Confessions of a Genesis Kid: Super Mario Bros. 3 is a Masterpiece
I can still remember the Christmas morning we got our Sega Genesis. We popped in our “Not for Resale” copy of Sonic the Hedgehog and spent the morning exploring Green Hill Zone. It was my first gaming experience, and I was hooked.
Sonic was the best. Not only the best, but the coolest. He would zoom across the screen at top speed, flaunting his in-your-face attitude.
How could I not be a Genesis kid?
My fiancée on the other hand is a Nintendo kid. Well, as much as someone who claims to not like games can be a Nintendo kid. She has fond memories of playing Mario as a child. It’s like a modern-day Montague-Capulet situation.
Recently, she told me she wanted to relive those memories. I’ve spent the last couple years slowly coaxing her into video games, so I jumped at the opportunity. Surely, I wouldn’t lose my spot on the wing of the Tornado by exploring the Mushroom Kingdom.
She chose Super Mario Bros. 3, and I am eternally grateful for it. Not only did I love this game, but it sparked a newfound appreciation for Mario and his fans. This game was a blast. Sharing this experience with my fiancée gave me wonderful Mario memories that I will cherish forever. Memories I put right up there with the Blue Blur.
Enough background, let’s dive into the game and relive some memories!
We played the version of Mario 3 on Super Mario All-Stars. From what I gather, the differences between this and the original are minor. The graphics and design are improved, the physics are slightly adjusted, and there is a save feature (which we leaned on heavily). Because I never heard the utterance, “the original Super Mario Bros. 3 is trash,” I’m inclined to believe the differences are inconsequential.
We picked the two-player option, a feature that immediately struck me. This mode is unlike the co-op games I’m used to. Both players are never on the same screen, unless engaging in Battle Mode. Instead, player one gets a crack at a level, and either they complete the level or die trying, then player two gets a shot. Naturally, I was relegated to player two, AKA Luigi, Mario’s taller, thinner, and arguably more handsome brother.
It harkened back to the days of playing Sonic with my older brother or sister, where I played as the utilitarian sidekick, Tails. I can’t seem to escape this. I should start an internet support group for all the other Tails/Luigi/sidekick players out there.
The game begins on an overworld map, featuring a collection of numbered tiles, as well as a few special tiles in which the player wins extra lives or powerups. The map breathed with life as plants in the background swayed to the music and a flashing cry for help marked a clear goal.
I think it’s safe to assume we all know the basics of Mario. The goal of each level is to get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. Along the way, Mario (or the unsung hero, Luigi) collects powerups to make the trip a bit easier.
The first thing I noticed was how tight the controls were. There was an immediate sense that if you miffed a jump, it was your own fault. A tap of the button produced a short, measured hop, whereas holding the button launched Mario sky high.
While in the air, precise movements allowed for minor changes in the trajectory. These alterations could make or break the landing. To make things even more interesting, there was a button that when held down while moving gradually increased Mario’s speed.
Speed. Now we’re talking.
He didn’t move as fast as Sonic, but it felt just as good racing through the level. Though doing so comes at a cost. Hazards became harder to avoid, and boy did I get yelled at on many occasions trying to speed my way through the level (the pleasures of playing a game with your wife-to-be, I suppose).
Running and jumping helped to reach areas that seemed otherwise impossible. The run-jump highlighted the role momentum played in Mario 3. Time and again, I’d jump to a platform, only to have my momentum slide me over into the abyss.
That being said, I never got angry with the game physics. Each time provided a learning opportunity, and I found myself making subtle tweaks in my movement to combat the forward motion and stick the landing. There was such joy in landing an improbable jump.
Sonic doesn’t have controls like this. There are three buttons: jump, jump, and jump. There is a level of control, but not to the degree of Mario. This is the last time I’ll bring up Sonic, I swear.
Going back to Mario 3, you may have already picked up on this, but I died. A lot. And I got laughed at. A lot. But that’s beside the point. This game punished me for each and every mistake I made, which I attribute to its wonderful level design.
Each level featured cleverly constructed designs with multiple routes and puzzling platforming. Unlike Sonic—I know, I know, I said I wouldn’t bring it up again, but Sonic was the impetus for this article, so accept it and let’s move on—Mario 3 encourages players to approach each puzzle with finesse over style.
To make matters more challenging, a variety of enemies recklessly bombarded me. It quickly became apparent that the method in which these enemies were disposed of impacted the game. The shell of a Koopa Troopa could be an obstacle to avoid, a weapon to use against another enemy, or a platform to a new area.
Various hazards are sprinkled throughout each level. Platforms fall away, fireballs spray out of the ground, and bullets soared through the sky. These deathtraps keep you on your toes. They made for thrilling levels that fostered a sense of pride when cunning maneuvering paid off.
The level design, enemy variation, and environment all come together to form vibrant scenery. Whether flying through the clouds, diving into water, or crawling underground, every level offers beautiful and unique backgrounds. It was difficult not to stop midlevel to appreciate the view, which usually costed me my life.
The catchy music playing throughout the game didn’t hurt either. However, this is the one area I need to give it up to Sonic. The music in Sonic ranks among my favorite video game soundtracks, and while Mario 3 has some good tunes, I never find myself seeking out ways to listen to it.
Progressing through the eight different worlds showcases the creativity put into this game. Each world boasted an overall theme. My favorite was World Four: Giant World. I loved seeing all the familiar settings blown up to a comical size.
All the worlds stick with me. In fact, many of them haunt my dreams. We struggled for months clearing each world. Words cannot describe the satisfaction of seeing the world map fill up with the “M” or “L” (mostly the “M” if I’m being honest).
It’s hard to imagine what a world without Mario would be like. The franchise redefined video games. Without Mario there would be no Sonic, or us cool Sonic fanboys. The incredible amount of praise is heaped on these games is well-deserved.
It took me this long, but I’ll say it: Super Mario Bros. 3 is a masterpiece. Sonic was and always will be my first love, but playing through Mario 3 gave me a new appreciation for Mario. Heck, it gave me a new appreciation for video games.
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