Retro Gaming Review: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

I did’t have any video games in my life until I was a teenager. Sure, I would play at friends’ houses, but I never had any gams I could call my own as a kid. As someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I sat mostly on the sidelines as the NES, Super Nintendo, and Nintendo 64 generations of consoles happened around me. The first gaming console I owned was an N64 that I bought in 2000.

Because of my late start into gaming, my familiarity with “retro gaming” is mostly attributed to hearing what games other people spoke highly of. My love of Metroid, for example is due to my love of the Metroid Prime games, not because I enjoyed Super Metroid as a kid. The first Mario game I played for any serious amount of time was Mario Sunshine for the GameCube!

I know what you’re thinking, this guy’s gaming roots are pretty weak. And I’d agree, so let’s fix it! I’ve made a list of about 20 NES SNES games that I will play for 3-5 hours1 and report back on my experience. First up:

Super Mario Bros. 3

If you look online, this game is widely considered to be the best game to come out for the Nintendo Entertainment System. IGN, 1up, Digital Trends, Games Radar, and Arcade Sushi can’t be wrong, can they? I chose this game because it was a sure-fire hit. I ended up liking the game, but i definitely don’t love it. Much has been said about this game, so I won’t delve into every aspect of it, but there were 2 things that stood out to me.

The controls, visuals, and gameplay hold up perfectly

Often when playing old games, it’s painfully obvious that they are not of the current time. Game technology is advancing at an incredible rate, and it’s not unusual for games as little as 5 years old to feel a little antiquated when compared to modern releases. Super Mario Bros. 3 was released 28 years ago, was released on a console with 1.7MHz processor2 and it holds up incredibly well.

The controls are tight, and there wasn’t a single time I could say I died because the controls weren’t able to keep up with me. Mario does exactly what you tell him to do, and he moves around with a very satisfying momentum that no other platformer has been able to replicate. In a world of smartphone games where the controls are not as tight, it’s refreshing to play a game like this where everything is locked down so well.

The visuals also hold up quite well. There’s not a lot of detail in this 8-bit world, but everything that is there simultaneously looks interesting and functional. The different environments stay refreshing, as you move from forest, to desert, to castle, to snow, and more throughout the title.

Meanwhile, enemies and items you can interact with in the levels all stand out and are easily identifiable. The visual language of this game allows new players to hop in and immediately understand how most things work.

But then there’s the difficulty

Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the hardest games I have ever played. I died a ton in my approximately 5 hours with the game. You start the game with 4 lives, but that’s not nearly enough. When you’re little Mario, it just takes one hit to kill you, and I got killed a lot. Jump in a hole? Dead. Land right next to a turtle instead of on top of it? Dead. Jump onto a green pipe as a flower is coming out? Dead. And if you lose all of your lives? You get shot back to the start of the world you are on, even if you’ve done the 5 levels and mini-games, you’re going to have to do them all again.

I think it’s the lack of health bar that makes this harder than most modern games. For example, Bloodborne is the hardest game I’ve played in a couple years, and I even find that easier than SMB3. The difference is that if I make a mistake in Bloodborne, I can run away from the bad guys and heal, or worst case scenario, I can’t run but can take a couple hits before biting the bullet. The fact that most of the time it just takes one hit to knock me out in SMB3 just makes it that much more stressful. You can’t make even little mistakes.

There are moments when you feel really powerful, but even those last less time than you would expect in a modern game. The best example is the star item, which makes you invincible for a short period. In a modern Mario game, these last almost 10 seconds, but in SMB3, they last what seems like no time at all (maybe 3 seconds, enough to run though one or two enemies if you’re lucky).

I only made it to world 3 in my 5ish hours with the game. Each level only takes 1 or 2 minutes to beat, but when you’re playing each one about 10-20 times, it adds up fast. And again, because the controls were so tight, I could never blame the game for my constant deaths…I don’t know if that made me feel better or worse.

Will I keep playing?

Probably a little here and there. This is extremely solid for a 28 year old game, and I want to see more of what it has to offer. The extreme difficulty is what would keep me away, and it’s also what worries me about the rest of this retro gaming adventure I’m going on. SMB3 is not known as “one of the hardest games ever” but I struggled with it quite a bit. What am I going to think when I get an actual hard game like Contra or Ghosts and Goblins?

We’ll see how I do in the future, but I’m glad I played this classic game and expanded my gaming knowledge.

Next up: Metroid (NES)


  1. Less if I can’t take it anymore, more if I fall in love. 
  2. For comparison, the PS4 has an 8 core 2.75GHz processor, each core of which is 1,600x faster than the NES.