Welcome back to Warped Pipes! Now that the holidays have concluded, let’s all take a moment to contemplate something deeply important: the timeline of the Mario series. This time around, I’m talking about...
Super Mario Bros. 3 is easily the most expansive and epic of the NES Mario trilogy and there is quite a bit here for us to parse. As usual, let’s start by looking at the manual.
As with Super Mario Bros. 2, the various versions of this game are similar enough that I will be considering them to be a single entry and incorporate the updates found in the All-Stars and Advance versions in this article.
Following the intro provided in the manual, Mario and Luigi quest across the lands of the Mushroom World, defeating Bowser’s forces along the way. This includes tricky fortresses filled with ghost-like Boos and the koopa-like lieutenant Boom Boom.
In each nation’s castle the brothers find its king transformed into some aberrant form, including monsters seen previously in Subcon and even an ape that looks suspiciously like Donkey Kong Jr. In all seven cases, the kings’ Mushroom Retainers plead with the brothers to find the missing magic wand and save their king. These wands are held by the Koopa Kids (also known as the Koopalings) within massive flying fortresses.
The brothers defeat the seven Koopa Kids and retrieve the wands, which restore the kings to their human forms. In each case, the king thanks the plumbers and gives them a letter from the Princess. These letters bid the brothers a safe quest and provide them with additional power-ups to aid in the journey.
After saving the seventh king, the brothers are surprised when the letter they receive is not from the Princess but instead from Bowser. It seems that the entire invasion of the Mushroom World was a ploy to leave the Mushroom Kingdom unguarded and Bowser used the opportunity to kidnap the Princess once again. The letter taunts the brothers to come face Bowser in Dark Land and try to rescue the Princess.
The plumbers, of course, rise to the challenge and travel the dangerous Dark Land where they fight through Bowser’s forces and siege weapons across land, sea, and air. When they finally face the Koopa King, the brothers cleverly use his strength against him and trick him into smashing through the floor, causing him to fall to the ground defeated. Once more, the Princess is saved and peace returns to the land.
While the main narrative is fairly straightforward, there are a number of things to sort out about the game’s plot. Firstly, a major question that surrounds the game is whether the events we are seeing truly happened or are simply a stage play, as evidenced by the use of stage curtains, title screen, bolted on platforms, and the plumbers seeming to exit stage left after each level. Even Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto seems to agree with the theory that what we see in the game is really a play.
So, yes, the events of Super Mario Bros. 3 are a stage play. However, this doesn’t mean that play’s script isn’t based on a real series of events that occurred. Based on how this game is referenced in future titles, I believe that events very close to what we see in the game really did happen in the timeline. However, this means that there may be some inaccuracies present in the game’s recreation of those events. This can be used to explain some of the minor differences between versions, since different productions of the play will have different props and costumes, as well as retcons, such as the Koopalings being related to Bowser but not his direct descendants in future titles.
I extend this framing device to include the e-World component of the Advance version of the game, which is separate from the main game and allows the player to visit many strange and familiar worlds with their own sets of rules. These e-reader levels don’t make sense in terms of the game’s narrative but do make sense in terms of being short skits to entertain an crowd.
I also think it’s unlikely that most of the characters are portraying themselves in the play. What’s more probable is that the same magic which allows for body transformations seen in this game, Super Mario Bros., and The Lost Levels has been used to produce perfect recreations of these characters. This is an important point that will come up again in the series.
Super Mario Bros. 3 does quite a bit to expand the world of the series by introducing the lands of the Mushroom World. It’s unclear exactly what the relationship between the Mushroom World and the Mushroom Kingdom is. Ostensibly, the Mushroom Kingdom and each of the seven kingdoms in the Mushroom World are separate sovereign nations with a close alliance and shared culture. The Mushroom Kingdom seems to be the most powerful of the “Mushroom Nations” and essentially the leader of the bunch.
As you can tell by the above paragraph, it’s becoming obvious that words like land, world, and kingdom don’t really seem to mean much in this series and are used totally interchangeably to mean a region of any scope. This will recur throughout the games and is an important point to keep in mind.
It’s also unclear what exactly the manual means by the Mushroom Kingdom “form[ing] an entrance to the Mushroom World”. Based on the maps that have been provided, which seem to show both as archipelagos, the best explanation here is that the Mushroom Kingdom consists of the outer islands of the archipelago while the Mushroom World consists of the inner islands. Thus, in order to reach the Mushroom World, one would have to pass through the Mushroom Kingdom.
The Mushroom World also shows quite a bit more diversity compared to the temperate environments of the Mushroom Kingdom. Deserts, swamps, and icy mountains are all present in addition to more fantastical settings such as a kingdom in the clouds and a land of giant creatures and objects. In Pipe Land we finally see the true twisting complexity of the pipe system that connects the world. Clearly, being a plumber in this world entails quite a bit more than in our own. We also learn more about the mushroom people who inhabit these kingdoms, who appear to live in houses carved into mushrooms and have a strong propensity for gambling.
Almost certainly, some of the lands that make up the Mushroom World are the additional worlds present in The Lost Levels that were absent from Super Mario Bros., clearing up one lingering mystery for the series.
Although it exists as part of the same archipelago, Dark Land does not seem to be considered a part of the Mushroom World and is a dismal and barren place apparently long ruled by koopa forces. It is unclear at this stage whether Dark Land is where Bowser and the koopa race originate from or simply a current stronghold.
The presence of the Koopa Kids also seems to confirm previous speculation on the existence of a royal koopa bloodline, regardless of whether or not they are actually Bowser’s children. Royal koopas, including Bowser, Blue Bowser, and the Koopa Kids, all seem to share the same traits of having a spiked shell and being larger in size than typical koopas.
I have split Super Mario Bros. 3 into two separate entries in the timeline: the actual events and the stage play.
The events of the game clearly happen after the original Super Mario Bros. as part of the ongoing Koopa Wars. The stage play must occur later, in what I am now calling the Post-War Era, along with Super Mario Bros. 2. I have chosen to place it after Super Mario Bros. 2 simply based on release order. This gives us the timeline below:
In the next article we will continue to see Mario’s world expand as he goes on an adventure through Sarasaland in Super Mario Land!
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