This review is by Nicole Rodriguez. This is the second "Platsperpiece Review."
Super Mario Bros. 3 is a game that probably needs no introduction, being one of the most talked-about Mario games. Many fans of the franchise hold it in high regard, with some even calling it "the best 2D Mario game ever", but does it deserve that title?
Well, it's complicated.
Released in 1988 in Japan and 1990 in the US, Super Mario Bros. 3 pushed the NES to its very limits. With 90 levels, a massive world map, and an impressive amount of power-ups, Super Mario Bros. 3 is jam packed with content, and improves on many of the ideas laid out in the previous Super Mario games.
On paper, it should be the best 2D Mario game ever made, but in practice... I don't feel like it quite holds up.
I'm gonna start out with the graphics. They are a massive step-up from the previous Mario games. The game uses the full capabilities of the NES, both in its use of color and graphical effects, and has a very cohesive and charming visual style, one that could even rival its more technologically advanced sequel, Super Mario World.
The gameplay is also much improved over previous Mario games, with Mario controlling much tighter than in Super Mario Bros. 1. He no longer has so much weight to him, which helps make the player feel more in control of Mario. The level design is much more dedicated to puzzle solving and enemy fighting due to this, as simply getting Mario from one point to another is no longer the challenge it used to be, with the challenge instead being brought on by figuring out where and when exactly to move Mario.
There's 8 different worlds in this game, each with its own unique theme and aesthetic, along with their own level design quirks to help them feel more distinct.
And they all feel largely lifeless.
Super Mario Bros. 3 might be a solid platforming game, but it's nothing more than that. At its core it's still just an 80's action NES game, with no plot, atmosphere or "feel" to speak of. It's just a toy that might feel fun to play with while it's in your hands, but which won't leave a lasting impression on you afterwards.
Calling the game "bad" would be lying. The game is good, I had fun while playing it, and I can see how someone playing this game back when it came out would end up feeling a connection to it as they grew up. But as a complete outsider with little to no history with the game, as I finished it for the first time in 2020, it feels like an empty experience.
This is a game that has little in the way of atmosphere. It has no plot to speak of. It doesn't do anything that other games don't do.
But that's to be expected from an NES game from the 80's. Back then, not only was making an "immersive" experience hard due to the technology available, it was also just not a common thing in the games industry at the time. Not a lot of action games back then really had much "atmosphere", with that mostly becoming relevant with early 90's games like Another World, and only really becoming a big part of Nintendo games by the time of Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country.
Another thing that drags Super Mario Bros. 3 down is, funnily enough, how influential it was. For every thing you might like about Super Mario Bros. 3, there's probably a gigantic amount of games that do the same thing better, and the fact that Super Mario Bros. 3 influenced so many games means that in retrospect the game just feels generic instead of innovative. From old games like Donkey Kong Country or Sonic the Hedgehog, to more recent platformers like Shovel Knight and Celeste, almost every platformer from the 90's onwards carries part of that Super Mario Bros. 3 spirit. From the control, to the level design, to just the "feel" and style of the game in general, every part of the game has been dissected and reused by game developers worldwide, whether directly or from being influenced by games that were in part influenced by Super Mario Bros. 3.
That's the part that makes me feel the saddest about my hollow experience with the game... none of this is the game's own fault. It still stands out as a very original game for its era, one with much more refined gameplay and a more unique atmosphere than anything from its time. But it's been done again and again by so many other games that it no longer feels original. It's just one more of the bunch because most of the bunch comes from it.
The game is still worth playing, if anything to see where the platformer genre as we know it really began, but I don't feel like it really holds up as any more than that. A curiosity. A look into the past, into gaming history.
Maybe that's just a problem with most NES games from the era. I mean, would I really feel the same attachment to Super Mario Bros. 2 or to Mega Man 3 had I not played them growing up? If my first experience with them was right here, right now? Part of me wishes to believe that no, that the games that I love have some legitimate merit to them, and that I don't just love them for being in the right place at the right time. But as it stands, I don't think I can really tell, as my view of them will be forever clouded by the memories I hold of them. I can't really be impartial with the games I love, just like I can't try to feel something for the games I don't.
So, to bring it back to the starting question: Is Super Mario Bros. 3 deserving of the title of "best 2D Mario game ever"? Well, yes and no.
Looking at it objectively, it should be. It offers a multitude of well designed levels, it's visually pleasing and it feels fun to control. What else do you need?
But looking at the impact it left on me... I don't feel right giving it that title. It doesn't sit right with me calling a game that doesn't make me feel anything, that doesn't evoke any emotion and that doesn't leave any lasting impressions, "the best Mario game". It paints a very bleak picture of the franchise. And yet, any other game I'd try to give that title to wouldn't really be in an even footing, as unlike Super Mario Bros. 3 those are games I've been playing for years, games that I feel an emotional attachment to.
So no, I don't think Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best 2D Mario game ever. But I don't think it has to be. Maybe being "one of the most influential and copied video games" is enough of an accolade for this game, because that's the place it holds in my life.
ED: I disagree with this review, but I believe it to be an interesting perspective. You can look at my SMB1 Review for a different one.
Author's Note: I disagree with everything the editor might say about this review.