Sunday, December 09, 2007

Super Mario Brothers 3

You can beat "Super Mario Brothers 3" one of two ways: The short way, or the long way. But you'll want to beat it the long way, over and over again, until you've memorized the spectacular landscape of every level and the melody that accompanies it. Therein lies the brilliance of the crown jewel of the NES.

You can dash through a few levels, find the warp whistles and trounce Bowser within 20 minutes. Or you can spend a day digging up every white mushroom house, finding every Tanooki suit and juggling yourself off the backs of infinitely spawning goombas until you earn a 1-up with each jump.

In between these two paths are secrets that beckon you at every turn, and although they bear little importance on the outcome of the game, they offer challenges too fun to ignore. Skip Water Land and you'll miss the pulse-pounding thrill of Boss Bass trying to swallow you whole. Skip Sky Land and you'll miss the chance to shitkick Koopas in Kuribo's shoe.

Then there's treasures like the hammer suit in World 6-10, which you could only find by: (a) Thawing a set of frozen munchers with fireballs, (b) Backtracking to a vine and scaling it, (c) Hitting a high-in-the-sky P-switch and (d) Clearing the coins from above the pipe leading to the suit in the seconds before they switch back to munchers.

You could easily do without the suit. But it's a grand reward easily worth the relatively grand challenge. This principle applies to the game as a whole: The more you engage it, the more you enjoy it.

The range of play invites new gamers, who may have enough trouble navigating donut lifts, as well as the hardcore types who may pull their hair out trying to locate the coin ship. But, chances are, both will take pleasure in playing the game to the end.

"Super Mario Brothers 3's" triumph is all the more impressive with respect to "Super Mario Brothers," itself a phenomenal game whose mechanics were blown wide open by its 1988 successor, "SMB2." At the core of "3" is the same platform dynamic with myriad new dimensions. New lifts zig and zag and fall out from under your feet. You can grab hold of koopa shells and kick them toward blocks or goombas whenever you please. And perhaps most memorably, you can gain enough speed to leap across the screen and, if sporting the raccoon suit, fly.

The widened cast of enemies enriches the play as well. Thwomps can pancake you, fire-chomps and boos can follow you through the air and giant-sized hammer brothers can earthquake you into a fleeting standstill while their projectiles fall on your helpless head.

There's much more than I can list, but every last detail of "Super Mario Brothers 3" demands to be enjoyed. And that's why I consider it the greatest NES game of all time.

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