31 years ago today, Super Mario Brothers 3 was released in North America. Being the third installment in the series, this 2-D platformer had a lot to live up to, and it did just that splendidly. But what exactly made this game so great?
It had an interesting soundtrack...
Now the original Super Mario Bros. gave us the iconic theme most of us can recall within a second, but Super Mario Bros. 3 gives us some variety in the types of tunes. There are different musical themes for each world and its respective levels. The game even manages to upgrade the famous tune that plays whenever Mario is underground. It achieves this by adding percussion in the background. Another musical feat the soundtrack achieves (my inner music nerd talking here) is that the musical themes for the individual areas (such as up in the clouds) that Mario finds himself in are full-fledged songs. They all have a beginning, middle, end, and are marked by clear-cut cadences that signal the transitions between musical phrases.
...as well as neat power-ups
That tanooki suit was really freakin' cool. Not only could you fly, but you could also briefly turn into a statue by pressing the down key on the d-pad. The classic racoon suit was also fun to use. Not to mention some of the more obscure ones such as the hammer suit and the often useless frog suit. Personally the one I found to be the most entertaining was the goomba shoe. You were nearly invincible by being able to squish every enemy and be protected from the dangers beneath you. Well, at least until you lost the suit because I was pretty good at losing it. Ultimately, you could not go without having some extra mushrooms, invincible stars, fire suits, and magic wings especially in some of the later courses.
And there were many challenging levels too
Who remembers that cursed level from world 2 where the sun tries to kill you? Because I sure do. That sneaky little ball of heat will circle in the sky, then swoop down to try and hurt you repeatedly. Trying to avoid that sun and pits of quicksand was a real treat. Usually I would run like the wind and complete that level within 15 seconds because I wanted to get it over with and continue the game.
Or how about the water levels with the descending platforms? The ones where the giant fish could swallow and instantly kill you? I have fond memories of either passing those levels the very first time around, or getting swallowed by the fish several times first. There was no in between.
And then there are levels in world 8 which are on a completely different playing field. What about this one?
Every time I got to this level I would use a magic wing (I usually call them P-wings). Without using it, this level was very difficult but could still be done. What makes this so difficult is not only does it scroll by on its own, it also moves at double the speed while Mario is forced to jump from platform to platform. Essentially this allows almost no margin for error and if you're prone to making mistakes, it's pretty likely you're going to go through some frustrating trials in order to get past this.
Not to mention various goodies and extra lives you could earn
Throughout playing the different courses, there are cards marked with a little "N" that will pop up (with an adorable sound effect) on the world map. Scroll over to this and you are automatically taken to a minigame where you match different cards to one another. Match a pair, earn that corresponding power-up. Miss twice and it's better luck next time. Next there's this classic image as well.
There's no doubt I can count the number of times on two hands that this has went successfully for me. All three of those rows will scroll by very fast. You have to tap the "A" button once to stop each one. Line the pictures up and you get some extra lives. Don't line the pictures up, you get nothing and there's no retries either. I will often see people use this picture to refer as to when their anxiety began, and I am going to have to concur with that as I fail this minigame more than half of the time.
In addition to secrets
The above picture is of the mysterious and rare coin ship. There's actually a weird set of criteria that has to be met in order to trigger this:
"The player must be in either World 1: Grass Land, World 3: Water Land, World 5: Sky Land or World 6: Ice Land.
A wandering Hammer Brother must be on the world map.
Mario or Luigi must finish a stage with a coin total ending in a multiple of 11 (zero does not count).
The tens digit of the player's score must match the multiple of 11 (i.e. if the coin total is 11, the tens digit must be 1, if the coin total is 22, the tens digit must be 2, and so on).
As each second left on the timer will award the player 50 points, the timer must be stopped on an even number so that the number of points received is a multiple of 100. Alternatively, an odd number will work if the score is 50 points off from the correct multiple. " (Thanks Super Mario Wiki for that information!)
Ah, the illustrious white mushroom house. This little sucker will very seldom appear before you as well, and also has a specific set of rules to meet in order to be triggered. Fortunately this isn't as difficult to achieve. In certain levels in worlds 1-7, you have to grab every single coin that is there.
"World 1 - Level 4 collect 44 coins
World 2 - Level 2 collect 30 coins
World 3 - Level 8 collect 41 coins
World 4 - Level 2 collect 22 coins
World 5 - Level 5 collect 28 coins
World 6 - Level 7 collect 78 coins
World 7 - Level 2 collect 41 coins"
Fulfill this rule and the white mushroom house will appear.
Finally, there was this little trinket.
I would make it my mission to obtain at least 2 out of the 3 available warp whistles. The first one you can find in 1-3. If you crouch down on the white block at the end of the level, you drop down behind all of the scenery. Run to the end of the course and you are taken to a secret mushroom house where you claim the first whistle. The second one is found in the very first castle of the game. After jumping past some lava pits and fireballs, you will see a dry bones walking underneath a power block. If you have wings, you can fly up to a platform (that you can't see) and enter a door. This takes you to a secret area where the second warp whistle can be claimed. Finally, the third one is in the second world. In the far northeast corner of the map, there is a rock that can be smashed with a hammer powerup. Scroll on past that and there is a secret course. Defeat the two fire-spitting hammer bros and you have your third whistle.
All in all?
This was definitely a game for the ages as it had some awesome aspects to it (given the time period of course). It has no doubt inspired a plethora of features within some of the most recent Mario games. I had some of the best memories of my two older sisters and I playing it. Now go find yourself a comfy couch, sit back, relax, and go play some Super Mario. Bros. 3!