If you've ever played Super Mario Bros. 3, you may remember its frustrating sliding puzzle, where you are tasked with matching three moving tiles in order to create a Star, Mushroom, or Fire Flower for the chance to win a set of bonus lives.
While appearing on the surface to simply be a matter of good timing, the game always seemed to give us a bit of difficulty back in the day and has inspired a number of forum posts from other players who felt the same way. It's enough to make some of the more cynical among us suspect that there's something dodgy at play and as a recent video from Retro Game Mechanics appears to show, that's precisely what's happening behind the scenes.
We won't get too technical here (we'll leave that to the experts), but as Retro Game Mechanics details in the video (uploaded on October 7th), the problem with this bonus game and what appears to be making it so difficult to beat is the presence of a "rigged delay state" which occurs prior to the tiles slowing down. This is completely random in length and makes it almost impossible to match all three panels based on skill alone as every time you go to play the game the input and timing required will be vastly different. In short, the game is rigged!
It's an incredible discovery and certainly makes us feel a little less self-conscious about our gaming skills, but it isn't the only fascinating insight offered by Retro Game Mechanics's video.
He also goes on to take a closer look at another mini-game from Super Mario Bros. 3, which actually suffers from the opposite problem. This is the game where you flip over cards on a table to make pairs of matching icons. As the YouTuber notes, this game is much easier than it should be, with the number of possible arrangements being drastically reduced from 57.9 billion to just 8. These 8 arrangements aren't hardcoded in, as you expect, but look to be the result of a number of coding errors identified in the shuffling routine.
Interestingly, just days after Retro Game Mechanics made these discoveries known in his video, a group of ROM hackers had already seemed to solve these problems, releasing a new patch called "SMB3 - Bonus Game Fixes". This removes the excessive RNG from the sliding image game and also fixes the bug in the tile-matching game to try and make it more challenging. So if you want to try out a more balanced experience, you can download the patch here and give it a whirl.