The Magic of ‘Super Mario Bros. 3’: A 20-Year Mistake

super mario bros title card
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No gamer can claim to have played every single video game out there, not even the experts. In Backlog, Digital Trends’ gaming team delves into the games they’ve missed out on to understand what makes them special… or not.

The Allure of Mario’s Universe

Any screenshot from a Mario game released in the past two decades instantly captivates with its distinctive charm. Super Mario Galaxy’s celestial levels evoke excitement without even picking up a controller. The imaginative enemies and objects in Super Mario Odyssey offer just a glimpse into the game’s limitless possibilities. Even the 22-year-old Super Mario 64 remains inviting, with its vibrant colors and cheerful polygonal plumber.

I have always been a fan of Mario in all his different iterations, but I have deliberately avoided one of his adventures throughout my life. It wasn’t that I refused to play Super Mario Bros. 3, but every time I had the chance to experience it, there was always another Mario game within arm’s reach that seemed more enticing. While it is widely regarded as one of the most influential platformers of all time, as a newcomer decades after its release, this significance wasn’t immediately apparent to me.

Super Mario Bros. 3 adopts a visual style that is an uncomfortable fusion of old and new. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto later claimed that the game was designed to resemble a stage play, which would explain these inconsistencies. However, considering the already surreal and bizarre Mushroom Kingdom, this explanation seemed more like an excuse concocted to accommodate the game’s novel elements. Goombas, absent from the American sequel, return in Mario’s third adventure, but with an unappealing yellowish tint that is more off-putting than nostalgic. Toad’s elongated legs resemble those of a character who has consumed a Super Mushroom, or perhaps his own head. I couldn’t envision experiencing the same whimsical joy I felt while playing other Mario games.

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Super Mario Level
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Looks Can Be Deceiving

After playing for a few hours, however, I began to understand why my friends, peers, and the gaming community as a whole fell in love with this game. Its combination of power-ups and formidable enemies presents a challenging yet fair experience, while the level design showcases Nintendo’s finest work. If there’s a particular level that seems daunting, you have the option to use a special item and skip it altogether. When I encountered a Koopaling boss at the end of the first castle, I expected a swift defeat. However, with some common sense and well-timed jumps, I managed to conquer the little adversary in no time.

What impressed me most, however, wasn’t anything specifically featured in Super Mario Bros. 3 itself, but rather the profound influence it had on some of my favorite games. While playing, I experienced a sense of “reverse nostalgia.” Every few minutes, I would stumble upon something reminiscent of games I had played that were released long after Super Mario Bros. 3.

No longer were players at the mercy of trial and error or random guesses to progress, as was the case with games like Castlevania and The Legend of Zelda on the Super Nintendo. Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced concepts such as hiding enemies and special areas in unexpected places, which have since become staples of first-person shooters like Doom and even games like Dark Souls, providing players with incentives to replay levels beyond aiming for a high score.

Even after more than 25 years, Super Mario Bros. 3 remains astonishingly creative. While secrets were already part of the original Super Mario Bros., with the iconic “warp zone” allowing players to quickly skip multiple worlds to reach Bowser faster, Super Mario Bros. 3 takes the rewards for observant players a step further. Certain levels can only be traversed with a raccoon suit, allowing Mario and his companions to fly above hidden passages in the ceiling. Some levels are actually easier to complete when Mario is in his diminutive form, which is a design philosophy that beginners often embrace when creating levels in Super Mario Maker. Even the most mundane elements of the environment, such as basic brick blocks, can harbor surprises and unexpected challenges.

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While this design philosophy had already emerged in the first two Mario games, it became a paramount tool in Super Mario Bros. 3. The default way to progress through a level was no longer limited to sprinting from left to right. The game’s cleverness stemmed from rewarding players who question every element within a stage, search for hidden items, and even utilize enemies as power-ups to reach inaccessible areas. This rule-bending approach has since become the essence of all subsequent Mario adventures, including Super Mario Odyssey.

Ultimately, if given the choice, I would still opt for a more modern Mario game. One that benefits from everything designers have learned from Super Mario Bros. 3, but without the disconcerting hue that stained its predecessor. Super Mario Odyssey beckons players with its irresistible charm and promises countless hours of enjoyment. I discovered that same joy in Super Mario Bros. 3, but only after peeling away an initially unappealing exterior. Mario never fails to make me laugh, but the Goombas no longer bring tears to my eyes.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Super Mario Bros. Wonder Direct: how to watch and what to anticipate
  • Super Mario Bros. Wonder: release date, trailers, gameplay, and more
  • Super Mario RPG is receiving a full Switch remake, arriving this year
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie resembles the games, but lacks their spirit

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