Most every gamer has a top five list of their favorite video games of all time. Personally, I have a top twenty or top thirty list, which I may one day fully divulge. I have a very eclectic taste in games, and gravitate towards more of the lesser know, or lesser appreciated titles. I do share an unyielding love for a certain handful of games though, namely Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES — bar none one of the all time greatest video games.
There isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said already, but I’ll echo them all anyway — this is about as perfect as a video game can ever come. The character sprites are clean, very well detailed and animate exceptionally well. The backgrounds are elementary, but fit in seamlessly with the beautiful and inventive stages. It was around the time when SMB3 was released that we saw a big push of “themed” stages, like the snow stage, complete with slippery ice platforms, fire stages, featuring lava pits and other fire based obstacles, and so on. What I truly appreciated about SMB3’s interpretations of these common platform mainstays, is that not only were the stages inventive and engaging, but they expanded upon this gimmick by adding a couple of their own stages. My favorite has to be the Giant World, where everything is four, or even ten times larger than normal, from enemies to the blocks you hit. Not only was it all a masterful blend of variety and pacing, but each stage was nothing but a good time.
The music is by far one of the best, most well composed pieces you’ll hear throughout any generation of video games. Although you’ll hear a few of the songs often enough, they are so well done, and some how they all flawlessly fit whichever stage they are featured in. The water stages in particular, has one of the best songs I’ve heard in any game, even if it’s nothing fancy. It fits those stages to perfectly, and gives the true feeling of traversing underwater. The effects all come off as powerful and fitting. In fact, a lot of the sounds you hear in this installment, are almost the same exact sounds you hear in games such as New Super Mario Bros Wii, which came out 19 years later. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, since it’s all quite memorable, brings a smile to my face each time I hear them.
The controls are immaculate. You have proper acceleration and deceleration, jumping controls are tight, and all of the powers you encounter throughout the game all control flawlessly. It’s a benchmark in 2D platform controls that even today, has yet to be matched, even by the sequels. There’s a certain refinement to the controls that I don’t feel in any of the Mario games that followed the third installment. Not only that, but the power ups you get in SMB3, blow away every future Mario game combined. Bee Mario? Give me Hammer Bros. Mario any day. Chucking hammers and absorbing fireballs with the shield on my back is way more thrilling and far less situational than Bee Mario. Raccoon Mario’s flying abilities were infinitely more interesting and entertaining than Cape Mario in Super Mario World. These power ups complimented each stage and the game as a whole with such grace. Being able to win some of these power ups through Toad chests and card games and save them for later use not only helped get through certain stages with ease, but helped set another trend in the form of stocking power ups for later uses.
If “magical” had a physical form, Super Mario Bros. 3 is what it would be. Not only did it define what 2D platforming should be, but across the board, it’s one of the most memorable, enjoyable and gratifying video games ever. Twenty years later, I still regard Super Mario Bros. 3 as the greatest 2D platformer I have ever played, and one of the all time greatest gaming experiences I have ever encountered.