For the past 40 years and counting, Nintendo has been a mainstay within the video game industry. The Kyoto, Japan based company started out small by developing games for the growing arcade market with modest success. It was until 1981’s Donkey Kong that Nintendo really saw where its destiny lied as an organization after initially starting as a card company many decades earlier. Right when the industry hit a massive recession in 1983, Nintendo released their groundbreaking Family Computer (Famicom) in Japan. The Japanese market subsequently flourished while the North American market remained stagnant. That all changed in 1985 when the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Famicom’s overseas version, came to North America and brought with it a pudgy Italian plumber named Mario who had a thing for princesses. Since then the video game industry has flourished on an unbelievable scale pulling in billions of dollars in revenue annually.
Considering how important his role was in rejuvenating an entire field of entertainment, it’s hardly a surprise that Mario is the most iconic video game character in history. The franchise based on this simple character is overwhelmingly the most popular and longest lasting. If you were to consider video game characters to be part of some monarchy, Mario is undoubtedly the king who reigns supreme over anyone else. The Mario franchise is filled with titles that people absolutely adore, but one game in particular has been backed by most longtime fans for quite sometime. That game is the 1988 masterpiece known as Super Mario Bros. 3.
Continuing the trend of my posts about Advance Wars and Metroid Fusion, Super Mario Bros. 3 recently became available on the Wii U’s Virtual Console. It once again followed the journey of Mario and his brother Luigi as they stop the evil Bowser and his Koopalings from destroying Mushroom World. There are a total of eight worlds with their own themes, and you can complete each one through conventional means or by jumping ahead using magic warp whistles found throughout. In truth, most of the gameplay is very similar to past titles, save for overworld maps and brand new power-ups. The most popular of these is easily the Super Leaf which turns Mario/Luigi into Raccoon Mario/Luigi and allows them to fly across the map at high speeds. There is also a multiplayer option with one player controlling Mario and the other Luigi.
What really helped Super Mario Bros. 3 cement itself as one of gaming’s finest achievements was its expert blending of old and new material. As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay isn’t entirely different from its predecessors. It’s a side-scrolling platformer filled with various powerups and a big boss at the end of each world. It really wasn’t reinventing the wheel in this regard. By playing any previous Super Mario Bros. entry, you already had the training you needed to grasp the basics. If there was something new that you weren’t familiar with, like the Super Leaf or Frog Suit, the concepts were so simple you could catch on at the blink of an eye.
Yet Super Mario Bros. 3 was very much an entirely new adventure for fans to enjoy. The new additions weren’t nearly as radical as the original US version of Super Mario Bros. 2. Perhaps the best example of this was the inclusion of an overworld map for Mario/Luigi to travel through. This was the first Mario game to have a map and it did wonders by removing the rigid linearity of each game. Instead of just going from one level to the next without any delay, you could pick which path you wanted at your leisure. You even had the option of skipping entire worlds thanks to the warp whistle. Along with levels, mini-games appeared on the maps as well, and saving power-ups from these was possible if you couldn’t immediately use them. There also were an immense amount of hidden secrets open for the player to discover. It really made players feel like they had control over what Mario did as opposed to the game itself forcing them down a wholly fixed path.
Lastly, Super Mario Bros. 3 was positively gorgeous. It came out only three years after Super Mario Bros. and it was such a huge step up. Level intricacy on this scale had never been seen before. Each one was an explosion of color which really helped the game come to life on your screen. There was definitely a distinct fluidity to the gameplay as well. Enemies moved much faster than before and Mario would basically glide across every map. With so many secrets and enemies in each level, it really took a lot of skill to actually succeed in this game. Beginners would be able to start and thoroughly enjoy the experience, but it took a real expert to reach Bowser and obtain ultimate victory.
While I can’t claim with confidence that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first game I ever played, it easily was one of the earliest. My older siblings already owned an NES with several amazing titles by the time I really got into video games. Out of our entire catalogue, one that I turned to more often than any other was Super Mario Bros. 3. For me, it was absolutely superior to the first title. I would never get very far but the game was incredibly easy for me to understand at such a young age. Even though I never came close to finishing the game, there was so much for me to discover that I kept wanting to go back and try again. To this day it’s still one of my favorite Mario entries.
Super Mario Bros. 3 has already been available on the Wii’s Virtual Console since 2007 so coming to the Wii U was basically custom at this point. In all honesty, classic gaming really doesn’t get any better than this. Super Mario Bros. 3 is that rare game you can play again and again, never getting tired of it. It’s simple enough in the beginning for children to play but challenging enough in the end to give experts a run for their money. Changes brought on by this entry have influenced nearly every Mario title since. If you’ve never played this game before, you really missed out on a major piece of gaming history.