"Much of SMB 3's uniqueness comes from conditioning the player, and then pulling the rug out from underneath him. This isn't as bad as it sounds as these 'twists' are often optional and give the player time to adjust.
Everyone's favorite 8-bit platformer has aged remarkably well since its release some 25 years ago and continues to inspire shocking and glowing remarks from many corners ... a few of which are illuminated in the excerpts below, nearly all of which are contemporaneous.
Tim Rogers' super-long "Sticky Friction" post at Kotaku is also relevant to the discussion and worth wading through, as is his 10,000-word Mario 3 review, which is linked below.
They're also part of a larger design choice that seems to be SMB 3's main focus: variety.
Beyond the clever architecture, one-time mechanics/dynamics, unique art assets, etc., the overall flow of the levels shows the importance of this goal. Even when the Worlds are themed – such as Ice Land – each of their consecutive stages use different tile sets and gameplay. The standard level is accompanied by multi-directional auto-scrollers, tense fortresses, sluggish underwater stages, battle arenas, one-off themed levels, labyrinth maps, bonus shops, airships, minigames, etc. Simply put, SMB 3 pulls out all the stops in trying to create a constantly stimulating experience that never feels repetitive."
-Radek Koncewicz, Significant Bits
"Structurally, the game is a mess. Yet it perseveres through its own messiness with the weirdest grace … Super Mario Bros. 3 succeeds flying-colorfully because of — somewhat ironically — all the waste. When one is pure of heart and intention, when one has Millionaire Dysentery and is diarrheaing Texas Tea — as Miyamoto and company were — waste doesn’t make the game clunky: it breeds lore. So many little caution-to-everything hiccup-baubles litter Super Mario Bros. 3‘s landscapes — like the little blue road-stop in the middle of the ocean in the first half of World 3; the 'hand trap' mini-level obstacle courses, lined up three in a row on screen two of World 8, where you have a fifty-fifty chance of being dragged in and forced to play: lose, and you fall back to the beginning of the section (the annoying thing is that they stand between you and the Hardest Airship In The Game, and you’re going to be needing to make the trip from the start of the area to that airship plenty of times, because every time you die, it sends you back).
The friction and the physics had always been a huge part of who Super Mario is. It’s hardly conspiracy-theory-ism to conjecture that Miyamoto’s biggest interest in the design of the games lay in the acceleration of Mario’s run, the tweak-able arc of his jump, and the momentous screech of his halts and turnarounds.
At its best, Super Mario Bros. 3, steeped in lore, big and bulky and bubbling and never lumbering, offers pure kinetic motion of a more psychologically thrilling level than any game before or since."
-Tim Rogers, Action Button Dot Net
"This was one of the only good games the nerd ever reviewed … yet he found that a lot of elements in the game are references to Satan.
Why [are] there so many inverted crosses? … The pentagram makes an appearance everywhere. It's no doubt that the seven sons of Bowser represent the Seven Deadly Sins. You kneel before Satan on the block, and after 6 seconds, you fall through. There's 6 arrows on the possession meter, and to reach the goal, you go to the 6th door! That's 666!
The enemies in the game are out of control. You got these Goombas hopping around in wind-up boots. Then you got an angry sun, Big Bertha, and nuclear waffles. Not to mention you gotta fight all the Koopa Kids and beat Bowser at the end."
-Angry Video Game Nerd
was the first platforming game in which the player could scroll both
simultaneously vertically and horizontally. The game creators could have
explored this new technical in numerous ways, but they choose the simplest to use
– allowing Mario to fly.
Mario’s new flying ability, this enhanced the spatial reference point in all
sorts of manners and the creators adapted the game design to this new condition.
leaf power up, which gives Mario a raccoon suite, mitigates most of the new
design challenges a game like Mario 3 has. The raccoon suite allows players to
explore by either flying upwards or from falling from great heights. This last
point is incredibly important. Since the raccoon suit lowers the rate at which the
player falls, the player then has greater control of what Mario is doing. This
means that the player will not feel intimidated from falling from great heights,
even where he is unfamiliar. This allowed the developers [to] throw the player
in all manner of situations, while allowing the player to retain control."
Waters, Versus 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."
-Martin Watts, Nintendo Life
instinctively know that Mario's creators would never place coins that you can't
collect, so your mind starts ticking away: How do you get those sky coins? At
this point, an inquisitive player backtracks to find a solution, running left
along the flat stretch of turf that has likely been cleared of its patrolling
Goombas. Mario runs, a meter rises in the score panel at the bottom of the
screen, and eventually a whistle begins to trill as Mario stretches his arms.
With a jump to grab the coins, he begins to fly. It clicks: Mario can run and
fly with the raccoon tail. You, the player, follow the coins upward to a hidden
patch of clouds in the sky, where bonuses await."
"At 90 levels, Super Mario Bros. 3 still holds the record among 2D Mario platformers. However, it definitely isn’t the longest one. If there’s a flaw in the game worth noting, it’s that the levels can be extremely short."
-Giancarlo Bellotto, Nintendo Enthusiast
"It wasn't until I went back and played the game how I felt it should be played, level-by-level, using no 'cheating' items, did the true ingenuity of some of its tougher obstacles become apparent. There is a sky level that scrolls diagonally upwards, and you must jump from one moving platform to another floating directly above you by leaping out and 'twisting' Mario's jump in mid-air.
One airship even requires you to make huge jumps across gaps that are almost the entire length of the screen."
"[In the Japanese version:] Super, Raccoon, Fiery, Frog, Tanooki, Shoe, and Hammer Mario
will revert to small Mario if touched.
to the Guinness Book of World Records 2008, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the world's
best-selling video game, which is false.
One of the early ideas was a power-up to turn Mario into a Centaur (half-man, half-horse), although this was rejected before being implemented into the game."
-Super Mario Wiki
[Period review:] "Super Mario III is simply the finest video game I've ever played. It mightn't have the graphics and sound anywhere near as good as many Megadrive and Super Famicom titles but what it does have is utterly fabulous playability. Its perfectly graded difficulty level, massive depth, constant surprises, hard-to-find secrets, mega-rewarding gameplay and supreme challenge combine together to make it horribly, horribly addictive. I mean real Government Health warning stuff! Once you start playing you want to keep going, just to see what surprises are around the next corner! I ended up playing it all night! And when I wasn't playing the game I was thinking about it! It's truly awesome stuff – the greatest game yet seen! And if you haven't got a Nintendo to play it on, you'd better start saving now!"
-Julian Rignall, Mean Machines magazine (1990)