Super Mario Bros. 3 – You’re telling me THIS is just a stage play?


This is far from my first time playing Super Mario Bros. 3, though it is my first time going through every single level of the NES version. Like the last two reviews of the first two games, I have also played the SNES version for comparison sake but because this game is longer than the others, I merely played through the first few worlds and called it a day. I don’t own the GBA version so that won’t get a comparison either, but I will mention something unique about that version. So basically, this will just be a review of Super Mario Bros. 3 as a whole with slight comparisons in between.

After beating Super Mario Bros. 2 for the first time ever, it’s time to delve into the next game! Super Mario Bros. 3 might actually be one of my most played Super Mario games ever, as this was the title I always returned to as a kid together with Super Mario World. It’s a major spoiler for the review I guess but I won’t deny it: there’s a reason I always returned to these games in particular instead of the others, and that’s because they’re pretty high up on my list of favourite Super Mario games. Though then again, it has been at least 10 years since I’ve played either so I wonder if my standpoint on them is still the same? It will also be the first time I’m going to beat the 8-bit version, as I’m only familiar with the All-Stars version. This is also possibly the most controversial game of the All-Stars pack, as many swear by the 8-bit version. Well, let’s find out shall we?

Oh hey look who’s back, Neppy is talking about this history of a video game again! Yeah, thought I might as well. I used to do this in my old writing style and they were always greatly appreciated. I’ll try and do this more often, but probably a bit briefer and also more focussed on trivia. Anyhow, back on track. Super Mario Bros. 3 released in 1988 in Japan, but actually came to the west two years later despite the overwhelming praise the first game has gotten. This was partially due to Nintendo of America making preparations for the Super Mario Bros. 2 that we got, but also due to a shortage in ROM chips. As many people know, this gave Nintendo the opportunity to promote the game through a movie! Let’s be honest, the movie was kind of bad but this was a brilliant strategy by Nintendo to promote the next game in a well-beloved series. But did you know that the NES version of Super Mario Bros. 3 is not actually the first time the game was released? It was actually ported to the Nintendo PlayChoice-10 prior to the North American release, which is an arcade machine featuring up to 10 NES games per machine. There was also once the possibility of Super Mario Bros. 3 having a PC version created by none other than id Software! They’ve actually created a demo which reached Nintendo of Japan themselves, who were impressed by the quality of the port but declined the offer because they only wanted to use their own hardware. Imagine a current-age world where Nintendo games were playable on other platforms not counting emulation, that would be crazy!

Who gave Super Mario bros. steroids?

So far we’ve covered the classic that many games in the franchise still take direct inspiration from, and the “sequel” being Super Mario Bros. 2 that went into the opposite direction. Super Mario Bros. 3 mostly looked at the original and gave it some steroids. It paid homage to what the original did, and improved on pretty much everything. More and better levels, more power-ups and more enemies; Super Mario Bros. 3 is not messing around. But let’s take this one step at a time, starting with the levels themselves. The core structure of the game hasn’t changed; there are eight worlds, you can secretly warp to other worlds, and a big bad lizard is waiting for you at the end. But this time, it gives you a bit more freedom by means of an overworld. There is one goal on each map and that is to defeat the Koopaling waiting at the end. How you get there and what levels you finish in the progress is completely up to you, as the levels aren’t placed on a straight line. There are many branching paths, and even items that just straight-out lets you skip levels. Despite having an overworld though, levels are not replayable and worlds cannot be revisited after you’ve beaten the boss of that world. That is, unless you get a game-over before beating a castle. Then every stage is unbeaten again except for the castles of that world. I always found this to be such a weird decision, why leave the castles beaten but the levels suddenly restrict you from going further? I guess the explanation would be so that you can’t abuse optional side-events such as Mushroom Houses, but it’s still somewhat head-scratching. At least there is a shortcut to take after every castle so you don’t have to beat all levels again if you get a game-over. The game does give you enough chances for 1-ups with the before-mentioned side-events, end-of-level bonuses and the usual 100 coins, so together with the branching paths it becomes a little tougher to get a game-over. But I should really talk about levels now because I’m derailing way too much, I feel like this review is going to be longer than any other at this pace.

Super Mario Bros 3 Water Land
I hate this world with a passion, but it has a very nice overworld!

Granted, I can actually sum up the levels pretty easily: they are very well designed, and each one has a unique identity that makes them far more memorable than a random level from the original game. Since the worlds are now themed, the levels reflect that as well but don’t restrict themselves exclusively to that theme. There are a bunch of obstacles and enemies that are only used in a select amount of levels, yet again enforcing the memorability of these stages. For example, the angry sun that’s chasing you throughout the level only appears in two different stages, but everyone remembers that specific enemy and also in what stages it appears for one reason or another. Secrets have also been taken up a notch, with there being a serious amount to be found in almost every stage. Like I said before, getting 1-ups in this game is not too difficult and the number of secrets enforce that idea. This game also introduces auto-scrolling levels, which… I’m mostly indifferent on. I don’t hate them, especially because the level design for them are done well enough. What I do dislike about them though, is that the game does not have checkpoints anymore. I find this yet another strange decision to leave them out, with the only excuse being that the levels are shorter overall. It’s the stuff of nightmares in the final world though, which is a surprisingly high difficulty spike when compared to the rest of the game. If that’s only done to punish people who immediately warp from world 1 to 8 then congratulations Nintendo, it most definitely worked!

Oh quick note by the way because I couldn’t fit this in anywhere else, but despite us being sick of seeing the Koopalings everywhere, I thought they were a good introduction to the franchise and their boss battles weren’t that bad either. It’s still your usual ”jump on head 3 times, assert victory” boss fight, but their attacks are just different enough to not make them a chore.

Super Mario Bros 3 big world
Like many, I love the big world. It’s just the same as usual, but bigger!

Fire Flower is sooooo 1985

Mario has gotten a ton of new power-ups with this game. Joking aside with the title of this segment, the Fire Flower is still one of the best power-ups when it comes to taking out enemies. The most important new power-up in this game however, is the Tanooki Leaf. This one lets Mario hover down a bit, or fly for a short amount of time if enough running speed is built up. Running speed increases the P-bar, which also gives increased movement for default Mario. If you play your cards right, you can easily skip huge parts of levels with a full meter and taking to the sky with the Tanooki Leaf. There’s also the Tanooki suit that lets you transform into a stone statue which is a very neat cultural reference, but I never used it in-game. If that wasn’t enough, there’s the P-wing which just casually allows you to fly forever for one level. This is perfect for the final world not gonna lie. Oh, and do you remember everyone’s worst arch-nemesis from the original game, the feared Hammer Bros.? Now you can rip their skin off and use it as your own! The Hammer Suit is arguably one of the best offensive power-ups that Mario has ever gotten as he can throw them in an upwards angle with variable travel distance, and it can also defeat enemies that are unable to be defeated by any other means, such as Thwomps. That was not enough for you? He can shield himself against all incoming attacks as well! It’s a pretty rare power-up so once you do lose it, it will ruin your day and you might also want to ruin the day of the enemy that took it away from you. I did, like a true sadist. What’s best about all of this is that you can stock up multiple power-ups in your inventory, and you can select which one to use at the beginning of a level. I mentioned being able to use the P-wing in the final world and that’s true, since I had four in my inventory from going through all levels and never using them. Losing a power-up still sucks, but it’s also not too hard to get hold of one again. That’s something I always feared when I lost the Fire Flower in the original, because I would revert to small Mario and had to get two different power-ups without taking damage to recover it. That issue is pretty much non-existent here. I think that covers everything when it comes to power-ups right? …right?

Small changes make a world of difference

Yeah I did purposely forget to cover a specific power-up in the last paragraph. There is one more power-up, being the Frog Suit. This suit makes Mario control pretty badly on land, but gives him great control underwater. Sounds okay right, nothing too wrong with that? I would agree… if Mario at least controlled decently without the power-up underwater. I really hated the entirety of the Water World, simply because moving underwater is so frustrating to do, and getting out of water to land on a platform is even worse. I don’t know if this was done on purpose but if it was, it was a terrible decision. I’m assuming due to graphical limitations, it was also pretty difficult to go through a small gap in a wall that is the exact same size as Mario. While we’re on a nitpicky streak: I also hate that mushrooms just randomly decide what direction they leave a block from (though there is actually a way to force them into which direction you want them to go). But that’s just what these all are: nitpicks. Well, aside from underwater levels of course. Mario otherwise controls very fluid, also thanks to some newly introduced staples like slopes! Yeah, a simple slope? They change everything. Mario gains much more momentum due to the speed increase- or decrease he gets from them. He can even slide down slopes! But not upwards, and that is just heresy. It’s simple changes like these that make levels feel more natural, more fluid and more fun to play around with.

Super Mario Bros 3 Tanooki Leaf

What version to play???

Oho, it’s time to be controversial, my favourite time of the day! Is it controversial? I’m not sure. Let’s find out! So yeah, the original version of the game is from what I’ve gathered the most favoured by the fans. I can’t disagree as the original NES version has stood the test of time very well. It’s the other ports where different opinions arise. Let’s start with the SNES version since that’s the other version I’ve played before this review. It is also the one I’m most biased towards as I’ve played it many times as a child. The most common complaint is that the physics have been butchered and… I don’t understand it. If anything, they felt better to me. And this is the controversial part because I would probably recommend the All-Stars version over the 8-bit version, even though they’re both excellent so you can’t go wrong with either. Then there’s the Super Mario Advance 4 version; for many younger people their first experience with the game. I can’t say much about the game itself since I don’t own it, and I will probably give the entire advanced series a look someday but not now. And while from an outsider’s viewpoint it has no reason not to be the worst of the versions due to limitations, it does have something very interesting… if you can get your hands on it. There are a total of 38 exclusive e-reader levels to play through, which are fortunately also unlocked from the start instead of having to play through the entire game first. Problem is that the only reasonable way to play them today is through emulation, or by buying Super Mario Advance 4 on the Nintendo Wii U e-shop. These levels are made with the Gameboy Advance’s limitations in mind, and feature mechanics from all other Super Mario Advance ports. Honestly, this port is worth it for these levels alone.

I haven’t been secretive about it but it’s true; I consider Super Mario Bros. 3 to be one of the finest adventures Mario has ever been through, even after all these years. There is just so much love put into the great number of levels, and little improvements to stage mechanics make them just so much better than they have been before at that point. They have an identity, and every level felt different with their own unique stage hazards and enemies. I have small OCD problems with the overworld but regardless of my opinion, it is a brilliant addition and gives people a lot of freedom over what stage they want or don’t want to play without it being a hindrance to beating the game. There are many more ways to get 1-ups as well, and also an inventory to store many of the new power-ups introduced in this game. For me personally however, there are some weird decisions that prevent me from giving this game the perfect score. Checkpoints are completely absent, and (under)water mechanics felt worse than it should be for me.  Regardless, I definitely recommend Super Mario Bros. 3 to any Mario, Platformer or Retro fan as it has stood the test of time very well.


Nepiki's Rating

Overall rating

Game Score
Fun Score
  • Very fun and diverse level design.
  • An inventory system so you can keep power-ups for whenever you want them.
  • A serious amount of new power-ups.
  • Checkpoints are no longer present.
  • Despite there being an overworld, stages cannot be replayed.

That was a long review for my standards! I didn’t want to drag it out too much but writing this review game me a funny case of where I was writing something, and then something else immediately popped-up that I also wanted to talk about. Still, I feel like I’ve said everything that needs to be said from my side. I didn’t really have as much issue with the Ice World as many other people did and aside from the Water World, I didn’t really come across anything that I needed to mention. Also, I am going to try writing more about the history of a game and put some trivia in there as well. Kind of want to put it into my writing style again!

This legitimately has me curious as I was unable to come to a conclusion myself: What do you consider to be the best version of Super Mario Bros. 3 and why?

Does this genre interest you? If so, I have multiple other Platformer reviews ready for you!

About author


A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!

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Gaming Omnivore

I’d have to go with the NES version of Mario 3 when picking my favorite version of the game. I still really like the SNES version, but for some reason the controls and music seemed to be just a tad off for me, though I’d also recommend any version you can get a hold of to others as long as they play the game.

MY least favorite level in Mario 3 has always been Level 7…I kinda hate Pipe World.