We want to play some games, and you say ‘no’, I say ‘yes’”, ‘no’, we will play some other time, and you say ‘yes’, and so on. Let’s play a game. What is the name of this game?
This one is pretty easy. It’s called Super Mario Bros. 3 and it was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (commonly known as the NES) in 1990. The game was a critical and commercial success – it currently has an 89% on review score site Metacritic, and it’s ranked 11th on list of all-time best games according to GameRankings.com. It also won the award for Best Game Boy Game at the 1991 Game Developers Choice Awards.
If you’ve never heard of Super Mario Bros. 3, you’re likely to have heard of its two iconic predecessor games: the first is the original Super Mario Bros. (released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985), and the second is the classic Game Boy game (first released in 1989).
The games are often credited with popularising the “platformer” genre of video games, which focuses on a character attempting to complete an objective on an animated platform – like a mountain, a valley, or perhaps even the world itself. It’s sometimes also referred to as the “Jump ‘n’ Run” or “Run ‘n’ Jump” game genre due to the action-adventure gameplay prevalent in these games. (The original Super Mario Bros. was also the first video game to come with a built-in accelerometer – this allows players to use their physical bodies as controllers and make full use of motion-sensing controls.)
Why Did We Play This Game?
We played this game for a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to see what all the fuss was about with this game. Second, we wanted to play a game that wasn’t readily available in Singapore. Third, we wanted to play a game that we remembered enjoying when we were kids, and fourth, we wanted to experience how the console itself changed gaming as we knew it.
The 1983-1993 Console Wars
The NES was released in the early 1980s and it was relatively expensive to produce at the time – which meant that only a few popular titles were released for it. The console’s popularity started to grow in the early ’90s however, as more and more people bought it to play games that were released for it. (This was mainly due to the increased availability of games thanks to the popularisation of online gaming and broadband internet connections.)
Prior to the NES, video games were largely performed on stand-alone consoles – like the Atari, Intellivision, or Sega Saturn. (The NES was designed to be “plugged into the wall” and used an attachment called the Power Stick to connect to the TV.) These consoles ranged in size from small to large and they were all standalone devices that required a power supply to operate. (Saturn was so large that it had to be housed in its own custom-made case to be transported by truck. As a result, its popularity waned quickly once the competition emerged.)
With the NES, Nintendo broke the mold of the standalone video game console and changed how we would play games forever. First, they made the console easier to use with the console’s built-in controls – which meant fewer crashes due to button malfunctions. Second, they made the games more accessible to all ages by providing picture-sequel dialogue that encouraged kids to “talk to the toys” and ask them questions about what was happening in the game. Third, they made games easier to create by providing a set of built-in tools that creators could use to make their games.
As a result of the console’s success, competition in the form of the Game Boy emerged – a handheld console designed to be more portable than the NES. While the Game Boy was built on similar technology to the NES, it had a much smaller capacity, meaning that fewer games could be stored on it. (The handheld also had a screen resolution of only four by four pixels – the same as the then-current generation of mobile phones!)
Nintendo also saw fit to release the Super Game Boy, a hybrid console that combined the best of both worlds – the portability of the Game Boy with the power of the NES hardware. It was also compatible with older cartridges, allowing Game Boy users to play their favourite games on the go. Unfortunately, despite the console’s success, it was another early casualty of the console wars – Nintendo discontinued production of the Super Game Boy in 1995.
What Is The Genre Of Super Mario Bros. 3?
When we think about video games, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the image of Mario or some form of his face laughing or crying alongside the words “interactive fiction” or “text-based”. These are the two main defining features of video games as we know them: they are primarily composed of text (due to the use of an interface sometimes called a “command line”) and they are generally considered to be interactive fiction (IF) or text-based games. (The “text-based” label is actually a loose one, and can refer to a wide variety of games that feature text-based dialogue – including text adventures and graphical text-based adventure games.)
IF/Text games aren’t just limited to Super Mario Bros. 3, as many games from the genre arose from its success, including some that were released soon after the NES’s launch in the mid-1980s. For example, the text adventure Grim Flicks (1986), developed by the American company Ambiance, Inc and published by the Belgian company Glorious Software, is set in a funeral home and revolves around the afterlife of movies.
Text-based games allow players to read fictional stories that are often intertwined with the gameplay – it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) book, but interactive. When you play Grim Flicks, you not only get to see what happens but you can also affect the story based on your choices – for example, you can choose to interact with Grim Flicks’ talking corpse or leave it alone.
What Makes This Game Special?
We already mentioned some of the game’s defining features, but what makes this game special is how they all come together to form one cohesive whole. While it’s easy to point to the console or the game’s characters and their iconic poses, it’s much harder to put into words what makes this game so special. This is largely because there isn’t a single factor that makes the game unique; it’s the combination of all these elements that comes together to create something unprecedented. (This is one of the reasons why this game is sometimes called a “platformer” – it is, in fact, the culmination of all the work that were put in by previous games in the series.)
How Does It Play?
We’ll keep this short because we want to get to the good stuff soon. To put it simply, Super Mario Bros. 3 is an action-adventure game set in a two-dimensional (2D) world – in other words, like the Game Boy games that it was inspired by, it’s a sidescrolling platformer.
The gameplay of Super Mario Bros. 3 is very similar to that of its two predecessors. Players use the game’s A and B buttons to jump and the action buttons (X, Y, and Triangle) to interact with the environment. Some of the original game’s most iconic features are still present in Super Mario Bros. 3, including Goomba monsters, Koopa Troopas (squishie turtles with cannons for a head), and mushroom mines that explode when stepped on. (The game’s depiction of Mushroom Kingdom is also one of its biggest draws – it is a tribute to the Mario franchise, and a great example of pixel art.)
Super Mario Bros. 3 was also the first game in the series to feature a female protagonist named Princess Peach, a change from the traditionally male-centric characterisations of previous games. Peach has arguably become one of the most emblematic female characters in video game history for her tomboyish enthusiasm and spunky personality.
How Is It Rated?
If you’re wondering, this game is rated MA15+ due to its references to alcohol and tobacco. The rating also accounts for occasional mild language (noted above), crude humour, and fantasy violence (including disembodied limb removal). As for why these elements make up part of the rating, MA15+ is used in Singapore to refer to adult supervision recommended for people aged 15 and above. (This refers to the “elements that parents need to be aware of” according to the rating board’s website.)