Few game franchises can trace back to a single game that resulted in so many lasting changes to the series as Super Mario Brothers 3. It represents a massive evolutionary leap that we are still playing derivatives of more than 20 years later. Every 2D Mario platformer since Super Mario Brothers 3 can trace its foundation back to this game and the new features it brought to the franchise. It is truly one of the most impactful games to be found on the NES, and one of the all time best platformers ever made.
Super Mario Brothers 3 (SMB3) was released for the NES in North America in 1990 and proved to be a ground-breaking game for the franchise. Now standard gameplay elements such as the overworld map, different suits for Mario to wear, the Koopa Kids, and the capability of storing items all originated in Super Mario Brother 3. SMB3 would eventually sell more than 18 million units globally and, depending on the source, is credited with being among the best selling video games of all time. Hell, it even had an entire movie (The Wizard) that served as little more than a glorified commercial for the game to help fuel the hype surrounding its release.
The story here is what you would expect. Bowser attempts to take over the Mushroom Kingdom with the help of the Koopa Kids, and Mario is sent to stop him. Each of the Koopa Kids has stolen a magic wand from the Mushroom Kings, transforming them into inhuman creatures. Mario must defeat each Koopa Kid to return the respective King to his former self, and eventually take on Bowser himself to save Princess Toadstool and the Mushroom Kingdom.
SMB3 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by offering solid platforming action with tight controls. New gameplay options are also opened up, including simple things that we take for granted now, like being able to fly, or pick up koopa shells so they can be thrown later. SMB3 also introduces hosts of new enemies, including boos, chain chomps, thwomps, dry bones, and flying goombas. Virtually all of the enemies introduced in SMB3 eventually become regulars in the franchise.
Besides just the simple additions to the gameplay that we take for granted now, SMB3 also opened up the franchise to power-ups beyond the mushroom and fire flower. New power-ups include the Super Leaf, the Tanooki Suit, the Frog Suit, and the P-Wing. Now the player must make intelligent choices about which power-ups are most appropriate for the levels they are attempting. Some levels work better with power ups that enable you to fly, while others are more suitable for Fire Mario. The most challenging decisions revolve around the Frog Suit, which provides neutral buoyancy and pinpoint control underwater, but massively hampers control on land. Also introduced is the whistle, which can be used to access the Warp World. Depending on which world you are in when you use the Whistle, different worlds to warp to will be available.
Unlike the previous games, SMB3 does not force the player through all the levels in a linear fashion (ignoring warp pipes in previous games). The levels are instead linked together with a world map that allows for some non-linearity in how the levels are attempted. The player can choose whichever route they prefer to get to the castle at the end of each world, sometimes being able to skip levels if desired. In addition to gameplay levels, the different worlds are full of Toad Houses and minigames that can be used to to gain items and extra lives. Items gained from either Toad Houses or Hammer Brothers on the world map can be stored for later use, allowing flexibility in how levels are approached.
The player navigates levels that take place in the sky, on and under the ground, and under water. The levels are masterfully designed and executed and expand upon the existing formula that had been established in the previous games. New features are introduced, including platforms that traverse along cables, levels that sink in and out of the water, airships, and levels that can scroll in both directions. The levels of SMB3 are far more varied than either of the previous games and in some cases are massively non-linear (think Castle 8 in SMB1) and can be quite challenging to navigate to the end of. In addition, at the end of each level, the player receives a random card, featuring either a mushroom, a fire flower, or a star. If you match 3 of the same card 3 levels in a row, you receive a number of extra lives corresponding to the symbol you matched.
While the game starts off fairly easy, the levels ramp up the difficulty and can become quite difficult towards the end. It might seem like all the extra lives that are thrown around are excessive, but by the final worlds you will find yourself dying with a surprising frequency. This certainly isn’t Lost Levels hard, but certain levels can be quite frustrating if you are unfamiliar with them.
Honestly, there is very little to complain about in this game. The gameplay is more or less perfection, and the levels are incredibly designed and provide for loads of replay. The only real downfall of this game is how long it is. Granted, with enough whistles, you can warp to World 8 very early on and beat the game reasonably quickly, but if you are hoping to play the entire game straight through, it can take quite a large amount of time. A save feature would go a long ways towards making the game a little less intrusive on your free time. Other than that very minor issue, SMB3 is a triumphant game that deserves all of the accolades it receives.
Gameplay: Classic Super Mario gameplay here, and loads of new features that would go on to become staples in the franchise. There is also loads of content here, far more than any of the other NES Mario games.
Sound: The sound is some of the finest found on the NES. The music is fabulous and pushes the sound chip to its limits, while the sound effects are spot on and diverse. SMB3’s sound is quite frankly iconic and should be instantly recognizable to anyone who grew up with an NES.
Nostalgia X-Factor: I played this game a ton as a kid, having beat it many, many times over. That being said, parts still gave me some difficulty, which goes to show how challenging certain levels can be.
Worth Playing? Seriously, you should have known the answer to this before you started reading this review. Super Mario Brothers 3 is widely considered one of the best NES games AND one of the best Mario games across all platforms. Hell, it is one of the best selling video games of all time – if you haven’t played this game, go buy it right now!