Tom Chick and Scott Dobrosielsky will play through all eight worlds of Super Mario 3D World, writing an entry after each world for the next two weeks. What makes these grown men qualified to guide you through the worlds of Nintendo’s latest family-friendly platformer? Glad you asked.
After the jump, their bona fides
Scott: I didn’t own a Nintendo Entertainment System until a few years after release. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Super Mario Bros mainly because I was relegated to watching my friends, neighbors, and cousins play on their systems. In the off chance I was handed a controller I was so bad I would die within minutes. I was more of a Zelda guy. At least watching Zelda could be fun.
Super Mario Bros 3 changed all that. It was the first game I totally geeked out over. I obsessed over screenshots and level maps in Nintendo Power. I flipped the fuck out during the climax of The Wizard. And the cover art! Mario with ears and a tail? He could transform into creatures now? He could…fly? Sign me up. I wasn’t the only kid either. My recollection of Super Mario Bros 3 is twofold: the game, and the pursuit of a copy.
It was impossible to find. My dad and I would scour every toy and department store in the area looking for one. When we weren’t hunting through the aisles I would make calls asking about stock and shipments. We would show up to our local Toys R Us every Tuesday and Thursday, the days when shipments arrived, hoping to score a copy. It felt like we did this for months. All I know is that one day as I ran to the now familiar video game wall of Toys R Us I saw that the usually empty Super Mario Bros 3 case had a few slips of paper in the sleeve. I grabbed one of these slips in disbelief, staring at it in my hands, until running excitedly back to my dad. He wasn’t happy about the price, I guess he had no idea how much games cost, but he got it for me anyway. And so began a long and lasting love of the Mario games.
Super Mario Bros 3 was the spark, but Super Mario World was the fire. Super Mario World made owning a Super Nintendo a necessity. I had to have it. It took me months to scrape together the money to buy one. I sold baseball cards, I purged my comic collection, I stacked wood for neighbors. Anything to cobble together the two hundred dollars I needed. It could have cost a thousand bucks and it wouldn’t have mattered. I would have found a way to get one. To this day it’s my most beloved console.
Super Mario World rewarded my efforts the moment I fired it up. Just look at that overworld map! It’s a thing of beauty. Nintendo would go on to crank out Mario title after Mario title. Most folks think that Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy is the preeminent Mario. But for me it’s still Super Mario World. And Super Mario 3D World is channeling it in a big way.
Tom: There’s something you should know about me before we go any further. I say this without any irony, without trying to be funny, without my tongue anywhere near my cheek. You might judge me for it, but I can’t hide it. It is an incontrovertible fact about who I am as a videogamer, as a writer, as a person:
I hate Mario.
My problems with Mario are legion. The first problem is that I don’t understand him as a mascot. Back in the days of coin-op Donkey Kong, who cares if you’re a plumber jumping over rolling barrels? There was only so much Japan could do with those handfuls of pixels. I mean, they named the gorilla villain Donkey Kong, so what do you expect for a protagonist? But that was, like, about fifty years ago. At some point in the intervening fifty years, did no one at Nintendo consider that plumbers aren’t cute, that Italians aren’t cuddly, that overalls are the worst item of clothing ever invented, and that mustaches that big are the exclusive domain of porn in the 70s? Which is why if you do an image search for Mario, you’re going to find a picture of Ron Jeremy at some point.
I don’t even know what Mario’s defining characteristics are supposed to be. Is he smart? Fast? Crafty? Friendly? Trusting? Loyal? Is Princess Peach his girlfriend? His sister? Does he even know her? Is she as creeped out as I am? As a character, he’s a big zero without personality, motivation, or charm. He’s like the guy who just won’t leave the party and no one knows who invited him and, oh god, he’s telling another joke.
My other problem is that the guy is everywhere, like sand after a day at the beach. He’s in platformers, kart racing games, party games, sports games, fighting games, strategy games, RPGs. If a game says Nintendo on the package, odds are Mario is going to rear his smarmy head at some point. Oh, hey, I just realized he has “smarmy” as a defining characteristic! By the way, Nintendo tries to trick us by making a skinny green version with a different name. I know a copy/paste job when I see one. As far as I’m concerned, Luigi is just twice as much Mario.
Scott: Italians aren’t cuddly? My wife is Italian!
Tom: For your sake, I just hope she doesn’t look like Mario.
Scott: I don’t hate Mario, but I’m somewhat with Tom when it comes to the little guy’s personality. Of all Nintendo’s iconic characters — Link, Samus, Mega Man, any of the Belmonts — Mario is the least defined. He’s the guy who’s not too fast, not too slow. His jump is normal. He has no special characteristics. In Mario Kart he’s the guy no one chooses because all his stats are medium. I would choose the Koopa Troopa before I chose Mario. In the manual he’s always described as “balanced.”
Tom you must love it when you start Super Mario 3D World, hearing Mario greet you every time with: “Suuuuuper Marrio 3D Wooorld. Meeeeow,” in that high pitched Italian accent. And I’m sure it warms your heart hearing “Oh yeah. Mario time. Whooo hoooo!” when you select him.
Tom: Kill me now. Another issue for me is that I’ve been playing a couple of other platformers lately, and they’re both absolutely brilliant. I suspect that Tearaway and Rayman Legends will have a decidedly negative effect on my enjoyment of Super Mario 3D World. I enjoyed the Mario Galaxies for some of their imaginative levels, but all the other Mario platformers just feel so rote to me, so mired in tradition, so in love with their licensed plumber and their mushrooms and bowsers and koopas and whatever people talk about when they talk about the physics of Mario, as if this Italian had some unique claim to inertia. Oh god, what have I gotten myself into?
Tomorrow: it’s on like Mario World