When I was in 11th grade, I went to a small charter school with less than 30 students. Because there were so few of us, everything was pretty relaxed, and the teachers were pretty okay with whatever as long as we got our work done.
So at one point, I brought in my top-loader Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) so that anyone who wanted to could play it a little bit before and after classes, during lunch, or after school, for those of us who waited to get picked up. I just left it in the school for a couple of weeks, since I literally knew everybody who attended as a student and/or worked there.
One day, a handful of us decided that we wanted to play through every single level in Super Mario Bros 3. It seemed easy enough. We’d all played the game MANY times before, and it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. We all just passed the controller around whenever someone finished a stage or whenever someone died. Even one of the teachers got in on it, and showed us all some secrets that the rest of us had completley forgotten about.
By the end of the day, we hadn’t finished. The game was more challenging than we had remembered, and while we’d all played Worlds 1 and 2 a whole lot, we realized that most of us would often just rack up lives early on, get the warp whistles in 1-4 and the World 1 Fortress, and warp straight ahead towards the latter part of the game — So worlds 3 through 6 were fairly unknown to most of the group.
The day ended, and we were maybe only about halfway through the game (this memory is over 20 years old, so I can’t remember all of the details exactly). I had left my NES on overnight before, so I knew that it was unlikely to be a huge issue if we left it on overnight just the one time. So we did that, and when I got to school the next morning, one of my friends was already working his way through a few more stages. Two days in, with the NES left on overnight, we were determined that we HAD to finish by the end of the day. During our breaks between classes we all worked together to try and get at least one or two stages completed, and we all used the lunch break to get as far as we could. Our teacher who was playing with us was even lax about class start times, because he wanted us all to do it, too.
By the end of the second day, we were in World 8 with somewhere over 50 lives. But we hadn’t yet finished the entire game. So I made the decision to leave the NES on overnight, AGAIN, because we were SO CLOSE!
Day 3 was Friday, so we literally had to do it THAT DAY if we were going to do it — Leaving it on overnight was okay, and doing so AGAIN was pushing it, but there was no way I was going to leave the NES on over the weekend.
(Incidentally, this is the perfect argument for save states in games. I know lots of people consider them cheating, but in a situation where the options are save the game now or leave the console turned on for days on end? Give us some save states, man.)
At some point later in the morning, we made it to Bowser’s castle. We’d lost a LOT of lives over the course of all the stages that made up World 8, but we had plenty of tries. Finally, one of us made it to Bowser… and didn’t win. Another of us tried… and we didn’t win. People kept trying, and dying. All of the extra lives we’d stockpiled early in the game were exhausted, and we’d even gone through ALL of the continues the game offered.
Finally, we were down to our last life. One of the kids made it to Bowser, and was in a scenario that looked a lot like the above screenshot, but with the life counter at 00 instead of 42. Bowser jumped, and Mario jumped out of the way… but didn’t make it, and got crushed.
Game Over. After three days and over 100 lives amongst a dozen players, we had failed.
“Screw that,” I said. “I didn’t leave my Nintendo on for THREE DAYS for us to NOT beat this game.” I took up the controller, blasted through stage 1-1, earned a bunch of extra lives by bouncing off the Goombas coming out of the pipes in 1-2, got the warp whistle in 1-3, and then shot down to the Fortress to get the warp whistle there. Using an old trick I probably learned in Nintendo Power magazine, I used the first warp whistle to go to the warp zone… and then used the second, to warp us immediately back to World 8.
And then we had to wait until lunch.
We didn’t have as many lives stocked up, but we had experience. We knew what to do in all of the World 8 stages now. And we nearly OBLITERATED those stages, because we weren’t going to fail again.
Finally, we made it back to Bowser’s Castle. A few lives down, the controller had been passed around a few times, but we were back up against the big bad of Super Mario Bros. 3. And we died. And died. And died. And then… Lunch was over. But our teacher was cool, and let us keep going, because he knew. He knew.
I think it was a kid named Brandon Wright who had lost the last life against Bowser in our first attempt. So for him, this second time around was a bit more personal. He took one last shot. With the bricks below the leader of the Koopa Clan depleted down to the final row, Brandon got Mario in position. Bowser jumped! And Mario…dodged! Bowser fell, and that was it! Super Mario Bros. 3 was FINISHED!
After the game’s silly ending, I finally turned off my NES. The AC adapter plug was INCREDIBLY hot, but I never had performance issues from leaving it on for so long.
At the end of the day, I packed it up and brought it home, with a sense of accomplishment. I may not have been the one to finish the final level, but that didn’t matter — We all had won, as a little community.
The following Monday, one of the other kids had brought in his Nintendo 64 and the brand-new game, Super Smash Bros. Getting in a couple rounds of Smash between classes made a lot more sense than trying to conquer all 90 levels of a platformer, so that’s pretty much all we played for the rest of the year.
But we had earned it.