Often described as the definitive pinnacle of Super Mario 2D platforming, Super Mario Bros. 3 is another one of those games that needs no review. One of the highest-grossing non-bundled video games of all time, with 17 million copies sold, Super Mario Bros. 3 will forever be a monument and a testament to the rise of home video games.
I gushed over the first Super Mario Bros. for the NES. I saved nickels and dimes so I could buy Super Mario Bros. 2 at the age of 7. Super Mario Bros. 3, however, was something more. Bigger, harder, more magical, more imaginative, and more immersive, Super Mario Bros. 3 isn’t what got me into gaming – it’s what confirmed that I would grow up into gaming.
My parents didn’t get me Nintendo Power or other gaming magazines. I didn’t watch The Wizard until college. The hype leading up to Super Mario Bros. 3 was completely lost on me until I saw this commercial from 1990.
That’s all I needed. I didn’t need a trailer or gameplay footage. I didn’t need to be told that Mario could grow a raccoon tail and fly in this one. I merely observed the approximation of hype, and it was enough.
The Gaming Historian covers the story behind Super Mario Bros. 3. Check it out if you have a spare hour.
Super Mario Bros. 3 takes the formula from Super Mario Bros. and nearly revamps it beyond recognition. Everything that was fun and exciting about the first game makes a return, and new mechanics, powerups, and gameplay elements were added.
Upon booting up the game, you know it’s something special.
Once you start the game, this is reinforced with the map screen.
The player is given the ability to take alternative paths. Sometimes you can tackle stages in a different order than intended, or entirely skip certain stages at the expense of bonus items. Suddenly, Super Mario’s adventure was far more than just traveling to the right.
Each level feels unique, and the game often throws different assets at you to give stages unique motifs. Compared to the original Super Mario Bros., where you essentially just had just a handful of variations of stages, Super Mario Bros. 3 continues to deliver broad, new elements all the way to the end.
The controls are tight and responsive and on par with what you’d expect. This time around, Mario can pick up shells, butt-slide down slopes, and even fly when he has a raccoon tail. Other powerups turn Mario into a frog or Tanooki, or dress him up like a Hammer Bros. Secrets are plentiful, yet the more rare powerups are so coveted and exciting that they are worth hunting down.
Scroll up a little and look at the animated gif and the map screen. This is what you are presented with for the story. I’m not saying deep narrative and complex storytelling is bad, but there is something to be said when you can piece everything together in just a few seconds with some visual queues.
The curtain goes up – Mario and Luigi are playfully kicking shells around. This adventure is big, dramatic, and most importantly, going to be fun. After a few seconds, Mario is hit by a shell that surprises him from behind. Surprises are in store. That’s foreshadowing. This adventure might get difficult.
Start your game, and get the map screen. You immediately see your quest unfold, leading to the castle with the flashing “Help” bubble. That’s your story, your quest, and it’s told so effectively in a matter of seconds, so you can get on to the fun.
As you progress through the game, however, you realize that each castle has a King that has been transformed into an animal. This leads Mario to board an auto-scrolling flying ship. These stages are tough, with cannons and other traps filling the screen with dangers. Make it through, and defeat the Koopaling at the end, and you’ll restore the king, save the land, get a letter from the princess, and move on to the next world.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is a joy to look at. It’s visually more colorful and playful than its predecessor, and most importantly, everything is conveyed clearly. It’s pretty obvious what will hurt you and what will help you. It’s obvious what Mario can stand on and what Mario can’t touch.
With added visual elements and pallet changes, stages can look fresh and unique. Desert stages use tans, yellows, and oranges while water levels are deep blue and purple. Stage elements look like they are suspended from the sky or bolted to the background. It’s quirky, fresh, and fun.
I recently played through the 1993 Super Mario All-Stars iteration of Super Mario Bros. 3, which reimagines the game on the 16-bit Super Nintendo, with all new sprites and graphics. I’d highly recommend it, but the original Super Mario Bros. 3 still holds up today and is just as playable.
The music is fun and unique, and although underground stages use a rendition of the original Super Mario’s underground theme (a series staple that’s still done today), the soundtrack in Super Mario Bros. 3 pairs well with the action on the screen. Trickier athletic stages have a different theme than the typical overworld levels, and each map has its own loop. Koji Kondo, the composer of the original Super Mario Bros. theme we all know and love, delivers a handful of new earworms that are nearly as beloved as the first.
Whereas the original Super Mario Bros. had a two-player mode that allowed a second player to join in as Luigi after the first player dies, Super Mario Bros. 3 makes it a little more cooperative. Every time a player finishes a level or dies, the other player swaps in. Once a level is completed, there’s no going back. If younger brother lands on a stage with a hidden Tanooki suit, there’s no going back to get another once it’s completed. This is actually my biggest gripe with Super Mario Bros. 3. It has little to do with the multiplayer, and more to do with being able to go back to stages you finished to relive them, find secrets you’ve missed, and recover hidden powerups.
It’s a classic Super Mario game, so you can pretty much expect it to be easy to pick up. On top of that, players who do a little exploring (or Googling) will have no problem finding secret hidden whistles early on in the game. These whistles let you travel all the way to the last world if you want to. The original Super Mario Bros. 3 doesn’t let you save your place (although playing it on the Switch certainly does). These whistles take a couple of minutes to grab when starting a new game and quickly let you drop Mario off almost anywhere in the game you want to start off.
Super Mario Bros. 3 has a fairly decent difficulty arc. There are some mechanics explored throughout the game that might give players trouble (the dreaded rising/sinking stages with the giant fish), but levels are fairly short and varied.
For example, you’ll run across a stage with very precise platforming, but the next stage slows things down by sticking Mario in a labyrinth of pipes and blocks. Earlier stages give you ample opportunity to get a good feel for how Mario moves, and how to fly with the raccoon tail – the game never throws anything at you that is so foreign that you can’t figure out a way past it. If you can’t make it through a particular section, it’s all on you.
I have two review categories that I’ll interchange, and I was torn between them for Super Mario Bros. 3. My first option was Consistency which would have been a 10/10. Super Mario Bros. 3 continuously throws new mechanics or combinations of mechanics at you all the way up to the very end, and the quality of the game doesn’t falter. Nothing ever feels phoned-in. There are some stages that feel like they took the template from an earlier level and added a new twist or increased the difficulty, which is something that the original Super Mario Bros. did often. That’s all worth saying, but I think Super Mario Bros. 3 deserves credit for how much it stands out among other titles.
There are a lot of video games from this era. The NES has a large library of great games, and some of the most recognized games stand out. The NES also has a massive list of stinkers – games that just weren’t fun, or weren’t user-friendly. Nintendo’s main objective with any Mario game has always been to make it feel good. I’ve mentioned this for most of my reviews of the series – these games are a joy to control. Mario’s movement is intuitive and responsive. That alone puts these games on a tier with only a handful of others. Beyond that, Super Mario Bros. 3 adds so many new, interesting, and fun elements that feel so unique and new.
Yes, it’s Super Mario. There are themes and elements in Super Mario Bros. 3 that were lifted and used later, but the level of polish and the pacing that these different elements are presented make the game one of the most iconic, recognizable, and memorable games of all time.
Super Mario Bros. 3 deserves the hype it gets. It is still as playable today as it was in 1990 (or 1988 if you lived in Japan). I’m in the camp that Super Mario World is just a hair better – overall it feels bigger, and the movement is somehow even better – but Super Mario Bros. 3 set the bar so high.
It’s a joy to play, whether you run through it in 20 minutes with the hidden warp whistles, or you take hours to scour through all 90 levels. Sadly, neither the NES and Super Mario All-Stars versions allow you to revisit stages after you beat them, which I honestly feel is Super Mario Bros. 3’s greatest shortcoming. Otherwise, this game is near flawless in execution.
Super Mario Bros 3 was developed by Nintendo.
Super Mario Bros 3 is also available on the WiiU Virtual Console, the Gameboy Advance, the Nintendo 3DS, and Nintendo Switch Online. It’s also found in Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES - 1990)
Game title: Super Mario Bros. 3
Game description: Super Mario Bros. 3 was develp[ed by Nintendo and released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States in 1990 (but was first released in Japan in 1988). You play as Mario (and Luigi), adventuring through 8 worlds and 90 stages to defeat Bowser and the Koopalings.
- Gameplay - 10/1010/10
- Story - 10/1010/10
- Visuals - 10/1010/10
- Audio - 10/1010/10
- Multiplayer - 8/108/10
- Accessibility - 10/1010/10
- Challenge - 10/1010/10
- Uniqueness - 10/1010/10
Super Mario Bros. 3 is Lynk Approved!
A near-perfect game in execution and imagination – Super Mario Bros. 3 throws so many more ideas at the player and does so very well. It will forever withstand the test of time and has had a long-lasting impact on the game industry. Super Mario Bros. 3 takes what made the first Mario Bros. so successful and fun and adds a ton of charm, higher stakes, and creative new mechanics.
- Fun, stylized graphics.
- Incredibly diverse and creative level design.
- Fun powerups – you turn into a Tanooki!
- Really solid challenge curve, without being too punishing.
- A historic, industry-altering game.
- Once a level is completed, you can’t revisit it.