Super Mario Bros. 3, ladies and gentlemen, one of the greatest games in the history of gaming, and the bestselling NES blockbuster featured in the perennial Jenny Lewis vehicle, The Wizard. Much ink has been spilt extolling the virtues of SMB3, and even a few angry nerds have tried to make their mark on the universe by claiming SMB3 is terrible. Honestly, 26 years after its release, it feels almost gauche to even touch such a sacred cow.
But the robot demands it, so I may as well toss something together.
Hey, why not look at the worst level in the best game?
World 7: Pipe Maze has always been Mario Hell. Back when I was a wee Goggle Bob playing this game with my friends, a frequent way to annoy player 2 (which could be me!) was to collect the warp whistles of World 1, tornado over to World 4 (which was awesome!), and then skip from there to World 7. And now we have to play this wretched world! You butthead!
But World 7 wasn’t really that bad. I’ve played SMB3 a number of times from beginning to end in the last nearly thirty years, and, honestly, I find it hard to find faults in this game at all, particularly when compared to some of its 2-D descendants. Before red coins and hidden exits and secret mega mushrooms, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the purest “Mario runs from left to right” experience that ever was or ever would be. However, World 7 is a preview of what would come into Mario’s world… and that has a tendency to scare children.
So, in the spirit of chastising my younger self for not understanding the finer points of Piranha Plant Place, here’s a full rundown of Super Mario Bros. 3’s World 7.
The start of this world is pretty damn Mario. We’ve got a new “playstyle” to acclimate to, and the design of the world does a pretty good job of teaching the player what to do. You start out seemingly trapped under a staircase of blocks, but, gasp, this level is apparently a tube (like some kind of pipe), and Mario can easily run off the left side of the screen and reappear on the right. That’s cool! Of course, the same applies to the koopa troopas of this stage, so watch out for those damn bitey turtles… Wait… I’m describing 7-5? There’s nothing like that in the first stage that features this wrap-around gameplay? Well that’s lame.
Alright, let’s try this again: 7-1 has the looping feature seen in games like Kid Icarus and Mario Bros., but there’s no clear indication at the start that that is the case. Oh well, I suppose you might just run into the edge of the screen naturally, but it’s not really a requirement/danger until a lone red koopa troopa about halfway through the stage. Odd choice. Regardless, your goal here is to scale the vertical shaft via traveling through particular pipes. We’re off to a great start with this “Pipe Maze” concept!
Overall, this stage is basically there to make this all look easy… and screw you if you don’t know which pipes to use. Given the choice between licking a porcupine and a stupid maze where the wrong pipe deposits you back at earlier in the level, I’ll take the porcupine every time (do I get to choose where I lick the porcupine? Oh, never mind). And there’s, what, one powerup in this whole stage? Aggravating.
And this is all before the final area of this level: a room with teeny tiny ceilings and two koopa troopas. This is another situation where, if you know exactly what to do, you’ll have no issues, but if you’re inexperienced and hurting from earlier piranha plants, you’re likely to perish at the hands of these turtles, and have to repeat the whole stage all over again. Hope you figured out what you did wrong!
Stage Verdict: Dreadful start to a world of pain.
In general, this stage is something that seems like it could be fun, but it also takes the time to introduce one of the most tedious traps to the Super Mario universe. 7-2 is mostly about an above ground “overworld” that uses a series of tubes to connect to a sunken underwater area. Depending on the obstacles in your immediate area, it may be in your best interest to pop into a pipe and switch areas to make some progress. This is a fun concept! Just ask Link!
Unfortunately, the centerpiece of this stage is a gap in the middle of the stage that you’re unlikely to clear on your first jump. And, once you’re in that gap, you’ll find you’re trapped with a koopa paratroopa by a ceiling of previously invisible blocks. Attempt to leap from your pit, and you’ll continually be struck down by magically appearing music blocks. Sorry, buddy, you’re going to have to backtrack through the underground to make it out.
Once again, this is the kind of thing you reflexively anticipate when you’re playing the game for the 30,000th time, but on your first visit, it’s a nasty trick. You’re very likely to be skewered by that troopa when you bounce off an inexplicably appearing music block, and, while it’s very (very!) possible I was a dumb child, I personally wound up in this trap every stupid time. It’s all fun and games until someone gets eaten by a turtle.
Oh, and I consider this the start of those “appearing block traps” in Super Mario Maker, so this stage loses a lot of points for introducing that little bit of sadism.
Stage Verdict: Fun concept, one terrible trap.
Three stages in, and we finally get a real Super Mario Bros. 3 stage! Cherish this brief reprieve before we hit the really horrible stuff.
This is Mario, ladies and gentlemen. Run left to right, avoid dangerous fauna, and hope you hit the goal before Lakitu dumps more spinies onto the stage than should be possible for the NES to render. Hey, we’ve even got some slopes here! I love slopes!
The charm point of this stage is that, should you move fast enough, you can maintain a star/invincibility powerup throughout the entire stage. This was before this would mean a million 1-ups, but it’s still fun as all get out to run at top speed and mow down every impediment in your path. And SMB3 has that cool rolling jump for invincibility! Screw you guys, I’ve got a screw attack!
Stage Verdict: My greatest regret is that I have no way to transcribe the star theme. De de de de de de dedede.
Welcome to Hell!
If there are two things I hate in Mario games, it’s autoscrolling and water levels. And what do we have here? Why, it’s an autoscrolling water level! And it’s choked with hazards like jellyfish and cheep cheeps! Go ahead and use your frog suit, you’ll lose it within ten seconds anyway!
You can plainly see what’s going on here: this is the last water level in the game, and the designers clearly wanted to pull out all the stops for the finale of NES water levels. That’s great an’ all, but it also means a whole lot of dead Marios all of a quarter into the world. This is the make or break point for a lot of players, and I can’t blame anyone that decides to use Lakitu’s Cloud to bypass this entire stage (and the nearby pipe guarantees you won’t have to repeat it, even if you [inevitably] die in the next area). I mean, come on, on top of all the obvious hazards, there’s even a Big Bertha fish that will swallow you whole, regardless of powerup acquisition.
And as a final “eat it” to the player, there’s that one damn puke plant at the finish line, and if you don’t get ahead of the thing immediately, you’re pretty much guaranteed to suffer. Well, suffer more.
Stage Verdict: Pure hate in digital form. The greatest part of this stage appears to be that it is meant to be skipped.
Likely tackled before 7-4 (why rush the pain?), 7-5 is the first of the “puzzle” stages in World 7. I consider a Mario Puzzle Stage to be any level that requires more foresight than simply steering Mario from left to right. Think practically every stage in Super Mario World’s Forest of Illusion. There are four puzzle stages in World 7, and two puzzle stages in the entire rest of Super Mario Bros. 3 (and one of those is wholly optional).
At least 7-5 is voluntary (unlike a certain upcoming fortress), and your reward for completing this stage will be one of Mario’s special suits…. Assuming you’re playing a one-player game. In a two player game, you’ll conquer this stage, and then Luigi will swoop in there and claim your prize. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
Regardless, the two big obstacles in this stage are a single, low-hanging block that must be destroyed through any means necessary, and a gap that is nearly impossible to cross without revealing a whole new set of invisible blocks. Individually, neither of these roadblocks is that bad, but combined with a time limit, it’s another situation where, if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, Mario is going to meet the reaper. Hey, frog suits are for closers!
Stage Verdict: Hone your problem solving skills here, because it’s only going to get worse…
In the absence of Hammer Bros, this map contains two piranha plant-based obstacle courses. This plant is technically optional, but you’ll probably want to tackle it to open the shortcut and claim its P-Wing prize. Or don’t, because you’ll probably be piranha chow if you’re unprepared.
After a couple of pipes that are juuuuust short enough to be vaulted, the meat of this stage kicks in with an army of munchers, little black plants that are anxious to turn Mario into a snack. Oddly, these creatures continue to move even after the game is paused, so if you’re headed for an impact, you can hammer that start button and hope for the best. If you’re not in the mood to cheat, though, this area requires nigh perfect timing, and is a test of your rhythm more than anything else. Once you’re past the munchers, you’re a spitting piranha plant or two away from your goal, so feel free to celebrate.
Stage Verdict: Tough, but quick. The munchers are adorable, even if they’re flowering death.
Mario Historians will claim that the Ghost House didn’t appear in Mario games until Super Mario World, and the boos and dry bones of SMB3 were just fun set dressing for the fortress stages. Bullshit. Here is Mario’s first ghost house, complete with a hidden exit and a pile of treasure meant to trap a greedy player.
Let’s talk about that first room. Raise your hand if you hit the P-Switch and just collected every coin forever and ever until time ran out. Yeah, that’s what I thought. This stage starts off so cool! It really feels like the designers are saying, “Hey, we know this world has been rough, have some fun!” Yay! Coins for days!
And then the rest of the stage is just… wrong. I have to give its creators credit: a fortress where everything is already “dead” and not activating is pretty damn creepy. There are candles without their fiery buddies, stretch blocks that refuse to twitch, and circles that should be surrounded by deadly light balls, but… nope. Nothing. Totally abandoned fortress.
Only big issue here is that, if you don’t know where you’re looking, you’re probably going to watch that timer count down to nothing, regardless of coin gluttony. It’s very easy to acquire that Tanooki suit, attempt to canvas the ceiling for pipes, but fall and miss the exact right part of the nondescript roof of this area. It’s another damn puzzle world, and this one doesn’t completely play fair. Is a coin arrow too much to ask?
Stage Verdict: Creepy and unkind.
Hey, now here’s what I wanted to see in 7-1. A clear indicator of how the wraparound stages work, complete with koopa troopas that will hurt you if you don’t understand. That’s learning!
After the initial steps, this whole level is… weird. I’m not going to call it a puzzle stage, but it is a stage that has one weird trick for pissing me off. In this case, it’s a series of blocks that will change directions thanks to a hop or two. This is peculiar, and barely appears elsewhere in the game. And there are spikes! Like, everywhere! Are there spikes anywhere else in the game? I know there are, but not nearly this many. This isn’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, dammit! This is Mario! Get those pointy things out of here and bring back the jellyfish!
Most of this stage is spent riding those damn platforms, and it’s yet another situation where the “rules” seem to be ill-defined for a fledgling player. In fact, I’ve played this game a million times (that number keeps going up), and I still have no idea how long any given exclamation platform will last. Roughly until the next one shows up? Except when that’s not true? Bah!
Also, this is famously the stage that can be entirely skipped with a P-Wing. Just do that.
Stage Verdict: This isn’t the sharp kind of stage design I’m looking for.
We’re finally on the last island chain of the world, and here’s yet another stage that demands you know exactly what you’re doing.
I’m calling this one a puzzle stage, because, while it’s simple left-to-right stage clearing, you basically have to do exactly what the designers want you to do at any given moment. Run across this army of munchers via star, star, jump, jump, jump, back up, star, running duck, jump, and done. That’s the level, and I hope you mastered that running duck (or are already small), or you’re pretty much done inches from the goal post.
A Mario level that requires absolute precision is no Mario level at all.
Stage Verdict: You will know exactly what to do, or you die.
The second real Mario level!
We’ve got a lot of pipes (which is world appropriate), every kind of genus of piranha plant available, and even that one, lonely white nipper that can lob fireballs. There’s a hidden room containing a Hammer Bros. suit, and, if you’re using that or a fireflower, you should be able to rule this level like a king.
I like it!
Given you have a choice between 7-7 and 7-8, and 7-8 opens the path to a mushroom house, I have to say there’s practically no choice at all here. You’re pretty much guaranteed to lose your powerups in 7-7, but 7-8 gives you a hammer to toss around? Sign me up!
Stage Verdict: 7-8 rules, 7-7 drools.
This whole world was named Pipe Maze, but, man oh man, this is the pipe maziest pipe maze of them all. I’m calling this our last puzzle stage, because… ugh… say what you will about 7-4 (it sucks!), but I’ll take a thousand stinging jellyfish over cramped corridors and loopy labyrinths any day.
If that screenshot doesn’t flood your memory with the horrors of navigating this stage, 7-9 is a maze of pipes similar to the ones seen in the desert stages of World 2. The chief difference here is that the pipes form a complete network filled with goombas and koopa troopas, and you’re expected to know where to go through the miniscule pipe breaks. There are a few “coin rooms” along the way, but, by and large, this is a stage that is feeding off the nondescript tilesets of the NES and expecting you to get lost amongst the pipes immediately. Technically, you could brute force this area, and find your way through a lot easier than that forsaken fortress stage, but even then, Mario trapped in tight spaces isn’t the most fun way to spend your day.
Stage Verdict: It’s a-maze-ing how helpful Nintendo Power can be.
Just a good ol’ fashioned gauntlet of an obstacle course. Yay?
On one hand, I want to say that this stage was built for the Hammer Bros. suit, what with its careful placement of thwomps and boos and various other hammer-weak creatures (that is to say, nearly everything in the game). On the other hand, the pipes suspended over lava have a tendency to lead to flambéed Mario, and any powerup you once possessed is probably going by the wayside thanks to an inopportune piranha plant or two. Heck, even a P-Wing probably isn’t going to survive those errant fireballs.
The real fun, though, is the final pipe of the first area, which requires a masterful triangle jump with perfect timing. At this point in the adventure, you should have a firm grasp of Mario’s air-steering abilities, but even then, it’s a lot more likely Mario is going for a dunk in the lava trying to reach that one essential pipe.
Once you’re in Boom Boom’s area, though, you’re practically in the clear… except for those run/duck + thwomp traps. Man, I’d like to see the guy that could conquer this stage on his first try.
Stage Verdict: It’s playing by “real” Mario rules, but it’s difficult as all get out. At least it’ll open that final shortcut on completion.
This is, basically, a palette cleanser before the finale. This Plant stage is required (unlike its earlier brother), but it’s quick and easy and even kind of forgiving. You must bound across a series of music blocks near the end of the stage, but it’s over munchers, not a bottomless pit, and I’ll take losing a powerup over losing a life any day. Other than that, if you already made it through both fortresses, you’ll have no problem with this petite stage.
And then you win a mushroom. Oh boy!
Stage Verdict: Nothing to see here, move along.
And, finally, we have the last “boss” airship for Super Mario Bros. 3. World 7-Airship is a gauntlet of practically every trap and trick from the previous airships, but at least there are two powerup blocks? I don’t really have much to say about this level, because it’s hard, but it’s really supposed to be hard. This is the final airship before you enter Bowser’s demented domain, so it should be bad to the bone. At least you don’t really have to interact with the blue screw blocks too much.
Ludwig Von Koopa is the boss here, and he’s also the combination of all previous non-circus, non-female koopa kids. He’s got a magic wand, he’ll shake the ground with every step, and you’ve got to stomp his fabulous hair to proceed. Everything seems in order here, time to call this world a day.
Stage Verdict: Justifiably difficult.
And that’s World 7, everybody! I take it back, this world is terrible, and I should have trusted my younger self’s assessment of it being the worst thing ever. 70% of the stages rely on some awful gimmick, and, when I list all the stages like this and see that, it just doesn’t speak well of Piranha Plant Land.
So, in conclusion, I’m using Warp Whistles from now on. Ice World, you’re on notice!
FGC #151 Super Mario Bros. 3
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System, but it also wound up as part of Super Mario All Stars for Super Nintendo, and then Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Gameboy Advance. Classic version is available for Wii/WiiU, too.
- Number of players: One Mario, and one green, cowardly parasite that robs all the mushroom houses.
- Mighty Number 5: My game database started out as an excel document that was cobbled together long ago. My initial impulse was to group games by franchise, so, naturally, I started with the Mario games. Number one and two are Donkey Kong and Mario Bros., respectively, and then we get into the Super series. Super Mario Bros. 3 is, thus, number five. For the record, I got past the Mega Man series before I gave up on the whole franchise grouping thing.
- Speaking of Hammer Bros. suit: Ever notice that the sprite for obtaining the Hammer Bros. suit actually looks more like a toad? Wonder if there was originally a toad suit planned… but Mario determined he was too good to be degraded to toad status.
- Land of the Rising Fun: Most people are aware of this, but in the Japanese version of SMB3, Mario will always shrink down to “regular”, small Mario after taking a hit, regardless of powerups already acquired. While this change (for the better) impacted all of the international versions, you can still watch Raccoon Mario shrivel down to nothing after a single hit on the title screen.
- Did you know? There were apparently bonus games cut from the final game that were hosted by koopa troopas. I’m going to say we didn’t miss much, though, as did anyone even really like those silly match games? Well, assuming you weren’t using Nintendo Power to cheat…
- Would I play again: World 7? No. The rest of the game? Yes, many times, and until the day I die.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… To take a week off. That’s another 150 (or so) articles down, so I’m going to take a week off from writing about video games to relax and sip some ecto cooler. In the meanwhile, next week should see some updates about eclectic topics, and then I’ll be back to the FGC on July 11 with… Earthworm Jim. Please look forward to it!