Super Mario Bros 3 battles for top spot in the Mario franchise, and on my desert world, it’s probably the one Mario I’m taking with me.
Super Mario World is bigger, better looking, has a Yoshi, and plenty of secrets to discover. There’s a reason it’s usually considered #1, but when I want my Mario fix, I always lean towards SMB3. It could be that I was a more nostalgic age for it, or perhaps that I owned it for a longer period of time.
I tend to think it’s the tighter experience of SMB3 that I love. Similar to why I would rather blast through Super Mario Bros 1 in an evening with a friend instead of the lengthier (and more difficult) SMB2. World is a vast undertaking that expects you to make use of the save file. SMB3 is very big, but Nintendo didn’t provide a save battery or password system. There are also the two secret flutes for experts to make use of.
SMB 3 was a an explosion of creativity. New ideas constantly tweak the formula. The angry sun and giant fish (that stalks you in a level that constantly drops you below sea level) were shocking surprised when first experiences and still hold up as wonderfully tense moments.
Mario’s moves received a huge upgrade. He learned to slide down slopes, pickup shells and blocks, and of course fly. The very first level teaches you the flying mechanic beautifully and soon you’re flying into the sky to discover a previously hidden area of rewards. Prompting you to explore every nook and cranny afterwards.
SMB2 introduced more detailed environments to explore with plenty of character, but 3 went so much further. This was the first Mario with a world map, a feature we’ve seen in some form in just about every single Mario since. Although not necessary, the map told a wordless story of Mario’s adventure and provided a relaxed moment of downtime between challenging time-limited levels. There isn’t a single word of story in the game until you’ve beaten the first World and receive Princess Peach’s letter! All we see are the dancing trees, an intimidating fortress, friendly toad houses, and a draw bridge leading to a castle with the word bubble ‘help’, protected by a Hammer Brother. It isn’t just the trees that move, the Hammer Brother shifts his patrol route and the Air Ship will blast off after every failed attempt, perhaps forcing you to complete any levels you skipped while taking an alternate route. This made the maps feel alive and dynamic. Nintendo took a sample of what made open-world RPGs so compelling, and added it to a genre that had always been extremely linear.
The power-ups were also a massive leap forward from the previous two games. The ability to fly and float was a massive help in a platformer. But Mario also had access to a few specialty items. The Frog Suit wasn’t ideal on land but was rewarding to stuff away in the item drawer (also a great addition) for difficult swimming levels. The Hammer Brother upgrade was rare but very powerful, knocking out every enemy (even Bowser) and granting a defensive shell when ducking.
And of course we can’t talk about Mario without mentioning the Tanooki and boot.
Future Mario games would carry on the tradition of creative power-ups, like World’s cape (and Yoshi), Mario 64’s Flying/Metal/Vanish Caps, all the way up to Mario Odyssey’s ability to assume the form of his enemies. And of course Sunshine’s entire gameplay was based around a jet-pack power-up.
Power-ups in a platformer offer an incredible amount of variety to a game of mostly running and jumping, but also empower the character. Even without the ability to chuck fireballs or fly, simply having an additional hit or two before death is extremely influential when it comes to difficulty. Playing Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy, I certainly noticed the lack of power-ups when compared to Mario’s much more easy-going experience.
SMB3 evolved the Mario idea into the blueprint for all future entries in the franchise. A world map or hub, transformative pickups, and the inventive worlds he visits to save the most sought after Princess in gaming.
Where do you stand when it comes to SMB3 and World?