Mario 30th Anniversary – Super Mario Bros. 3

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For as long as entertainment has existed there have been moments where something comes along that gets hype built up around it in some way, and video games are no exception to this, especially these days. Usually it can be from the company itself (which can range from the usual advertising to what’s called the hard-sell), or word-of-mouth from the masses. Either way, one of two things will happen: the game doesn’t really end up matching the hype at all, or it actually manages to do so. However, once in a blue moon there comes along something that not only manages to build hype around it, but the end result manages to exceed the expectations of people in such a profound way that other developers go, “Why in the world didn’t we think of that?” And on February 12, 1990, a game was released to the U.S. masses that did exactly that: Super Mario Bros. 3.

Created by Shigeru Miyamoto and the team that would become known as Entertainment Analysis and Development, Super Mario Bros. 3 was a game that would take two years to complete, as opposed to several months. The main reason was that between the ROM shortage in 1988 and Nintendo of America’s preparations for the U.S. release of Super Mario Bros. 2, a lot of video game titles couldn’t be released on their original schedules, and Super Mario Bros. 3 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link were among those titles. However, what looked like a setback would turn into an opportunity for Nintendo when an executive from Universal Studios named Tom Pollock approached Nintendo of America’s marketing team about a video game movie. This film would eventually become known as the cult classic “The Wizard”, but Nintendo saw the opportunity to promote their games as well as attract attention to SMB3. Although the game still wasn’t officially released yet, the fact that it would appear in the movie’s climax was more than enough to get the attention Nintendo needed.

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As director of the game, Miyamoto worked closely with the designers and programmers from start to finish, encouraging as much ideas as possible.  When development began, the main idea was to have the game appeal to players of all skill levels. For example, 1-Up mushrooms and bonus coins were abundant in the earlier levels, while the later worlds presented much greater challenges for veteran gamers. If by chance two players were playing, then there would be alternate turns to balance the play time out, so if one player played an action scene and either made it through or lost a life, the other player would then go after that. In addition, many concepts and power-ups would be introduced that would become staples for later Mario games. At one point someone had suggested giving Mario a power-up that would turn him into a centaur, but that idea was scrapped in favor of a raccoon tail that would give Mario the ability to fly for a while as well as float, hence the Super-Leaf. Not only that, but there would be many levels created to take advantage of the many other power-ups/costumes that could be found, such as the Frog-suit being a big help in World-3, or the Tanooki-suit in World-5. To top it all off, the Hammer-suit in worlds 6 and 7 – which could allow Mario to throw hammers and be resistant to fire – would become the most coveted power-up in the game.

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Along with new abilities, Mario’s rouge’s gallery was expanded to have more diversity in the game. So you no longer had to deal with just Goombas, Hammer Bros., Bullet Bills and Koopa Troopas, now the player had to contend with Goombas who could fly (and some who could drop micro-Goombas to hamper your jumping); a chained enemy called a Chain-Chomp; Boomerang Bros., Fire Bros., and in World-4 the Sledge Bros.; Some piranha plants could now spit fire at you as well as spiked balls; Bloopers in underwater levels could have a school of min-Bloopers that would either follow or be scattered in four directions; castle stages introduced mummified Koopas known as Dry Bones who would reanimate after you stomp on them, enemies called Thwomps who were practically untouchable; ghost-like enemies called Boos who freeze up after you look in their direction, and in the case of World-2, an Angry Sun and tornadoes called Tweesters. New bosses were also introduced in the form of a new Koopa named Boom-Boom, and Bowser Koopa’s children The Koopalings. What is definitely the most fun is that each of the bosses have distinct personalities which seem to go hand in hand how they attack you, which can make it pretty challenging to defeat them, especially in the later worlds, and that was by design since the team wanted the Koopalings to be different from each other. In addition, many of the enemy ideas came from outside experiences. The Chain-Chomp, according to Miyamoto came from a very bad experience the latter had with a dog, while the Koopalings were a homage to seven of Miyamoto’s programmers on the team for their work. In addition, Nintendo of America also got the chance to be creatively involved for they were the ones who decided on the idea of naming the Koopalings after well-known musicians, like Roy Koopa and Ludwig von Koopa being named after Roy Orbison and Beethoven respectively. Miyamoto and the rest of EAD saw no problem with it, so the musician’s names stuck and have been the official names of the Koopalings ever since.

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What also made SMB3 stand out was that both the look and the scope within said game were much larger than anything that had been attempted on a NES title, given the limited space on the cartridges. However, Nintendo figured out a way to expand the NES’s capabilities using some new tools. Using a graphics machine called a “Character Generator Computer Assisted Design” Nintendo was able to create a collection of all the graphical shapes that would be used in the game, which each shape being assigned a number so the game’s code could access them easier. Not only that, but the shapes could be combined to form complete images that would appear on the screen in real time.

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Another tool Nintendo used was their custom-made MMC3 (Memory Management Control) chip that would be added into the SMB3 cartridge. What made this nifty chip so useful was that it allowed for animated tiles, extra memory (RAM) for the screen to scroll diagonally, and a scanline timer to split the screen. For the player, this meant that he/she could check out Mario’s stats while making their way through the Action Scenes, and not just left-to-right or top-to-bottom, but also diagonally, which no game had done at that point in time.

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In addition to the action scenes, there were other features within the game that could help the player as well as add more to the fun factor: Toad’s houses which could give access to power-ups, as well as two types of card games – one being a game where the player has to match up three tiles correctly to gain extra lives, and the second being a Mario version of Concentration.

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And of course, the music was nothing short of amazing, what with Koji Kondo once again stepping up his game and creating new tracks/themes in the game that added to the experience in such a way that it felt new, yet still kept the heart of the original SMB.  Each world had it’s own theme that fit what it was, and the overworld themes also went hand-in-hand with the stages, and the fortress/airship themes added a sense of urgency as well as a sense of realizing you have stepped into the villain’s lair, and you might not make it out.

Going into the game itself, it hearkens back to the original SMB where Bowser is up to his old tricks again, and this time he’s brought the entire might of his forces upon the Mushroom Kingdom, and as Mario and Luigi the player must once again rise to the occasion and stop Bowser, but this time instead of traveling through the usual worlds from the original, the player finds himself/herself traveling through a much larger Mushroom Kingdom, with worlds and stages the likes of which make the earlier games look tame by comparison, and with so many items, enemies, and Easter Eggs abound, the player will want to allow themselves one whole day just to play through the entire game and find every secret.

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And the great thing about it is that as you progress through the levels, you really feel as if though it’s all building up to the final stage (Dark-Land) where Bowser is, and once you get there, you know it’s gloves-off, all-go, no-quit from here on in.  Especially since the first stage you get to isn’t even an Action-Scene at all, but rather an armada of Bowser’s tank forces, and that’s not even counting the second stage, which is Bowser’s water forces.  The first Action Scene cannot be reached until you get to the midway point of Dark Land, and even then, Bowser’s forces will come at you with everything they have, and your skills will be put to the test in every way.

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And finally, once you manage to pass all those, and make your way to Bowser’s castle, you know you have to go one more round, and this time past all of the traps set up within the castle, to finally against the head honcho himself.

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And once you defeat him and get to Princess Peach Toadstool, you definitely have a very satisfying conclusion to the entire quest.

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To say that this game was almost universally praised was an understatement, and this is was one of those few times where a video game truly merited the acclaim.

…absolutely impossible to put down for anything less than a fire alarm – and even then you find yourself weighting down the odds.

-Tim Boone, editor, Computer and Video Games

While Super Mario Bros. defined its genre, Super Mario Bros. 3 perfected it.

-GamesRadar

Of course, these are only but a small portion of the acclaim given to SMB3, but you can believe that all the praise was deserved. On the sales side, SMB3 would go on to become one of the highest-selling video games that wasn’t bundled in with a system, selling over 18 million copies and grossing $500 million for Nintendo. David Sheff, author of “Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World” said that if one was to put the game’s sales in music industry terms, SMB3 went platinum 11 times. As of 2011, the game has grossed $1.7 billion when adjusted for inflation.

As a whole, Super Mario Bros. 3 truly was and still is one of those rare games that not only surpassed the hype that it built up, but more surprisingly, it managed to have the staying power that kept it alive even after the late-80s Nintendo-mania and the audience moved into the later eras of video games. And the fact that it has been released on almost every Nintendo system starting from the Game Boy Advance to the Wii U’s Virtual Console (and being one of the top games to download as a result) only shows that this game is truly a timeless one, and one that is right up there with SMB1 as the standard by which all game developers strive to create, especially in regards to the hype factor and surpassing it, as well as being commercially successful.

And to quote GamesRadar once again, Super Mario Bros. may have created a new genre, but Super Mario Bros. 3 took that genre and raised it to a whole new level that had never been seen before, and given that this was during the peak of Nintendo-mania, that only made it more epic, and even now to this very day, it has stood the test of time and is truly a game that showed players how to play with power.

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