Happy anniversary you old tanooki!
Thanks to the cruelty of time, it feels like just yesterday that we were excitedly pressing Start on our brand new copy of Super Mario Bros. 3, but it was so long ago. In fact, 25 years ago--October 23, 1988--the world was first introduced to the iconic sequel, and Mario 3 would eventually sell more than 18 million copies on the NES. This particular anniversary gets us so excited that we have to celebrate it now instead of waiting for the 25th anniversary in the US on February 9, 2015. We simply cant wait.
So what more is there to say about a game that weve praised as the best Mario game and ranked #7 on our list of the 100 best games ever? A lot actually, because the game is bursting with memorable moments, gameplay innovations, and iconic additions to the Mario franchise. There are so many wonderful things we love about the game, we could easily list one for each of the 25 years it has been around, starting with...
Super Mario Bros.'s first true sequel
The original Super Mario Bros. sold the NES/Famicom to millions all over the world, but when it came time for a sequel, Nintendo had trouble finding the right direction. Japans Super Mario Bros. 2 looked virtually identical to the first game, only it was incredibly difficult. Meanwhile, Americas Super Mario Bros. 2 was a reskinned game that diverged a good deal from the Mario formula. After the confusion of the second game, the Super Mario developers made a follow-up to Super Mario Bros. that was much closer in spirit; one that expanded on the gameplay and style while innovating in important ways. In our minds the third game is the real Super Mario 2.
Flight has been a part of Marios life for so long that its hard to remember when our feet were firmly planted on the ground pre-Mario 3. This game introduced flying to the series with the famous raccoon power-up, allowing Mario to take to the air after building up enough speed on the ground. This creation completely changed the level design, demanding more verticality and secret areas that could be hidden just above the screen. Out of everything else in SMB3, this one likely had the biggest impact on the platforming genre.
A new form of attack
Marios new tail had more benefits than flying, as it allowed players a new form of attack. Instead of jumping on an enemy until its dead--which is kind of horrifying when you think about it--Mario can now finish off a Goomba with a quick spin of his tail. The close combat changed up how players battled the many enemies in the game, and that type of close combat has returned in one form or another in virtually every Mario game.
So many new power-ups
Not to get redundant, but this game gave Mario a ton of new costumed power-ups. Iconic transformations like the Raccoon, Tanooki, Frog, and Hammer Bros. all got their start in this game. The Raccoon and Tanooki power-ups recently returned in New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D Land, respectively, while the Frog and Hammer suits have yet to be revived. However, with how retro-minded recent Mario games have been, its only a matter of time.
Even more new enemies
Baddies like Boos, Dry Bones, Chain Chomps, and Thwomps have all become indispensable to Mario games, and they all first appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3. Its doubtful that any Mario game since 3 has introduced as many important new enemies to the franchise, some of them even becoming playable characters in the many Mario spin-offs. SMB3 even found new spins on older enemies, adding wings to Goombas and trading the Hammer Bros. namesake weapons for boomerangs.
Kuribos Shoe (or Goombas Shoe as it was later renamed), brings together the new costumes and enemies into one hard-to-find item. Named after the Japanese moniker for Goombas, Kuribos Shoe was a little wind-up bootie that Mario could hop into once the Goomba inside was dealt with. The fan favorite has yet to truly return, but Super Mario 3D Worlds giant ice skate certainly feels like a reference to it.
Im on fire!
On top of all the new abilities, the returning Fire Mario transformation also got a new, unexplained twist in Super Mario Bros. 3. Instead of changing Marios overalls and hat white, his body now turned orange, making it appear that Mario had taken on the physical properties of fire. This alteration was due to technical limitations on the number of displayable colors, and the subsequent remakes switched back to the traditional coloring. That keeps orange Fire Mario restricted to the original version, another unique quality of this Mario adventure.
Flying was an integral tool to SMB3s great level design, and that technical innovation was joined by the new autoscrolling stages. After previous Mario games let you explore at your own pace, these levels popularized the notion of pulling players forward with the onscreen display, and it was Game Over if you couldnt keep up. Now autoscrolling stages are indispensable both to core Mario games and platformers in general, and despite how frustrating they can be, were glad Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced them to us.
Heres another addition thats become intrinsic to the franchise: The World Map. It not only gave players a better feel of the overall theme of a certain setting, but it also introduced branching paths and choice to Mario fans. If they wanted to skip 1-4 and move on to the Fortress, that was an option, as was using an item to bypass a tough level. The map also gave players a chance to strategize and use a saved power-up when they needed to. And if you wanted to skip an entire map you could use
Saving your progress didnt arrive until Super Mario World, so if you didnt have the stamina to beat the game in one sitting, Super Mario Bros. 3 gave you a little extra help in the form of Warp Whistle. They replaced the classic Warp Zones and were borrowed from The Legend of Zelda, right down to the famous jingle. If you knew where to find them you could get to World 8 in minutes, but some consider it cheating if you use that method before reaching the end the hard way.
Brother vs. Brother
Though he was still relegated to being a clone of Mario, Luigi did resume his role as player 2 in SMB3, and the game didnt limit the competitive action to simply taking turns on levels. If the two brothers occupied the same space on the map, both players jumped into a brief battle that recreated the action of the arcade original Mario Bros. It was another great manifestation of Nintendos love for competitive co-op as well as a cute nod to the companys already rich history.
Long live the Koopalings
Not everyone will agree with this, but Bowser Jr. is an annoying brat, and one that still feels particularly redundant when Bowser already has seven kids. The original Koopalings were the bosses of the seven worlds leading up to the final confrontation with Bowser, and they had way more personality than the many Bowser clones that ended stages in the first game. At one point it seemed like the kids were forgotten by Nintendo, but the New Super Mario Bros. series brought them back alongside Bowser Jr., future confusing the lineage of King Koopa.
Grabbing the wand perfectly
Defeating Koopalings and saving a king is all well and good, but it doesnt mean crap if you cant catch the wand at the right time. The ideal way is to grab the wand in center screen at the height of your jump, but as long as you catch it before it hits the ground, you have nothing to be ashamed of. And if you do miss and it bounces off the floor, you better hope that no one was around to see it happen.
The long list of new abilities in SMB3 makes the original Super Mario look like a feeble old man by comparison. That version of Super Mario couldnt even hold on to a Koopa Shell in the first game, an SMB3 technique that gave you the power to fling the a shell whenever you felt like it. And it wasnt just shells. Grabbable ice blocks worked great at changing the layout of some indoor stages in surprising ways.
Like Fire Mario, the Super Star got a not-so-subtle change in Super Mario Bros. 3. Becoming invincible after grabbing a rare bouncing star was already empowering, but SMB3 gave Mario the added agility to spin through the air with each jump. Its hard to believe Nintendo could improve upon being an invincible plumber, but they found a way.
Finding a secret area
Nintendo is known for hiding secrets in all its games, and there were so many to find for those that looked in Super Mario Bros. 3. After the first stage showed the multiple areas you could reach just by flying, you wanted to fly everywhere in a search to uncover some new piece of content. But no matter how inquisitive the player, who would ever know how to find the 1-3 Warp Whistle without a guide or watching The Wizard?
Little did we know at the time, but the bonus Toad Houses introduced us to the world of digital gambling. Back then the slot machine and card flipping minigames were merely a fun way to grab special items and extra lives, but it prepared us for a life addicted to video poker. Or, failing that, the minigames introduced kids to the gameplay theyd later become addicted to on mobile devices, which is arguably a darker end than gambling addiction.
Getting 3 Star cards
In Mario history, Mario 3 is unique for ditching the goal posts that conclude most stages. In their place were the Roulette Boxes that awarded extra lives based on different combinations of the three cards collected. Just like catching the wand at the right height, getting anything other than three Stars made you look like a loser to friends and relatives alike.
The Angry Sun
Super Mario Bros. 3 wasnt afraid to break the rules of the franchise over and over again. One of the most memorable examples came from players expecting static images to stay in the background, but in the Desert stage of World 2 the seemingly innocuous sun comes to life to kill Mario. Its a terrifying moment the first time it happens, and still scares when it returns in 8-2. Then again, Mario should feel honored that a heavenly body thinks hes worth murdering.
Peach's sense of humor
Princess Peach (or Princess Toadstool as she was known in SMB3) often gets stuck as a typical damsel in distress, but the English version of Super Mario Bros. 3 gave her a little more personality. The Japanese release concluded with Peach offering Mario a simple thank you, but in the US Toadstool parodied the original game by saying, Thank you. But our Princess is in another castle!... Just kidding! Ha ha ha! Bye bye. It was a pleasant, surprisingly meta-moment.
The remakes fixed the few flaws
Our undeniable nostalgia for the original leads us to suggest playing the original version on Nintendos many Virtual Consoles, but the remakes on SNES and GBA have undeniable charms that make them worth revisiting too. First off, those games actually allowed you to save. Plus, Luigis character model is no longer a copy of Mario and the enhanced graphics got rid of that dead zone of pixels on the left side of the screen. You can find a much longer list of changes here.