Book Review: Alyse Knorr’s Super Mario Bros. 3

Boss Fight Books did their ‘season 3’ Kickstarter a few months ago, and, naturally, I got in on that bidness. Thing was, most of the titles they had lined up were interesting … but not quite on the level of “I’ve gotta get that,” level of interest that’s caused me to cherry pick other stuff from the series.

And so, my solution? Get all of them. Just, y’know, in Ebook form. Technology! I’ll probably snag the ‘bonus’ book on Final Fantasy VI when it comes out in dead-tree form, ’cause Final Fantasy VI is one of the greatest games ever. But in the meanwhile, expect a new Boss Fight Books review to pop up every so often. And the first, Super Mario Bros. 3

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As you can expect, Alyse Knorr’s Super Mario Bros 3 talks about the old NES game, Super Mario Bros 3. Pretty straightforward, that. Given how both are classics of the 8-bit era, lot of the territory Knorr covers in Super Mario Bros 3 overlaps with Jon Irwin’s Super Mario Bros 2. However, Knorr doesn’t delve too deeply into the history and inner workings of Nintendo (even though she does devote a couple pages to the NES-commercial/movie, The Wizard, which featured the first glimpse of SMB3’s gameplay). Instead, she approaches SMB3 from a personal perspective, sharing occasional anecdotes of her childhood memories tied into the game: watching her dad play, playing with her little brother (or at least getting him to watch), going to college, and so on. This said, it’s not quite the personal reflection into childhood nostalgia that Metal Gear Solid is. Though it’s worth noting both books feature young women using video games as a lens with which to examine their own gender and sexuality, so hey, bonus!

Whenever I read something from Boss Fight Books, I wind up comparing it … well, to other stuff in their library. A lot of this stems from the fact that I can’t think of anyone else putting out books along these lines. Though if there is another series of vaguely-academic reflections on various video games out there, please, lemme know. So I guess I can forgive the crossover Kerr has with Irwin’s book, as I’m just happy that there’s more video game pop-academia being produced.

Super Mario Bros 3 isn’t all childhood nostalgia, though! As Kerr explores a bunch of other themes and features in the game. In particular, she notes how many of SMB3’s costumes are tied into traditional Japanese theater. The Tanooki suit in particular is straight out of Japanese folklore, which is something that absolutely went over American audience’s heads when the game was first released. Another interesting point Kerr touches on is how SMB3 is by far superior to the original Super Mario Bros in pretty much every way … but everyone remembers the first game better.

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While I’ve played SMB3, and I can share some of my own 8-bit memories of playing the game with childhood friends, I was never ‘into’ it as much as Kerr was. And so, I came to Super Mario Bros 3 with a little less familiarity and emotional connection than other readers might. Which makes me wonder on another point– as I’m sure there are readers out there who haven’t read Kerr’s book or played the game it’s based on reading this review, which just separates you from the source material even further. This in turn makes me ask myself bigger questions in criticism and analysis– when can you assume the reader’s already familiar with a work, and when do you need to summarize what happened before you start delving into it? But I’m getting off track.

Ultimately, SMB3 is a game worth playing, and Super Mario Bros 3 is a book worth reading. Neither one will change your life, but sometimes it’s nice to just settle in and have some fun.

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