More often than not, Mario games have far more strengths than weaknesses. Such is the case with many of his classic games as well as more modern Mario games. In the case of the former, many people continue to go back to them every once in a while to relive some of the plumber’s very best moments. Twenty years ago, one such game was released in North America, and that game was Super Mario Bros. 3, a true sequel that met and exceeded expectations in so many ways. To celebrate its milestone, as well as the release of another instant classic, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (which I will review at some point, but not until I have completed it 100%), I shall tell you all why, even after all these years, the game remains one of the most beloved Mario games of all time.
The Mushroom Worlds have been invaded by Bowser’s minions, and this time, he has ordered his Koopalings (long before Bowser Jr. came along) to swipe the wands of all of the worlds’ kings and change them into animals. When Princess Toadstool (she would not be named Peach full time for another six years) hears about this, she asks the Mario brothers to defeat the Koopalings and their father, restore the monarchs to their old selves, and bring peace back to the land. Not much of a plot, though for once, the princess actually avoids getting kidnapped for most of the game. Only when you are about to enter the last world do you learn about her abduction. Still, Mario games have never needed a strong story to succeed.
As Mario, your mission is to go through eight worlds, which have a variety of levels, on your way to Bowser’s castle. The stages are typical platform fare, but since this is a Nintendo game, there are plenty of great touches which made it unique for its time. Each world has a theme to it: one world is a desert, with some of its stages having quicksand in them. In another world, the enemies have become huge! Also, this was the first Mario game to incorporate a world map, so Mario could move from one spot on the map to another. He could even unlock shortcuts to journey to another part of the world.
In addition to normal stages, Mario can enter fortresses, which had such obstacles as lava, spiked ceilings, and mazes. Each fortress ends with a fight against Boom Boom, a rather easy (usually) foe who gives you a key if you defeat him. Sometimes, Mario can fight Hammer Bros. or their relatives for items and play mini games for prizes such as items and extra lives. Power up items could be stored in an inventory system and used on the world map, usually to power up Mario before tackling a stage, but some of them had different purposes, such as a music box that could put wandering Hammer Bros. to sleep and the famed warp whistles that allowed our hero to warp to another world.
Most worlds end with a fight on an airship piloted by one of Bowser’s children. These stages scroll gradually as you make your way to the end of the ship, and enemies and traps try to stop you along the way. When you reach a Koopaling, you must stomp him or her on the head three times while avoiding his or her magic wand attacks. Defeat the Koopaling and you will retrieve the wand, which will restore the world’s king to normal. However, if you die on an airship, it will fly off to another part of the map, forcing you to chase it down. Reaching it may require you to beat a stage that you skipped, which is a bit of a pain.
Mario has plenty of neat power up items at his disposal. Mushrooms make him big, while fire flowers enable him to shoot fire at many foes. The famous raccoon suit gives him the ability to fly, as does the tanooki suit, but the latter can also briefly turn Mario into a statue. The frog suit makes Mario a better swimmer, though it slows him down considerably on land. He can also don a Hammer Bros. suit and toss hammers at his adversaries. Lastly, the rare Kuribo’s Shoe (found in only one stage) allows Mario to hop on spiked enemies without taking damage. Such a wonderful variety of items would inspire later games to likewise bless Mario with a ton of power ups.
As for other things that debuted in this game, many enemies who would show up in later titles debuted here. Among them were Dry Bones, Boos (known here as Boo Diddlys after the famous singer Bo Diddly), Thwomps, and Chain Chomps. Toad Houses contains items for our hero to pick up, and they would reappear in such games as New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Some of the music tracks would appear in other games, and Bowser looked more like he does now. One could say that Super Mario Bros. 3 served as the blueprint for many other Mario games, which likely drew some inspiration from the acclaimed classic.
There is a lot to enjoy about the game even twenty years later, from the high challenge level to the sheer innovation seen throughout. In fact, I have only one major complaint about the game, and that is the lack of a save feature. The game was pretty long for its time-about 90 stages if one wanted to go through them all-and playing it in one sitting could take quite a while. Having to quit and restart from the very beginning of the stage could be very annoying. Yes, warp whistles could be used to skip to the final world so that players could finish the game quickly, but those who wanted to complete every level would need a lot of time on their hands. Luckily, ports of the game, as well as the Virtual Console version, would fix the problem, allowing people to resume from where they left off the next time they played.
The graphics are far better than they were in the original Super Mario Bros. game, looking more colorful and more vibrant. Every world looks quite grand for their time, which went to show that even back then Nintendo was capable of delivering impressive graphics. The soundtrack is filled with tunes that are considered some of the best tracks ever heard in a Mario game. Particular favorites include the normal level, fortress, and airship tunes, though truth be told, the entire soundtrack is amazing.
Super Mario Bros. 3 may be twenty years old, but it has not lost its charm in any way. People such as myself still go back to it on occasion to reminisce about how great it was, and still is. It was later ported to the Super NES (as part of Super Mario All-Stars) and the Game Boy Advance, but the original remains the best version, the lack of a save feature notwithstanding. If you have never played it before (and if you have not, you are really missing out), be sure to look for a copy or download it from the Wii Shop Channel. It is a true classic, and one that should be mandatory for all Mario fans to play.