Super Mario Bros. 3’s recent arrival on the Wii U eShop seemed like a conspicuously low-key affair compared to the considerable hype that surrounded its hugely anticipated original release back the early nineties. However, that doesn't mean that the lack of booming fanfare should be interpreted as a cause for concern; over twenty years later this title still serves up one of the greatest 2D platforming experiences to be had.
Super Mario Bros. 3’s impressive legacy cannot be understated; this is the game that set up many of the conventions we've come to love and expect from a Super Mario game. Elements such as the world map may seem trivial by today’s highly technical standards, but it’s all too easy to forget just what a difference this has made to the ever-evolving experience. Nevertheless, to think that Super Mario Bros. 3’s lasting appeal is due to the fact that it permeates pretty much every Super Mario game that followed it would be nothing short of preposterous. The reason why this game is still so fun to play today is simple: it’s an incredibly well-made piece of software.
Putting the understandably dated visuals aside, Super Mario Bros. 3 is intricately designed to the point of near perfection. Every single enemy, platform and chasm is expertly placed and goes hand in hand with a remarkably tight control setup to create a variety of challenging and entertaining environments for you to navigate. This is further complemented by the inclusion of a staggering amount of power-ups, most notably the Super Leaf which allows Mario to transform into Raccoon Mario and temporarily fly. The benefit here, of course, is that doing so allows you to reach otherwise inaccessible areas, making exploration in Super Mario Bros. 3 far more prominent and entertaining than it was in its predecessors. Themed worlds — now a staple of the series — provide a great deal of variety in terms of level design, and are in many ways representative of the game’s well-nuanced difficulty curve. In other words: the more fire and lava there is, the more likely it is that you will die.
The overall difficulty is what makes Super Mario Bros. 3 such an enticing and addictive game. Initially, you’re eased into the experience and given the space to familiarise yourself with the game’s mechanics. However, by the time you reach the eighth world you’re faced with an endgame of brutal proportions, and one which bestows on you a great deal of pride and satisfaction should you manage to conquer it. Auto-scrolling levels — such as the notorious Airship stages at the end of each world — remove the luxury of taking your time, not to mention that the moving camera can also prove deliberately disorienting at times. Precise jumping and timing is the key to success in many stages, so it shouldn't come as a surprise if you don’t manage to beat every level on your first try. In fact, it might take a lot longer than you think.
While at times it may feel like you’re headed towards your inevitable doom, it is nevertheless a fair game, and one which provides you with plenty of chances to accrue extra lives and handy power-ups. Bonus stages crop up throughout offering these highly sought-after goodies, although in most cases you’ll need to depend on skill — or a lot of luck — if you want to get them. The fact that the game doesn’t just give you bonuses on a plate (as has increasingly become the case in modern Super Mario titles) results in an undoubtedly rewarding experience. Moreover, the ability to create restore points on the Wii U means that it’s actually possible for you to circumvent an untimely demise should you wish. This feature alone will instantly make Super Mario Bros. 3 far more appealing to you if you’re more accustomed to the safety nets typically employed by modern games.
Unsurprisingly, this looks dated from a technical point of view, although the charming art style and vibrant colour palette do make it one of the better NES games to look at — like a number of Virtual Console releases, it also looks rather attractive on the GamePad screen. Not only that, but the infectious melodies that accompany each of the game’s levels are seemingly composed with the purpose of getting you to hum along; in this regard, it’s a Super Mario game through and through. If there’s one issue that brings down the experience a little bit, it’s a weird visual glitch — also present in the original version — that occurs when the screen is moving. It’s very minor, but the sides of the screen flicker a bit when this is happening, and if you’re not used to it then it might prove distracting.
With its numerous worlds, challenging sense of progression, and a handy two-player mode should you wish for a friend to help you out, Super Mario Bros. 3 provides a lot of bang for your buck, especially when compared alongside many first-generation NES titles being offered for the same price on the eShop.
Despite its advanced age, Super Mario Bros. 3 still serves as a prime example of the sort of high-quality game design that Nintendo can achieve. Flawless level design, precise controls and a challenging, yet rewarding gameplay experience all combine to create what remains a timeless 2D platforming classic. Sure, it isn't as easy on the eye as it used to be, but as can be said for virtually any Super Mario game, the visuals really don’t matter; this is pure, unadulterated fun in which the gameplay has in no way suffered as a result of its other mechanics. If you’re eager to take a trip down memory lane — or even experience a retro Super Mario title for the first time — there really is no reason why you shouldn't opt for Super Mario Bros. 3 on Wii U. After all, it's a rock-hard experience at times, and you're quite possibly going to need that save state system.