Super Mario Bros. 3 changed how the world saw video games.
The 1988 release was a bit like when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Super Mario Bros. 3 was massively anticipated in North America and once released in 1990, it somehow managed to surpass the huge hype. The game’s financial success alone heralded a new industry that would not only be a fad, and its innovations in games and design would directly inspire more franchises.
It is no wonder that at the Game Developers Conference in 2007, when a committee of video game historians, designers and journalists announced its idea of a video game cannon, SMB3 made the cut. It̵
If you are a paid Nintendo Switch online subscriber, you can play Super Marios Bros. 3 right now by downloading the Nintendo Entertainment System app.
Some levels in SMB3 is against solo bosses, and others feel like riddles laid out over a beautiful background. The game is full of variety in its eight worlds, and constantly offers something new. Cannonball airships, hammer-throwing turtles, shy boos, and even the sun itself comes down to wreak havoc on poor Mario.
That variation also comes when it comes to pacing: Sometimes the game constantly pulls its player between the patient who pauses and moves at breakneck speed.
By 1990, when SMB3 was released in North America, Mario had already become a household name. Five years earlier, the original Super Mario Bros. had released in America and created a glow for sidescrolling games.
SMB3 director Shigeru Miyamoto and programmer Toshihiko Nakago worked together on a side-scrolling racing game called Excitebike. It introduced them to not only each other but also the possibilities of the medium. With its opening level, World 1-1, known for easing a player into his world, SMB3 quickly caught up with people who had never picked up a controller before.
As the third game began to develop, Mario became a centrifugal force in play, something other properties responded to. Metroid ‘‘s developers made the main character, Samus, purposefully different from the plumber in Mushroom Kingdom. Other games filled spaces where Mario came short, as historically.
11-person development team behind SMB3, led by Miyamoto, Nakago and co-director Takashi Tezuka, carefully sketched each level of the game by hand. The story of SMB3 is well documented, and it’s worth checking out a thorough review like Gaming Historian’s for full details. There is pressure Nintendo faced from Sega’s announced 16-bit system for gaming shortages caused by worldwide chip requirements.
But from a development perspective, making the game an intensive process was completed by a team that operated at the top of the game.
There is nothing wasted in SMB3. From the theatrical opening of the game to the dead balls that look bolted in the background, there is a feeling that each step is a play and the player is the main character. The game’s music, created solely by Koji Kondo, enhances the mood of every moment, from the glorious fanfare of a completed level to the peppy sounds of Grass Land to the dark and almost militaristic sounds of World Eight.
As for Mario, he has given a wide range of new powers in SMB3, which takes the form of different costumes.
There are Raccoon Suit of the cover, which gives Mario flying powers, a Frog Suit that allows him to move faster through water but slower on land, a hammer-throwing Hammer Suit, and Tanooki Suit, which offers the same flying powers as the flying suit with an extra stone-to-stone feature that allows Mario to withstand fireballs.
These quirky costumes drastically change Mario’s appearance and allow for further variation in gameplay, while allowing the game’s designers to showcase some of their odd designs. A player who wants to drive through Goombas with fireballs or hammers may not be interested in a raccoon feather. In the same way, the game allows for a certain path, so that players experience levels in the order they want (to a certain degree). Although it is not as open as Starfox, it’s a feeling everywhere SMB3 that players can develop their own style of play.
One concern that developers had was that the world of SMB3 would be too sweet, thus signaling to older players that it was not for them. But there is something completely timeless about these designs, from the spin of Raccoon Suit to Boos that covers the eyes when the player looks at them. Beyond all the hype surrounding a game regularly hailed as the greatest of all time, SMB3 remains what it was at launch: a fun and challenging sidescrolling that will keep a player analyzed every inch of the level for a benefit.