Super Mario Bros. 3
When I was first asked to do this week’s WedNESday column, I immediately started thinking of the more obscure NES games I’ve played (Barbie, Milan’s Secret Castle, Kickle Cubicle, etc.). “Surely,” I thought, “all of the console’s high profile classics will have already been taken.” But no! Imagine my surprise when I learned that this article series, fledgling though it is, had not yet tackled Super Mario Bros. 3, arguably the most iconic game of the Nintendo Entertainment System lineup. Naturally there was only one thing for me to do…
“Dibs!,” I screamed.
I was nine years old when SMB3 hit the shores of North America in 1990, and until then, I’d never had my mind well and truly blown by a video game. My first gaming experiences were spent leading Q*bert to many horrific deaths on an old Atari 2600. Then our neighbors got an NES with the first Super Mario Bros. It was awesome, but it seemed to me to be simply the next logical step in video game progress. Next was Super Mario Bros. 2–fun, but a bit weird.
Then along came SMB3, and it forever changed the way I thought about video games.
What’s this? An overworld map?! And I get to CHOOSE which order to do the levels?? Wait, Bowser has kids?? Since when?! There are eight distinctly themed worlds?!? Wow, I wonder if I’ll ever get as far as World 8? So the sun is a bad guy??? MARIO CAN FLY?????
SMB3 was the first game that I did not simply experience, but instead was able to, in many ways, make my own. Of course, like in the previous Mario games, there were secrets aplenty to be found (oh my gosh, did you guys know you can go BEHIND the level scenery?!), but there were also lots of side game opportunities. For example, upon beating a boss, it was absolutely crucial to catch the wand before it hit the ground (in conversation nowadays, I find this way of thinking was extremely common).
Whenever you finish a level, you hit a box that gives you a mushroom, flower, or star. Get three of the same in a row, and you are awarded with extra lives. I was obsessed with perfecting the timing, down to the millisecond, of getting a star every time.
And remember Toad’s houses that would appear every so often on the map?
Raise your hand if you can hear this image. Now raise your hand if you sang the text along with the music.
“Pick…a…box. Its…contents…will…help you…on…your…waa-aaay.”
No? None of you did that? You see, at our house, it was a ritual among myself and my sisters. We had to sing the whole text before picking a box, which helped ensure good luck when choosing.
And while we’re at it, remember how SMB3 let you store, like, a TON of items in the bottom panel?? Crazy, amirite?!
Beating SMB3 was a lofty goal that united my sisters and I. As children, we were only allowed 30 minutes of TV time per day, and SMB3 was the first thing that we ever decided was worth bending the rules for. It began with us deciding that our 30 minutes need not all happen concurrently. So if we each took 30 minutes of SMB3 time while the others just watched, surely that was within the letter of the law, right?
From there it progressed to stacking our time. The youngest sister would start off in World 1, where things were easiest. When her 30 minutes were up, she would tag in the middle sister to take over. Finally after her 30 minutes, it was my turn to be tagged in. Yet despite our joint efforts, we could never beat the game.
Our last ditch effort was to “donate” our time to each other. On certain days (a.k.a. days we wouldn’t be caught), my sisters would each give me their 30 minutes of TV time, meaning I had a full 90 minutes to try to beat SMB3 with them cheering me on. We used every warp and shortcut we knew of. Looking back on it, we were speedrunning before we even knew it was a thing.
But it just wasn’t enough. At nine years old, I simply didn’t have the skill to beat SMB3 in that amount of time, and part of me always felt that I let my sisters down. After all, they gave me their TV time, and what more precious gift is there?
However, I did eventually beat the game as an adult, and when I called my sisters to tell them of my accomplishment, I felt their pride and elation as strongly as if it was 1990 all over again, and they were sitting crosslegged beside me on the living room floor.
We finally did it, girls. We finally did it.
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