In 1990, two things ruled the world. Super Mario and the falling iron curtain were all anyone talked about, or so it seems through the lens of the modern age. While the west was wishing to see another sequel return to the roots of the original, the east was hoping for more staple Mario action. Nintendo knew they had to get another entry out, but this time, there was no game to reskin and another set of remixed levels wasn’t going to cut it. In the most defining moment of their mascots history, they evolved.
That’s exactly what Super Mario Bros. 3 was aiming to be, an evolution. Better graphics, better gameplay, bigger levels, more stuff! Some questioned how they planned to fit it all on an NES cartridge. When the original felt boring because you fought Bowser so many times, they introduced Boom Boom and the Koopalings. When gameplay variety got old because there were few powerups, they introduced the raccoon leaf, kuribo’s shoe, and three other types of suits. While including every item from the original! On top of a wide range of items, There is a P-Meter at the bottom of the screen. If the P Meter is full, you run faster and jump higher. If you happen to be Raccoon Mario, you’ll be able to fly too! Mario can even grab and throw Koopa Troopa shells this time around.
A world map was introduced. Connecting every stage to a physical place, it let the Mushroom Kingdom be more than a name. They hid more secrets and threw more challenges. You can enter minigame houses or enemy challenges. Warpzones are completely done away with, but you can still take a good many shortcuts. This time, you’ll have to find the secret Warp Whistle item. I like this change a lot myself.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990)
The first three NES titles felt stiff and unwieldy. Mario 3 doesn’t offer you the precision of Mega Man or Castlevania, but no Mario title will. Especially after revisiting them all for this retrospective, I feared that the hype would just be nostalgia. This game specifically quelled that fear. I still had deaths that felt like they were out of my control, but I had far fewer than the others so far. While it’s not the optimal way to play this game, the NES version isn’t something you should stay away from.
The game is beautiful for the hardware. They employ many tricks to squeeze as much from the system as they can. Sprites and environments are detailed, but cartoony and fun. Every sprite is a lot smaller than the original, and it helps the game-feel in my opinion. The game is still extremely prone to sprite flickering and lag. It’s not Mega Man 6 bad, but it wore on me after a while.
On NES, Super Mario Bros. 3 is still extremely fun in 2020. It suffers from the usual system faults, but it comes with the territory of reviewing retro games. I went into this game with a jaded opinion, and came out a huge fan. The hype may not be as high as those with nostalgia goggles would want you to believe, but this is a wonderful way to experience this title. I can recommend the NES original. Unlike the others, for more than just studying history.
Super Mario All-Stars (SNES, 1993)
In 1993, Super Mario All-Stars must’ve been the best deal in gaming. Four updated titles for the price of one? With one being, arguably, an all-time great? I don’t think we’d have to argue to conclude that Super Mario Bros 3. is a hall of famer. Just like every other title in the All-Stars collection, Mario 3 is only improved.
If Mario 3 only had new sprites, it would feel at home as a SNES release. Nintendo also remastered the music and tweaked the controls. This game specifically rivals Super Mario World as the best Mario experience on the system. This remake takes any scenario where Mario 3 felt unfair and throws it out the window. Any game fighting to be better will be an uphill battle, and I’m not just talking about ports of Mario 3.
Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 (GBA, 2003)
There’s nothing straightforward about the Super Mario Advance series. They began with Mario 2, moved onto World, stopped by Yoshi’s Island for a drink, and then circled back around to Mario 3 for the fourth entry. This port of Mario 3 is based on Super Mario All-Stars. Unlike Super Mario Advance and Super Mario Advance 2, there are no altered colors. Nintendo was working with the GBA SP now! The GBA controls are still a bit cramped, but Super Mario Bros. 3’s level design works a lot better for it.
There are no major changes from All-Stars to the basic Advance 4, but Nintendo did add voice clips when you would get items or hit. This wouldn’t stop Nintendo from shoving the infamous e-Reader down our throats! Shame it was so big that even the GBA itself would choke on it. When swiping certain e-Reader cards, you’d unlock levels and power-ups. There are a total of 38 e-Reader levels. You’ll find remakes of classic stages, new mechanics from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, and Super Mario World, and even completely original ideas. I can’t tell you how much fun I had with these! It’s a shame that you needed physical cards to access them, and most of those cards went unreleased! Fortunately, the Wii U eShop rerelease made all of the stages unlocked by default.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is an amazing game that earns every little bit of praise it gets. You can’t go wrong with any version of this game, but I implore you to seek out the virtual console release of Super Mario Advance 4. The original, and All-Stars, are wonderful experiences, but the e-Reader content adds too much to the experience for me to want to go back. There’s no downside! I can’t imagine the dislikes and hateful comments I’m getting already, but I can imagine anyone familiar with Mario 3 being interested in what Super Mario Advance 4 has to offer…