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Book Review: Super Mario Bros. 3 Brick by Brick

Super Mario Bros 3: Brick by Brick is a strange, strange bird, man.

If you don’t know anything about Bob Chipman’s small measure of internet celebrity status (as a vlogger responsible for creating MovieBob and The Game OverThinker), then SMB 3: Brick by Brick functions as nothing more than an account of one individual’s love affair with one of the most popular video games ever released.

Within that context, it’s a history that is often compelling, rather strange, a little tiresome, and occasionally absurd. The book isn’t shooting to be the most definitive thing on the cultural institution that is Mario of all time, although it does provide a history of the character and the games. This part is interesting in of itself, as we get a sense early of just how big a deal Mario was to kids who came of age in the late 80’s and early 90’s. We gather simply by virtue of the book’s existence that Mario has played an important role in Chipman’s life. The Mario history he provides at the start of Brick by Brick is only the beginning of how profound that role, particularly with Super Mario Bros 3, has been for him.

It’s when we get into the walkthrough portion of the book that we truly, like it or not, understand what this game has meant to Chipman. Much of the book details Chipman playing through the game from start to finish, without using cheat codes or any other advantages. Every moment of the experience one will have by playing this game is detailed here. It’s a moment-to-moment analysis of everything that exists in the game’s universe, and everything that will happen as you play through this nearly twenty-five-year-old game. The book gets into the strange territory when Chipman begins exhaustively relating Super Mario Bros 3 to several aspects of his life and personality, while also using the game to explain how his relationship with Mario fits into his relationship with the world. It’s a level of analysis that is traditionally reserved for books, films, and albums. Some will argue that video games do not deserve the kind of attention Chipman gives SMB 3. Others will. Video games have come a long way in terms of respectability. Their importance, endurance in pop culture and beyond, and growth through the years leads one to believe that books like this deserve to be written. Further arguments can be made on whether or not Bob Chipman is one of the people who should be writing those books. Given his interests and qualifications, it’s at least fair to let him try.

And Brick by Brick does try very hard to make the reader understand why this game is so important. The passion Chipman has for his subject matter is very clear. It does make for an interesting read a good deal of the time. Unfortunately, Chipman’s enthusiasm occasionally gives way to strange bouts of ego. We don’t need a complete list of the characters, items, and platforms. We also arguably don’t need a complete walkthrough of the game, which is often simply a description of each movement in the game and nothing more, to understand how much all of this means to Chipman. Both of these of things are found in the book, in addition to occasional passages that sometimes convey the possibility that Chipman is a little lacking in the tact department. Add in a surprising number of typos and grammatical errors, and Brick by Brick is ultimately something that might have benefitted from better editing.

Chipman’s critics (and he does seem to have a few) will no doubt delight and expand the flaws of the book to great lengths. Anyone who reads Brick by Brick will notice them, too, but that doesn’t make reading this a waste of time. Chipman’s in-depth personal history of Super Mario Bros 3 has moments of sheer joy and love for the act of writing the book itself. These personable, relatable moments give the project its reason for existing in the first place. His conviction that this game is worth discussing in such detail should serve to maintain a level of interest for most. Flaws and all, Chipman is a good writer. He writes here with the hope that people will know what he’s talking about. Whether you saw The Wizard in theaters just to get a look at Super Mario Bros 3, or if you have your own version of the story found here, just with a different game, there’s a good chance you will know what Chipman is trying to explain in his own way. With that thought in mind, there’s a decent enough chance you’ll stick with this book to the end.

Super Mario Bros. 3: Brick by Brick is now available on Fangamer. Click here to buy it now.