"P" Is For Practice
Not all of us has had the privilege of extensive play of the earlier Mario games, despite the fact that Virtual Console means they are not hard to come by. Even if you haven't played them, some of the finer parts of Mario's handling in individual games may be a bit obscure to people.
One of the more esoteric aspects to Super Mario Bros. 3 is the mysterious P-Meter, a bar that fills up as Mario runs, and drains when he doesn't. With it fills, a fluttering noises plays, signifying that if he has a Super Leaf he can fly using his (rather whimsical) raccoon tail as a propeller. The bar fills and the fluttering plays even if he doesn't have a tail, which can be rather confusing. While Super Mario World's Cape Feather uses a similar charge-up mechanic, the fluttering and the P-Meter both went away.
The interesting thing about making the charge explicit is that it reveals exactly under what circumstances Mario gains and loses charge. While most people suppose you have to have a long enough straight runway to build up steam for flight, because the bar doesn't drain instantly upon stopping or slowing, by running back and forth, with the occasional timely hop or even slam into a wall, you can build up power without a straight run.
The purpose of this course is to provide practice for building P-Meter charge. Five trial situations are presented and then a final test that uses elements of the trials. Here are some tips:
- Mario has to be running at top speed for the meter to charge. This causes it to build at a constant rate. It fills at eight segments, causing the fluttering noise to begin signifying flight is possible.
- Any time Mario isn't in flight mode or running at top speed, the meter is draining. There is no penalty for it running out, other than the lack of flight of course.
- The instant Mario "flaps" (with the jump button) while at maximum speed, the meter becomes locked at full. This is "flight mode." At this time, Mario can gain height by pressing Jump, even when in the air. It's actually kind of like swimming, except that he falls faster when not "flapping." (I call it flapping, even though he's spinning his raccoon tail, because it's pretty much how it works mechanically.) The fluttering noise plays constantly now.
- If Mario is on the ground flight mode doesn't end; he can jump and resume flying so long as flight mode continues.
- After about five seconds, regardless of what Mario does, flight mode ends. The P-Meter completely empties and the fluttering noise ceases. If he's running at top speed at this time, the meter will immediately begin building towards the next flight mode.
- When the meter is draining, it is at a constant rate. This rate is the same regardless if Mario is running slightly under top speed or at a dead stop. This can be taken advantage of: it is easier to build steam on a platform bordered by walls than gaps or enemies, because Mario will have to reverse direction himself, meaning he'll have to skid to a stop then get back up to speed again. If he hits a wall instead, he'll instantly stop, and he can resume building up flight power without losing so much. Using this technique is very useful in this course.
- Running over one-block gaps at full speed enables Mario to build speed about as fast as he would running of even ground.
- When "flapping" with a Super Leaf but without a pull P-Meter, Mario will "glide." He won't gain further upward momentum, but his descent will slow. His combined horizontal and vertical speed are actually pretty constant in this mode, implying strongly that it was designed this way: he will make three blocks horizontal progress for every block he falls. The final test in this course provides coins in the air at this angle as "landing lights," which can be used to tell if you're on track for gliding in safely for landing on a platform. If you don't understand what I mean by this then try playing the level to the end, and it may become clearer.