That's so crazy, it just might work......
Put yourself in the shoes of a member of the drawing board at Nintendo of Japan circa 1989. The president of the company, with a beaming smile on his face, is preparing to unveil his concepts for the title that is to end the NES trilogy starring the savior of video games himself: Mario. You and the others anticipate with rapt interest the revolutionary game designs and ideas he has birthed behind closed doors.
What's in store for the next installment of the Mario trilogy? Heart fluttering as you plan some input of your own, you wait for the president to show everybody what he's been spending his spare time doing.
As he goes through his plans and ideas for the next game, your original feelings of excitement sour rapidly. Did this guy go to school three days in a sick boys' place? This is even beyond the trademark Japanese style of quirkiness! You run over in your mind some of the more idiotic things he's brainstormed:
* The recent discovery of Bowser as a single father, as it seems he has enough offspring to assign each one to a castle in hopes of thwarting Mario's plans
* Endless wacky new variations on all those beloved Goombas, Koopa-Troopas, Spinys, and Buzzy Beetles
* A raccoon tail + ears + Mario + the ability to fly = pure genius
You can see the headline already: MIYAMOTO ARRESTED ON CHARGES OF DRUG POSSESSION
As the committee struggles to ponder the validity of his equations and locate his logic, which has apparently gone AWOL, you and the rest of the drawing board members look up as if by the routine of your programming and see a unique twinkle in his eye. The beaming smile remains - in fact, it has been present through the entire meeting.
You all settle back into your seats and prepare for another best-selling rollercoaster ride. By the reassuring glint alone, it is obvious the boss knows what he's doing. Returning to some semblance of reality, everyone begins putting forth ideas and shaping the game that (little do you and your design team know at the time) will go on to sell over one billion copies worldwide.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo, 1990) can only be described as the NES's definitive masterpiece. Miyamoto the inspired lunatic struck again harder than ever before with a game that is still a triumph on all accounts. From the opening of the curtain (literally!) to the final showdown with the King of the Koopas himself, there is not a moment in which you cannot see the precision and attention to detail that brought the quest to fruition. Mario immerses himself in a plethora of worlds in which he is always on the run from some new fiend or foe so that he can find Princess Toadstool, who now sends him useful items via snail mail correspondence at the end of each world. Run quickly away from the curving and weaving Angry Sun of the second world, a fiery entity whose bared teeth don't exactly lay out a welcome mat for our portly plumber protagonist. Outhop and outsmart a meat-starved Boss Bass in a harrowing battle against both him and the rising and sinking platforms in the water. Traverse fortresses containing ungodly amounts of doors, pipes, and all-new enemies. It seems cliché to say so, but nothing is more powerful than the truth, and so I have no choice:
All of this is only the beginning.
At every adrenaline-charged turn, SMB3 shows you something it has that few or no other games do. Mario is no longer a two-trick pony with just his jumping prowess and his Fire Flowers to back him up. Here, but regretfully never again since, he has the chance to don three different suits that enhance his powers greatly. The Frog Suit gives him leaping capabilities like never before and eliminates all of the clumsiness he normally experiences while swimming; the Tanooki Suit is an expansion on the leaf that takes the raccoon motif past his hind end and cap to his whole body and also allows him to turn into a statue to stand in harm's way without getting hurt; and the coveted Hammer Brother Suit puts you in the role of the classic enemy while giving you a protective backside that takes full effect when you duck.
Other smaller items are on call to help Mario out as well. The P-Wing gives his power meter an infinite burst of energy, allowing him to fly at will even from a standing position. He'll get items that will hold the Koopa Kids' airships in place, allow him to break through rocks on the overworld map, warp to different worlds, and even skip levels entirely. With so much at your disposal, it's a wonder that there's also a reasonable challenge packed in as well. Scrolling levels, thin platforms, and enemies you can ride on all require a fair amount of fancy footwork to get around on. As you play, you get a sensation that all of it has been done before, but there is reassuring bliss in the realization that it hasn't ever been done quite like this. With the ability to fly higher and swim faster than ever, the action never gets old. Wherever your travels take you, there's another trick up Miyamoto's sleeve for you to uncover.
Mario 3 shines in its control. Taking to the skies on tails of raccoons is an incredibly simple task, and guiding Mario through the clouds is easy to execute through repeated tapping of the A button. When your P-meter finally runs out, the control is so airtight that you can float back to land and stop on a dime. For a journey of such epic proportions, it's clear that nothing less than the best will do, and that's what you get. You can flip through your 28-item inventory on the world map and choose items to bestow upon Mario before he even enters a level. All levels short and tall and fast and slow call for complete mastery of the NES controller. Whether you're hotfooting it over the gas torches and wrench-tossing minions of the Koopa Kids' airships or timing your jumps through the Thwomps' forceful descents, all the platform-hopping in the game takes careful calculation. Where once a P-Wing was necessary to get over a troublesome cannon brigade, you'll find that with timing and judicious use of the D-pad, almost any maneuver is possible. Even when it's all flying in your face, there is a way around it, and never once will you find yourself throwing the controller at the wall because Mario didn't duck or jump when you wanted him to.
Diverting from the dominantly round shapes that the American SMB2 was characterized by, SMB3 returns to top form by re-adopting the look of the original. All of the old is back with a facelift - pipes, Goombas, and all. The overworld maps show a great degree of detail, with ambient tile animation and cool memorable tunes to complement each brave new world. Best of all, it's all able to keep up with you. When you're headed up through the clouds trying to avoid Fire Chomps and doing your best to avoid the swarm of cannonballs surrounding you in the Dark Land, there's not a lick of slowdown - in fact, you'll be hard-pressed to keep pace with the movement of the screen and the dizzying speed and agility of some of the more eclectic enemies (wait until you find a Buster Beetle who can throw white bricks at you!). You never really feel rushed, however. Though you're always on the move, there's always just enough time to soak up the visual coolness that's all around you. There's nary a level that doesn't have some area that doesn't etch itself into your subconscious.
All the while, the soundtrack is competing with the graphics for the space in the part of your brain that makes you hum these songs loudly in public for no reason and as such garner unwanted attention. The Grass Land possesses the obligatory status of being so plain that it is automatically assigned as the first level you conquer, and thus starts you off with an average tune that gives out few notes for remembrance. Things pick up and are at their best in the creepy castles, where short looping tracks full of timpani feature crescendos and decrescendos that are enough to make you question aloud whether there's anything living in the place or not.
The airships feature another timpani-heavy victory march that actually bolsters your spirits enough to move forward in the face of all the cannon fire, as corny as that sounds. Most of the songs worth the aforementioned space in your brain come in near the end of the game when you hear a couple of remixes of the SMB1 Level 1-1 song, the understated coolness of Pipe Land's theme, and the driving music of the Dark Land.
Really, it's all just icing on a sumptuous fourteen-layer wedding cake. SMB3 is an odd game in which words of all types fail it miserably. Both technical descriptions and nostalgic meanderings can't fully capture what a great game this is. If you haven't played it, you're almost literally in the minority. A billion copies of this game have been sold in the thirteen years that it has been on the market, and if you have never played one of this astronomical number of them, you owe it to yourself to do so. There is almost quite literally nothing wrong with this game.
The only shameful thing is that there hasn't been any Mario game so creative and yet also so seemingly trippy in its nature at the same time. This must be what comes of unnatural highs, and it's a pity that apparently they've stopped allowing mass substance intake at drawing board meetings, for when you play this game, you will truly know what it is to see a product where the makers let their inhibitions go hog wild and just let them run from there.
How else do you explain a plumber with ears on his cap and a tail on his butt and he's on a one-way flight to Bowser's castle?
According to my calculations, pure genius.