Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • NES
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 10/23/1988
    • US 02/12/1990
    • UK 08/29/1991
Score: 100%

This review was published on 11/19/2012.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is a game that needs no introduction. It's heralded as the de facto greatest game ever by countless people, and it held the position of one of the best selling games in the world for many years. It's easily the most popular game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. This game was a big enough deal to even be featured in a movie prior to its release in North America. That movie was called "The Wizard," and it essentially acted as an expensive ad campaign to promote the game. The folks at Nintendo knew what they had in Super Mario Bros. 3, so they put all bets on the game. It sure paid off, although the movie wasn't very good. This game is good, though. There's so much content jam packed into this cartridge that it'll make anyone's head spin. It refined the formula pioneered by the original Super Mario Bros. to perfection. Super Mario Bros. 3 deserves its reputation as one of the greatest games in video game history.

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Princess Toadstool petitions the plumber brothers, Mario and Luigi, to save seven kings in seven kingdoms of the Mushroom World. The Koopalings, Bowser's lackeys, have taken flight on their airships to cause mayhem in these kingdoms. These dastards have stolen magical wands from the kings and used them to transform the kings into various animals. Animals can't rule a kingdom, so it's up to the Mario Bros. to recover the wands and return the kings back to their true forms. It's surprising to note that the plot of this game isn't about saving the Princess... not at first, anyway. I don't think I'm revealing much by mentioning that the Princess does get captured by Bowser later on in the game. What a stupendous plot twist! Sarcasm aside, I do give props to Nintendo for Mario 3's story. It's not terribly original, but it does a good job of setting the stage for one of Mario's finest adventures. The idea of incrementally saving Mario's world, one kingdom at a time, is a lot more exciting than simply questing to the end of the game to save the Princess. No more "your princess is in another castle;" completing a world in Mario 3 feels satisfying because Mario actually accomplishes something by the end of it. As odd as it may be to say this, Mario 3's story does contribute to the game's fun factor, if only by a tiny bit.

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Side-scrolling platform action is what this game is all about. Super Mario Bros. 3 takes everything that was introduced in the first two Super Mario Bros. games and ups the ante considerably. Defeating enemies via stomping makes a triumphant return from the first Super Mario, but being able to carry certain enemies around like in Super Mario Bros. 2 also makes a comeback. Super Mario Bros. 3 offers the best of both worlds. The first big change to the game mechanics is the physics. Players have a much greater control over their momentum and mid-air velocity. This is a welcome change, even if it does defy the laws of physics. Another thing is that there's a bit of a float to the jumps, which makes tough jumping challenges much easier. These jumping mechanics take some getting used to, but they make the game more playable. Super Mario Bros. 3 provides players with a way to keep track of their momentum via the P meter. I'm not sure what the P stands for, but this meter fills up as players hold down the B button to run. Once the meter is full, Mario or Luigi can do a spry running jump that covers a great distance. The meter is a handy thing to have around, although it's not really necessary. Super Mario Bros. 3 increases the complexities of the game mechanics and makes the controls far more flexible than ever before. This game easily wins the award for best controls on the NES.

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If you like power-ups, then Super Mario Bros. 3 is your game. This game is choke-full of power-ups. The classic Super Mushroom and Fire Flower are back and they do what they did in the first Super Mario; grant extra hits and modify Mario or Luigi's capabilities. Super Mushrooms make the brothers grow big enough to break bricks with their heads, whereas Fire Flowers enable them to shoot fireball projectiles that can incinerate most foes. New to this game is a tier system to the power-ups which enables the Mario Bros. to take up to two hits. More powerful power-ups are placed above the Super Mushroom in this tiered system, so it's kind of like the power-ups stack on top of each other. If a brother is hit when they've got any other power-up besides a Super Mushroom, they'll revert back to their big selves, and getting hit while big will make them small. It goes without saying that the Bros. will die upon being harmed while in their tiny forms. Of course, this game has a ton of new power-ups, like the Super Leaf. Super Leaves give the Bros. raccoon-like tails that they can use to slowly hover to the ground or even fly in the air. In order to fly, the Italian siblings must run for a short distance to gain enough speed to take flight. This is the most prevalent power-up in the game and one of the coolest. The other new power-ups are far less common: the Frog Suit grants excellent swimming abilities, the Hammer Bros. Suit lets players throw hammers, and the Tanooki Suit is like a Leaf with some extra functions. There are so many awesome power-ups in this game that there's also an inventory system to store them all. Mario and Luigi can store a cache of power-ups in their inventories and use them on the world map whenever they please. The inventory system makes it worthwhile to hunt down more power-ups than you'll need, because you can always store them away for later use. Super Mario Bros. 3 has an incredibly polished power-up system with tons of varied power-ups that are fun to acquire and use.

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One of the first Mario games to introduce overworlds is Super Mario Bros. 3. Each world in the game is represented by a map screen that players can navigate. The levels are shown as numbered card-like icons that are connected via paths on the map. Completing levels allows passage into other levels, and players will often have choices as to which levels they want to play. You also earn a card each time you beat a stage, and acquiring 3 cards earns extra lives. It's not necessary to finish all the levels in a given world in order to progress to the next world. Advancing to the next world merely requires that Mario or Luigi clear the final palace at the end of a world. How many levels a given world has fluctuates, so the rigid structure of the previous games has been shattered in favor of a more flexible one. The map screen is a feature that became a staple of future Mario games. In fact, these kinds of map screens became a staple for almost all future platform games in general. Associating levels with geographical locations on a map helps players keep track of what level is what, how many levels are in a given world, and so on. Each world has a distinct theme to it, like the first world is set on a grassy area, the second world is set in a desert, the third world is in an aquatic land, etc. What's brilliant about the world maps in this game is that they allow for slight nonlinearity in level selection, but also give players a greater sense of scale of the game's overall world. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a barrel of good ideas, and the map screen is one of them.

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This game has a lot of strengths, but the strongest of those strengths has got to be the level design. The levels in this game have variety by the bucket-load. There are grassy plains, hot deserts, icy caverns, underwater tunnels, sky worlds, castles, and even airships. Yes, you read that right; this game has airship levels. Is that not awesome or what? There's even an unconventional "giant" world where enemies and their surroundings are much bigger than usual. Imagination and creativity are the key words that best describe Super Mario Bros. 3's level design. There's a castle level in the game in which lava not only lies below you, but also above! Somehow, the lava doesn't fall from the ceiling onto your head, but fireballs do shoot out of it occasionally. If that's not imaginative, then I don't know what is. Every individual level in this game is memorable. That's quite a feat, because there are a ton of levels. This is due to level ideas rarely being repeated or recycled. It's not uncommon to encounter a newly introduced concept in a particular level, only to never see it again for the rest of the game. For example, there is one level where Goombas hop around inside of big shoes, and these shoes can be hijacked. If Mario or Luigi succeeds in hijacking one of these shoes, then they can stomp on things that would normally harm them, like spiked enemies. These Goomba Shoes only appear in this one level in the whole game, so veteran players of Super Mario Bros. 3 will instantly recognize the level upon seeing this vehicle. The castle with lava on the ceilings also appears only once, making it another level that will leave a permanent imprint in the minds of players. I could list countless other examples of memorable levels this game has to offer, but I think the point has been made. Super Mario Bros. 3 does level design better than almost any other video game out there.

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What truly separates Super Mario Bros. 3 from other platform games is the amount of secrets available. This game has more secrets than the CIA, with helpful items hidden in every nook and cranny. Now decades old, people who grew up with the game are still discovering secrets about it. The secrets usually lead to additional coins, power-ups, extra lives, or even short-cuts that safely bypass hazards. While the objective of each level is merely to make it to the end alive, it definitely pays off to do some optional exploration. Rare power-ups like the coveted Tanooki Suit or the highly desirable Hammer Bros. Suit act as incredibly satisfying rewards for players who discover some of the game's most well hidden secrets. The secrets in Super Mario Bros. 3 typically involve going down pipes, uncovering invisible blocks, hitting P switches to turn blocks or enemies into coins, and all other manner of esoteric goodies. Some of the best secrets involve uncovering invisible blocks that grow vines out of them, which can then be climbed to find a hidden area. There are even some secrets later in the game that involve solving puzzles. The greatest example of this is one in the ice world where players must melt ice with the help of a Fire Flower power-up, then climb a vine hidden inside a block that leads to a P switch, all in an effort to gain entrance to a secret pipe. Secrets are a great way to add replay value to a game, and this game has them in spades.

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Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the only NES games that allow smooth horizontal and vertical scrolling simultaneously. It was a technical marvel for the time. This is featured prominently in the dreaded auto-scroll levels. As their name implies, these levels will scroll automatically, regardless of whether players can keep up with the screen. Some of the toughest levels in the game are auto-scroll levels. The main auto-scroll levels are the airships, which appear at the end of each world. These levels will put players to the test with unprecedented challenges. Cannons, torches, and various other traps litter the airships from every angle, making sure to impede Mario and Luigi on their quest to stop the Koopalings. While the airship levels may be tough, they're also some of the most exciting levels in the game. The experience of dodging all the cannon balls and successfully keeping up with the automatically scrolling screen is exhilarating. It's a nice change of pace from the normal levels where players can explore at their own leisure. Besides, airships are just plain awesome. Auto-scroll levels can be annoying and downright frustrating at times, but they do add flavor to the game. If auto-scroll levels aren't your thing, then don't sweat it, because there aren't too many of them.

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Enemies in Mario games generally differ in more than just hit points or appearance; they also differ in function. This is especially true in Super Mario Bros. 3. Koopas, being turtles and all, will retract into their shells when jumped on. If Mario or Luigi touches a Koopa shell, it'll bounce back and forth wildly, becoming a danger to friend and foe alike. New to this Mario game is the ability to pick up Koopa shells. Holding down the B button while approaching a Koopa shell will prompt the brothers to pick it up, and letting go of the B button throws the shell. This makes Koopas even more fun to trounce than before. Goombas also return to their role of weakest enemy ever. However, Goombas and Koopas will be the least of your troubles in Super Mario Bros. 3 when it comes to enemies. This game introduces a plethora of new foes, many of which become mainstays of future Mario games. Thwomps, Boos, and Chain Chomps all originated in Super Mario Bros. 3. Thwomps are large blocks that will come crashing down whenever Mario or Luigi are under them; Boos are ghosts that will chase you if your back is turned to them, and Chain Chomps are vicious metallic dog-like monsters that are chained to the ground and will wildly bite at anyone who dares to come near them. Hammer Bros. have gained a few new siblings that can throw boomerangs and spit fireballs, too. There are a lot of other enemies in this game, and they're all brimming with personality. Their unique designs coupled with their different functions help cement the foes of Super Mario Bros. 3 as some of the most memorable enemies around.

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Do you like to play a game of chance to try and win big? If the answer is yes, then Super Mario Bros. 3 has you covered. There are plenty of opportunities in this game to earn fabulous prizes like extra lives and power-ups. Aside from finding them in stages, extra lives and power-ups can be won from a number of bonus games. The first bonus game consists of matching up images of a Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, or Star as they move across the screen. Careful timing is required to win this bonus game, but doing so will net you extra lives. The next bonus game is a traditional card matching game, where you flip cards to find two with a matching icon. Each time you successfully match two cards, you immediately earn whatever power-up is printed on the cards. These bonus games appear as optional spots on the map screen, so you can avoid them if you don't particularly like this stuff. The last bonus game I want to mention is easily the most fun; if playing the game in two player mode, both players can challenge each other to a game of the arcade classic, Mario Bros. All that needs to be done to access this mode is to have both players on the same spot on the map screen. This mode plays similarly to the arcade classic, but it has a competitive spin on it. Mario and Luigi can be controlled simultaneously on the same screen in this mode, and the first person to defeat 5 enemies wins. The competitive part is that Mario and Luigi can hit each other to steal cards from their sibling. This is an addicting bonus game that can ruin friendships, so be forewarned. If it weren't enough that Super Mario Bros. 3 itself is a good game, it also has a bunch of other good games inside of it.

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There are over 6 levels per world, sometimes over 10, and 8 worlds in all. This being such a long game, it may come as a surprise to know that it doesn't have a save feature. Not everyone can marathon games of this length in one go, so what is one to do? That's where the Warp Whistles come in handy. There are a couple of Warp Whistles hidden discretely throughout the game, and these items can be used to skip past entire worlds. If you play until world 5 or 6 and decide to call it quits, then you can use a Warp Whistle the next time you decide to play to resume your progress. Naturally, you'll have to find these Warp Whistles first. They're hidden quite well, so an outside source will have to be consulted to find these elusive items. In the old days, this outside source was the Nintendo Power magazine, but nowadays this information can be found anywhere. Be warned that using Warp Whistles to skip straight to the final world means you won't have many power-ups in your inventory. That can make the last world much harder. I have to wonder about something, though... if Mario and Luigi use a couple of Warp Whistles to teleport to the final world, then who saves all of the kings from the previous worlds? The world may never know. In any event, the Warp Whistles are a good way to get around the game's inability to save, and are generally neat items to have around regardless of the circumstances.

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What more can I say about a game like Super Mario Bros. 3? This colossal game has legendary levels, enjoyable environments, creative creatures, imaginative ideas, concise controls, and is just jammin'. There's a reason why Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the most famous games of all time. Super Mario Bros. 3 greatly raised the bar for the video game industry. It's one of the best video games out there, and easily the best video game ever released for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Word Count: 3,065

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