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Why Super Mario Bros 3 is one of the greatest games ever made

Super Mario Bros wasn’t just a hit, it arguably resurrected the console market, putting Nintendo’s consoles in the homes of millions. It became a cultural touchstone that had wide-spread notoriety, spreading to toys, cartoons and cereal. When it was time for a sequel Japan and America took different routes when creating Super Mario Bros 2, neither of which felt like a true step forward for the series. That was saved for the Mario’s final platformer on the NES, a game that redefined Mario in ways that the franchise has yet to top. Everything to love Mario games for is in Super Mario Bros 3, which is why it’s one of the best games ever.

Once the curtain rose on Super Mario Bros 3 players were introduced to the bold new face of Mario games. The world map gave some much-needed openness to the overly linear platforming genre, every new power-up had an interesting hook to it and each stage had some facet of gameplay you’d never seen before. You could tell the creators came to this game with something to prove, ready to use everything they’d learned about platformers in the time since the NES launched.

Of all the amazing additions, the power of flight had the most profound effect on Mario. With his newly acquired raccoon abilities, Mario could fly into the air for a limited time, reaching heights that the plumber had never seen before. This expanded level design for Mario games in a way that wouldn’t be surpassed until he headed into the third dimension with Super Mario 64.

The sky was literally the limit for where platforms could be placed and secrets hidden. If you could build up enough speed to fill up the P-Meter, Mario could take to the sky anywhere he wanted, looking for coins or warp pipes. And the tail opened up Mario’s offensive capabilities too, allowing him to defeat foes from the standing position. Had the tail been the only addition to the franchise, it would have been enough to claim it was revolutionary, but that’s only where the game starts.

The opening stage of Mario 3 is a masterful and perfectly paced introduction to Mario’s new skills. You get the Raccoon Leaf, you carry and kick your first shell, and you’re given a big open space to fly for the first time. When you find all these bonus items up in the clouds, you get your first hint of how much more is hiding in the corners of this game. By the end of 1-1 you’re getting a sense of the huge new world ahead of you.

The raccoon powers were game changers, but Mario’s enemies got even more new skills. The number of new enemies added was unbelievable. Try imagining Mario games without Boos, Chain Chomps or Kuribo’s Shoes and you’ll have some idea of what SMB3 added to the series. The boss battles were also greatly improved, replacing slight variations on the same Bowser fight with a different Koopaling in every airship.

The impeccable structure 2D Marios use to this day were perfected in SMB3, giving you a series of stages that build momentum towards a fortress and then the boss’ castle. The idea of each world taking on a theme was solidified in this game too. A desert world follows to water worlds and then into ice. It may seem cliché now, but it was incredibly inventive at the time and the 2D action genre still relies on this pacing.

16 comments

  • jack-roletter - August 17, 2012 1:53 p.m.

    Dude Super Mario World is easily the best Mario game ever to me. It was a pure upgrade from a great game and that's all that it needed.
  • Sjoeki - August 16, 2012 3:46 p.m.

    Kuribo's Shoe! I can remember playing that game till I could jump around in that kickass shoe and turning the game off after that level, it easily is one of the best shoes ever to be in gaming!
  • Cloudiology - August 16, 2012 5:53 a.m.

    would just like to say thank you for not using that damn slideshow article technique you guy are so adamant about using! this is a perfect example of what could easily have been in that format but isn't! KUDOS!
  • alexandre-bret - August 15, 2012 8:04 p.m.

    Hell yeah Ive played many games with amazing graphics popular franchises sleeper hits on generations of console but this 8bit game is in my top 5 for sure
  • The_King_of_Nothing - August 15, 2012 4:13 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more. SMB3 always has been and always will be one of my favorite games of all time.
  • XanderGC - August 15, 2012 2:51 p.m.

    Man I love SMB3! I probably only finished it a handful of times and maybe only once by not skipping any of the worlds. It is amazing that it was only an NES game and yet it offered so much to do.
  • masterjoe123 - August 15, 2012 2:03 p.m.

    I love this game, but I think World was better. Also, inb4 tehtimeisnow says this game sucks.
  • GarcianSmith - August 16, 2012 4:21 a.m.

    I'm with you on this one. SMB3 is undoubtedly an excellent game, but World is just Mario perfected, with a gorgeous art style and a top-notch soundtrack. It plays well, too.
  • Moondoggie1157 - August 15, 2012 1:33 p.m.

    For me, it will always be a toss up between SMB3 and World. I'll say one is better until I play the other one again haha
  • Redeater - August 15, 2012 1:15 p.m.

    If I may be so bold can I ask what is with the change in ranking as of late? It seemed that everyone on TR and most GR articles always ranked SMB2 ahead of 3.
  • GR_HenryGilbert - August 15, 2012 1:55 p.m.

    Editorially SMB3 at the top has been our stance since we ranked it on the top 100.
  • Redeater - August 15, 2012 1:09 p.m.

    #1 reason Unlike most N64, PS1 and some old PC games it still stands the test of time. Best. Game. Ever.
  • talleyXIV - August 15, 2012 1:08 p.m.

    Why is an article necessary?
  • lkchevrolet021 - August 15, 2012 12:57 p.m.

    "We don’t rank Mario 3 so high on our lists and name it the best Mario game ever because of its historical/cultural significance or because virtually every game in the genre that followed was inspired by it." "In fact, Super Mario World followed SMB3 directly and, while it looked better and was somewhat deeper, it was merely an upgrade of what Mario 3 forged." Got to love contradictions (I Love both SMB3 and SMW but I also believe SMW was an upgrade and as such is better)
  • jackthemenace - August 15, 2012 1:18 p.m.

    They weren't saying that every other Mario game was inspired by it, they were saying that they WERE, but it WASN'T the reason they named it the best.

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