REVIEW – Super Mario Bros. 3

  • Genre: Platformer
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Reviewed On: SNES Classic
  • Platforms: NES, SNES, NSO
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: xx/xx/xx

Establishing a Phenomena…

Hello there! Welcome to my review for Super Mario Bros 3, the last Mario Bros game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This title was highly hyped back in the day, as gamers out in the West knew the game was coming thanks to various gaming magazines and movies like “The Wizard”, plus Mario was already a fairly well-known gaming mascot.

With Super Mario Bros 3 though, you can tell that Nintendo set out to up their game and make what they called the “Ultimate Mario Game”. It’s worth noting that this game was developed from the ground up to be a Mario game and unlike Super Mario Bros 2, they didn’t just modify an existing game. It feels like that too, as you play it, with a similar layout to the first title. However, there’s just so many new things to Super Mario Bros 3 that it really does feel like they are (or were, rather) throwing everything they could into the game. From new power-ups to new ideas on how to design and present stages to new ways to let the player decide how to play through levels themselves, Super Mario Bros 3 is full of changes that really expand the series itself.

In my eyes, this is truly the game that established the Mario Franchise and led it into decades of success. But let’s get into the review proper and go over everything you can expect out of Super Mario Bros 3!

Seven Kids? Poor Mrs. Bowser… (Story)

Our story starts off with the manual proclaiming that Bowser is back at it again, and has not only kidnapped the Princess (Still referred to as “Princess Toadstool” in this game) but has sent his seven children to terrorize the Mushroom World. They’ve each stolen a wand from one of the world’s kings, turned the kings into an animal, and are now making mischief. We’re then asked to rescue the kings, take care of Bowser’s Koopa Children, and restore peace into the land once again.

Like many games back in the day, this story is basically only told to you in the instruction manual. When you start a new game of Super Mario Bros 3, you actually see it presented as a play, complete with a curtain rising and Mario and Luigi playing around with a number of enemies and power ups if you let the game run for a bit. This lack of in-game story was pretty common back in the day, but perhaps a little surprising given that Super Mario Bros 2 actually had a short story segment in it. Now, you do actually see the kings turned into manuals when you get to their castles, as well as get a note from the Princess once you’ve rescued their wands and turned them back, so much like Super Mario Bros 1, you will quickly conclude that you’re out saving the Mushroom Kingdom (again) when you’re actually playing the game.

Despite the lack of an in-game story, the setup to the game is rather interesting. Bowser having children (out of nowhere, and to this day no one has any idea who the mother is) is a nice mechanic to neatly separate the game’s worlds into zones, while simultaneously giving you a different boss to face at the end of each one. Their actual designs are pretty cool as well. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the “theme” of the game as well, in that Super Mario Bros 3 really does come across as a “play / stage production” throughout the game. You have the obvious play curtains at the start of the game, but there’s many levels where the platforms look like they are bolted onto the background, or platforms look like they are suspended from the ceiling, plus the checkerboard pattern in many areas as well. Not to mention at the end of most levels you have the “dark area” off to the right where Mario collects a card piece and then exits “stage right”. It’s all a little charming theme that isn’t overwhelmingly obvious but adds some character to the game as a whole.

I’ll also quickly add that this general lack of story and the recurring kidnapping of the Princess by Bowser is starting to become a theme for Mario games… which as you probably know goes on to persist in dozens of games past the NES. Let’s get into the gameplay now!

Mario’s learned a few tricks… (Gameplay)

Oh man, time to talk about gameplay. There’s a lot to go over here. At its core, Super Mario Bros 3 is still an action platformer, much like the first game in the series. If anything though, Mario is even more mobile and athletic. The controls here are as tight as always and feel good, but between the power-ups and new mechanics here you’re going to appreciate the precise control even more. For example, Mario can now slide down slopes (and auto-kill whatever you hit) and there’s now a “P Meter” that fills up when you run to get you up to max speed. You can also pick up things now like Koopa shells and throw them. Big changes!

Still, that’s pretty normal platforming stuff overall. Of course Mario can jump high, break blocks and will need to navigate dozens of levels with unique obstacles. The biggest changes here (other than just way better levels and level layouts… more on that later) are the power-ups. You have your normal powers like mushrooms that make you big, fire flowers that give you that lovely ranged attack option and the Invincibility Star. These all make a return, but we have several new power-ups too. First up is the Frog Suit which really helps underwater but is horrible on land. There’s a rare Hammer Suit that lets you throw hammers like the Hammer Bros enemies. There’s also the “Tanooki Suit” that lets you turn into a statue (weird but you’re invulnerable), but the single most well-known power up here is definitely Racoon Mario.

Yes sir, grab one of these racoon leaves and Mario will sprout a tail. You can use this to whack enemies up close, but more importantly when you reach max-speed with one of these guys you can take off and fly through the air. Yep, Mario can straight-up fly now. Of course, this means filling the P-Meter which means the stage needs enough running room, but that’s fairly common. This also means that dozens of levels have this power in mind, and the game (or the sky, rather) often has secrets in the sky for you to find. Secrets usually means coins, but sometimes there’s whole walkways up there.

Perhaps Super Mario Bros 3 biggest strength from a gameplay perspective though is just the extreme amount of variety the game packs in. A lot of this is due to the game’s world design mixing things up. Each of the eight worlds has a theme and some of them change things quite a bit like the slippery Ice World or Giant World where you’re so much smaller than everything else. That’s not all of course. We have a ton of new enemies here, including the iconic mini-boss Boom Boom and a unique koopaling boss at the end of every world. Many of these enemies are new and would go on to become series staples like the boo ghost, chain chomps, thwomps and more. I will say that if the gameplay here has a weakness (and very little out there is perfect…), it has to be the lack of boss variety as Boom Boom is a joke and the kiddos here all attack very similarly.

And I haven’t even talked about the min-games yet. Super Mario Bros 3 has a variety of mini-games, many of which are on the world map (which is new… more on that later). You will find mushroom houses that have games (matching games, roulette games or even just choosing a treasure box) in them where you can win items, or roaming enemies that present you with a small fight for an item. Heck, with two players you can even play the “Mario Bros” arcade game to settle differences between Mario and Luigi. Lives should also be plentiful since you can still collect 100 coins for a life or hit the rotating symbols at the end of each level to possibly get bonus lives.

You may have noticed I mentioned collecting items earlier. That’s because Super Mario Bros 3 actually has an inventory system. You can collect items to use later on the world map before entering the next level, which is weird and new, but also a good use of all of these bonus items. Even more noteworthy is that there’s special items you can only use here, such as a cloud that can outright skip a level, hammers that can break blocks on the world map (often making a shortcut and letting you skip a level), or the godly “P-Wing” which gives you unlimited flying time.

So as you can tell, the bones of “Super Mario Bros 1” are here, but the development team took that framework and turned it up to 11. The sheer addition of content here with the new power-ups, enemies and new mechanics alone is mind-boggling, but throw in the gameplay variety and fantastic level designs and you have some of the NES’s best gameplay hands-down.

Very impressive, Super Mario Bros 3. Let’s get into the graphics section and see what you got there for us.

Putting on a play… (Graphics)

The biggest thing I remember from Super Mario Bros 3 is definitely the world map. Instead of just putting you in level after level, you are now on a map that sort-of resembles a board game. We talked about this above in the gameplay section, but it’s easy to see how this layout can affect how you approach levels, use items and get to mini-games at your own pace. Just giving you this graphical display of levels is a smart idea though for all of those reasons and more.

By “more”, I really mean it gives the developers a chance to really lean into the world themes. We talked about those already as well of course, but these world themes and the world map are definitely the defining graphical qualities of Super Mario Bros 3. The world maps are delightful with their themes, especially with oh, say… hills bobbing along to the music, or the pacing wind-up dolls representing mini fights. Each world is also highly themed and follows these themes faithfully, giving the game a great amount of graphical variety – by far the best graphical variety Mario has ever seen.

And of course, the graphics as a whole here are a step up for the series as well. Mario and enemies have fantastic designs, particularly the Koopa kids. They do drop the ball a bit here with Luigi though, as he’s merely a palette swap of Mario here, which is only really a bummer after his appearance in Super Mario Bros 2. Princess Toadstool also looks a bit off still, but Bowser’s design in this title absolutely kills it. I also mentioned some of the new enemies here that would go on to be recurring enemies (like the boo ghost, chain chomps and thwomps). They are just so well-designed that they just look iconic (which I suppose they proved to be).

I also have to say the level designs themselves are just fantastic. They once again designed all of these levels with graph paper and scanned them in, and the attention to detail really shows, especially with all of the secrets and goodies up in the air to find. There’s a lot of stages here that have gimmicks, and the vast majority of them are well designed although there’s definitely parts of the giant world that just look out of place due to everything being stretched out.

All in all, Super Mario Bros 3 is just a great looking game. The choice of world themes, all of the great new enemies, the overworld… Even the entire “Theater Trappings” that they have everywhere throughout the game. They just nailed so many graphical choices in this game, making it one of the best-looking games on the NES.

Koji Kondo Returns! (Audio)

As you may have guessed by now, Koji Kondo returns to compose the soundtrack to Super Mario Bros 3. Not a surprise, as he’s killed it up to this point, and honestly, the soundtrack here is just as good if not better in its own unique way.

First, the Overworld Themes here are very off-beat, with a good melody throughout, but well-timed drums in the background and some accenting notes and bassline. It’s just very quirky and makes you feel like you’re on an adventure. The second Overworld Theme (there’s two of them) is even better though, with an arpeggio structure that soon turns into a fantastic melody and just sounds “athletic” somehow. It’s very catchy. Try listening to them both and picking a favorite.

There’s also the “Underground Theme” which is a remix from the first Super Mario Bros that adds way more drums. He also made tracks for just the Sky and Swimming sections as well. However, I wanted to point out the “Airship Themes” which are just for the “boss levels” at the end of each world. They have a very foreboding sound that almost sounds like a march. Perfect for these levels, honestly. I will also note that each of the overworld maps (for all eight worlds) also have a “World Map” theme. You really only listen to these for a few seconds while moving to a new level, unless you just stay on the map for some reason. These songs vary from fantastic (like world map 1) to… grating (like world map 6). Probably one of the only “misses” in the entire soundtrack.

I should also add that for some reason, the opening of the game has no music at all. This is especially weird as the rest of the game has jingles for everything, and I mean everything. Every mini-game, recovering the wands, dying, game overs… you name it. There’s even special music for boss fights. All of these small jingles and special tracks are one reason Super Mario Bros 3’s soundtrack just seems like it’s a step-up from anything that came before (which it is). I’ll also quickly say that, as always, the sound effects throughout the game are fantastic as well, fitting perfectly within the game and sounding both clear and unique.

So all in all, the soundtracks here are pretty darn good. The Overworld tracks are just plain catchy, on par with the other overworld tracks in previous games. More importantly, there’s just so much more music here to match all the various maps, stages, mini-games and events (like boss fights and returning to the transformed kings), and that’s really what sets Super Mario Bros 3 above most of its competition.

Bring a friend! (Replayability)

With eight worlds in total, Super Mario Bros 3 is a fairly lengthy experience for the genre. And of course, these worlds get more challenging as you progress. I would say that an experienced player could play through the entire game in 4-5 hours if they sat down and powered through the game, which is a really good afternoon. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the “Warp Whistles” in the game, which are similar to warp zones / warp vases in the previous Mario Games. Here, you can use them to warp ahead to different worlds, on a special “warp zone” screen, although the worlds are broken up so you can’t just jump straight to the end unless you have two warp whistles… which you can definitely obtain two in the first world. I will say that the warp whistles in Super Mario Bros 3 are all fairly hard to find (especially the first one, which requires you to duck-in-place on a certain block), meaning that back in the day, word of mouth was a HUGE part of people finding and using these warp whistles. I still remember exactly where all of them are, they are that memorable. Extremely powerful too, with two warp whistles you can beat the game in less than an hour easily.

There is also a “2 Player Game” selectable from the main menu. This lets a second player play as Luigi (who again, is the same as Mario) and basically lets you go back and forth with another player, as in Mario will do a level and then Luigi does the next level. When you complete a level, the level flips to say “M” or “L” on it as well, which is a nice little touch. So, for example, if your brother is horrible at video games and dies in a level, then it’s your turn and you can just beat the level. The whole world map may just say “M” on it with this system in place!

The huge amount of variety in the game is what really helps replayability of course. You can always find new items, try new power-ups in certain areas, use your map items and more. In particular, I wanted to point out that Super Mario Bros 3 has EVEN MORE secrets to it, such as coin airships and white toad houses that only appear on the world map when you meet certain conditions, such as having a certain number of coins with a certain point total. Crazy conditions actually, that normal players wouldn’t ever think of and you’d have to go look up online. It’s just noteworthy that these map secrets are even a thing.

Finally, let’s talk about how you can play this game today! As you can probably surmise, Super Mario Bros 3 was a smash hit, and not only declared one of the best Mario games of all time, but one of the best games of all time. This has led to many, many ports. The “Super Mario All Stars” releases often bundle all the NES games together, so you can find it there, often with updated graphics of course. And the NES classic as well as Nintendo virtual shops. It also came out on the Game Boy Advance, which is the most interesting release in my mind. This is mainly because this version supported the “Nintendo E-Reader” which gave the game a ton of new levels, including levels that the team designed back in the day but never included in the game. It’s a really interesting addition, but as you can see it isn’t too hard to find and play through this game in the current day.

Overall: 10/10 

Despite Super Mario Bros 3 definitely having a few weak points here and there (mainly the story… some nitpicks with some graphics and music here and there), everything else is just so overwhelmingly good and/or revolutionary that I can’t deny this game a 10 out of 10. The quality of the gameplay here, along with all of the additions is just that good. Being able to fly around, all of the new enemies and power-ups, the quality of the level designs and world designs… the fantastic music and immense replayability factor… Super Mario Bros 3 really has it all. This game is really one of those games that comes along and defines a console generation, and left its mark on gaming that can be felt to this very day.

Well… I’d say we’ve gone on long enough. If for some reason you are into platforming games and haven’t played Super Mario Bros 3 yet, I’d strongly urge you to go out there and try it already (try all of the NES Mario games in order, it’s worth it). Heck, bring a friend along! As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this review on this classic game. Have fun and keep on playing!

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