Tips From a Grandmaster: Super Mario Bros 3


If I could be so bold as to call myself an expert in any game series, it’d have to be Super Mario. My favorite games tend to consistently be games with Mario appearing, especially if such title is a platformer, and while my new favorite is Super Mario Galaxy 2, my previous favorite for nearly 20 years was Super Mario Bros 3. While I’m not quite good enough to beat the game in 11 minutes like some unhealthy devotees (though I’m pretty sure that was assisted), I’m good enough to give you some simple tips to help you get through the tough parts of the game. So here we go, Tips From a Grandmaster on Super Mario Bros 3!

Bowser? Yeah, he's a pushover at this stage in my life.

The very basics of the game revolve around running and jumping, but in simplicity comes depth. Most enemies can be killed by a good head-stomping, though a handful are protected by spikes. Of the moves you have to work with, you can jump, throw fireballs (when powered up by the Fire Flower), fly (when powered up by either a leaf or a Tanooki Suit), and attack with your tail (also if you have a leaf or Tanooki suit). These will make up your essential skills, particularly the final two. Get used to how far you can jump when at a run, how long you can fly for, and how close you need to be to strike an enemy.

A common misconception is that Mario is slow. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Mario games are based off the theory that anyone can play through a level and conquer it on the first playthrough rather than be forced through trial-and-error. However, should your confidence and skills be high, speed will become your best friend as a full P meter means you can make more daring leaps and cross some gaps you wouldn’t normally be able to deal with. Once you get to max speed, things start whipping by at alarming speeds, especially obstacles. Each SMB3 level is relatively short, so a good speed-run can occur level-to-level in mere seconds if done right.

Don’t confuse this with NEEDING to run at top speeds. Some levels just don’t lend themselves well to running full-bore; the most obvious levels are moving stages such as Bowser’s Air Force or level 1-4. However, be comfortable keeping your finger ever on the dash button. Mario should have no reason to walk at any point; he should always be running whenever he moves.

And running can equal flight, a seriously useful ability.

Let’s take a second and look over the power-ups of the game offers. First, and most obvious, you have your Super Mushroom. This will make Mario big (as if you didn’t already know). Keep a stock of these in your inventory (accessed through the map screen) just in case you die in a level and revert to a tiny little squirt. You usually don’t need to power up all the way to something more since most levels have a ? block near the start that yields either a leaf or a Fire Flower, so don’t waste power-ups if you don’t have to.

Next, you have the aforementioned Fire Flower. It allows Mario to shoot fireballs, a nifty little trick that works wonders for Koopalings. However, don’t rely solely on that fireball, as many enemies in the game can’t be harmed by fire, such as Bullet Bills, Bob-ombs, Chomps, and Buzzy Beetles. As I mentioned though, bosses fall to fireballs extremely easily, especially mid-bosses found in fortresses. Keep your finger tapping that fire button and bosses crumple like they’re nothing. Only problem is getting to some of those bosses without losing your fireball ability. Should you have to slug it out with a mid-boss by means of simply jumping on them, remember their pattern. You only have to hit them once and they’ll fall to you as they freeze in place with their spikes out, so jump on their head, land on solid ground, jump as they’re ending their frozen state, then repeat until you’ve stomped them three times. They’re that simple.

The real winner in the power-ups department is either the leaf, which transforms you into Raccoon Mario (insert your own “leaves equal raccoon? That’s crazy!” jokes here), or Tanooki Suits, which transform you into Tanooki Mario. By the way, a Tanuki is actually not a raccoon but a type of dog species, though it does look exactly like a raccoon, only with huge testicles. Seriously, look it up. Anyway, both Mario forms are capable of flight when at a full dash, as well as allowing you to perform that tail swishing attack. It is critical that you learn how to use that tail attack since it falls everything, including things normally immune to fireballs. Bosses are the only exception for some odd reason, but everything else can be fell with a well-timed swish.

Swish! Good, keep swishing!

In addition to flight and tail swishing, you can slow the speed of a fall by flicking your tail with continued taps of the jump command. This is very useful for making precise jumps onto small platforms, or setting yourself up for huge 1-up chances, allowing you to bounce from one enemy to the next without having to touch the ground. This can easily be accomplished in some of the airships where cannons are constantly firing in all directions. Hopping from cannonball to cannonball is tough to master, but if you can get it right, 1-ups turn into candy that you get to just keep poppin’. The Tanooki Suit has the added bonus of turning Mario into a damage-proof statue if you hold down and the attack button. Be warned though as you’ll stop moving, so don’t do it over a pit unless you didn’t really want a Tanooki Suit or an extra life in the first place.

If you’re lucky enough to find a Hammer Suit, Mario will be capable of tossing hammers similar to how he can toss fireballs. However, the hammers are thrown in a very distinct arc, plus they can go through objects and smash blocks. It’s like an even better version of the Fire Flower that also allows you to be indestructible when pressing and holding the down button. The saddest part is that the soonest you’ll find the Hammer Bros Suit is probably World 7, and that’s if you don’t miss it completely. You get so few of these in the game that you should hold onto it unless you’re ready to make good use of the added abilities.

I'd certainly come close to being my favorite power-up from any Mario game... Not now, another time.

The last two power-ups are the Frog Suit, which helps in water stages well enough but is virtually useless in any stage that requires you to make careful jumps or run since you can’t really run in the Frog Suit, and the Starman, your invincibility item. Very, very few stages become easier with a Starman activated at the get-go, but there are the rare moments when it comes in handy. In World 2 there is a level where you face the Angry Sun. Pop a Starman and take a running leap at him early on to remove him from the stage for a while. Other stages, such as one particular stage in World 5 (level 5-6), has you hopping on the backs of Para-Beetles. If you have a Starman active, you’ll jump right through the first Para-Beetle you attempt to land on, killing it instead of using it as a platform and ultimately causing you to fall to your invincible death.

Besides the power-ups, there are some special items given to you via World Map enemy encounters against Hammer Bros, as well as tokens given to you by Princess Toadstool at the end of every world. The least useful item is the Music Box as all it does is make roaming Hammer Bros fall asleep for a turn. I’m just going to assume you’re good enough not to need to skip Hammer Bros, so forget it. Next is the Hammer, an item that you’ll probably want to make use of once and only once (I’ll tell you when). It breaks rocks on the World Map and nothing else.

The more useful item is the Cloud Charm, an item that allows you to move past a level without having to complete it. Granted, if you die in the next level you’ll get shot right back to where you started, so use this only when there’s a level you just can’t seem to get past, or a level that takes too long (assuming you’re going for a timed record). I use it almost every time to skip level 8-1, a level I just can’t for the life of me get through the majority of the time unless I’m using the P-Wing, the other super-valuable item as it gives you an infinite P boost for a single level. It makes Bowser’s Air Force a breeze, but don’t waste it on a stage you could easily just run through.

Nothing sucks more than catching a stray fireball and losing your P-Wing power-up.

Topping the charts of importance is the Warp Whistle, of which there are only three in the entire game. When used on the World Map a tornado appears and whisks you away to a World 9, consisting of three rows of pipes that warp you to World 2-4, 5-7, or World 8, respectively. The way it works is that you’ll be warped to the row containing the next world from the one you’re already on, so if you warp in World 1 you’ll be taken to the first row with pipes to World 2, 3, and 4. However, if you stand on the first space in the front row (the blank space) and use another Warp Whistle, you’ll get sent to the third row with World 8. That means you only need two Warp Whistles to jump from World 1 to World 8.

Here are the locations of the three:

The first is located in level 1-3. Near the end of the level is a white platform that looks bolted to the background. Jump onto it and hold down for a few seconds. Doing so allows Mario to fall behind the scenery for some odd reason. Run to the end of the level (careful not to get injured by the Para-Goomba) and you’ll end up in a Toad House with a single chest containing a Warp Whistle.

The second is also in World 1, this time in the Fortress. You’ll need to be Raccoon Mario to pull this off. Run to the end of the first area but don’t go through the door. On the end platform you’ll need to get a running start enough to fly, then leap into the air and fly straight up. Careful not to let the Dry Bones on the platform kill you or take away your power of flight! Once you find yourself up above where the screen shows, go as far right as possible and press up. You’ll enter a door and be in a room with another singular chest containing a Warp Whistle.

The third Whistle is in World 2 and takes a bit more planning. This is the only time you’ll ever really need to use a Hammer on the World Map save for some instance that you really want to get to some bonus games for one reason or another. At least one roaming Hammer Bro will yield a Hammer when eliminated. Once you have that, head to the top right corner of the World Map and smash the rock to access a third screen over where you’ll encounter a Toad House and another roaming Hammer Bro, which turns out to be a pair of Fire Bros that give up the final Warp Whistle when knocked out. With those three whistles you should be able to jump around to whichever world you’d like.

Might as well make it Pipe Land since I feel like I never get to see Pipe Land.

Okay, let’s try and cover some strategies in the meantime, right? Beyond mastering the various times to utilize the different power-ups, it’ll come in handy to know how long a Koopa shell will remain inactive before the Koopa wiggles back out and causes damage. Reason being, once stomped upon, a Koopa shell can be picked up and run with for quite some time, acting as a nice shield as well as a really damaging projectile to a wave of enemies. Knowing how to run with a shell is critical for passing stage 6-5 as the only way to clear the level is to acquire a leaf power-up, grab a shell, and fly up to a random exit spot that requires you to break away some blocks with the shell.

Another simple strategy for uncovering secrets is to consistently fly as high as possible within a stage. A lot of stages have platforms in the air with coins galore just waiting for you to uncover, such as level 2-4. If you fly up the far left side of the screen you’ll break through a bunch of blocks and be in a new area with tons and tons of coins.

Speaking of coins, my final tip comes from World 1. If you want a super secret airship of coins to appear, you can play through any stage of World 1 and end a level with your coin digits matching (such as 11, 33, or 77), then pair those digits with the last two digits of your score. If you manage to pull this off, the coin ship appears in place of a roaming Hammer Bro. Of course, if you manage to attain every coin in level 1-4 a white Toad House with a P-Wing appears, so there’s that, too.

There are some levels of Ice Land just stuffed full of coins to a player with enough fireballs to withstand the perils.

And that’s all the advice that this Grandmaster can muster at the moment. My P-Wing is all used up and I’m out of lives, but there’s plenty more to dig into that I didn’t cover. That’s the beauty of Super Mario Bros 3: There’s always something more to find. Happy hunting!

Want mroe about Mario? Check out these articles:

Mario: A Retrospective Part 1

The 20 Greatest Mario Enemies Ever

Let’s Think Deep: Rethinking Remakes


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

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