The number three is a weird number in gaming. To some it signifies the end of a trilogy of titles, such as Mass Effect 3 or Halo 3. To a few, it is a divisive and repulsive number for a series, such as Doom 3 or Assassin's Creed 3. But to many, the number three is a number that is praised, signifying a sequel title that sets new bars for a series. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Super Metroid are all threequels that exemplify this.
Just like it's predecessor, though, there's one threequel that didn't just set the bar high for its series; it set a new standard for its genre, its effects still felt throughout the entire gaming zeitgeist. It is a title that transcends its medium and joins the ranks as one of the best sequels created. This is Super Mario Bros. 3.
Our game puts us back in the overalls of Mario, as he's off to rescue the seven Kings across the Mushroom World from the dastardly Koopalings. Light story details are common in Mario games, and SMB3 is no exception.
The gameplay featured in SMB is back and better than ever. Moving from left to right, you'll bash bricks, collect coins and items like the Super Mushroom, the Fire Flower, and an important new item called the Super Leaf. Silly looking raccoon ears and tail aside, the Super Leaf grants an important ability that becomes a huge staple in later Mario titles: flight. After gaining a running start, Mario can take to the air to find hidden coins and secret paths to bonus areas, as well as traverse through the sky without hassling with landbound enemies.
Outside of the levels you'll reach the end of the world - usually a castle where the Koopalings' Airship is stationed - via the world map, where you can travel to the next level, hit up one of the Item Houses or Roulette Houses, or take on the invading Hammer Bros. for extra lives and items. The world map is another innovation for the series. Don't like a level? Given the right items or depending on your path, you can bypass it to continue through the world. Most notable, too, is that each world has a distinct theme: one world takes place in a desert, another is purely an ice world, while another world features gigantic enemies and obstacles. Overall the gameplay and controls are incredibly refined, and even today they stand the test of time.
The graphics also stand out quite nicely. Each enemy and character are smoothly animated and compliment the 8-bit world they inhabit. Level design is among the best in the series, ranging from colorful overworlds complete with giant floating blocks, to underworld caves that truly feel dark and murky.
The soundtrack and sound design is also top-notch. The soundtrack is one of the most memorable in the series. From the whimsical Athletic theme to the powerful and foreboding Airship theme, you won't find a bad track in the lot. Sound effects both borrow from its predecessors and add some new ones to the mix, but overall there isn't a negative thing to say about the sound design.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is a paragon title, setting a bar that even some titles today can't top. It doesn't just rank as one of the best Mario games of all time, it ranks as one of the best games ever made. Do yourself a favor and play this title if you haven't, immediately.