Maybe you’ll enjoy this anecdote. A few weeks ago my sister was nearby and would visit at my place, so I proposed we play a video game together. We didn’t have a NES growing up and I only bought All Stars for SNES a couple of years ago, so she never had played Mario 3 before, this was the first time she got to play it.
We played the two-player mode and it was great fun. I was mostly carrying the game because I had played more games before, but the game scales very well for beginners. In the beginning she was dying quite a lot, but as the game went on she was able to beat more and more levels. Part of this has to be with how fluid the physics are, everything feels very smooth and after a while you get a feeling for when to let go of controls or how to bounce off things. Many games on the NES (and even later) feel very rigid; you instantly stop, you have very little control mid-air and you get knocked back all the time or stunned, forcing you to learn animation frames to get good.
It’s kind of hard to put into words why Mario 3 was so fun because there are many factors that come together. You have already written a lot about how the game fleshes out its world, and looking back Mario 3 really does go the extra mile. Take World 5: in the New game you beat a boss and then you just end up in Sky World, but in this game you start out in a regular grass world and there is some weird Tower of Babel thing, which is odd because it doesn’t look like a castle. So you make it there and keep going up and up until you emerge above the clouds. That’s so much cooler.
There are many other such details, like the bridges raising and lowering and the boat you can find in World 3 or all those pipes in World 7. Speaking of which, some of the worlds are the usual standard stuff (grass, desert, water, ice), but Giant World, Sky World and Pipe World were really fun concepts. I think Giant World was her favourite and it’s mine as well. You play the first three worlds and they are pretty standard and then it hits you with this. World 8 was the hardest of them all, and it was a worthy finale. First you have to make your way past Bowser’s attack force with the tanks and the ship and a super-fast airship (we couldn’t beat it without P-wing) and then you make your way towards the final castle.
Overall everything about the game feels… nice, I guess? The music is pretty laid back (except for the athletic theme, it sounds like random leftovers), it’s cool in its own way. Some levels have unique elements like the angry sun, the giant fish or the giant shoe you can ride. The airships are rather menacing (not so much on SNES, but still), there is something really eerie about a level that has no enemies except for the cannons. Reminds me of the hallway to Mother Brain in Metroid. What is really cool is how the game tells a story in a way: you are re-conquering the different kingdoms from Bowser’s army one by one and occasionally the princess sends you a letter, except after World 7 when Bowser has kidnapped her while you were fighting his forces.
So yeah, needless to say beat it pretty quickly because we just had to keep playing. The levels have a pretty nice length, not too long and not too short either. We did about one world per day, thanks to the save feature. Beating the game in one sitting would be out of question for two grown-ups, unless we were using the warp whistles, but you have to find those first and they are harder to find than the warp zones in Mario 1.
Let’s see, what did we not like? The game has some really annoying time wasters. Every time you fail a level you get knocked to the last level you had beaten, which could be an entire screen, and then you have to wait for the hammer bros. to stop moving. That’s just annoying. The warp pipes on the map are really cool, but why do I have to enter a level screen every time? There is nothing interesting down there. And the same message boxes at every single mushroom house gets old quite fast. It’s nothing game breaking, but it happens all the time and only stops the excellent game flow, it begins to get on my nerves. Some of the items were also pretty useless: the star lasts too short, skipping a level with the cloud is useless if you don’t beat the next level on your first try and the music box is just dumb. I also hated some of the castles with puzzle level design. You can’t have me guessing doors and also put a time limit on it. The first castle in World 7 was the worst, I barely managed to beat it with only a few seconds left on the counter. That’s just bullshit.
I don’t know what else to say, but that Mario 3 even after all these years is one of the best games ever, it can still make new fans. We have since then beaten New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Newer Super Mario Bros. Wii (a mod for the former) and we are currently playing Super Mario World. Should I write about those as well?
Super Mario World for sure.
I disagree about the pipes. I thought it added a tangible immersion to the game instead of an abstraction. They only take a second anyway.
Toad could definitely say different things when you visit his house. I agree with you there.
I hate the puzzle castles too.
I hear the Wii U can get the Gameboy Advance copy of SMB 3 with the E Card levels. That is more SMB 3 levels for you to play!
SMB 3 is one of those games that when you start playing it, you cannot stop. It is sooooooooo good. Super Mario World is like that too, but I get burned out when I get to Forest Area. Perhaps it is because of the ‘puzzles’ that appear.