With Super Mario Bros., Nintendo had achieved a level of success that made their impressive arcade presence seem quaint by comparison. When it took on a life of its own, a sequel was inevitable. Both domestically and internationally, a game named Super Mario Bros. 2 surfaced in 1986 and 1988 respectively. The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, which would eventually be dubbed Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in the West, was rejected by Nintendo of America both for being overly similar to the original and unreasonably difficult. This prompted Nintendo to create an easier Mario game for audiences abroad, which would also be repurposed mid-development as a promotional title for Fuji Television dubbed Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic. Western enthusiasts at the time had little way of knowing that what they got was a different game reworked to include Mario characters. This in no way, shape, or form stopped the game released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the West to become a success, eventually moving over ten million units.
Meanwhile, shortly after the release of The Lost Levels in 1986, a ten-person team helmed by Takashi Tezuka known as Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development began work on a follow-up. Unlike The Lost Levels, which was considered by reviewers at the time to be frustratingly difficult, this new installment would welcome players of varying skill levels. Mr. Tezuka also wanted to overhaul everything from the characters’ sprites to their movesets. To this end, the programmers had what they called a “Map Room”. True to its name, it was a long, narrow meeting room in which they spent the entire day looking at sheet papers, programming map data. By the end of development, anywhere from twenty to thirty people worked on the game compared to the seven or eight who worked on the original.
The game was slated for a domestic release in the Spring of 1988, but because the developers wanted to add many new features, Nintendo delayed it to the following October. Nintendo was willing to export the game to the West, but this plan quickly encountered a problem. A shortage of ROM chips along with Nintendo’s preparation of the Western Super Mario Bros. 2 prevented them from exporting games such as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link to North America according to their original schedules.
However, the delay proved to be a blessing in disguise. In 1989 as they were preparing to export the latest Mario game, Tom Pollack of Universal Studios approached Nintendo of America’s marketing department with an interesting proposition. Inspired by Nintendo game competitions, he wished to direct a film about them. Specifically, Mr. Pollack envisioned a video game version of Tommy, a famous rock opera released by The Who in 1969 about a deaf, blind, and mute child inexplicably skilled at pinball. Nintendo agreed to these terms, licensing their products to be included in this film. The film, released in December of 1989, would be known as The Wizard.
The plot of the film can be summed up thusly. A boy named Jimmy Woods suffers from PTSD after the death of his twin sister two years prior. He is dead-set on going to California for unknown reasons and has been committed to a mental institute. This spurs his older brother, Corey to sneak Jimmy out and run away from home. After discovering his younger brother’s innate skill for video games, they travel to a tournament being held in Universal Studios Hollywood to compete for a grand prize of $50,000.
Despite being panned by critics, The Wizard was a box office success, making double its budget back in ticket sales. Any enthusiast who watched the film could point out its myriad factual errors. Nonetheless, The Wizard would become a cult classic. Particularly memorable was the dramatic, climactic reveal of a game North American players had no idea existed until then. That game was none other than Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo had seen this film as the perfect opportunity to promote the newest Mario game and with the success of The Wizard, the enthusiasm could not have been greater. Two months later, those excited fans would get the opportunity to finally play it for themselves. The promotional campaign was a complete success, for Super Mario Bros. 3 went on to sell over seventeen-million copies worldwide. Even decades after the fact, critics considered Super Mario Bros. 3 one of the finest games ever made. With one of the most impressive legacies in the medium, does Super Mario Bros. 3 manage to stand on equal footing alongside the masterpieces it inspired?