Super Mario Bros. 3 – The 8-bit crown jewel

By Jose Anguiano – Cinematic Bandicoot

March 31st, 2023


During the 1980s, Nintendo remained the dominant video game company even with rising competition from Sega and PC gaming.

But while “Super Mario Bros. 2” sold millions of units, players saw it more as an expansion than a true sequel.

Thus, Shigeru Miyamoto enlisted Takashi Tezuka, as director to bring something new to the table.

“We made ‘Super Mario Bros. 2’ by changing the original game’s difficulty and stage design, but we couldn’t do that again,” Tezuka said. “So, I wanted to change everything.”

Developed by a team of 20 to 30 people from R&D4 – with only 11 credited – the overhaul forced the crew to create new material which left them exhausted by the end.

One aesthetic that stuck was the game’s theater presentation since Mario exited stage right at the end of each level. Miyamoto later confirmed this in several promotional videos for “Super Mario Maker”.

After production wrapped, Japan enjoyed the fruits of Nintendo’s labors in 1988 while the rest of the world waited several years due to a ROM chip shortage.

This stoked the $25 million marketing campaign which included a movie called “The Wizard” in 1989, about a kid wanting to go to California for a video game tournament.

The film was ironically funded by Universal Pictures, who sued Nintendo for alleged copyright infringement in 1983 when they accused the character Donkey Kong of plagiarizing “King Kong. At the time, “King Kong” was in the public domain, thus Nintendo won the lawsuit and became the biggest video game juggernaut in the world.

Following all the hype, the game released internationally in the early 1990’s. So, how does it hold up after 30 years?


For a series with little story, this creates a grand epic when Bowser and his Koopa kids transform several kings into animals. It’s not until the last world that Bowser remembers the rules of Mario games and kidnaps Princess Peach.

While that sounds traditional at the last minute, everything else is an amazing expansion of Mario’s surroundings – dry deserts, vast oceans, puzzling underground mazes, giant islands, creepy castles and Bowser’s magma infested home.

Sure, it gets repetitive saving identical kings over the course of eight worlds, but at least the “Princess is in another castle” cliche is subverted with something more digestible.

Bowser isn’t just pulling a ruse over the player by having his minions assume his role in every castle; he literally pulls out the big guns to ensure that he doesn’t lose against the plumbers.

There are more stakes this time around, and this is what makes the story more interesting.

Plus, there are fun easter eggs littered throughout the adventure, like when you save a king while wearing an animal costume:

The graphics are also the best on the system. Utilizing a wider color palette and landscapes, this is what people think of when they visualize the best worlds in the franchise.

The map is one of the best innovations to come from the series to the point of returning in future entries like “Super Mario World” and “New Super Mario Bros.”.

Seeing cactuses dance to the music and hammer brothers march with animated life is one of the best achievements in NES technology.

While it looks primitive by the standards of religious “Fortnite” players, it shows the inspiration of many indie developers who adopted this style for games like “Shovel Knight” and “Undertale”.

It is odd that Luigi switched back to his pallet swapped anatomy of his older brother compared to the second game, but that’s a minor nitpick in a sea of visually stunning 8-bit mastery.

This is also Koji Kondo’s best soundtrack on the NES.

It might sound blasphemy going against the iconic “Super Mario Bros. Theme Song”, but this chooses quality and quantity over legacy when creating catchy musical pieces.

Some of the standouts include the first overworld theme and the ominous airship drums that elevate both Mario and the musical notes to new heights.

How they managed to fit all of this on the console after the first game reused a lot of assets is beyond anyone’s imagination.

But what would an improved game be without evolved gameplay?

As stated in the Super Mario Bros. review, the sequels built upon the foundation so much that they eclipsed their own legacy.

The different worlds add more variety from giant enemies to Bowser’s armada of ships and tanks.

The platforming is tightly crafted with easy to grasp controls that are never slippery nor clunky. It’s the perfect refinement of running and jumping that keeps the pace of each level to an urgent speed without sacrificing exploration.

New enemies like an angry sun trying to scorch you in your tracks, are some of the most iconic moments as the journey gets gradually harder. There is never a dull moment no matter which world you visit.

The secrets hidden beneath the platforming adds more gameplay layers such as the Zelda whistle that allows you to warp to future worlds.

Like the best Nintendo games, the difficulty is neither too easy nor too hard, but instead a perfect balance for newcomers and seasoned veterans.

All the new powerups and bonus houses add more variety to the adventure as every piranha plant and chain chomp try to massacre you.

Cooperative play is also more balance by giving each player a turn after finishing a level rather than waiting for the more seasoned gamer to fall into a bottomless pit. Thus, adding more replay ability where players can either work together or compete for the higher score.

Some of the levels throw a curveball with its maze structure, but that’s a small price to pay for all the new additionsin this growing kingdom.

“Super Mario Bros. 3” is the crown jewel of the NES that both evolved and solidified the series’ identity.

This is the quintessential Mario adventure for anyone who loves gaming because the story, presentation, and gameplay embody endless creativity with a tough but fair difficulty curve. The powerups are some of the most iconic additions, and even the two-player campaign feels more balanced compared to before.

While players should try the first game, this is the video game equivalent of required reading in schools to the point where it’s listed in the book “1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die” by Tony Mott.

“Super Mario Bros. 2” was a soft rehash, but this is a reinvention of both the franchise and the company, and it still stands as one of the best moments in Nintendo’s history.

Pros: Iconic soundtrack, fleshed out graphics, peak gameplay, multilayered exploration, fair difficulty curve

Cons: none



Super Nintendo

Like the past Mario games, this also received a Super Nintendo remake on “Super Mario All-Stars”, updating the graphics and music to 16-bit glory.

This is one of the many definitive versions to play since the NES original was already a technical masterpiece in its own right.

Gameboy Advance

“Super Mario Bros. 3” was also the last Mario game to be ported to the Gameboy Advance via the “Super Mario Advance” series, with additional levels accessed via the e-reader.

Since its release, the additional content was lost to time due to the poor reception of the e-reader, but it has since been released on the Nintendo Switch via the Online Expansion Pass.

Based on the additional content alone, this is the definitive version since it can be taken on the go.


“Super Mario Bros. 3” became the highest rated Mario game on the NES as well as the last Mario game on said console before the company released its successor the Super Nintendo (SNES) in 1992.

It was also the last game where Miyamoto was credited as a designer as he would become a full-on producer for Nintendo.

The game sold out upon its February 13th, 1989 release, and Nintendo could not make enough copies to meet demand.

It sold 17 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling stand-alone video game at the time.

At a revenue of $3.4 billion, Nintendo acquired 88 percent of the video game market, and surpassed Toyota as Japan’s most successful company.

Mario became a mainstay in pop culture as Nintendo partnered with companies to advertise their products.

The game received a Saturday morning cartoon called “The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3”, the successor to “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show”.

“Super Mario Bros. 3” was so influential that ID Software founders John Carmack and John Romero created their own PC mod titled “Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement”, in the hopes that Nintendo would approve a PC port. Unfortunately for the ambitious duo, Nintendo politely declined the request.

The game also became the first Nintendo title to receive a Nintendo Power Strategy Guide.

Several new enemies became main staples like the boos, which were allegedly based on an employee’s shy wife who got angry when her husband worked nights. These ghosts received their own dedicated haunted houses in “Super Mario World”.

The chain chomp, inspired by Miyamoto’s close encounter with a neighbor’s vicious dog, also became a reoccurring enemy in the likes of “Super Mario 64”, “Super Mario Sunshine” and the “Mario Party” series.

One of the mini-games in “Mario Party 3” for the Nintendo 64 called Merry-Go-Chomp”, where players pick a color and leave their fate to chance as the chain chomp awaits its prey.

The discarded isometric view would later be implemented in “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars” – a coproduction between Nintendo and Square Enix.

Miyamoto himself received visitors from other entertainment giants like musician Paul McCarthy and director Steven Spielberg.

In 2007, Kondo’s airship theme received an orchestral update in “Super Mario Galaxy” for the Wii.

But with all the success came some consequences.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated Nintendo for antitrust allegations like price fixing.

The company denied the allegations but were forced to send out $25 million worth of rebates to customers. This came in the form of five-dollar coupons customers could use on other Nintendo games.

The Tanooki Suit became a prominent powerup in the series going forward, including 2011’s “Super Mario 3D Land” for the 3DS, although the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) accused the game of animal cruelty because Mario’s suit resembled a fur coat.

The group created a flash game called “Super Tanooki Skin 2D” where the player assumed the role of a skinned tanooki chasing a fur covered Mario.

Nintendo responded to the claims while the YouTube channel Dorkly satirized the controversy by having Mario directly respond to PETA:

Afterwards, PETA claimed that the entire uproar was a joke.

Despite the controversy, “Super Mario Bros. 3” also became one of the prominent themes in the “Super Mario Maker” series for the Wii U and Nintendo Switch, which goes to show how big of an impact it left on the company like the first game did on the video game industry.

This is the Cinematic Bandicoot, and the Super Mario retrospective concludes next time with one of the most infamous entries in the series. You won’t find it on the NES, SNES, or N64. Instead, you must to go to your local movie theater.

To be continued…

Works Cited


“PETA: That Whole Bloody Mario Thing, That Was Just a Joke (UPDATE).” Kotaku, 15 Nov. 2011.


Baser, Helena. 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. Edited by Tony Mott, Rizzoli International Publications, 2011.

Harris, Blake J. Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation. eBook ed. New York City: HarperCollins, 2014.

Kushner, David. Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. New York City: Random House, 2003.

Ryan, Jeff. Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. eBook ed., Portfolio, 2011.


The Wizard. Directed by Todd Holland, Universal Pictures, 1989.

YouTube Videos

“Super Mario Bros 3 – Did You Know Gaming? Feat. Remix of WeeklyTubeShow.” YouTube, uploaded by DidYouKnowGaming?, 17 Mar. 2018,

“The Story of Super Mario Bros. 3 | Gaming Historian.” YouTube, uploaded by Gaming Historian, 18 Dec. 2019,

“Top Ten Stupid Video Game Controversies.” YouTube, uploaded by RabbidLuigi, 26 Mar. 2017,

“Universal Vs. Nintendo Case – Gaming Historian.” YouTube, uploaded by Gaming Historian, 2 Apr. 2013,


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