Super Mario Bros. 3 is a 2D platformer by Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System. While I have played it on the NES, the SNES’s Super Mario All-Stars pack, the GBA remake Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3, and the Wii virtual console version, the most recent playthrough was done on the Nintendo 3DS virtual console version. This is to say that I can assure you it is accurate. For this particular review I’m going to assume you’re somewhat familiar with the Super Mario Bros. series so I don’t have to explain the very basics of play in so much depth. Besides, if you don’t know Super Mario Bros. as a series by now… why would you start with the third one?
The premise is pretty simple. Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser and so it’s up to the Super Mario Bros. Mario and Luigi to rescue her. Along the way they’ll have to go through King Koopa’s minions as well as his relatives known as the Koopalings. Are you a bad enough plumber to save the princess? I reference that ridiculous line from Bad Dudes too much, don’t I? So anyways, you go about doing this in usual Mario fashion. You run and jump you way through levels, stomping on enemies, collecting coins, and using powerups along the way. There are tons of new obstacles and enemies for you to deal with around every corner. The game is constantly throwing new stage elements at you while also more inventively implementing the previously introduces mechanics as you go. It even adds in new powerups. There’s the standard mushroom, fire flower, and star which act as they did in the first game, but now the new common powerup to find is a leaf which will turn you into a raccoon version of your character. In this form you can hit enemies and break blocks with your tail. You can slow your descent by tapping A while in mid-air. And if you run fast enough you can temporarily fly by tapping the A button with this power. A rarer variant of this powerup is the Tanooki Suit, which transforms you into the mythical tanooki creature. This suit has the same functionality of the raccoon suit, but it has the added feature of allowing you to hold down and B in order to turn into an invulnerable statue for a short period of time. There’s a Hammer Bro suit that allows you to throw hammers just like the name would suggest which can kill certain enemies you could not before. There’s even a frog suit which forces you to hop around like a frog on land but allows you to maneuver more accurately and swiftly in the water. All of these offer more variety to the gameplay.
There’s also the item inventory you get on the overworld sections. Each world has a world map you may walk around on to select levels and other points of interest. Sometimes there are branching paths and shortcuts to be found. This is the time when you can open your inventory of items to use. These can include all the powerups you’re able to pick up as well as a few inventory exclusives. One such exclusive is another variant to the leaf powerup called the P-Wing. This item gives you the raccoon suit and for the next level you will have infinite P meter, shown on the bottom of the screen. Usually you have to run to fill it up to maximum in order to fly, but with this powerup you will be able to fly the entire time assuming you do not get hit and lose your powerup. Completing the stage with the powerup will let you keep the raccoon suit but the infinite P meter effect will be gone. Speaking of completing stages, at the end of each normal one you’ll find a square that quickly changes between symbols of a mushroom, a flower, and a star. Touching the card gives you that symbol displayed on contact, though it seems by running at top speed and getting the right angle of jump will consistently net you a star. Just a tip. Getting three random cards rewards you with a 1up, but getting a match of three cards will give you more. 3 mushrooms gives you a 2up. 3 flowers is a 3up. And the coveted three stars will give you a whopping 5up. On the overworld you can select the spaces with the playing card spade symbol to play a slot machine trying to line up picture of these same three symbols, with the only difference being that failure to line up the correct parts of their portraits will net you nothing. There are mushroom huts where Toad will allow you to open one of three chests and place the item you find inside into your inventory. Ah yes, the inventory exclusives. There are more. One of them is a cloud which will allow you to pass over an unbeaten level once. It does not count as beating the level, and death upon the next level you try will place you back at the last level you DID beat, which would effectively waste the effort of the item. There’s also a whistle item that brings you to a warp zone. From here you can select the next world you wish to visit as long as you can reach it. Your position depends on the world from which you warped. The last two items are musical notes and hammers. The hammers are usually obtained from defeating the roaming enemies on the board. After each level they move about and could potentially block your way. They are often Hammer Bros. but sometimes can be other similar variations. Defeating them will net you another inventory item. The hammers are used to destroy blocks that block shortcuts and secrets. The musical notes will temporarily disable all of these roaming enemies for a few turns, allowing you to pass them without a fight. Sometimes a card with an N will appear on the map, which can be touched in order to play a game of memory. You flip over cards and try to match the items underneath. Matches will net you whatever is on the card. Play ends when you make too many mistakes or clear all of the matches. The set of cards persists with each appearance until they are all flipped. Also, very rarely, you can make a coin ship appear. These require you to get a certain minimum of coins on certain levels and you are then rewarded with these floating airships littered with coins for you to collect. You may also notice pipes on the map that take you to other sections of it, as well as large doors with keyholes in them. There is usually one small castle in each world with a boss at the end. Defeating the boss will destroy the castle and unlock the doors. Sometimes this is for a shortcut but other times it is necessary to progress. And at the end of each world, as mentioned, you must go help out the king of that land who has had their magic wand stolen by one of the Koopalings and used to transform the kind into some strange creature. This leads you to the airship levels where you’ll need to dodge cannon fire in the clouds in order to get to each rather similar Koopaing, though each one has their own little quirks. Do this until the last world where you must fight through Bowser’s line of defenses, including his very own castle, and beat the big bad bastard yourself in order to save the princess and win the game.
The multiplayer give Luigi a chance to shine as player 2. He plays the same way as Mario, which may not be surprising considering he’s literally just a palette swap here. You play through the game together, each one of you taking a tun after the other. When a player beats a level or dies then their turn is up. Beating a level will mark it with that character’s letter, which is mostly just for show. However, if the current player returns to the last level the previous player just beat, they can initiate a versus minigame. This is essentially a game of the original arcade game Mario Bros. but with both players playing simultaneously. You need to bump enemies from the platforms below them to render them helpless for a short time before going up and touching them to kick them off the stage. The first one to kick enough of them off first wins. If you end up hitting one, you’ll die and lose. As an added bit of stakes, the cards you have currently collected can be knocked out of you if you are jumped on by the other player or if they hit the POW block while you are on the ground. The cards will bounce around until recollected or until the match ends. Afterwards the game continues as normal.
As someone who started playing this game in the player 2 slot as The ‘Uig Man, let me tell you that this multiplayer is a BIG improvement over the first game. You not only get to take turns, but you are both working towards the same goal. You don’t have to sit and watch someone else play the same thing you just played or play what you just saw someone else do. Only if one of you fails in a level. You need to pay attention to what the other player’s strengths and weaknesses are, what resources they need, and use this information to decide what levels and other points of interest you’ll tackle next on your turn. This can either be used to try and work together most effectively, or to try and tear down your rival and hog the glory… along with the lives and powerups. It gives you a more dynamic range of play rather than having to choose a cooperative or competitive or even versus mode separately.
On top of that, the control is so tight that you can enjoy the gameplay and all the mechanics and surprises it has to throw at you. You won’t feel like Mario couldn’t make that jump or Luigi was too slow. You’ll know that you went about the situation wrong rather than being screwed over by glitches or limitations. And that’s a big deal in game design. The amount of new elements thrown at you are so cleverly woven into the innovation of previously established mechanics as you go that the levels somehow manage to feel fresh each time while not being a confusing game of trial and error in the process. The music is quite catchy and the visuals look very nice. Not only are things vibrant and colorful, but the art is detailed enough to make the characters look like cartoons rather than jumbles of pixels that you need to imagine into what they represent. I also think the new powerups present an interesting depth to the game. The frog suit is awkward on land but very helpful in water. I guess that’s obvious, but even the very common fire flower and leaf have their interesting pros and cons. The fireballs are projectiles capable of harming enemies from a safe distance and can even be fired underwater. The raccoon suit cannot be used underwater and is only close range, but it has the ability to break blocks and grant temporary flight as well as a slowed descent. Picking the right power for the level can be the key to success, or even some sweet secrets. The game is packed with levels and themes and interesting mechanics that keep from feeling aged. The design never feels like it was limited by the NES, and that’s more than just nostalgia talking.
However, to pretend this game is perfect would be unfair and unrealistic. I do have a few small gripes. One is about the multiplayer. Sure, simultaneous co-op would’ve been preferred but the levels clearly aren’t built for it. However, I find the ability to do the battle minigame to be more of a waste of time as it halts your progress. This would’ve been more fun as a separate mode for me, but I understand that swapping those cards in the process does add tension to it and it’s totally an option. You can choose to work together and not do those if you’d like. I also think the mid-level castles have fairly underwhelming bosses. The Koopalings all kind of do the same thing but with their own unique spins on the fight each time, turning them into memorable encounters. However, the bosses of the small castles all function the same way unless you give them time to move around. This would be okay… except that it’s clearly the most efficient to simply jump on their head immediately, wait a second form them to get up, and then land on their head again until they die. It just end up being underwhelming. I don’t care much for the whistles. They might be good for speedrunning but you’d have to dislike and/or be bad at an entire world in order to justify skipping it. Why would you want the option to have LESS fun? The cloud only skips one level, which I think is more reasonable in case there’s a really tough level blocking your path. And the music notes… I get it. Sometimes you want to go around those roaming enemies rather than fighting them. But you’re missing out on rewards for fighting them so… why skip them? I guess the game is just too fun to want to skip much. Another minor thing is that the game is very generous with the lives… perhaps TOO generous at times. The split of lives in 2 player is not so bad, but playing by yourself you can stockpile a large amount easily. A game over will allow you to continue from the start of the given world anyway so the stakes aren’t too high. Basically, it just makes extra lives and coins less enticing as a result. Oh, and be aware that the inventory only has so many pages. So once it is full your next item will cover whatever the last item in the sequence. Use it or lose it, I suppose. The last thing, which is more of a wish than a complaint, is with the music. I like the music that is there, but I can’t help but feel like they could’ve made a few more level themes to spice up the game a bit. As you can see, none of these complaints are in the realm of make it or break it.
So I think it’s no surprise that I would recommend Super Mario Bros. 3 to everyone. It’s a great game that is consistently rated as not only one of the best NES games but one of the greatest games of all time. It’s important, it holds up, and above all… it’s fun. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of it, but whether you can lean on nostalgia or experience it for the first time, it’s easy to see why this game gets all the love it does. Find it on whatever appropriate platform you own and see for yourself if you haven’t already. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better 2D Mario game. I figured this would be the perfect choice for review number 100. I hope you enjoyed it, and here’s to 100 more. May all the game fare even HALF as well as this classic. Let’s-a-go.