Another MAR10 Day and another new piece from me about everyone’s favourite plumber, and no I don’t mean that weird bloke Keith your mother keeps hiring. Mario’s 35th arguably lacklustre celebrations are coming to a close, but I couldn’t let this day pass without marking it in some way. Last year I spoke about the platforming perfection that is Super Mario World, but it would be nothing without the game that put really put the ”Super” in Mario – Super Mario Bros. 3.
Following up on the phenomenally popular first three games in the Super Mario series (I’ve counted Super Mario Bros. 2/The Lost Levels and Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA as two because, well, they are) was no easy challenge. The first revolutionised the platform genre, and the following two either continued the same formula or re-skinned an entirely different game, depending on which one we’re talking about.
Believe me I could, and will, discuss the Super Mario Bros. 2 we got in the West at some point.
Landing in Europe back in 1991, Super Mario Bros. 3, was a commercial and critical success and has sold more than 17 million copies worldwide. It was (and still is) a huge deal in the history of video game. However, this isn’t exactly what I wanted to talk about. What I am here to discuss is the importance of this game to the entire franchise at large and how it forms the blueprint of Mario’s adventure’s even now.
First and most importantly, the World Map. It made the world actually feel like a world and more importantly that the player was on a sprawling adventure instead of running through a set of vaguely interconnected levels. Also, it gave far more diversity to level design by allowing for world themes on the World Map and so introduced the recurring Desert World, which is everyone’s favourite.
A close second, of course, is the various suits on display. Mario being into dressing up is now a fundamental part of his toolkit, going as far as it being purred about by Kim Cattrall. This means that here is where the objectively best Mario power-up, Tanooki Mario, first appeared. The ability to fly would go on to change everything, adding a significant verticality to levels. Besides, its damn cute, just look at it’s little ears.
Next, the Koopa Kids were introduced here. I know that they were retroactively changed to the Koopalings, but old habits die hard. The idea of unique bosses at the end of worlds wasn’t a new idea for Super Mario Bros. 3, but the unique personalities of each Kid genuinely blew my little mind back in the 90s, even if several of them shared move sets with each other.
Finally, and of lesser importance to the overall but something that ended up being added to the franchise blueprint is copious side shit. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a huge step up in terms of side shit with match-3 card games, hidden levels, and Toad Houses full of treasures. These are useful, giving lives and items to give power-ups in the game, and some of them are hidden too giving so much depth to the game and its various secrets.
But, it’s the legacy of these elements that makes this game still one of the best of all time. Not only did Nintendo perfect the formula they started with the first game, but they laid down the blueprint for Mario going forwards. One or more of the above elements have been in every game since, with barely any changes made to the overall formula that Nintendo locked in here.
The “New” series is sees the biggest use of all of these elements, and follows the template almost to the letter. It is a little more restrained with its side content than the third numbered entry, keeping it mostly to Toad Houses and secret exits in the most recent iteration. But, each one comes complete with a World Map, side content, Koopa Kids, and a unique power-up or two for good measure.
However, even if we take the most recent entry, Super Mario Odyssey, it still follows in the footsteps of Raccoon Mario before it, with a world map of some description and Mario taking the outfit thing altogether too far in my opinion. Especially as once you have the poncho and sombrero, why the hell would you want anything else? This isn’t even including the recent Super Mario 3D World port to Switch, which borrows heavily from the Super Mario Bros. 3 playbook.
It may not be the best game in the franchise any more, and check out my article for last year’s MAR10 Day to get my thoughts on a little known title called Super Mario World for just a little taster on why that is, but the legacy it left is undeniable. That so much of this little NES game is still in use just shows how pristine it was at launch, and the fact that Super Mario Bros. 3 holds up to modern scrutiny only cements this view.