When it comes to games from the third generation of home console gaming, Super Mario Bros. 3 is assuredly in the conversation when it comes to choosing the best of the bunch. Not only is it a supremely playable 2D platformer even to this day, but its imprint can still be felt in many of the Mario games that succeeded it. If the Mario series of games were the movie Jurassic Park, then Super Mario Bros. 3 would be the mosquito trapped in the amber that the hardworking InGen scientists would have drained the DNA from in order to create releases such as Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
Many things we would recognise from an archetypal Mario escapade (a hub world in which you move around and select the level you play in with secret areas to discover, power-ups you can hang on to and use before entering a level, each world in the hub fulfilling a specific “theme”, etc.) either debuted or were entrenched in Super Mario Bros. 3, with it building on the first two games to create a much bigger and enriching gameplay experience. Everything that worked in the first game is back, including the ever popular two-player mode that was sadly nowhere to be found in Super Mario Bros. 2, with a whole host of new power-ups and enemies for Mario and his brother, Luigi, to tackle in their pursuit of rescuing Princess Toadstool.
Super Mario Bros. 3 probably has some of the most interesting and varied power-ups of any game in the series, with the Tanooki Suit giving you the power of flight, as well as the ability to turn into a statue to avoid getting hurt. The Frog Suit makes swimming in water far easier and quicker, whilst the Hammer Bro suit gives you a shell to protect you from fireballs, as well as boss-killing hammers that you can fling to your heart’s content (although the trajectory of the hammers can be a bit frustrating to master). The Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman all make their return as well to complete the arsenal that the pugnacious plumbers have to draw from, and little Toad shacks are dispersed throughout the hub worlds so that you can collect additional power-ups to add to your burgeoning collection.
Super Mario Bros. 3 also plays with the formula a bit as you now don’t just have to contend with Bowser but also his despicable kids, leading to you working your way through treacherous airships enroute to a boss battle with one of the dreaded Koopalings, each of whom is armed with a magic wand that they can use to wreck your life. Defeating a Koopaling will see you gain control of the magic wand, which you can then use to turn the ruler of each world back into their normal self after Bowser’s wicked spawn had turned them into all different kinds of creatures. Humorously, there is actually an Easter egg to be found here as rescuing a monarch whilst adorned with the Tanooki Suit will cause the old codger to mistake you for an actual raccoon!
There are other special little features hidden within Super Mario Bros. 3 should you happen to come across them. For instance, in two-player mode, if you move over either Luigi or Mario on the hub screen, you can enter into the original Mario Bros. game from back in the day, which sees both plumbers trying to kill creepy crustaceans and tumultuous turtles in the sewers of Brooklyn by knocking them onto their backs from underneath and then running up to stomp them into smithereens. By doing this, you can steal lives from your fellow human player, and it adds a fun additional play mode on top of an already solid experience. Exploring every nook and cranny of levels will also give you a chance to find things like warp whistles, which will allow you to either advance to worlds you haven’t been to yet or return to ones you have already completed.
As is usually the case with these third gen Mario games, I would strongly suggest playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Super Mario All-Stars cartridge (or on the SNES emulator that comes with a Nintendo Online Membership if you happen to own a Switch) as you not only get better graphics, but you also get better music to boot. The version for the Nintendo Entertainment System is still imminently playable, but it looks so much better on the SNES, and I think it’s the best way to experience Super Mario Bros. 3 in all its glory. And it is a glorious game. I enjoyed revisiting it after all these years, and I think a lot of younger players who weren’t around back in the day will be able to easily slip into a game of Super Mario Bros. 3 with little difficulty. Super Mario Bros. 3 remains a triumph and was a very important step in the evolution of the Mario series.
Go play it!