Content Warning: Fantasy violence.
After a period of peace in the Mushroom Kingdom, King Koopa attacks once again, this time sending his seven children–the Koopalings–to wreak havoc upon the land. They steal the seven magic wands of the Mushroom Kings and transform them all into monsters or animals loosely based on the world they live in. Princess Toadstool asks Mario and Luigi to save the Mushroom Kingdom, and the brothers set out to reclaim the wands and put the Koopalings in their place. Unlike before, the Mario Brothers have ample help. With the presence of Toad Houses, Spade Panels, and other hidden bonuses, they will be well-equipped to tackle the challenges ahead. However that doesn’t mean the quest will be easy…
Super Mario Bros. 3 combines the power-up loving, coin-grabbing, baddie-stomping action of Super Mario Bros. with the two-way screens, sub-boss battles and secret-hunting elements of Super Mario Bros. 2. You have somewhat non-linear gameplay, as you can occasionally skip certain levels, either through bypassing them or using a particular power-up. Additionally, at the goal of every level you get a card of either a Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, or Starman. When you receive three cards, you get an extra life. If you can successfully match three Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, or Starmen, you will get two, three, or five extra lives, respectively. Along the way you will also find Toad Houses that allow you to open a chest and score a power-up to save for later. You can also stop at Spade Panels to try to line up three spinning panels to create a Super Mushroom, Fire Flower or Starman and receive the same number of extra lives for matching three cards.
In addition to the familiar ones, you have some new power-ups to supplement the big three this time around. You have the Super Leaf, which turns you into Raccoon Mario and grants you the ability to tail-whip enemies, descend slowly when falling and even fly if you can get a running start. Also the P-Wing that transforms you into Raccoon Mario and lets you fly without a running start for a limited time. New in Super Mario Bros. 3 as well is the Frog Suit. It helps Mario swim much more efficiently. A slightly improved version of Raccoon Mario, the Tanooki Suit turns you into Tanooki Mario. This gives you all the abilities of Raccoon Mario, plus the ability to turn into a statue for a couple of seconds. It comes in handy when you need to avoid damage or bypass strong enemies. Finally, and without a doubt my favorite power-up is the Hammer Suit. This power up puts a fire-proof Buzzy Beetle shell on your back, and lets you throw devastating hammers that can knock out even enemies impervious to fireballs. There are a number of other special items to find as well.
The goal of each map is to reach the castle. To get there, you must enter numbered panels that represent the stages of each world. Then you have to reach the goal of each level in standard 2D platform fashion, slowly working your way across the map. When you complete a stage, the panel in flipped over to reveal a capital ‘M’ for Mario or ‘L’ for Luigi, depending on who cleared the stage. But the Hammer Brothers stand in your way. If you encounter them, you will enter a short battle in which you will have to fight either one or two Hammer Brothers. These boys might be equipped with hammers, boomerangs, or even fireballs. If you are able to win, you will receive a power-up. Once you reach the castle, you must retrieve a wand to rescue the king. You will then board a giant airship where each Koopaling rules their conquered land and awaits a showdown with an upstart Mario or Luigi.
Super Mario Bros. 3 has vivid, detailed levels with plenty of action and hidden goodies to find. Some levels allow you to take your time, finding things out as you go along and backtracking if necessary. However, while I did say that this game preserves the ability to go back like in Super Mario Bros. 2, there is the occasional level with a scrolling screen, that you must keep up with. So while jumping is a hallmark of any platforming game, mastery of this skill is absolutely essential in these levels. Additionally, the boss levels aboard the airships are all screen-scrolling levels, so be prepared.
Each of the eight worlds are elaborately detailed and distinct from one another, so you never feel like you’re playing the same world twice. They also have their own individual geographical hazards, be it quicksand in the desert, whirlpools in the land of water, or icy terrain in Ice Land, Super Mario Bros. 3 will keep you on your thumbs.
This title is home to some truly great music. While perhaps not on the same orchestral wavelength as such classics as The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros. 3 stands tall with its fun, upbeat, original tunes and even has a remix of an old favorite. Each of the eight worlds has their own theme as well. This really sets the tone for each new world as you experience it. The sound effects are similarly remarkable with sounds for virtually every action you can take, including a nice little whistle sound for when you’ve built up enough momentum to take flight. That way you don’t have to take your eyes off of what you’re doing to glance at your P-meter and risk accidentally charging headlong into an enemy or a pit.
Even very minor one-shot screens–such as the Toad House pictured here or Hammer Brother encounters–have their own unique music.
There is just enough writing in this title for me to legitimately score it. Various mushroom retainers await you in numerous places, both obvious and hidden, and will always give you an idea of where you’re at and what you’re doing. When you manage to get to the castle in each world, a mushroom retainer delivers the same message about the king having been transformed, and how you need to get the wand to change him back. When you defeat each Koopaling, you’ll fall from the ship and the wand will spin into the (miraculously already restored) king’s hand, and he will thank you. You’ll then be given a letter from the princess, and in it she’ll offer some sage advice regarding the next step of your journey. She’ll also include an item for you as a little bonus. Aside from Princess Toadstool referring to these items as “jewels that helps protect you”, the writing in this game is solid. Finally, in standard Mario fashion, you’ll talk to the princess at the end of the game, and her words to you (no spoilers here) are memorable as well.
Steve’s Tip: If you can manage to survive all the way through an airship and Koopaling fight wearing one of the game’s three costumes: the Frog Suit, the Tanooki Suit, or the Hammer Suit, you’ll get a different message of gratitude from the king! Try to see all three for yourself!
Once more as with the majority of Mario games, outside of the Goomba and Koopa-stomping, there’s not much to give pause to the devout here. The airships, which are the locations of the world bosses of the first seven worlds, have many cannons, flamethrowers, and Bullet Bills, and are drawn and animated accurately. This game also introduces undead creatures such as Dry Bones and Boo Diddley.
Could I truly say anything about this game that would do it justice? It’s simply one of the best games ever produced, period. If you haven’t played it, you’re really missing out, and you should make it a priority to play it as soon as possible.
The Bottom Line