Super Mario Bros. 3 Quick Guide (NES, SNES, Switch)

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Super Mario Bros. 3 Quick Guide (NES, SNES, Switch)

~By tankMage (September 2022)

About this Guide

There are probably hundreds of Super Mario Bros. 3 guides out there, so thank you for choosing this one. I played SMB3 a lot when I was a kid and developed a method of beating the game over the years. This method is not the fastest, it took me an hour and thirteen minutes to beat the game when I tried it recently, but it is reliable and relatively easy.* It’s also one of those things that stuck in my mind for three decades and I felt compelled to write it, so here it is…hopefully it proves helpful. Being a brief guide, it does not go over specifics of every stage outside of a few hints and strategies.

*As a frame of reference, no warp speedruns of SMB3 usually clock at around one hour, so this method is comparatively slow.


1. Overview

2. The Walkthrough

3. References

1. Overview

This is a brief rundown of everything you need to beat the game using the strategy I came up with. It includes the items as well as the route through the game. 

a. Required Items

This guide is largely based around collecting certain items and holding on to them in order to take a specific route through the game. It is very important to keep these items in the inventory until it is time to use them or the strategy may not work. All of these items can be acquired fairly easily and are found in worlds 1 through 3.

– 2 Warp Whistles

– P Wing

– Jugem’s Cloud (AKA Lakitu’s Cloud) 

b. The Route

This guide takes players through all of Worlds 1 and 2 before World 8 (which is why this is not a speed run) to get certain items. It also gives players time to stock up on lives and extra powerups in preparation for World 8. Here is a basic layout of the important stages and what to do in them.

– World 1-2: Gather extra lives using the jumping trick

– World 1-3: Duck on the white block then run right after falling behind scenery to get Warp Whistle 1

– World 1 Fortress: Use Racoon Mario to fly to the secret door near the entrance to get Warp Whistle 2

– World 1 Airship: Complete the airship to get the P Wing

– World 2: Proceed through this world collecting powerups and lives

– World 2 Airship: Beat this to complete the second world and get Jugem’s Cloud

– World 3: Use Warp Whistles to go to World 8

– World 8-1: Use the P Wing to fly through this stage 

– World 8 Fortress: Use Jugem’s Cloud to bypass the Fortress, then go down the warp pipe northwest of the Fortress to reach Bowser’s castle

– World 8 Bowser’s Castle: Defeat Bowser in his castle to complete the game

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2. The Walkthrough

Here is a more comprehensive guide for those who are new to Super Mario Bros. 3 and for the benefit of those returning to the game after a long break. It does not go into great detail and assumes a certain level of familiarity with platformers in general, so it is probably not good for novice gamers. That said, I tried to cover some of the more difficult areas of the game as well as explain when to use certain items.

a. World 1: Grass Land

The first world is the easiest in the game and a great place to pick up items as well as extra lives. It is very important to get both Warp Whistles in this world and you will want to use the World 1-2 extra lives trick unless you really know what you are doing.

World 1-2: Stock Up on Extra Lives

Note: This trick is optional, but having a lot of extra lives helps in World 8.

Out of all the stages in the game, this is the easiest one to use the jump trick to get extra lives. You will need to get the Super Leaf in this stage or Stage 1 to do the jump trick. Look for a Red Goomba with wings by a pipe that dispenses regular Goombas once you have Racoon Mario. 

Try to position Mario so he is in view of the horizontal pipe the Goombas emerge from, then jump on the Red Goomba. Hold the A Button when you hit the Red Goomba to jump extra high, then tap A rapidly to float down slowly and land on another Goomba. High jump from the second Goomba and float down to the next one to keep the chain going. Repeat this process about 8 times and you will start getting 1-Ups instead of points.

Look for this pipe and hop on the Goombas that come out without touching the ground.

Try to keep the horizontal pipe on the screen or it will not produce more Goombas. This trick can be difficult to pull off at first, because the chain breaks when you touch the ground, but you can rack up tons of extra lives with a few minutes of practice. You can also do this stage as many times as you like if you intentionally die. There is a ? Box near the beginning with a mushroom and a Note Box near the middle with a Super Leaf, so any power ups you may need can be found in the stage.

About 20-30 lives should be more than enough to beat the game if you are familiar with SMB3, but newer players may want to go as far as 60 or even 99 lives. It all depends on your skill as a player.

World 1-3: Warp Whistle 1

The first Warp Whistle is hidden near the end of World 1-3. Look for a white block near the end of the stage. Jump on the block and press Down on the controller to duck. Keep ducking for five seconds and Mario should fall through the block and behind the scenery. It is very important to run to the right as quickly as possible (you may have to jump to avoid a few enemies) in order to get behind the end area of the stage before Mario pops out of the background. Once you reach the area where the card is located you will enter a hidden mushroom house. Open the box to get the Warp Whistle.

Crouch on this block for a few seconds to fall behind the scenes, then run right to find the secret mushroom house.

World 1 Fortress: Getting Warp Whistle 2

Head right through the fortress and try not to get hit. Be sure to collect the Super Leaf left of the first door, but do not go into the first door. Jump on the Dry Bones, then run left from the first door to build up the P-Meter so Mario can fly. Fly up, then right so Mario is offscreen and on top of the brick ledge above the door. Go right until the screen stops scrolling, then push Up to enter a hidden door. The Warp Whistle is in a chest behind the door.

Fly up and to the right to find the hidden door to the second Warp Whistle.

World 1: The Rest of the Stages

Go through the rest of the stages after collecting both Warp Whistles and stocking up on lives. Do not use the Warp Whistles and try to save anything you get from the Card Matching Game and Mushroom Houses in this world. 

World 1 Airship: Larry Koopa

Larry (first of the Koopa Kids or Koopalings as they are now known) waits at the end of the Airship in World 1. He is the easiest of the Koopalings to defeat, because his attacks are very basic and the floor of his chamber is mostly even. Stay a few body lengths away from Larry (just far enough that you can easily jump on him) and jump on his head as soon as he fires his wand. He will retract into his shell, spin around, then leap over to another part of his room before coming out of his shell again. Do not try to jump on Larry while he is in his shell, because it will launch Mario in the opposite direction, causing you to lose control of him for a second or two. 

If you time things right, you can be right next to Larry and jump on his head again as he emerges from his shell. Do this three times and he will flee, leaving the wand behind. It is also possible to use Fire Mario’s fireballs to beat Larry, but it takes quite a few hits and it is easier to just jump on his head. Save the P Wing the Princess gives to Mario after completing the Airship.

Save the P Wing for World 8.

b. World 2: Desert Land

Desert Land is a good place to collect more power ups for the final world. While more difficult than Grass Land, Desert Land is beatable without using items from Mario’s inventory, especially if you used the jump trick in World 1-2 to collect extra lives. A third Warp Whistle is hidden in this world, though it is not necessary. The real point of completing this world is to get Jugem’s Cloud, which is a reward for beating the second Airship.

World 2 Fortress: Defeating Boom Boom

You will have to beat the fortress to reach the second half of World 2. This fortress is tougher than the one in Grass Land, so beware the Thwomps and Boos that inhabit the place. Be patient and turn to face the Boos to stop them in their tracks if they get close.

Get used to Boom Boom’s movement pattern.

The Boom Boom that guards this place is good practice for the final world, because you will face a few of them later on. Boom Boom will run left and right, wildly flailing its arms. Jump on him and bounce to the left or right of this mid-boss to avoid taking damage from his spiked shell. If you are fast, you can jump on Boom Boom a second and third time before he can start moving again. If not, you will have to be ready to avoid Boom Boom as he gets faster after taking damage. Boom Boom can be dispatched easily with fireballs if you are Fire Mario.

World 2 Quicksand: Home of the Infamous “Flying Sun”

The “Flying Sun” Awaits Mario in this sand pit.

Those familiar with Super Mario Bros. 3 probably remember the reputation the quicksand level garnered thanks to the appearance of a fake sun that begins using a swooping attack on Mario about halfway through the stage. The Angry Sun (or Flying Sun) can be difficult to deal with, especially since there is a whirlwind just before the point in the stage where it becomes active. A few Winged Koopas also show up, making the situation even more dire.

Luckily, there are a few ways to deal with this foe. First off, getting past the twister without being shoved backwards will ensure that you are ready to deal with the Angry Sun. The twister is just past a quicksand pit that has a Green Koopa to the right of it. Start running to the right after dealing with the Koopa and jump into the twister when you see if. If you are not Racoon Mario, try to aim for the middle of the twister to simply pass through it. Raccoon Mario should aim for the top of the whirlwind, because it can propel him very far, allowing him to fly through much of the stage.

Once past the twister, you will soon see some blocks on the ground; this is where the Angry Sun will start spinning in a circle before swooping down at Mario. The Angry Sun repeats the same left-right swoop pattern after spinning a few times, so it is easy to learn if you watch it carefully, just keep an eye out for Koopas. 

Mario can stay alive just by jumping over the Angry Sun when it gets close, but it is also possible to quickly defeat the sun by jumping on a Koopa, grabbing its shell, then kicking or ramming the shell into the Angry Sun when it swoops down. Quickly run to the end of the stage to the right if you kill the Angry Sun, because he will respawn after a few seconds.

World 2 Pyramid: Super Mario Bros. 3’s First Maze

I am not going to spend too much time on the Pyramid, which is just south of the Castle, because it is not very difficult. That said, it can be easy to get lost here if it is your first time through. Mario can get through this stage by going up and to the right. Brick walls block the way, but these can be broken with the Racoon Suit’s tail or by kicking the shell of one of the many Buzzy Beetles in this stage at them.

Watch out for the Buzzy Beetles. They are fireproof, plus some of them can walk on the ceiling and drop down on Mario when they get close. You should also try to avoid killing them by kicking them while standing right next to a wall or kicking them at each other, because you can get stuck in this area if you cannot break the walls. Keep going right after you see a pipe by a pit and use another Buzzy to break a second wall, then go up the last pipe at the end of the passage.

World 2: The Third Warp Whistle (Optional)

Use the Hammer dropped by the Hammer Bros. in World 2 to break the rock in the upper right. This will reveal a secret area in World 2.

One of the Hammer Bros. that travel around the map in World 2 will drop the Hammer if you defeat them. Look for a rock in the upper right corner of the map and use the Hammer while standing next to the rock to break it. This will reveal a hidden oasis where you can get the Frog Suit from a mushroom house and fight the Fire Bros. to get the third Warp Whistle. This section is optional and the Fire Bros. can be difficult to defeat, so feel free to skip them.

World 2 Airship: Morton Koopa Jr.

Morton is the second of the Koopalings. He moves much like Larry, but can be a bit more difficult thanks to the uneven floor in his chamber.

Do not let Morton corner Mario.

The main danger in this battle is getting pinned by one of the short walls in Morton’s room. Stay on high ground and jump on Morton after he fires just like you did with Larry. Mario will receive Lakitu’s Cloud from the Princess after defeating Morton Koopa Jr. The cloud is extremely important to this run, so do not use it until you reach the Fortress in World 8.

Do not lose this cloud.

c. World 8: Dark Land

After beating Morton Koopa Jr. in World 2 and getting Lakitu’s Cloud (JAKA Jugem’s Cloud) use two Warp Whistles to warp from World 3 to World 8.

The Warp Zone

World 8 is very dangerous (though not nearly as hard as World 7 in my opinion) and you will hopefully have plenty of items as well as lives left over from the earlier stages. If this is your first time through World 8, you hopefully took the advice of this guide and stocked up on lives. If so, you can burn through them to learn the more difficult levels. Luckily, it is possible to bypass the very worst stages in this world using the P Wing and Jugem’s Cloud.

World 8: Defeating the Tanks

Mario will have to get past a series of tanks near the start point of Dark Land. Much like the Airship stages, the Tank stage auto-scrolls, so you will have to move quickly.

Learn the tank stage well and get used to these auto-scrolling levels in Dark Land.

Bob-ombs can be picked up if Mario jumps on them, making it possible for the ones shot out of cannons in this stage to be used as weapons or simply kicked out of the way. Just make sure you get away from them when they begin to flash or you will be caught in the explosion. 

You should also look out for Monty Moles. These creatures peak out of the tank hatches and throw wrenches at Mario. It helps to keep them under control by jumping on them or hitting them with fireballs when they pop up. Be ready to make some pretty huge leaps in this stage, because it is often safer to stand on top of the tanks than it is on the ground where Bob-ombs and cannonballs abound.

Mario will have to defeat a single Boomerang Bro. at the end of this stage. Running over to him and jumping on his head just after he throws his first boomerang is a reliable way of defeating him without taking damage. You will also get a Star as a reward for finishing this stage.

World 8: Bowser’s Navy

For some reason, Bowser saw fit to have a fleet of ships guarding the uh…waters of Dark Land. This stage scrolls automatically like the last one, but it is a bit easier if you know its secrets. First off, you may want to use the Frog Suit here if you have it. Cross the first ship as you normally would and ignore the ? Box under the wooden beam near the start. The ? Box is something of a trap, because it is hard to grab the powerup it generates without getting hit by all the cannonballs.

Watch out for the big guns on these ships; they fire large cannonballs that move a lot faster than the little ones. Generally it’s best to be above or below the big guns to avoid getting hit. Keep going until you reach the back of the first ship, then jump into the water. It’s possible to actually swim under the second ship and bypass all the bad stuff on its deck if you hit the A Button rapidly to keep from drowning. 

It is a lot easier to swim under the second ship with the Frog Suit.

You will have to jump onto the deck of the third ship as soon as you see it, because Mario cannot safely swim under this one. Luckily, this ship is easy if you stay on high ground and keep the Monty Moles under control. Take care not to fall into the water when you get to the end of the third ship, because it is very difficult to jump back onto the deck from the water. Mario will have to fight Boom Boom again after going down the pipe. He should be easy, since his chamber is very flat and the same technique from earlier in the game still works on him.

World 8: Hand Traps

Go down the pipe directly north of the ships after beating Boom Boom to get to the next part of Dark Land. Mario will emerge in an area with some strange looking pits surrounded by fires. These are actually trap stages that may pull Mario in as he crosses them. There are three in total and they activate at random, so you may have to do all three or none at all depending on your luck.

This guide will not go into detail about these brief stages, because they are not very hard for the most part. That said, they are worth doing if you have a lot of lives or know them well, because Mario gets an item at the end of each trap that can be used for the really hard stages coming up. In fact it may be best to just complete them before attempting the Airships in case you die, because getting caught by a hand trap after dying on the Airship stage is very distracting.

World 8: Airships

This is where Dark Land starts to ramp up the difficulty. Mario will have to cross a series of small airships as the screen scrolls by at a rapid pace. To make matters worse, Monty Moles, cannons, and even jets of flame crowd this stage. On top of that, some of the jumps are very difficult and you will have to get running jumps without much space to make them.

You should still have plenty of lives left that can be expended to learn this stage if you are not familiar with it, so I recommend practicing it a bit until you are confident you can get through it. Once ready, use a Super Leaf and take advantage of Racoon Mario’s ability to float, which should make clearing the airships a lot easier.

Another Boom Boom guards this stage. This Boom Boom is a bit more dangerous, because he will grow wings and fly around the room after you jump on his head the first time. Stay close to him after the first jump and squish him right after he sprouts wings or you will have to face off against a flying Boom Boom. Do not worry if you miss, Boom Boom is easy to hit when it swoops at Mario. The third jump should not be hard to pull off since he goes back to his regular form. Back on the map, go into the pipe above the ships to get to the next section after beating Boom Boom.

World 8-1: It’s P Wing Time!

Hopefully you saved the P Wing that the Princess sends Mario when he reaches the second world, because 8-1 is one of the worst stages in this game thanks to a series of difficult jumps and tons of Bullet Bills. Use the P Wing and just fly over everything. You can even find a secret pipe near the beginning of the stage that has three extra lives as well as a P Switch that makes a ton of silver coins appear.

You can still clear this area fairly easily if you lost your P Wing for some reason by using a Super Leaf if you have one and flying whenever possible. Barring that, you will have to memorize the stage and use the Bullet Bills to boost jump over a few large pits.

World 8-2: Return of the Angry Sun

The Angry Sun makes a comeback in 8-2, but we do not have to worry about him, because there is a trick that allows players to bypass him and much of the stage. Simply let Mario sink into the quicksand near the start of the stage to find a hidden chamber with two pipes. The pipe on the left leads to a powerup, while the one on the right takes Mario to some coins. Even better, the Angry Sun will not show up when Mario emerges from the pipe in the middle of the stage!

World 8 Fortress: Nope!

Remember when you got Jugem’s Cloud from the Princess after completing World 2? The entire point of that was so you could skip the Fortress in World 8, which is an awful maze of doors. Use Jugem’s Cloud after you beat 8-2 to pass over the Fortress to the right, then enter the warp pipe in the upper left to reach the path to Bowser’s Castle.

World 8: The Super Tank

Leave it to Bowser to guard his castle with a really big tank. Mario will have to conquer this tank to reach the castle, but it is not as bad as the other stuff in Dark Land. Fire Mario is great in this stage, because he can blast away all the Monty Moles.

Another flying Boom Boom waits at the end of the tank. Use fireballs to kill him if you have Fire Mario, otherwise jump on him very carefully as you did the last one to beat him. With Boom Boom and the Super Tank out of the way, Mario can make the final assault on Bowser’s Castle!

World 8: Bowser’s Castle

This stage is actually kind of short and sweet aside from some difficult jumps…if you know where you are going. Run to the right from the start of the stage and keep running when you see some Bowser statues. These things will shoot lasers at the floor, so it is important to be moving really fast to avoid them. I have had an issue where I have been hit by the third statue as Fire or Racoon Mario even though I was running full speed, so duck and slide when you get near statue number three. 

After the statues, ignore the door and ride the lift. You will have to climb up a sort of staircase full of Roto-Discs after falling down a narrow shaft. This area is really easy if you take your time. Continue to the right and you will eventually reach a pool of lava with a bunch of blocks that fall if Mario stands on them for too long. Jump up these blocks with running jumps by going up and left. When you reach the top of the room, jump across the blocks to the right. You can keep the blocks from falling and reposition Mario by hopping constantly.

The door to the last half of Bowser’s Castle is at the end of a narrow passage in the top right. There’s a single block that Mario will have to jump from to reach the door. This part is tricky, because small Mario can just jump from the block, while Super, Fire, and Racoon Mario cannot make the leap due to their size. One way to deal with this issue is to stand on the block and jump to the ledge just as it falls. If you miss, just hold Right to drift to the ledge below and get a Super Leaf from a ? Box. From there you can build up speed and just fly to the ledge above.

The hallway to the correct door is just right of the block Mario is standing on.

After going through the door, Mario will have to deal with more laser spitting Bowser statues and falling blocks over a pool of lava. Be careful when you reach the lava, Bowser will spit fireballs that travel straight across the screen when you get to it. These are slow and easy to jump over. Keep going and you will reach the door to Bowser’s chamber.

Note: There is an alternate path to Bowser’s room. Just take the third hallway down from the top of the lava pool and go right until you see another donut shaped block just above a narrow shaft. Stand on the block and jump to the right when it falls to get to the passage below it. Continue right to another door that leads to a lava/statue hallway that will take you to Bowser’s chamber.

The Battle with Bowser

You have come a long way and now the only thing that stands in the way is Bowser himself. Mario cannot harm Bowser by jumping on his head and I cannot not recommend doing so. Instead, you will have to hit him with tons of fireballs or trick him into defeating himself by smashing the blocks under him.

Bowser follows a basic pattern of spitting one or two fireballs, then jumping to where Mario is standing. You will often have to jump over the fireballs and run or jump out of the way before Bowser lands. Bowser pauses for a second before he leaps, so you will know when to get out of the way. Fire Mario (or Hammer Bros. Mario) can just run around shooting Bowser to defeat him, making the fight easy as long as you do not get hit.

Otherwise, you will have to bait Bowser into jumping on the bricks near the center of the room. A layer of bricks will shatter every time he lands on them and he will fall into a pit below if you can get him to break the third layer. This requires careful timing, since you need to stand in place and move or jump a second before Bowser lands. One way to control this fight is to stand in the center of the room, move out of the way as Bowser lands, then jump onto the ledge above the door on the right. This will allow you to move back to the center when Bowser jumps again, making it a relatively easy way to destroy all three layers of brick.

Enter the door after beating Bowser and victory will be yours!

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3. References

This is where I usually list every resource I referred to while playing a game, but there is not much to share here. I played SMB3 so much over the years I have a lot of it memorized. That said, there is one very important document I used long ago to learn some things about this game in the first place as well as a cool site that I got a lot of enemy names from, so feel free to check these sources out.

Nintendo Player’s Guide – NES Game Atlas: It is impossible to overstate just how much this publication has influenced this guide. In fact, the Game Atlas is what inspired a very young tankMage to write guides in the first place, so this book alone may very well be responsible for the entire website. While it has a few omissions and mistakes (what doesn’t?) it’s still an excellent resource and worth buying if you can find one. Even now, it sits faithfully by my desk as I write this, so thank you to everyone that worked on the Game Atlas.

MarioWiki: I couldn’t remember a lot of the names of enemies, places, and items while writing this guide, so the Mariowiki was instrumental in getting all that stuff straight. I am not sure how much practical information this site has, since I was mostly concerned with figuring out what “the cloud” (as I used to call it) was actually named, but it looks like a great place for lore at the very least.

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