And here you earn your doctorate. World 8-3 is pretty straightforward, both in its design and its intentions: It simply hates you and wants you to be dead.
You fight Hammer Bros. here. Not a couple, nor a couple of pair of them; Hammer Bros. comprise the vast majority of enemies in this stage. Backing them up are a ton of Bullet Bill launchers and a handful of Koopas. Make no mistake, though, it’s the Hammer Bros. that make this stage the hell that it is. You can tell you’re at the perimeter of Bowser’s castle here, as the background consists largely of fortress walls and parapets. Also, as I may have mentioned, all you fight are Hammer Bros. We’re talking “last line of defense” here.
By now you should be familiar with all the Hammer Bros.’s tricks, but that doesn’t make them any easier. We’re a long way from the mercy invincibility of their debut, and instead you’re forced to fight wave after wave of the guys. The first two pairs appear in their basic setup, leaping between parallel rows of bricks. These two encounters are a mercy, because you can get beneath them pretty easily to knock them out — and once they’re gone, you can collect a power-up from the top row of bricks. It’s not too difficult, with cautious play, to beef yourself back up to Fiery Mario here.
Admittedly, cautious play isn’t exactly a breeze to pull off in this stage. The clock on World 8-3 is painfully limited, so there’s not much room for dawdling. The Bullet Bill launchers and Piranha Plants throughout the stage minimize the amount of safe ground you can count on, and when those aren’t around you’re facing Hammer Bros. There isn’t much room to breathe at this point. At least you’ve left behind the insanely difficult jumps; once you clear the huge pit in World 8-2, the remainder of the game takes place on more stable ground.
By far the most difficult Hammer Bros. in the entire game are the four that appear in the second half of World 8-3. You’ve faced one of the Bros. on flat ground before, but never this many in a row. There’s no room for error, despite the slightly random nature of their attacks. The one mercy is that you could potentially have built up to Fiery Mario in the first half of the stage, which trivializes the Hammer Bros.’s attacks — in fact, on flat ground, they’re incredibly easy to take out given that they have nowhere to jump to avoid your fireballs.
Realistically, though, actually powering up to that point is pretty tough. This stage is meant to be long and grueling… and also hurried and frantic. And once you’ve made it through the rain of hammers and bullets, it’s just you and Bowser. Well, and a ludicrously involved final stage, but who’s counting?