Greatest Game of 1990: Super Mario Bros. 3

People often stop me on the street and ask, “Hey, Kevin, you’re an expert on video games and a handsome devil to boot. What’s the best NES game of all time?” My response is always the same: “No doubt. Super Mario 3.

What’s not to love about this game? Let’s start with what it is: It’s Mario at his absolute finest. It’s basically Super Mario Bros. on steroids. It’s probably the best 2D side-scroller ever made. It’s incredibly addictive, yet it never gets old. It might not have the industry impact of its predecessor (note: I’m purposefully ignoring Super Mario Bros. 2, the game that had nothing to do with either the 1st or 3rd games. Super Mario 3 is the true sequel to Super Mario Bros.), but that’s because it simply perfected what Super Mario Bros. started. To this day I’d rather play Super Mario 3 on the Virtual Console than deal with obtaining a gazillion stars in the new Mario iterations. It is, quite simply, the best NES game ever made, and potentially my favorite Nintendo game of all time.

The Obsession Begins

My first glimpse of Super Mario 3 came while seeing that video game tournament movie The Wizard, the second worst video game movie ever made, behind Super Mario Bros. I VAGUELY remember seeing that awful movie in the theaters and catching a glimpse of Super Mario 3 during the tournament at the end.

[Sidebar: This movie was so incredibly bad. Ignoring the fact that the movie was targeted at people like me – eight-year-olds who loved Nintendo and Mario – they threw in some weird child-abductor plot line that no one cared about. I wanted to see them play video games, not dodge some creepy pederast. Also, watch the YouTube video I linked and try to figure out HOW THE FUCK THAT LITTLE NERD FIGURED OUT WHERE THE FIRST WHISTLE WAS THE FIRST TIME HE EVER PLAYED THE GAME.]

Anyways, I don’t think the game was out at that point, but I knew then how awesome the next Mario was going to be. Once I got my hands on a copy,I played the game approximately 4,000 times over the next year. I remember taking family trips to Florida in our motor home and playing the game the majority of the drive down and back. At one point I think I beat the game three straight times before my sisters wrestled the controller out of my hands. That’s how fucking awesome this game is.

Sadly, in the Great Theft of 1994 (discussed in the Greatest System of All Time Guest Loadcast), Super Mario 3 and my NES were tragically taken away from me. 15 years later, thanks to Nintendo’s brilliant move to open up the Virtual Console, my love for Super Mario 3 was renewed, and I have continued to play the crap out of this game whenever I get bored with modern games.

Great Additions

So what makes Super Mario 3 so special? For starters, the additions were amazing for the time. The map screen finally gave the game a “world” to explore and gave you ability to choose what level you wanted to play. The combat was improved with new special Mario characters and new moves. The slide feature, for example, was a great combat move that was incredibly satisfying if done right (and frustrating if done wrong). A bevy of new enemy baddies (see above) made the game a whole lot more interesting.  I also enjoyed the ability to hit bricks from the sides (or even the top of the music note boxes) instead of from just the bottom. That opened up some strategic use of shells that the first Mario didn’t really have.

The power-up additions were also amazing. Screw the mushroom/flower/star. Give me a leaf that changes Mario into a flying raccoon (gotta be honest, that makes no sense, but whatever) with a vicious tailspin attack. A frog suit that makes Mario swim like Michael Phelps, a hammer suit that lets Mario throw hammer projectiles, and then a bunch of other random stuff like music boxes and whistles to get you through the eight awesome worlds. AND, the ability to use these items BEFORE entering the level you were about the play. So much freedom!

On top of the improvements, the worlds and levels themselves were fantastic. Island, desert, snow, sky. All great, but the best is easily the Big Island, where everything is four times as large. Heck, even the eighth world is amazing simply because of its difficulty. To this day that world kicks my ass and I still enjoy spending hours trying to get through it.

Industry Impact

As mentioned earlier, I’m not sure if this game had THAT much of an industry impact. For a time it was the best-selling game of all time (eventually taken over by Wii Sports and now CoD), which is pretty impressive for an 8-bit game that came out 21 years ago. It certainly spawned a lot of what the new Mario games contain – maps, special Mario characters, hidden rooms/secrets, etc. There was a cartoon created as a result of the game. That’s pretty cool, right?

Ok, it can’t be perfect. What’s wrong with it?

Nothing, you fool, it’s great. Actually, my only complaint is that annoying kid/Toad-like thing in the castle begging you to save her father. That little thing was annoying as shit.  Stop crying already!

Besides that, best game of 1990. Period.

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