Super Mario Bros. 3 by Alyse Knorr

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.

super mario 3
The raccoon is a reference to a suit Mario can put on in the game, but the actual image is not included.

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.

20 books 2017
This is book #16 of the #20BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy over at 746 Books!


  1. this is truly fascinating that books like this even exist-niche market indeed! I played SMB3 when I was a kid (I technically still can, I have a remake of the old nintendo that plays the old games, and i have SMB3 on my shelf downstairs, so I could go and play it now if I wanted!) but I’m not sure I want to read a whole book about it. The connections the author draws between the characters and her own life sounds a bit…tenous…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tenuous in some places, yes, but I liked her analysis of the duality of relating to both Bowser and Mario. It’s a rather short book, one that took me back a bit. Each book’s author in the Boss Fight Books collection takes a different approach to their game/subject, so they’re all quite different.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! A book about Super Mario Bros 3 – one of my favorite Mario games! This sounds interesting! Did you ever beat the game? I have never won any of the Mario games! The closest I got was beating Bowser in Super Mario Sunshine, but I never could get all of the stars, so don’t count that one as “winning”.
    I go through phases where I’ll play and play, and then randomly decide that I’m bored and don’t want to play anymore, then months later will pick up Mario and start all the way back at the beginning 🙂 that’s part of the fun 🙂


    • Yes! The book talks about why SMB3 is so playable, even to this day. No, I never beat this Mario, though I believe my dad could beat the first Mario. The cost of an e-version of this SMB3 book is pretty cheap at the Boss Fight Books website!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a fascinating idea for a book series (I bet the publisher said, “Put more of yourself into it” even though that’s really not going to make it sell more copies and increase the audience. Thank you for bringing such diverse titles to our attention (I’m sure you’ve brought more, I’ve been subsumed by finishing my own book / doing All The Work in a sudden busy season and am waaaaaay behind on my blogs).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Put more of yourself into it” was exactly what I was thinking too. I’ve had computers since IBM-PC compatibles and floppy discs but have never played a game (except solitaire), not sure my kids did either. Seems an odd idea for a book, but then I think that about lots of books.


    • Ha, that’s a good point about there bring a lot of odd books, Bill. The whole press is about old games, and people have really taken a fancy to them. Books are funded by Kickstarter campaigns, so the book is sold before it’s published, really. I think people love the nostalgia.

      Liked by 1 person

      • People *adore* nostalgia. I think that’s one of the reasons Ready Player One became so big so quickly– the whole core of the book is based on 80’s pop-culture nostalgia. It’s amazing and a bit overwhelming at the same time. I can completely relate to how this book could be marketed!


          • Maybe? It’s written at a 7th grade reading level (like a lot of popular fiction) and it features teenage protagonists, which are both key factors in people identifying a book as YA. It’s Gamer Fiction, and the audience for Gamer Fiction is fairly broad. It’s about solving 80s pop-culture puzzles in a Metaverse-style alternative reality gaming universe. Lots of action. But, based on the content, I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as YA myself. There’s a lot of techno-babble and political aspects which I think are above a YA focus. I think younger generations of adults will love it.

            I will admit, I don’t know if it will be your cup of tea. But I would love to know what you think of it and WHY it would or would not be your cup of tea.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t even know this kind of book existed. I never played video games as a kid, beyond the occasional trip to the arcade where I played Galaga. We didn’t have a gaming system at home. My best guy friends in high school played NBA Jam and I watched but that was about it! 🙂 I suspect that when my son gets a little bit older I’ll learn a LOT MORE about video games than I ever wanted to. 😉


  6. When you interviewed Knorr earlier this year, I knew I wanted to read this book. I appreciate how you call out the niche audience– I definitely expected that. Things like understanding how the Hammer Bros moved, or how the Tanuki suit works (and why!) baffled my young brain. I too played hours and hours of this game. But as an adult, I started to realize how much depth there was. I learned about Japanese mythology and started to understand the mechanics– but I wonder how much of that is really just logic I made up in my head? I should totally check this book out. Did you find some of your perceptions or memories from childhood were incorrect after reading this?

    It’s a shame that the “direction [was given] a slinky shape”. I love the analogy, though. I can picture exactly what you mean! But that won’t stop me from reading it. The Earthbound book also intrigues m… I’ll definitely have to check out Boss Fight. Great review, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it funny to think we all were doing the same thing at the same time all across the nation? I didn’t know much about the Japanese mythology and it’s influence on the game until I read Knorr’s book. However, her descriptions of the game to me right back, and I remembered all of it (except the end of the game; I don’t remember ever getting there). The e-books at Boss Fight Books are reasonable priced!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is a really fascinating concept; to think that I might have connections like that with the people I am passing on the street and have no idea… How cool is that!

        I was a curious kid. I wanted to know why on earth a leaf turned Mario into a raccoon and why that raccoon could fly. So I did research. *shrug* I’ll definitely check out the Boss Fight eBooks! Thanks for the tip.

        Liked by 1 person

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