when I go online and look for them. Levels can scroll vertically as well as horizontally, bob up and down in water, scroll constantly to the right, pushing you along if you don't catch up, etc. In Land 6, the ground is icy and can usually send you falling if you're not careful. There are many more bricks to break with Koopa shells -- so many, in fact, that it could use less. No one wants to deal with wild shells. Micro-Goombas hide in blocks and jump at you when you near. Land 4 has giant bricks and enemies. There's an ''Angry Sun'' level featuring... well, a demonic sun. You can go on platform rides through some levels. Other levels have contraptions that spin you around and throw you around if you're not careful. One ingenious (but very difficult) level in Land 7 scrolls up through pipes. Fortress levels are full of fire as always, but now Thwomps (giant blocks with grim faces that smash down as you near them, only to lift up again) and Boos (ghosts that chase you if you're facing away from them, but look the other way as you approach) populate them. They all end with a boss battle versus a Boom-Boom: all you have to do is jump on him, but unless you're fast and cruel, he can jump on you too. Airship levels finish off the lands; here cannons, Bullet Bills, and those god-forsaken ''Rocky Wrenches'' (%#$@*) shoot/throw stuff at you. Fighting a wand-wielding Koopa finishes them off. Scattered throughout the land are some variety of Hammer Brother (Boomerang Brother, Fire Brother, etc.) which you have to battle one-on-one. Time flies when you're playing ''SMB3,'' and it can frustrate you tremendously. (I particularly dislike Lands 3 and 8.) Items help you out: Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and Starmen make a return performance, of course, but now the Super Leaf makes a stand. The Super Leaf, found only if you're already Super (big), changes you into a raccoon... which lets you fly. They are alternatives to Fire Flowers and are much more common (in this game, at least). Frog Suits (they make swimming/jumping easier), Tanooki Suits (like the Leaf, only you can turn into a statue in midair and crush enemies) and a special shoe (hee hee!) round out the interesting item list. Also available are various other items like the Anchor and Jugem's Cloud with pretty minor usage, but the well-hidden Warp Whistles (based off ''The Legend of Zelda'''s Recorder) are extremely significant. When played, a tornado whisks you to a warp zone (another return appearance) to other lands. Without this sucker, there's no way I would have made it to Land 8! Finally, items found outside of levels can be stored and used on the map screen when needed via a simple menu. Without a doubt, ''Super Mario Bros. 3'' is one of the most enjoyable, bizarre, and varied games on the NES.
Nevertheless, a few problems rear their head. Worst of all easily relegates the game to a 9 -- the collision detection. ''Collision detection'', in case you didn't know, means how you make contact with enemies and items. ''Super Mario Bros.'' had terrible collision detection, but ''SMB3'', five years later, makes little or no improvement, and it can be a problem. If you don't jump exactly on the enemy, you could get hurt. Watch out for them Micro-Goombas -- it's easy to get killed instead of making a successful jump. Various contact problems occur every now and then throughout the game. Also, the game has NO WAY TO SAVE, which makes finishing it pretty much impossible, at least on the NES. C'mon, this is supposed to be the pinnacle of NES gameplay?

REPLAY: Very high. Although you'll get tired of playing Land 1 over and over again, many of the other lands have levels I've never been to. Visiting them and experiencing new oddities is the game's strong point, by far.

OVERALL: Got a NES? Buy it. Don't have a NES? Try SNES, or even better (perhaps), GameBoy Advance. ''SMB3'' is the best ''Mario'' game for the NES, and its strangeness, variety, and sense of exploration will keep you enthralled despite the obnoxious collision detection, lack of a save, and difficulty level.

MISCELLANEOUS: ''SMB 3'' continues to be weird. Leafs turn you into a raccoon and let you fly. Tanooki Suits (a tanUki is a Japanese raccoon) turn you into statues. Frog Suits make you hop like a frog. The sun chases you. Pressing down in the middle of a platform makes you sink behind the scenery. In one land, enemies are giant-sized. You get to pick cards at the end of levels. You can see Boos chasing you, even though they're behind you. Even the whole concept of having a short, fat, Italian worker save the world is a little bizarre if you think about it. Still, this wackiness is part of what makes Mario... Mario.
Also, the Super Mushroom and Fire Flower change looks this time around.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/31/03

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