The third Mario game was quite possibly the first gigantic mega release in video game history. Ads and commercials were everywhere, tie in toys could be found at fast food chains, the game was even featured in a gigantic mega-commercial disguised as a movie. Everyone in the world bought this game. Thus I feel it is my duty to review it, since there is a 100% chance that every NES collector will run into multiple copies of it (if they don't own it already that is.)
SMB3 returns to the gameplay mechanics established in the first, stomp on things to kill them, kick turtle shells, smash bricks, etc. Gone are the pluck-and-throw vegetables from SMB2, although you can pick up and throw turtle shells and bomb-oms in a similar fashion. You get the usual Fire flowers and starmen as well as a racoon tail that allows you to fly with a running start or kill baddies/smash bricks with a tail lash. You also get three different suits that give you additional powers, a "Tanooki" suit (which is like a Shinto racoon spirit animal thing) allows you to fly like the racoon tail and also lets you transform into an invulnerable stone statue, akin to the shinto idols that litter the Japanese countryside. The Frog suit is pretty useless on land but does let you haul balls underwater. Last is the (rare) Hammer Brothers suit, which allows you to attack with deadly hammers that can kill otherwise invincible enemies.
The attraction of Mario games though has always been about exploring the world thoroughly and then completing each level to perfection. Here the game does not disappoint. Each level is painstakingly thought out, with zero dead space. Every brick, turtle, or Mushroom is there for a reason. This game is the first in the series to feature an overworld map that allows you to select which level you want (similar to Bionic Commando actually.) Actions you do in the levels effect the overworld map in certain ways, such as destroying a castle or opening up a secret area. It is possible to skip certain levels on the map, as well as whole worlds by using hidden "Warp Whistles." The side scrolling levels are excellent, some of them are truly immense. Each "world" has it's own theme, the usual desert and ice worlds are represented along more unique themes such as one where everything is made up of pipes and piranha plants. Unlike the first game it's possible to backtrack, and unlike the second game some of the levels are anything but straightforward. The later ones tend to be very long and confusing (but no so much as to make them overly frustrating.) Some of them can be very difficult, in particular the auto-scrolling water and airship levels. At the end of each level you collect one of several different cards (akin to sliding down the flagpole in the first game.) After three cards are collected you get the corresponding number of extra lives.
During a two player game each player has the ability to challenge the other player for these cards, whereupon the game switches to a little mini-version of the original Mario Bros. There are several different variations to these mini games such as a race to collect the most coins or knock out spiny turtles. The loser gets his turn taken away while the winner gets to advance with whatever cards were knocked out of the other player.
Generally the graphics are pretty good, with large distinctive sprites, although they seem to be a step down from SMB 2. Mario's face is not as well defined and his walk cycle looks funky, kind of like he's "waddling." Plus he's like, real real fat, like pushing 300. All around the colors are not as vibrant either, everything has a bland, washed out look to it. Then again considering the size of the game, amount of unique enemy sprites, items, levels, minigames, etc, it's probably a safe assumption that graphics were sacrificed a wee bit to squeeze all this in there. The sprites tend to animate rather well, although there's not the same amount of animation going on in the backgrounds as in SMB2.
Boss battles involve you taking down all nine of the Kooplings (who would return in SMW.) Generally these battles are mostly the same, jump over their shots, stomp on them three times, the end. In other places you face a generic angry turtle guy named "Boomer." The end battle with Bowser is intimidating but extremely simple. The boss battles are pretty easy, they're adequate enough but it would have been nice to get some variation.
In the end it's the entertainment value that makes a good game, which this game does well. The game is long enough to keep you coming back, interesting enough to make you want to explore it all. Controls are tight, enemies have personality, and the level design is fantastic. So when you buy sixteen copies of this game from a garage sale to resell on Ebay consider keeping one for your personal collection.
Graphics: Top tier, although better can be seen on the NES. Good animation and large sprites with somewhat washed out colors and overall blandness.
Sound: Good and deep, bassy sound effects, such as the cannon blast when a Bullet-Bill is shot. The music uses a lot of digitized sounds as well, drums, cymbals, etc. Some of the overworld music gets a bit annoying (the Ice world comes to mind) and since the music is so distinct, it's pretty noticeable when it's disturbed by other sound effects (for instance moving your character very rapidly between levels in the overworld.) However the in level music is very good, including some remixes of classic SMB1 tunes (the underworld theme in particular is given a hip-hop funky drumbeat, and just sounds cool.)
Gameplay: Many of the conventions used in later Mario games make their debut here, including P-Switches, hidden levels, and inventory system, not to mention the whole overworld map. Large, intricately designed levels remain unique all throughout, never get repetitious, and maintain the right amount of challenge. Classic Mario, and thank God for that.
Back to Game Reviews