It's obvious that the NES and SNES era Mario platformers hold up incredibly well. So the question that I usually pose here in my Does It Hold Up? series is kind of irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is that Mario's initial side-scrolling adventures are some of the best in the genre. Super Mario Bros. was a revolutionary game when it launched. And Super Mario Bros. 2, while not the real Super Mario Bros. 2, took the series in a colorfully quirky new direction that dripped with pure style and offered unparalleled variety at the time.
This time, I take a look at Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World and explain why these are two of the portly plumber's greatest adventures ever.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
I'm just going to go right out and say it: Super Mario Bros. 3 is as close to perfect as a 2D platformer can get. When the game originally launched in North America in 1990, it took the Mario series back to the format that gamers grew to love with the original Super Mario Bros. And while I can't bestow enough praise on the bold new direction that Super Mario Bros. 2 took the series in, I really appreciate how Super Mario Bros. 3 was a proper evolution of the franchise. The game pretty much did to the Mario series what A Link to the Past did to the Zelda series: It brought it back to basics while modernizing it to the point where the game would remain completely playable and enthralling even after over 20 years.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was the game that bested me when I was a kid. I was never able to get to Bowser. I came close, but I always met my demise prior to encountering the evil king of the Koopas. That was until a few years ago when I played the game on the Wii Virtual Console and got through the entire thing in a day. And at that moment, I thought the exact same thing I thought when I played it recently for the purposes of this look back: Super Mario Bros. 3 could have been released today and it would still be a practically flawless game.
The level design in the game is superb. To call it anything less than amazing would be doing Super Mario Bros. 3 a serious disservice. The game is challenging, but it's fair. It's punishing, but it's captivating. Simply put, Super Mario Bros. 3 is the perfect example of how to make a traditional 2D platformer, and I don't think I've ever played a game in the genre that can top it.
Of course, anyone who's played Super Mario Bros. 3 knows that the game isn't just awesome platforming. No, aside from that marvelous element, Nintendo decided to throw in some of the best power-ups in the series. The Super Leaf, the Frog Suit, the Hammer Suit, the freaking Tanooki Suit. All of these items made Mario's adventure even more outstanding. Then there's Kuribo's Shoe, which is quite possibly the greatest power-up ever created for a video game.
If all of that wasn't enough, Super Mario Bros. 3 also looks and sounds great. With a colorful art style, charming enemy designs, and a catchy collection of themes, this title is the complete package. It's a golden little platformer that will last you a good chunk of time to complete. And once you're done, you'll likely want to return for more.
The verdict: Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best side-scroller in the series. If that's not enough to make you want to play it these days, I really don't know what is. If this was a score-based review, you can bet I'd be awarding it an impressive 10 / 10.
Super Mario World (SNES)
There's a constant debate about whether or not Super Mario World is better than Super Mario Bros. 3. I'm not here to address that debate (read: Super Mario Bros. 3 is the better game). I'm simply here to talk about how amazing Super Mario World is as a sequel to Mario's third NES adventure. The game offered SNES owners an excellent platforming experience, and it was a great transition for Mario to the Big N's newer hardware. Like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World has a lot of content to offer gamers, and it's all excellent.
The first thing you'll notice are the awesome graphics and sound. While the original Super Mario Bros. now offers a more minimalistic style, Super Mario World looks impressive even to this day. It's all art design here, and the bold backgrounds, colorful characters, and nice little details are all a sheer joy to look at. As far as Mario's classic adventures are concerned, Super Mario World is the best-looking out of the bunch. And its soundtrack, rife with new tunes and catchy beats, is a lot of fun to listen to while stomping on baddies.
Sadly, there aren't a ton of crazy new power-ups here like there were in Super Mario Bros. 3, and that's kind of a shame. That game's items really contributed to its awesome factor, and while there are some neat new power-ups here, there's nothing too mind-blowing like the Tanooki Suit or Kuribo's Shoe.
You know what there is, though? Yoshi! That's right, Mario's green little buddy made his debut in Super Mario World, and he added an interesting layer to the already-stellar platforming gameplay. You can ride around the dino and it really makes the levels feel a bit different than if you just run through them with Mario. No, there may not be any mind-blowing power-ups here, but Yoshi is still really cool to encounter and ride.
Ultimately, what makes Super Mario World so enjoyable is its incredible platforming. The level design is intricate, and there are plenty of secrets to discover, bonus levels to play through, and a jolly green dinosaur to saddle up on. It's games like Super Mario World that make you want to pummel Bowser over and over again, because getting to that final castle is so much fun. The game's challenge is also welcome, assuring that there's never a dull moment to be had. Thank goodness for the Virtual Console–it really gives people who missed these games a chance to experience 2D platforming greatness.
The verdict: Why does Super Mario World hold up these days? Simple: Because it gives many modern platformers a run for their money.