Best: Giant Land
Like the original Super Mario Bros., this sequel is such a work of genius, a product of the creative team firing on all cylinders, that it’s extremely difficult to point to one thing as the stand-out feature. But if there’s one aspect that’s particularly indicative of the game’s excellence for me, it’s Giant Land, the game’s fourth world, in which everything is super-sized: huge goombas, koopas, blocks, and piranha plants totally shake up your sense of scale. But again, it’s not really Giant Land in isolation that makes Super Mario Bros. 3 so great. It’s just one instance of the inventiveness with which the creative team approached making this game, with each of its realms feeling like a distinctively different step of your epic journey into the heart of Bowser’s territory.
Worst: All those autoscrollers
Bowser’s airships have a real sense of drama to them. They suggest that Bowser isn’t some flailing, impotent baddie and that he’s got real military might, an empire at his disposal. But the way in which the screen scrolls at its own pace through these stages, often more slowly than you might want to yourself, feels constraining in a game that, like the original, is at its best when you’re enjoying remarkable freedom of movement. And then, just as you’re approaching the game’s climax, you’re hit with several more autoscrollers in Bowser’s world, as you face his tank fleet, his navy, his flotilla of little airships, and then another group of tanks before finally entering the challenging final castle. I appreciate the effort to make Bowser feel formidable, but these stages needlessly prevent you from speeding through, making them both a late-game drag and the bane of speedrunners everywhere.
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