2015 marks the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. 3, which arguably still stands as the best game in the legendary Mario series. It’s almost impossible to explain how much bigger, deeper and more varied Mario 3 was than any other Mario game or platformer that had come before. As a kid, the game felt like an endless well I’d never see the bottom of. Due to my rampant warp whistle abuse, there are still Mario 3 levels I’ve never completed. Hell, there’s probably a few I’ve never even seen.
Here are a few things you may not know about the biggest, best, most ambitious platformer of the 8-bit era. Grab yourself a P-Wing and hold on tight…
1. The game was made easier for us wimpy Westerners. Super Mario Bros. 3 was a hard game, and that final world in particular seemed impossible at times, but it turns out that it was actually significantly softened for us bumbling Western gamers.
A lot of tweaks were made to the American version of Mario 3, but the most significant change was to the power-up system. In the Japanese version of the game, getting hit while wearing a suit or carrying a Fire Flower meant that you reverted all the way back to shrimpy, non-super Mario. Even if you were wearing a Kuribo’s Shoe! That’s just cruel. In the American version, you instead reverted to Super Mario. Basically, you could take up to three hits in the American version, but never more than two in the Japanese version. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it makes a pretty huge difference, particularly in those crazy final levels.
2. There was going to be a centaur suit in the game. Yes, Mario was originally supposed to have a power-up that turned him into a half-horse centaur. I won’t be held responsible for whatever fan fic, slash fic and/or pony fic results from this revelation.
Too sexy to exist.
The original idea was to base all of Mario 3‘s new power-ups on fantasy creatures, so in that context, centaur Mario actually made total sense. In the end, though, only Tanooki Mario, based on Japan’s mythical, giant-testicled flying raccoon dogs made the cut.
Yes, I said giant-testicled.
Mario’s butt-stomp suddenly makes a lot more sense.
3. The Mario 3 cartridge contains a special NES-boosting chip. Super Mario Bros. 3 looks much better than almost any other game on the NES, and it wasn’t just because they whipped the programmers extra hard for this one. Mario 3‘s cartridge actually contained the 8-bit equivalent of the SNES Super FX chip.
Mario 3‘s special chip allowed for diagonal scrolling, animated titles, more complex graphics and a permanent status bar at the bottom of the screen. A number of other later NES games, like the pretty fantastic-looking Kirby’s Adventure, also used Mario 3‘s special chip.
4. Boos are based on Mario 3 director Takashi Tezuka’s wife. Boos, introduced in Mario 3, are one of the most unique enemies in the Mushroom Kingdom. Face them, and they shy away, but turn your back, and they’re on you like Bowser on Princess. It’s kind of an odd design choice. Since when are ghosts afraid of people?
You’d think Mario would know not to turn his back on these guys by now.
Well, it turns out that Boos are based on the wife of Mario 3 co-director Takashi Tezuka. According to legend, Tezuka’s wife was normally a shy type, but would let him have it about his workaholic habits behind closed doors. So, Tezuka basically snuck a “take my wife, please” joke into Mario 3. I doubt most marriage counselors would recommend immortalizing your wife as a chubby, irritable ghost, but I haven’t dug up any information about a Tezuka divorce, so maybe this little factoid just never made it home.
5. The Koopa Kids are named after ’80s musicians, but originally based on Nintendo programmers. One of the things that really set Mario 3 apart were the Koopa Kids (they’ll always be Bowser’s kids to me, dammit). Miyamoto wanted to reward the regular Joes toiling away on the game, so each of the Koopalings is a caricature of one of Mario 3‘s programmers. Apparently, this game was coded by some pretty colorful characters.
Flyin’ airships and compilin’ code.
Of course, back in the 8-bit era, localizers rarely had much contact with a game’s original creators, so nobody on Nintendo’s American side had any idea what to make of these wacky-looking characters. Somebody did notice that the Koopalings’ wands kind of look like microphones, so the idea to name them all after famous musicians was born. Some of the references are obvious: Ludwig is named after Ludwig van Beethoven, and the bespectacled Roy is named after Roy Orbison. Others are real deep cuts. Morton is named after Morton Downey, Jr., and Larry is named after U2 drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., which is the one and only time anything’s ever been named after Larry Mullen, Jr.
6. Chain Chomps will eventually break free of their bonds. Chain Chomps are some of the most terrifying enemies in video game history. Even though they’re chained up and really not all that dangerous, they project an undeniable aura of menace.
Well, did you know Chain Chomps can break their bonds? I’ll give you a second to go mop up the cold sweat you’re now drenched in. If you stand around watching a Chain Chomp pull on its chain long enough, it will eventually break free on its 49th tug and come after your ass. That sounded dirty. And terrifying.
Chain Chomps, being the absolute worst for a quarter-century.
7. There are two versions of the game with differently named worlds. Depending on when you bought Super Mario Bros. 3, you got one of two different versions of the game. The second version of the game fixed some bugs and changed a lot of the text. Oddly, it also changed the names of the game’s eight worlds. In the original American version, the eight worlds were Grass Land, Desert Hill, Ocean Side, Big Island, The Sky, Iced Land, Pipe Maze and Castle of Koopa, whereas in the second version, the worlds went by the more generic names Grass Land, Desert Land, Water Land, Giant Land, Sky Land, Ice Land, Pipe Land and Dark Land.
8. Koopa Troopas and Hammer Bros. were going to hold bonus games. In the final version of Mario 3, that squeaky voiced bastard Toad hosted all the bonus games. Originally, Koopa Troopas and Hammer Bros. were going to get in on the fun. Fans digging around in Mario 3‘s code have found two lost bonus games hosted by giant, horrifying bipedal turtles. It’s not hard to understand why these were eventually scrapped.
I DON’T WANT TO PLAY THIS TERRIFYING GAME.
9. It doesn’t matter which chest you choose in Toad’s bonus game. Speaking of Mario 3‘s bonus games, prepare to have all your childish illusions shattered. Turns out, the chest you pick in the “Pick a Box” game makes absolutely no difference. The power-up you get is determined when you enter the mushroom house, and all three chests contain the same thing. I don’t know what to think about anything any more.
Little bastards have been screwing with us all along.
10. The world maps feature secret images. It’s rare that you really sit back and look at the game’s world maps. Most of them don’t fit on a single screen, so taking them all in at once isn’t even possible. That said, if you examine them closely, you’ll find that some of Mario 3‘s worlds actually form distinctive shapes. World 4 is shaped like a sea turtle or Koopa Troopa.
The turtle’s head is on the right.
World 7’s map is shaped like warp pipes.
Finally, this island from World 3 is shaped like Japan. The location of the castle roughly corresponds with the location of Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.
11. The makers of Doom wanted to port the game to the PC. Yes, the makers of one of the most infamous, gore-soaked bloodbaths tried to convince Nintendo to let them port Mario 3 to PC.
Id Software’s master programmer John Carmack had come up with an efficient way to do smooth, console-style scrolling on PCs. Id, who was still years away from creating Doom, thought Nintendo might be impressed by this, and they quickly hacked together a version of Mario 3‘s first level, replacing the plumber with their own character, Dangerous Dave. They titled the rip-off/experiment Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement. Apparently, Nintendo didn’t appreciate the Id guys’ sassy sense of humor because they declined their request to do a computer version of Mario 3. Too bad. I bet the BFG power-up would have been badass.
12. Mario isn’t actually the colors shown in all of the official artwork. Here’s a little thing you probably didn’t notice, but will never unsee once somebody has pointed it out. Mario doesn’t sport his “classic” color scheme in Mario 3. In all of the artwork, he has his blue overalls, red shirt, white gloves, brown shoes and yellow buttons, but this is what Mario actually looks like in the game:
Mario’s goth phase.
Black overalls, flesh tone hands and buttons and red shoes. What the heck? This is nothing new: Mario’s duds rarely matched his “classic” color scheme in his older games. His overalls were red in Donkey Kong, and his shirt was brown in Super Mario Bros. Our brains just absorbed the way Mario looked in official art, then made us see what Nintendo wanted us to see when we played the games.
13. The game is probably an elaborate stage play. While this is technically just a fan theory, it’s a pretty believable one. Basically, the theory goes that Super Mario Bros. 3 never actually “happened” (yes, all Mario games are fictional, but you understand what I’m saying), and that the game’s events were actually part of an elaborate stage play. A fiction within a fictional world. There’s plenty of solid evidence for this. The game opens with a rising curtain.
All floating objects appear to be bolted or hung to the background, and they cast shadows.
When you finish a level, you essentially exit stage right.
Mind = blown.
This isn’t the only time one of Mario’s adventures has been presented as a stage play. Some of the Paper Mario games have used the framing device, as well, and Yoshi’s Island looks like an elaborate elementary school production. Perhaps in the slightly twisted Mushroom Kingdom, Mario and friends put on self-congratulatory shows to keep the people entertained when Bowser isn’t causing any legitimate mischief. Really, it’s no more self-indulgent than the constant kart racing.
So, there you have it. A few facts about Mario and Bowser’s most epic throw down (assuming it wasn’t all a play, of course). Know any Mario 3 facts I missed? Just want to share some of your favorite memories of the game? Hit the comments and let’s talk Tanooki.