It may be years, or possibly even decades, since you last visited the Mushroom Kingdom in Super Mario Bros. 3. But even after all that time, it’s impossible to forget the exhilaration of crouching down onto a white block, dropping behind the scenes, and being awarded a Warp Whistle for the very first time.
This entire Nintendo classic is brimming with Easter eggs and helpful secrets from start to finish, and since its release in 1988, Super Mario Bros. 3 has sold over 17 million copies worldwide. The game marked a return to form in the franchise after the unusual (but still enjoyable) Super Mario Bros. 2, and it has since gone on to be considered one of the greatest video games of all time.
With almost 30 years since its release, you may think you’ve had all the time necessary to discover everything there is to know about the game. But as it turns out, there are still some lesser known facts and secrets waiting to be unearthed. Here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Super Mario Bros. 3.
15 The whole game is a stage play
Being the best-selling franchise of all time, it’s no wonder that Mario games have inspired their fair share of crazy fan theories. Some people believe that Princess Toadstool is Bowser Jr.’s mother, or that Donkey Kong murdered Mario and Luigi’s father. Some even believe that the entire series is simply a retelling of The Legend of Zelda. But when it comes to Super Mario Bros. 3, one of the prevailing theories is that the whole game is actually a performance. But the craziest thing about this theory is that it’s actually true!
The game opens with a red curtain going up and every level ends with Mario exiting stage right. Even the obstacles look like set pieces — with their shadows cast against the background and the platforms being visibly suspended from above. You even have the ability to “go behind the scenes” if you crouch atop a white block.
While some believed that this was simply a stylistic choice, in 2015, game creator Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed that the entire game was indeed a performance. He put the theory to rest on the Nintendo UK Twitter page, where Miyamoto answered a number of other Mario questions. However, the creator also revealed that he was the true mother of Bowser Jr., so make of that what you will.
14 You can use the warp whistle in World 9
Without an abundance of online messaging boards to choose from, players of Super Mario Bros. 3 had to rely on their friends or a trusty strategy guide if they wanted to uncover all the secrets hidden within the game. Some of the most well-known secrets by far were the two Warp Whistles hidden in World 1. The first can be picked up in level three, by staying in the ducked position on the white block until you drop behind the scenes, and the second can be gotten by flying into an unseen area in the World 1 fortress.
Here you could instantly warp to the World 4 and save yourself a ton of time replaying levels. But while many kids were so excited just to be skipping over a few worlds, they failed to realize that the second Warp Whistle could be used in World 9. This trick will take the player all the way to World 8 after they’ve only beaten the first three level in World 1 — quite a significant shortcut.
13 There are 7 white mushroom houses hidden in the game
While many players needed the Warp Whistle in order to beat the game, discovering the White Mushroom Houses (which appear more blue in the SNES version) proved to be more of a bonus find. The secret houses are unlocked by obtaining a specific number of coins while playing a specific level in each world (save for World 8). For instance, collect 44 coins in level 1-4 and you’ve just earned yourself a P-Wing!
Every White Mushroom House in an odd numbered world yields you a P-Wing, while every house in an even numbered world earns you an anchor. Thus, there are three anchors available in Super Mario Bros. 3. If you’re crafty, you can warp to World 6 three separate times to collect three additional anchors, which will be sure to come in handy during the last couple of worlds. In total, you need to collect a minimum of 282 coins to access all seven White Mushroom Houses, which is no small feat.
12 The kings’ secret messages
The whole objective of Super Mario Bros. 3, aside from defeating Bowser and rescuing Princess Toadstool, is to retrieve the Magic Wand that will transform each world’s king back into his original form. After this is completed, each king will give the player a simple thanks before handing over a letter from the princess. However, if you beat the level wearing the Frog, Tanooki, or Hammer Brothers Suit, the king’s dialogue will be altered.
When Mario is in the Frog Suit, the king thinks that your character has been transformed in the same manner that they were, and he offers to use the wand to transform Mario back. When Mario’s in the Tanooki suit, the king thinks you’re a racoon and asks for your name. And last, but certainly not least, if you beat the castle in the Hammer Brothers Suit the king asks: “How about lending me your clothes? No dice?! What a drag.”
11 Toad stole Link’s Recorder
We’ve already mentioned that one of the prevailing fan theories about Mario is that the games are simply a retelling of The Legend of Zelda. After all, both franchises were created by Shigeru Miyamoto, and the storyline of each series revolves around a hero (Link/Mario) rescuing a princess (Zelda/Toadstool) from the primary antagonist (Ganon/Bowser). We must admit, this is a pretty common storyline, but the games borrow more from each other than just a simple outline.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was the first game to introduce the Warp Whistle, which allows the player to skip past entire worlds, similar to the Warp Zones in the original game. Even though this item is referred to as a Recorder in Zelda, there’s no mistaking that the two instruments are exactly the same. They even play the same tune! However, while the Whistle only allows Mario to warp, the Recorder allows Link to shrink enemies and reveal hidden entrances as well. Serves Toad/Mario right for ripping off the Recorder in the first place.
10 The Japanese version was much harder
Outside of translation, it isn’t unusual for a game to undergo a number of other changes for its international release. Japanese games are notoriously hard and they often have to be toned down so they’ll sell better in the United States. In fact, the original Super Mario Bros. 2 wasn’t even released in the States because of its difficulty, among other issues (more on those later).
In this instance, there were an entire two years between the Japanese and United States release dates, which meant more time to tinker with the game. Outside of fixing the obvious glitches and possible player hacks, the graphics and scene transitions were also refined. A couple of layouts were changed to make the gameplay easier, but the biggest change in stemmed from how the player took damage.
In the U.S. version, when Fire Power Mario is hit, he turns into Super Mario, when he’s hit again, he drops down to Small Mario. In the Japanese version, however, the character always drops down to Small Mario when hit regardless of the power level, or even if the character is sitting in Goomba’s Shoe.
9 The enemies were based on real life experiences
Boos -- known exclusively as “Boo” Diddlys in Super Mario Bros. 3 --- were actually based on game developer Takashi Tezuka’s wife, who was extremely shy around others, until one day she blew up at Tezuka, angry at all the long hours that her husband was spending at work. These mannerisms were given to the Boos, who will shy away when stared at, but chase after Mario or Luigi when they turn away. The Boos could only be defeated with a Koopa Shell, Hammer Suit, or Star Power (though we can’t say the same for Tezuka’s wife).
Meanwhile, the idea for the Chain Chomp came out of an experience from Shigeru Miyamoto’s childhood, when a vicious dog ran up and tried to bite him, only to be held back by the chain. Though you may think the Chain Chomp’s are always restricted by their leash, they’re actually able to break free after 49 attempts — so be sure to never take a bathroom break if you’re in their vicinity.
8 The Koopalings were based on the programmers
The Koopalings made their fist appearance in Super Mario Bros. 3, and they served as the primary antagonists, sent out in their airships to conquer each area within the Mushroom World. For over a decade, the Koopalings were thought of as the children of Bowser, until 2002, when Bowser Jr. made his first appearance in Super Mario Sunshine. In the current timeline, Miyamoto has clarified that the Koopalings are not actually Bowser's kids.
Maybe it was meant as a reward, or maybe it was simply a lack of new ideas, but Miyamoto ended up designing the Koopalings after the programmers that were working tirelessly to finish the game. Though we don’t know exactly which programmer each Koopaling draws their likeness from, we think it’s fair to say that the enemies turned into wild caricatures either way. While the Koopalings remained nameless in the Japanese version, the enemies were named after famous musicians in the States.
7 Centaur Mario
Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced a number of new power ups to the Mario series, including the P-Wing, the Hammer Brothers Suit, and the Frog Suit (which is really only advantageous during the water levels). In total, there are eight power-ups available within the game, not including Goomba’s Shoe.
Believe it or not, while the game was still in the development stage the idea for a half-horse/half-plumber power-up was being pitched around. This would have transformed the player into Centaur Mario — though it’s unclear what abilities the power up would have actually provided. This idea grew out of a concept for the game which would have involved each of Mario’s power-ups turning the character into a mythical being. The idea was, of course, ditched, and the Tanooki Suit was the only mythical power up left in the final game, as the suit is based off of the Tanuki, a supernatural creature from Japanese folklore.
6 Easter eggs hidden in the world maps
Of course, the individual levels of Super Mario Bros. 3 are chock-full of secrets, but there are even a few Easter eggs hiding in plain sight on the game’s world maps. While World 4 is shaped like a giant Koopa Troopa, one of Mario’s most popular foes, the islands in World 7 are shaped like the green pipes that Mario often travels through. So it’s no coincidence that World 7 is also known as Pipe Land.
The most interesting map secret that often goes unnoticed is in World 3, which is paradoxically named Water Land. Here, Mario must board a canoe or travel by pipe to arrive at the world’s castle, which is located on an island. These islands share a likeness to the islands of Japan, which means the castle would be located in the city of Kyoto. Kyoto is where the headquarters of Nintendo are located, and we also can’t help but notice that the king of Water Land looks strikingly similar to Mario as well.
5 The game was delayed due to a shortage of rom chips
Though Super Mario Bros. 3 was released in the United States in 1990, the game had already been available in Japan for an entire two years. As it turns out, there was a massive shortage of ROM cartridges in 1988, which delayed a number of Nintendo games in the west, including Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. Another factor in the game’s delay was that the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was still under development, and it didn’t hit shelves until the end of 1988.
In addition to the ROM shortage, Super Mario Bros. 3 actually required an additional processing chip to be installed in the game’s cartridge. This was needed for diagonal-scrolling, as well as the ability to have the info bar displayed at the bottom of the screen during each level. In the end, the two year delay gave Nintendo more to market the upcoming game in interesting ways…
4 The game was featured in The Wizard
Given all the extra time between the Japanese and United States release dates, it's possible that many Americans actually got their first look at the game in the 1989 adventure-comedy The Wizard. The film, which stars Fred Savage, Christian Slater, and Beau Bridges, follows three kids who travel to California to compete in a gaming competition. The final challenge in the competition involves Jimmy, the film’s protagonist, facing off against two other players in the yet-to-be released game Super Mario Bros. 3. Jimmy wins by discovering the game’s Warp Whistle and he is awarded $50,000.
The Wizard, which currently holds a 26% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, was panned by critics who felt the film was essentially a feature-length commercial for Nintendo. While they weren’t wrong, the film is far from unwatchable. The Wizard went on to earn its money back at the box office and is even considered something of a cult classic today.
3 There were 15 levels never released in the game
Within the game’s code, there was actually a ton of material that never appeared in the finished game. The most notable of these are the unused gaming levels that failed to make the final cut. While some of these levels were only constructed for the programmers to experiment with the game’s design logistics, other levels were alternative version of the ones that already appear in the game. One unused level even included a false ending, which allowed the player to go beyond the black screen and enter a sanctuary filled with coins.
Unused graphics are also hidden in the data, including the graphic of a sliding Hammer Mario and one of a front facing Frog Mario. A number of bonus games were also ditched, including a dice-rolling game that would have awarded the winner assorted power-ups. These games were actually hosted by Mario’s foes, as opposed to Toad, who hosts every bonus game within Super Mario Bros. 3.
2 The game introduced over 30 new enemies
The Koopalings were far from the only new enemies that appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3. Despite a skeleton crew of programmers (especially by today’s standards), the game creators were still able to conjure up dozens of new baddies that have become staples in the Mario series ever since. Some of these enemies include the Chain Chomp, Boom Boom, Boos, Fire Brothers, and Paragoombas — which were simply a winged version of the Goombas that appeared in the original Super Mario Bros.
There were also a few enemies which debuted in Super Mario Bros. 3 that haven’t been used much since, but they were so iconic (and annoying) that we can still recall them with ease. One such enemy is Big Bertha, a large red fish that follows you around for the entirety of the level. Even if you manage to eliminate her, Big Bertha has an insanely fast respawn time. And, of course, who could forget about Angry Sun, another enemy that stalks you around for the entire level.
1 It’s not actually the third Super Mario Bros. game
Don’t let the name fool you, Super Mario Bros. 3 was actually the fifth game ever released with “Super Mario Bros.” in the title. Just one year after the original game debuted, Super Mario Bros. Special was released in 1986 for Japanese audiences only. The game, which could only be played on computer, featured a number of new levels in addition to new enemies that had previously appeared in Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong.
There are also two Super Mario Bros. 2 games. The original Super Mario Bros. 2 was considered too difficult and too similar to the original game, and wasn’t originally released in the United States. It was later released in 1993 as a part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection, under the title Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels.
The Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released in the United States was actually a Mario-ized version of the Japanese game Doki Doki Panic, which explains why Super Mario Bros. 2 feels drastically different from the first and third games in the series.
So did you learn anything about Super Mario Bros. 3? Is there anything we missed? Be sure to let is know!