What we really remember Super Mario Bros 3 for are all the little moments. There’s the shock of seeing the angry sun come to life in 2-3 as you start a mad dash to the end of the stage. There was the urgency of the first autoscrolling level, witnessing the platforms move while you were still planning your jumps. How about reaching the top of the tower in Sky Land to see a second world map that’s up in the cloud? Or the first time a giant hand popped up to grab Mario on the World 8 map?
The game is overflowing with moments like that – moments that are burned into the memories of a generation, moments that echo forever in the Mario series. Every Mario game that follows it, no matter how great, is indebted to this structure. The reason millions still buy every new Mario game more than 20 years later is because of Super Mario Bros 3.
It should also be applauded that Nintendo made such a massive leap in game design within the same console generation. They did so many amazing things with the aging NES hardware, expansions that most developers only achieve in the sequels that wait for the next hardware generation. 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.
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. We do it because it encompasses everything that we love about Mario games. The exploration, the creativity, the colorful worlds, the challenge; it’s all there. The Mario games that followed SMB3 built on it meaningfully with stupendous additions, but ultimately they were merely adding extra paint to an already perfect canvas.
If you want to know why the world loves Mario, play Super Mario Bros 3. The rest is secondary.
"Why _____ is one of the best games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.