"Mario! Mario! Mario!" was the chant echoed by a legion of people in the TV advertisements for Super Mario Bros. 3 that aired leading up to its original release in 1990. At the end of that famous commercial, the camera flies skyward to reveal the population of North America grouped together in color-coordinated outfits to create a visage of Mario spanning the entire continent. Looking back, that ad was a deft summary of the anticipation that had built up prior to the game's release, as well as an accurate predictor of the praise it would receive once people got their hot little handss on that grey NES cartridge. In Super Mario Bros. 3, Nintendo promised and delivered one of the best 2D platformers of all time. Now, this genuine milestone in the history of video games is available once again; this time as a download for the Wii's Virtual Console service.
If you're already intimately familiar with Super Mario Bros. 3, feel free to skip ahead a couple of paragraphs. If, somehow, you haven't played the game before, or you've been boycotting everything associated with the movie The Wizard starring Fred Savage, you need to get with the program, fast. Super Mario Bros. 3 is eight worlds and 70-plus levels of side-scrolling goodness. You run fast, you leap across pits, you pounce on Goombas, and you pick up turtle shells then throw them. You'll also want to head-bash all of the "?" blocks you see because they release power-ups that make Mario bigger and give him useful abilities. Fire flowers let you throw fireballs, stars make you invincible for a brief period, and leaves turn you into a flying raccoon with a killer tail. On the map screen, you'll visit bonus games that reward you with extra lives, warp whistles, and power-ups that you can bring into the levels. These include the normal power-ups, as well as some unique costumes that can transform Mario into a swimming frogman or a hammer-tossing turtle.
Variety set Super Mario Bros. 3 apart from the other cookie-cutter platformers of the era, and it's the main reason why the game still feels fresh today. You'll encounter mushroomlike Goombas, snapping turtles, bulky dudes in football gear, and skeletons that fall apart when you pounce on them. In the castles and airships within each world, you'll come across different Koopaling bosses that will have you ducking from then jumping over their attacks as you dish out the necessary licks to send them packing. The level designs don't adhere to one particular style. Instead, they involve a healthy rotation of platform-jumping, forced scrolling, swimming, and switch-based puzzles. One world is packed with giant renditions of normal enemies. Best of all, as you forge ahead, you'll discover that every level holds optional paths or pipes that lead to shortcuts and caches of extra lives; not to mention the goofy secrets that exist only because Mr. Miyamoto thought they'd be interesting. If you duck down on a white slab, you'll blend in with the background. If you do it from stages one through three, you might find a warp whistle.
This Virtual Console download is an exact emulation of the original NES version, which means it doesn't contain the additional levels, the richer 16-bit graphics, or the revamped music that was included with the later Super NES and Game Boy Advance remakes. That's not a big deal, really, considering the NES game already had plenty of levels and top-notch 8-bit frills. Mario and his enemies are whimsically animated, as well as cute in that cartoonish sort of way. As for the backgrounds, the pastel colors, puffy clouds, and large environmental structures do a good job of rescuing the game from the recycled tile patterns normally found in 8-bit side-scrollers. A large grassy hill here, some smiling clouds there, and a few pyramids or castles go a long way toward making you feel like you're actually running around in Mario's world. Of course, the familiar Mario sound effects are present, along with a batch of insidiously memorable musical compositions concocted by Koji Kondo, one of the few people who really knew how to make the NES sing.
For the most part, the graphics and audio match what you'd see if you hooked an old NES up to another TV then compared the two versions side-by-side. If you have a HD set, you may have to boost the color saturation to make the graphics pop like they did back in the day. Unfortunately, the default button layout of the Classic Controller forces you to bend your wrist at an uncomfortable angle when you try to press the jump and attack buttons simultaneously. Because of that, the basic Wii Remote is your best option for long play sessions. Because the Virtual Console is basically emulating the original NES code, the game doesn't provide its own save mechanism. However, thanks to the automatic suspend and restore feature built into the Virtual Console service, you can exit back to the channel menu then pick up right where you left off the next time you start the game.
The only blemish in the emulation is the thin blue or black border that's always visible on the far left side of the screen. This so-called overscan area wasn't visible when people played the NES cartridge on old televisions, but now that modern TVs don't automatically trim away the edges, this tiny strip is there to (potentially) distract you. Realistically, you'll rarely notice it when you're playing because you'll be too busy with the platforms and enemies occupying the main screen area.
Those who already love Super Mario Bros. 3 and have the desire to play the original NES version again will be pleased with this Virtual Console release. It's like reconnecting with a best friend that you haven't seen since you were little. Meanwhile, those who haven't yet immersed themselves in its jump-heavy sweetness have been given a golden opportunity to do so. This is 500 Wii points ($5) well spent.