Super Mario Bros. 3 Review

It rises so far above its predecessors, which were great games in their own right, that it is hard to even imagine they came out for the same console

smb31Context is everything. It is the frame that allows us to put facts and occurrences into perspective, helping us give the proper weight and understand the reasons to whatever it is we are seeing. Given context is ever-shifting, like the window of a high-speed train rolling through time, it is easy to lose sight of how utterly shocking some events of our past were to their contemporary audiences: the landing on the moon, the first television broadcast, the invention of the airplane, the initial batch of bits that were sent through the internet, or that time in 1988 when Super Mario Bros. 3 became available to a Japanese market that was eager to play a new adventure by the world’s most famous fat plumber.

It seems ridiculous to put Super Mario Bros 3. alongside such historic events that have defined human beings as well as their capacity to break new ground, but exaggeration is often the only way to try to make one understand what it must have been like to witness major happenings. And to a bunch of young gamers living in the twilight hours of the 80s, turning on an NES and watching as the colorful and unimaginably huge world of Super Mario Bros. 3 came to life must have certainly hit with a high enough magnitude to make them never forget about it.

In Japan, Super Mario Bros. 2 was a humble evolution of its prequel; a borderline expansion pack with minor graphical tweaks. In the United States, meanwhile, that game came in the form of an adventure that, due to the fact it was a re-skinning of another title, stripped the still young franchise off all its defining features. Then, depending on the way one looks at it, Super Mario Bros 3. was either the arrival of a real meaningful sequel or the rescuing of a gameplay style that seemed to be lost. Regardless of the perspective, though, Super Mario Bros. 3 was magnanimous.

smb32The justification, and proof, for such high praise is none other than how every single Mario platformer that has followed it has been nothing but a reshuffling of its ideas. The game shuns the dull transition screens between levels that appeared in the interludes of its predecessors’ stages for overworlds through which Mario can navigate, giving him – occasionally – the chance to choose which obstacle course to tackle, and tightly placing all levels under a thematic umbrella in the shape of a scenario that must be traversed from its first level to the castle in which a cursed king needs to be saved.

The thematic variations, differently from all of those in Super Mario Bros. and from most of the ones that appeared in its sequel, work because Super Mario Bros. 3 taps into the very limits of the NES’ hardware. The catalog of catchy songs the humble cartridge carries is greatly augmented, and so are the visual assets and colors the game has at its disposal. Therefore, as Mario travels between the game’s eight kingdoms (Grass Land, Desert Land, Water Land, Giant Land, Sky Land, Ice Land, Pipe Land, and Dark Land) the transitions are more than noticeable: they are vivid and obvious.

The eight maps are not mere eye-candy. They go beyond superfluous decoration by progressively growing in size and complexity as the game moves forward; by holding a good number of secrets, including hidden paths towards a warp zone that lets players skip a portion of the quest and travel as straight towards Bowser’s Castle, and Peach’s rescuing, as possible; and by having a horde of bonus activities, such as memory games and skirmishes against Hammer Bros., that give Mario power-ups that aid him in his journey, adding a strategic component to the game, as players can manage an inventory of power-ups so they can start the hardest levels with some advantage.

smb33The constantly changing themes meet incredible level design creativity to transform Super Mario Bros. 3 into a game that is always surprising its players. New clever ideas pop up from every corner, and whether gamers are facing the mid-world fortresses, the daunting airships that serve as the home for the Koopalings that have cursed each world’s king, or standard levels filled with tricky platforms and devilish enemy placement, Super Mario Bros. 3 is invariably engaging.

Consequently, Super Mario Bros. 3 is not brilliant merely because it throws an uncountable amount of new concepts that survive until nowadays (including a mind-boggling amount of power-ups) into the screen. Surely, giving Mario the ability to fly or to turn into a frog produces huge amounts of joy, especially the former, which is not only quite amusing but that also reveals many secret areas scattered around the levels. However, the game’s greatest victory is how it balances creativity, challenge, and accessibility.

The levels, which are numerous and will demand at least ten hours of gameplay in order to be cleared, are smart and delightfully short. That last quality is especially important because Super Mario Bros. 3, like its two prequels, is not ashamed to rise to brutal heights in terms of difficulty; yet, given stages are brief, failing over and over again never gets too frustrating even if Mario is always sent to the beginning of the level, as checkpoints would only come to exist in Super Mario World. That way, although the game does carry a considerable punch, it is a title that opens itself up to a much wider audience, which – along with its charm – may be the ultimate explanation behind why it went on to become so popular and widely loved.

smb4To a whole lot of people, then, Super Mario Bros. 3 had the sound of a door being blasted open right inside their brains and revealing the vast, colorful, and enchanting universe that lied within the realm of gaming. It rises so far above its predecessors, which were great games in their own right, and surpasses pretty much everything else that called the NES its home, that it is hard to even imagine they came out for the same console. It is one of those rare instances when a game can be called both an evolution and a revolution; Super Mario Bros. 3 has served as the basis upon which all Mario sidescrollers have been built, and the fact they remain undeniably successful and astonishingly fun should give anyone that was neither alive nor playing games back in 1988 an idea of how gigantic it was, and it still is.

super-mario-bros-3

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About Matt

A Brazilian gamer with a great love for playing Nintendo games, and a hobby of writing about his gaming experiences and thoughts. Even though that is what I mainly do for fun, I also love listening to music (especially rock) and watching movies (especially animations), so also expect a few posts on those matters.
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25 Responses to Super Mario Bros. 3 Review

  1. Matt says:

    Reblogged this on Miketendo64! The Place To Go For Anything Nintendo and commented:

    To a whole lot of people, then, Super Mario Bros. 3 had the sound of a door being blasted open right inside their brains and revealing the vast, colorful, and enchanting universe that lied within the realm of gaming. It rises so far above its predecessors, which were great games in their own right, and surpasses pretty much everything else that called the NES its home, that it is hard to even imagine they came out for the same console. It is one of those rare instances when a game can be called both an evolution and a revolution; Super Mario Bros. 3 has served as the basis upon which all Mario sidescrollers have been built, and the fact they remain undeniably successful and astonishingly fun should give anyone that was neither alive nor playing games back in 1988 an idea of how gigantic it was, and it still is.

  2. Wow, wasn’t expecting a perfect 10, though I’m also not surprised.

    Personally, I’ve always preferred Super Mario World. It may not be as challenging, but it’s a lot more creative, and the additions like replayable levels and multiple exits don’t get nearly enough credit for how revelatory they were for the genre.

    Still though, SMB3 is a masterclass in platforming. There are better sidescrollers (Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, DKC2, Tropical Freeze), but at the time, SMB3 was probably the best game yet made (except maybe Mega Man 2).

    • Matt says:

      Super Mario World certainly has a lot more meat and depth than SMB3, which is natural considering how much time passed between releases and the change of consoles.

      The multiple exits and replayable levels were certainly an awesome and creative addition. They – alongside the intricate overworld and incredible levels – made Super Mario World into the classic it is.

  3. Mr. Panda says:

    Excellent review, Matt! Your love for the game shines through all of your praise! Super Mario Bros 3 is a game-changer, and I would have loved to have played it when it first came out. I’ll admit that my first time was on the SNES with the Super Mario All-Stars version. It’s still a masterpiece of a game, and the elements they added in every level were unique and wondrous. The themed worlds added a lot to the experience as well. Giant World will always by my favorite. Seeing those giant Goombas was amazing. Although I like Super Mario World more, I respect that SMB3 set the stage (literally, according to Miyamoto) for World and other platformers, period. Loving your Mario reviews!

    • Matt says:

      Thanks a lot! =)

      I am not sure I can say which of the worlds is my favorite, but Giant World has got to be up there. Seeing those giant Goombas for the first time is quite a shock!

      I am glad to read my love for the game comes through in the writing. That was my main intention with this one. =)

  4. Red Metal says:

    I knew you’d break out the 10 for this one. It’s amazing how much of a step up Super Mario Bros. 3 is from its predecessors. A lot of people consider it the greatest NES game ever made, and I agree with them on that. I have a difficult time deciding whether it or World is the best 2D Mario game, and I think I have my stance figured out; the way I see it, 3 is the better multiplayer game (it’s basically the greatest board game ever conceived) while World offers a better single-player experience.

    • Matt says:

      That’s a good definition. It is indeed hard to choose between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Both are perfect games.

      And yes, it is amazing how much of a step up this one is compared to its predecessors.

  5. Rachel says:

    A perfect score. I’m not surprised. 🙂

  6. Particlebit says:

    You have become my go-to Mario reviewer, and like others here, I’m not surprised this game received a 10. SMB3 managed to nearly perfectly balance its challenge, gameplay, color, sound, controls, almost everything, into a tight package, all on an NES.

    Like many others, I’ll always remember the Sun chasing me in the early levels, and finally finding the flute to skip worlds. It’s a game I’ve never gotten bored of, and rightly deserves its high praise.

    • Matt says:

      Wow, thanks a bunch! That means a lot to me! =D

      I will always remember failing a level because the sun got me as I was about to hit the level-ending slot-machine thing. Talk about frustration!

  7. hungrygoriya says:

    Great review! This was truly a pleasure to read, and it’s like you somehow spoke from my very own heart about the game!

    This was a game that I have really fond memories of from childhood. This and Super Mario Bros. 2 were my go-tos to hammer out over the course of an evening with family.

    I finally had a chance to replay this game last year as an adult without the aid of my trusty Game Genie, and I have to say that it was incredibly charming and challenging at times! I’m certainly not surprised by the score you gave this one. It deserves it!

    • Matt says:

      Thanks, I am glad you could connect to the thoughts I put into the review! That was my main intention when writing it.

      I also have many fond memories of Super Mario Bros. 3. I am not sure if it was the first game I played, but my first gaming memories are related to it.

  8. Since starting my site I’ve played this through 3 times, i just cant bring myself to review it, as that’ll mean i won’t play it again for ages…

  9. I have not played this game, but elements of the game are recognisable because they are reused in other games or they are used in popular culture (such as the themed levels and Mario dressed as a raccoon). I have enjoyed maps in games, they make the levels seem to be part of one environment and allow the player to trace their journey through the game (rather than play through unlinked levels). I also noticed two worlds are called Water Land and Ice Land, I remember someone telling me that most platformers will have a swimming level (or water filled level) or a level covered in ice. It also seems innovative for a game to include extra stages, like the mini-bosses and bonus games, on the map. I also enjoyed reading a review written with such an interest and enjoyment for a game, some of the points and prose were interesting.
    Who are the cursed kings referred to in the article? What are the power ups in the game? What are the differences between the different themed worlds?

    • Matt says:

      ” I have enjoyed maps in games, they make the levels seem to be part of one environment and allow the player to trace their journey through the game”

      That’s precisely why they are so great! I could not have said it better myself.

      Super Mario Bros. 3 might be the most influential game of all time. It’s no wonder you can recognize many of its themes and concepts. They are everywhere, and this was their starting point.

      “Who are the cursed kings referred to in the article? ”

      I am not sure who they are. They are just random human beings, I guess. There is nothing special about them really.

      “What are the power ups in the game?”

      There are so many I will probably forget some. But besides the traditional Fire Flower, Star, and Mushroom, there is also Hammer Mario, Frog Mario, Racoon Mario, Tanooki Mario, Goomba’s Shoe, and the Super Leaf!

      “What are the differences between the different themed worlds?”

      It depends on the world, but sometimes they are aesthetic – like the sand from Desert World, the lava from the final world, and the ice cubes from Ice World – and sometimes they are in the enemies, like it happens in Giant World.

      • Thanks for the compliment.
        What do the different Marios do? I think I have heard Racoon Mario can fly for a little while, Frog Mario can swim and the Super Leaf gives him a cape that allows him to glide and run up walls, but the rest seem slightly obscure.

  10. Luciano says:

    Great review, it is very nostalgic!Mario Bros 3 was my favorite game on NES. Recently I’m re-playing the game on the mini nes. I also write on my blog about the game: https://lucimix.com/2017/07/16/my-90s-videogames-nintendo/

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