Content Warnings: none
The publisher Boss Fight Books fills a specific niche, one that thrills the hearts of old-school gaming nerds everywhere. Each book they publish is a nonfiction work about a videogame, but the authors approach their topics differently. Some Boss Fight Books previously reviewed at TNBBC include Shadow of the Colossus and Earthbound. Alyse Knorr tackles one of my favorite videogames of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3. Knorr expounds on her own history with the game, why it was so popular, and how the creator controlled even the smallest details of the game’s look, feel, and playability.
The audience for this book isn’t hard to pinpoint. You must have played the game to understand Knorr’s book, but you likely wouldn’t be a hard-core fan who sought out all the extras and history of SMB3. If you haven’t played, you won’t be able to picture the maps, characters, and special features of SMB3. The right reader will be thankful for reminders because they probably haven’t played the game since it came out in the early 90s. For example, I remembered the little guy on the cloud that would throw spiney things, but Knorr describes and them names the character– Lakitu. Reading was like travelling down memory lane, though it would have been much better to have images! Likely, the copyright would be too costly for a small press like Boss Fight Books, though.
Knorr lovingly writes about her days watching her father play SMB3 and then growing to be the one who played while her little brother watched. Bringing in similes, Knorr analyzes her relationship to the giant lizard bad guy, Bowser, and how she felt like a monster, too, because she likes girls. Yet, Knorr could also relate to Mario, the guy chasing after the princess. SMB3 allowed Knorr to take on multiple identities in her childhood in a way that helped her explore herself, and this perspective was new and interesting to me.
Yet, these personal anecdotes didn’t always smoothly integrate into the book. At it’s core, Super Mario Bros. 3 is a book about a game — nonfiction and educational. So, when Knorr explains there are caves Mario navigates and then claims she’s been in an Alaskan cave, the significance wasn’t readily apparent to me. I wasn’t sure if she had been encouraged by an editor to add more about herself where it wasn’t needed. I spent countless hours playing SMB3 and know that the caves are gray or blue-ish, but not realistic.
While these leaps between the personal and the game could be jarring, I was perplexed by the organizational structure as a whole. Where would the book go next? At times, the information circles around to something we read maybe 30 pages before, giving the direction a slinky shape. I wondered why the progression wasn’t simply straightforward: development, marketing, why everyone loved it, the long-term impact of the game, and then why Knorr loved it. In a later chapter, it reads like Knorr is concluding, but I turned the page and there was another chapter. The book is short at 176 pages, but possibly could have been shorter.
I did learn some secrets about the game and benefitted from the sources Knorr includes — and all sources are cited at the end, which is sure to please conscientious readers like me. While I played SMB3 for a whole summer, I wasn’t the kid who got the Nintendo magazine or talked about the game with tons of friends, so I was interested when I read about the impact SMB3 had on children in other types of communities. A must-read title with some caution about being the right audience and development issues.
I want to thank Boss Fight Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.