Saturday, August 31, 2013

Super Mario Bros. 3: A platformer above all others

Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered to be one of the best platformer of all time.  I’ve never played it until very recently when I was able to find a copy of the Gameboy Advance version, Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 (you have to love how they named all the super Mario advanced games). I have played the original Mario Bros. on NES and Super Mario World both on SNES and the GBA release. I much more fond memories of Super Mario World since I played that more often and it is the main Mario game from my childhood. I have very little platformer experience in my years of gaming. I’ve played a few here and there but for the most part I generally stay away from the genre.  The main reason I avoid platformers is because I am terrible at them. The number of lives I’ve gone through in this playthrough is more than I care to remember. The number of times I cursed up a storm in SMB3 is comparable to my playthroughs of Ninja Gaiden 2. However even with all this frustration I thoroughly enjoyed the game.

Some of the great songs in video game history come from the Mario series. SMB3 delivers another excellent soundtrack. My favorite songs from this game are definitely the Airship theme, Big Island and King. The Airship song has a heavy emphasis on percussion instruments, similar to percussions used in military drills which are very fitting for the Airship levels. The Big Island song me represents one of the brighter and goofier levels which accurately captures the feeling of seeing a giant Goomba for the first time. The King song just doesn’t seem like it would come from a Mario game but it fits perfectly in the mini cutscenes when Mario transforms the king back to normal.

SMB3 features a number of unique power ups, more than what was present in Super Mario World. My favorite power up is still the fire flower since it generally makes most levels a breeze after you chuck fire balls at enemies. I actually didn’t learn what the difference between the Racoon Mario and Tanooki Mario was until after I had finished the game. I’m not sure if it would have made a difference in my experience but it would have been nice if there was some message to let me know the difference. Hammer Mario was probably my second favorite suit to use since it was very similar to the fire flower. I used the frog suit the least amount of times because it is only useful for the handful of underwater levels present in this game. I would prefer to be small Mario then Frog Mario on dry land but in the water, Frog Mario was king. The Frog suit made all the water based levels much more bearable which is great since I generally hate all water based levels (those damn Water Temples in Zelda).

The level designs were very interesting, especially toward the later part of the game. The Sky world had some unique ideas such as the vertically scrolling sections or ascending the vertical tower to get to the second half of Sky world. The Pipe World also featured an interesting design. The player can walk off the screen and appear on the opposite ide which leads to some interesting vertical platforming. I did find the overworld to be annoying to travel through since you         have to use the pipes to get around which increases the time it takes to travel around the map. Bowser’s castle features a number of unique areas such as fighting through tanks and battleships (similar to the airship battles at the end of each world). The levels in general are much shorter than Super Mario World and do not have any mid way gates. Most levels contain either 1 or 2 power ups throughout the level, with one located near the beginning.

The enemy designs are what you generally see in most Mario games, some Koopas with variations, Goombas, Lakitu, Piranha Plants, beetles and some Hammer brothers. There were some enemies that I haven’t seen before such as the Angry Sun, Fire Snakes, Stretch, and Fire Chomps. The Angry Sun probably wins first prize for the most annoying and scariest enemy of any Mario game. It literally only appears in the game twice but it has such an intimidating presence that I will never forget it. Its only life goal is to just scare the crap out of you at the worst possible times.

SMB3 does have some flaws within its design. The first thing I noticed was that a lot of the power ups that were available in a level were placed so that there was an immediate danger right next to it making it difficult to attain. If there was no danger and the power up was a regular mushroom then it would have a good chance of moving away from you into a pit or a bunch of enemies. Power ups should be items that are available to help players that are unfamiliar with the game. Another problem with the power up system is that if you lose a power up in the middle of a level you can’t access your reserve until after that level. While the reserve in SMW let you only old one item (SMB3 allows you to hold about 36 items) it allowed you to access it during the level. This made SMW much friendlier to new players since you weren’t as severely punished if you took a lot of hits in one level. I have a hoarding mentality when it comes to items in video games. I had 35 items available to use when I was at the final castle in Bowser’s lair. With the SMW system, I ended up using the items more often because I could only hold one. In SMB3 I played through about 75% of the game as small Mario because I didn’t want to spend on item because of my conservative play style. SMB3 is generally a much harder Mario game then most of the other version, World 8 has a huge spike in difficulty. I can see many people arriving at World 8 and then just giving up because the difficulty is so much harder than what you were used to. The last thing that I absolutely despised was that the airships moved after every attempt. This wouldn’t be so bad if it only moved a couple of squares away, but I’ve had the airship move off the screen which then I had to pursue it through pipes only to lose and then have to pursue it back to the other side of the map. The worst was when this occurred in the Pipe world which at one point made me want to quit playing this game.

Now the question is if I would recommend this game? It really depends on who is asking. If the person has some experience in platformers and is looking to play a slightly harder game then it would be perfect for them. However if the person is someone who is looking to get into platformers then I would probably recommend either SMW or one of the newer Mario Bros. games on the DS and Wii. I did enjoy this game and can see why it is generally considered to be one of the best Mario games of all time. I would recommend playing the GBA version over the NES since the GBA version lets you continue from the last world you played and has a more lenient saving system. My friend also let me know that the GBA version allows you to go back through any of the levels after you defeat Bowser where as the original NES did not allow this. If you are looking to conquer this platformer I can give you some advice. Play very short sessions of SMB3. I did about 15 minutes every few hours or so (sometimes once a day) where I would try the level out and if I kept dying within those 15 minutes I would stop and come back later. There something about taking a break that let me absorb some information and made the levels much easier. I definitely recommend you try this if you're stuck at a level for sometime.