In this series of articles we'll write about one Mario game every day for 30 days, each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
Though it landed in Japan in late 1988, it would be February 1990 before Super Mario Bros. 3 would grace the NES in North America - painfully, it didn't hit Europe until August 1991. That was fairly late in the NES lifecycle, but a combination of outstanding design and clever marketing made it a smash hit Stateside, and an integral part of Nintendo and Mario history.
To provide some context, by the time Super Mario Bros. 3 (SMB3) arrived the 16-bit era was well established with the SEGA Mega Drive / Genesis, with SEGA eating into Nintendo's market share and portraying the company as low-fi and 'uncool'. The NES was, despite its fantastic library, ageing rapidly.
The Super NES would eventually arrive in 1991, but it's to the immense credit that the shadow of the Genesis and a 16-bit Nintendo successor did little to dampen the excitement and phenomenal sales of SMB3.
The hype began, at least in North America, with The Wizard, a cheesy family movie; its portrayal of Nintendo products - especially that moment with the Power Glove - are legendary in their clumsiness / awesomeness, strike out as applicable. It's the kind of product placement that attracts critical tweets and blog posts nowadays, shameless in its effort to sell games to kids.
Then, in a reveal remarkable for its chutzpah and unlikely to ever be repeated in this internet age, SMB3 was unveiled in the movie.
There were various factors that made SMB3 a dramatic step forward from the previous conventional platformer, the original Super Mario Bros., not forgetting that the Super Mario Bros. 2 released in the West was a reworked Doki Doki Panic. The overworld, with alternative paths to find; enhanced visuals that utilised the MMC3 (memory management controller) chip in the cartridge. On top of that there were a host of new items, enemies and designs.
In addition to impressive verticality and hidden areas, SMB3 is still arguably the most creative and peculiar title in the series. Various items and enemies were inspired by Japanese folklore and the personal experiences of developers. The Tanooki Suit effectively gave Mario a stomp move, flying with the Raccoon suit, and quirkier inclusions such as the Frog Suit and Kuribo Shoe. The Chain Chomp made its début, while the Koopalings also appeared for the first time; various ideas introduced in this title became mainstays in the Mario IP.
In terms of creativity, then, SMB3 is an absolute treat, and it also brought tighter controls and mechanics in comparison to its predecessors. It was, and remains, one of the elite NES games.
A huge commercial success, the legacy of SMB3 is undeniable. In its own time it kickstarted a Mario craze than even spawned a TV show in North America, and remains a key reference point in Nintendo culture. It's had numerous re-releases, of course, and various items and recurring characters have been integral right through to the most recent Super Mario titles. It'll be a key part of Super Mario Maker, too, with its own template and items inspired by the original.
As a late arrival on the NES, Super Mario Bros. 3 was proof of what clever technology, innovative design and wonderful creativity can deliver. It's a true highpoint in Super Mario history.
Below, for your enjoyment, is a speedrun of the game from this year's Summer Games Done Quick.