How Can I Play It?: Super Mario Bros. 3

This week's podcast explores the greatest Mario game ever (maybe). Here's how you can explore it, too!

Our "How Can I Play It?" series lays out the best options for legitimately and legally playing the classic games we cover here at Retronauts, ideally on current platforms. 

This week's Retronauts episode tackles Super Mario Bros. 3, which many people consider the greatest Mario ever. Some even say greatest game ever, because they like making wild, bold claims. It's definitely a game any serious fan of video game history should have access to. Please allow us to offer our recommendations on how to acquire a copy.

NES Version

Super Mario Bros. 3 originally showed up on NES in 1990, and that version has been reproduced most frequently in the years since. Currently Nintendo makes the game available on three different platforms, with one kind of outlier. This is the "true" version of the game, so it's the one purists will want, but unfortunately has made it difficult to buy a proper, satisfying conversion of the game.

Wii Virtual Console

The Wii Virtual Console rendition is mostly tolerable, since you can play it on a CRT television in its proper resolution. That makes the graphics look sharp, and you don't have to struggle with input lag. But it looks awful on an HDTV, with overly dark visuals, and upscaling lag means the controls will feel sluggish and slow.

3DS Virtual Console

Super Mario Bros. 3 doesn't suffer from lag on 3DS, but it have that annoying flaw common to all of Nintendo's NES ports to 3DS VC: You can't force it to true-pixel resolution. While this doesn't affect how the game plays, it does make those wonderful graphics look blurry and distorted.

Wii U Virtual Console

On the plus side, Wii U VC means you can play Super Mario Bros. 3 on either a television or on Game Pad. That's good! Unfortunately, it looks terrible on TVs, with even darker colors than on Wii and fuzzier pixels than on 3DS. The visuals fare better with off-screen play, but there is a tiny amount of lag on Game Pad.

Classic NES Edition

With bright, vivid graphics, spot-on sound reproduction, and no perceptible lag, the Classic NES Edition take on Super Mario Bros. 3 is the one to play. Oh! Too bad that's almost impossible, since Nintendo manufactured a few dozen of these mini-NES systems and stopped selling them before you were able to find one. Sorry about that…

Super NES Version

Nintendo remade all four 8-bit Super Mario games in 1994 for Super NES in the Super Mario All-Stars collection. (If you're really cool, hunt down a copy of the pack-in cartridge that added in Super Mario World!) This take on the game includes a few extremely tiny physics modifications to go along with its wonderfully overhauled graphics and music.

Wii Super Mario All-Stars

This package pretty amounted to a Super NES game in a Virtual Console emulation wrapper sold as a full-price retail release. A questionable business tactic, perhaps, but it does amount to a faithful recreation of the All-Stars version of Mario 3 that runs on Wii or Wii U. That's not too bad. On the other hand, it sells for about $20 at minimum, which is about three or four times as expensive as the Virtual Console editions. So that is bad.

Game Boy Advance Version

Based on the Super NES version, the GBA conversion of Super Mario Bros. 3Super Mario Advance 4 — includes some unfortunate compromises. Everything is cropped, and the music's not as good. On the other hand, this version includes a bunch of bonus content that makes it pretty interesting…

Wii U [GBA]

The Wii U's Virtual Console for Game Boy Advance games is great, and this release is the high water mark for the format. Yes, Super Mario Advance 4 makes some frustrating changes to the Super Mario All-Stars rendition of Super Mario 3. But! This version of the game includes all of the eReader add-on card content. Some of that material was exclusive to retailers like Wal-Mart, and the original GBA cart couldn't actually store the data for every eReader card at once. In other words, this rendition of Super Mario Advance 4 is actually better than the original cart! While purists won't approve of its technical compromises, it's a wonderful and entertaining adaptation of an NES classic.

In summary:

My recommendation would be to check out the GBA Virtual Console release for Wii U. It's a fresh and interesting take on the game, especially if you've never played the eReader content (which is basically a pile of super-weird bonus stages that predate Super Mario Maker by more than a decade). If you want the original NES game, though, 3DS Virtual Console is probably your best bet if you weren't lucky enough to acquire a Classic NES Edition.