I’ve written about Nintendo Power a lot on this site. Back in the 1980s, it was pretty much the only source of videogame information out there. Then again, I bet if you slapped “Nintendo” on anything circa 1989 you probably would have sold a bagillion of whatever it was you were trying to sell. You saw it everywhere. On television. In magazines. T-shirts. Toys. Happy meals. For those that weren't born or too young to remember, describing the massive phenomenon of everything Nintendo from about 1985 to 1993 is a bit hard.
It also makes me feel incredibly old. (I also walked seven miles to school uphill both ways).
1989 was a huge year for Nintendo, what with having the biggest (and really only viable) videogame console out there, the Gameboy was launched, Nintendo Power was a good year into publication and the rag of record and a little movie known as The Wizard was released. What did The Wizard teach a ten year old me (and every other ten year old with a Nintendo sitting in his bedroom at home...which was every ten year old)?
Super Mario Brothers 3 was going to be amazing.
In today’s terms, if that scene came up, I would look at my friends in the theater watching The Wizard, their mouths agape, turn to them and say “shit just got real.” So, yes, it's like that moment in Bad Boys II when shit did, in fact, get real. Martin Lawrence said so. This isn’t about The Wizard, though. Movie was fine, product of its time, 90 minute commercial, average at best but fondly remembered by those from the era blah blah blah. This is about Super Mario Brothers 3 – something fondly remembered from people of any era.
The hype was starting up for the game. The movie, the magazine, the television ads. It was, in my mind, the most hyped, promoted and anticipated videogame of all time. Everybody knew about this game and it was still months away. For me, being in the fourth grade, this was all I or my friends really cared about. Turns out, I was in the right place at the right time.
What’s interesting to note about that era, and the decade that followed it, is that videogame release dates weren’t universal. You didn’t have street dates like you have today. Hell, you didn’t even have many videogame specialty shops like Gamestop or EB Games on top of that. If you did – they were local businesses and they abided by the rules of every other business: “It will get here when it gets here.”
My family lived in a relatively modest town of about 30,000 people. We had a Wal-Mart, a K-Mart, mom-and-pop video stores and a shopping mall with some department stores and a lot of space still for rent (from what I understand, that hasn’t changed much). Finding videogames around town was difficult. You had mail order here and there, but that was pretty expensive to do. You didn’t have a “videogame community” either where you could get online and see that something is out, then run out and buy it. It was like being in a bubble.
So one weekend my family took a trip to “the city.” Now for those of you from larger metropolitan areas, “the city” refers to your metropolitan area. It was what everyone in smaller towns like mine referred to when talking about the “big city.” Think of it as that Simpsons episode where they all get in the car, drive from Springfield and find themselves in awe of Capital City. Same thing.
People would go to “the city” to basically do one thing: shop. It had large malls and shopping centers and, for ten year old me, Toys R Us. In one such shopping center on one evening while in “the city,” there resided a Toys R Us. Most likely I begged and pleaded for my parents to go in, and most likely I ran in the instant they said yes and went straight towards the videogame aisles. Well, I probably don’t have to tell you what I ran into while getting high on videogame-sensory overload. I probably don’t have to tell you the details of my begging to my parents to buy it. You were a kid. I’m sure you can picture what it was like. What can I say? In this rare case it worked and I was a new owner of Super Mario Bros. 3.
For a kid in the fourth grade, having the one thing everyone wanted before anyone else could have it is unparallelled. Kids had egos. Massive ones. To be the first with the new toy on the block (and, really, in all of the town) is like a mighty Emperor entering the arena and being bowed to. The entire drive back, a good hour from “the city” back to my hometown, I did nothing but stare at the box and think of two things: I can’t wait to play it and I must outline my streategy of gloating. I wasn’t much of a gloater, but, as I mentioned: this thing was the hottest thing going and it wasn’t even out yet. I wasn’t too bad, though. I went over to friends’ houses to play it, even let a couple borrow it for a few days. After I had my fill, of course.
I had to do it casually. As if saying at the tail end of a sentence: "oh, by the way, I own Super Mario Bros. 3." Secretly, my internal dialogue was more along the lines of "Nah nah, I got something you don't have." I couldn't do that, though. Was against my strategy of being humble whilst massively gloating.
My Cup Runneth Over!
But on to the game. My rambling of memories that may or may not be accurate has gone on long enough. If there’s anything that Super Mari Bros. 3 taught me, other than to never doubt the Nintendo-Gods, was that control is everything. To this day I can still “feel” what it was like to play this game; to have complete control ever Mario’s movements to a fine thumb-numbing touch. To hold down the button, run, then tap it to fly, to hit the left on the d-pad just in time to avoid a fall and see him dash to a halt, to get that full-body-release sensation of pouncing on a giant goomba like it’s nothing. Super Mario 3 put you into a wondrous world and you didn’t’ miss a beat traversing it. It’s game design 101.
I can especially recall the learning curve of the game. It never throws too much at you. In hindsight, the structure of it all makes me realize how much thought was put into it. The way it was laid out was probably thought about in board meetings for months on how to handle the player and guide him through the worlds, but challenge him along the way.
Yes, I’m saying “him” because this was 1990, I was ten and the idea of a girl playing videogames was ridiculous (now it’s strangely sexy...ahem).
I don't these existed until 2001 (and in my dreams)
The game causes you to keep pushing, challenges you just right and gives a satisfactory payoff with each world you conquer. It also kept everything moving in terms of atmosphere as well, and the sense of adventure is ever present as you find secrets and new powers to take advantage of. The scope and “epic” feel of the game was really unlike anything I had seen before. I was a fan of the Mario games, even the Zelda games, but this, the beautiful graphics and the atmosphere, just took hold of you.
I also remember the small "wow" moments of the game, such as finding the warp whistle or the airshpis and your battling the Koopa Kids – that would be King Koopa’s children who were the bosses of each world. You had the ominous music, the jet-black sky and lightning flashes. Hell, if I hadn’t already been in love with horror movies at this time, I would have been pretty scared. It certainly got the nerves going, though.
As a kid, though, I never actually beat Super Mario Bros 3. I recall getting to the last world with a friend one time, but I don’t recall fighting the final boss. Instead, I beat it much, much later when it was re-released under the Mario All Stars title for the Super Nintendo. The game, other than graphically, hadn’t changed a bit in terms of music, controls and platforming design. Nor should it...it was already perfect.
And it still is perfect. The platforming found in Super Mario Bros 3 is still considered the standard that all platforming games, whether it be 2D or 3D, are judged by. If you think about what that game accomplished, you start to realize that every platforming game has been trying to copy it ever since, from branching paths to collecting items to powers that you can carry with you and explore the various levels. Games had dabbled in those before, but not quite to the polished extensiveness of Super Mario Bros. 3. Games since take elements and shape it into something that is still its own, but you can still draw that line right back to Nintendo’s masterpiece. The game itself has aged incredible well and plays every bit as perfectly as it did 21 years ago.
Jesus. 21 Years? Did I just write that? Has it really been that long. How is it I can barely remember what my bedroom looked like as akid yet can hum music from Mario 3 and recall the moment I grabbed that floating leaf and took off to the sky? I suppose it’s that emotional connection to the game as ewll. It was that sense of hype so many fell into and, amazingly, had their expectations 100% fulfilled. It was walking into Mrs. Smith’s classroom and casually reading the instruction manual in front of everyone. As any gamer will tell you, you never read the instruction manual.
“Oh, this?” I would say. “Yeah...got it on Saturday.”
Then I would slyly go back to “reading” it. Strategy fulfilled, mission accomplished. I wasn't anything like Lucas. I don't think.
Thank God this guy never got into X-box Live. Imagine the douche-baggery.
"It's so Bad"
I think Super Mario Bros 3 marked the last major game I really played on the NES. The Sega Genesis was already heating up and Nintendo Power had been putting out little rumors of Nintendo's next big thing by that point. I played a lot of NES games, but this one was by far the most memorable and, really, the best one the system had to offer for me. Strategical manual reading and childhood ego stroking aside, it was a glorious game that was always on my mind to play the minute that I could. It is a game that really has no flaws and the sense of polish it manages to give off as you progress, the balance of being challenging without being frustrating is a rarity for videogames even today. More importantly, is it doesn't hold your hand while doing so. Videogames today seem to lack that type of challenge with the ever-present "oh, you died...here, try again."
It's also a game that has aged gracefully, moreso than a lot of other platformers of the time (including other Mario games). People throw out the word "timeless" a bit too much when it comes to movies and music, so I'm going to throw it out here because there's really no other word to describe it. A timeless classic it truly is.
That, and coming at the perfect time to a ten year old who began to think critically and strategize about how he could be cool without being an asshole...I still do that today.