The Wii U may not have been a hit, but the Nintendo brand is still a powerful one in the eyes of many gamers. Mario, Zelda, Starfox, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Metroid… Nintendo’s list of classic franchises is totally unrivaled. It was recently announced that, for the first time ever, Shigeru Miyamoto and his crew are officially developing a Super Mario title for a platform other than a Nintendo console or handheld. Super Mario Run will launch first on iPhone and iPad in December, before coming to Android in 2017. There’s no word yet on whether the title may one day find its way to the 3DS.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, let’s take a walk down memory lane and reminisce about Super Mario’s greatest adventures. Since his debut in 1981’s Donkey Kong, Mario has withstood the test of time with Nintendo’s signature tight gameplay, adorable art style, and all-around jolly irreverence. Some of the games on this list are his best-known platforming titles, while others delve into Mario’s side-jobs as a kart racer and RPG hero. Here are the 20 Best Super Mario Games Ever.
20. Mario Party
Before we begin, let us stress this point: Mario Party is not a good game. Even recent entries, which have significantly stripped down the board game elements, are absolutely terrible. With a single roll of the dice, a player in first place can have their fortunes reversed, and anyone with a bit of luck can steamroll their way to victory, regardless of skill level. It’s sheer madness.
However, a four-player game of Mario Party is still a silly good time. With the right group of friends and an endless supply of candy and responsibly consumed beverages, it’s hard to top the unadulterated fun of such a wild and mindless game. There are no less than a dozen Mario Party titles on every platform from the Nintendo 64 to the Wii U. Old school purists love the memorable stages from Mario Party 2, but we prefer the faster pace of Mario Party 9, in which all players travel the board together. Plus, it’s the final entry in the series to date featuring Birdo as a playable character, and Birdo is our undisputed favorite character. They let that disgusting piece of trash Waluigi be playable in Mario Party 10, but not Birdo? WHY?
19. Super Mario Bros. 2
The original version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was considered to be too difficult for American players to enjoy, so they opted instead to refit a completely different game, Doki Doki Panic, and release it in the West as Super Mario Bros. 2. As a result, the gameplay of Mario 2 is vastly different from its predecessor. Enemies can no longer be defeated just by jumping on them; they must also be picked up and thrown into objects, and the level design is much more non-linear than the first game, with an unusual emphasis on vertical platforming.
Despite not beginning life as a “true” Mario title, Mario 2 did introduce many recurring elements into the franchise. Peach’s floating ability made its debut in this title, as did enemies like Shy Guys and Bob-ombs. In addition, the Mario series’ greatest recurring foe, Birdo, made her triumphant debut in this game. Ultimately, Mario 2 proved popular enough that it was eventually ported to Japan as Super Mario USA.
18. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
The original version of Super Mario Bros. 2 eventually saw a release in the West as part of Super Mario All-Stars, a compilation which also included Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3, all with updated graphics and sound. Instead of its predecessor’s two-player mode, The Lost Levels allowed players the choice of either Mario or Luigi, the latter of whom was differentiated by having a significantly higher jumping ability. However, this advantage was offset by giving the character’s slippy movement physics.
The biggest difference in The Lost Levels was its difficulty. The original Super Mario Bros. may be a tough game by today’s standards, but The Lost Levels is one of the most difficult platformers of all time, with jumps requiring nerves of steel to avoid plummeting into the abyss, tons of enemies who will kill you over and over again, and those endlessly annoying Poison Mushrooms. Truly elite gamers who have conquered The Lost Levels are few and far between, and are regarded as legendary heroes within the Mario community.
17. Super Mario Sunshine
Along with Mario Bros. 2 USA, Super Mario Sunshine is often dismissed by some fans for its drastic changes to the classic run-and-jump formula. Sunshine shifts the action to a beautiful tropical island covered in toxic sludge. Framed for the environmental disaster, Mario is enlisted to clean it up, with the aid of a unique device. Part water hose and part jetpack, the FLUDD, as it is called, is the love-it-or-hate-it element of Sunshine which defines the title and divides players to this day. Some players love cleaning up paint and using the various nozzles on the FLUDD to explore Isle Delfino’s lovely landscapes, while others wish that the whole game were closer to the bonus stages in which the FLUDD is removed and Mario is forced to navigate tough-as-nails linear courses using nothing but his wits and jumping prowess.
It’s telling that the sequel, Super Mario Galaxy, did away with the Fludd entirely and restricted the gimmicks to limited-use powerups. However, it’s also telling for the quality of the Mario brand that, while often considered to be one of the weakest entries in the series, Mario Sunshine is still a tremendous game, full of intense platforming challenges, unique ideas, and some of the best boss battles in the whole franchise.
16. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
Mario’s first handheld adventure was Super Mario Land, which, while a fun and solid Game Boy launch title, was held back by a short length (only twelve stages) and superfluous shooting levels which got in the way of the old-school platforming goodness. The sequel, 1992’s Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, was bigger and better in every way.
Mario Land 2 featured over 30 courses, an overworld map, and graphics more in-line with the recently-released Super Mario World, which really pushed the limits of the types of visuals the Game Boy was capable of delivering. This game also marked the debut of Mario’s rival/nemesis Wario, who has stolen Mario’s castle while our hero was away in the first Mario Land title. Wario ultimately proved popular enough that the next game in the series, Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, would drop Mario completely in favor of his greedy and slovenly counterpart (who may or may not be his biggest fan).
15. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
The Mario & Luigi series is a cute and quirky little RPG sub-series which, despite its fun mechanics and zany storylines, always seems to be stuck in the shadow of the Paper Mario games. Perhaps it’s because the M&L games have only ever been on Nintendo’s handhelds, while Paper Mario has seen the majority of its titles land on console.
However, even more than Paper Mario, the M&L titles are the heir apparent to the revered Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (more on that later), featuring the same mix of isometric platforming, comedic storytelling, and turn-based RPG combat, complete with timed-hits, lending the titles a light action element which is lacking in many menu-based RPGs.
If we had to pick a favorite M&L title, it would have to be Bowser’s Inside Story, in which the brothers go on a Fantastic Voyage-style adventure inside the body of their greatest enemy, Bowser. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but Bowser’s innards are a great setting for M&L‘s sense of humor.
14. New Super Mario Bros. U
After Mario broke into the third dimension with 1996’s Super Mario 64, some fans of his old-school 2D adventures felt a bit left behind. There were no original Mario titles for the Game Boy Advance, either; instead, the Mario Advance series consisted entirely of ports of NES and SNES titles.
Finally, in 2006, New Super Mario Bros. was released for the Nintendo DS. The game utilized 3D graphics, but the action was decidedly classic in nature, with Mario running from left to right on a quest to jump over pits and reach the end of each course. The game was a smash hit, and led to sequels on the Wii and 3DS.
Our favorite entry in the New series has to be New Super Mario Bros. U, which was a launch title for the ill-fated Wii U. While the graphics are not a huge leap over the Wii version, utilizing most of the same assets, the level design was tighter than ever, and the four player co-op, while as hectic as in Wii, can still be a boon, as long as everyone is on the same page and working together. Otherwise, brace for tons of Game Overs.
13. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
The first Paper Mario title, for Nintendo 64, started life as a sequel to Super Mario RPG before morphing into its own unique entity with a downright striking art style. Unfortunately, it came out in 2001, when the N64 was already well on its way out. However, it has since been re-released on the Wii Virtual Console, and is thus available for purchase to modern gamers.
The 2004 sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, quickly became a cult classic and is fondly remembered as one of the best Mario spin-offs around. Thanks to the power of the Gamecube, TYD looks phenomenal, even by today’s standards, and the story still holds up after all these years thanks to compelling characters, snappy dialogue, and a surprisingly dark tone at times (for a Mario game, at least), which contrasts nicely with the colorful art style and more lighthearted elements.
Super Paper Mario would follow, abandoning the RPG genre in favor of a unique platformer with the ability to switch between 2D and 3D at will. It was a novel little title, but not quite what we were hoping for from the series.
12. Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario 64‘s levels were akin to open-world sandboxes. Granted, Dry Dry Desert is a bit smaller than Red Dead Redemption, but the fact was that the game didn’t hold the player’s hand and tell them where to go; exploration was up to each individual person. For Mario’s first adventure on the 3DS, Nintendo aimed to combine the 3D gameplay of Mario 64 with the linear course design of classic Mario side-scrollers (but Mario 3, in particular). This game is for players who love the 3D movement of more recent titles, but miss the straightforward platforming challenges of yesteryear.
Super Mario 3D Land features eight worlds full of intense moment-to-moment running and jumping. Upon clearing these worlds, eight “special” worlds are unlocked, as well as the ability to play as Luigi, before finally being allowed to play the brutally difficult S8-Crown level. That’s a whole lot of gameplay, making Super Mario 3D Land quite possibly the biggest handheld Mario title yet.
11. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Released in 1995, near the end of the Super Nintendo’s reign as the dominant console, Yoshi’s Island’s most immediately striking feature was its downright beautiful visuals, with an art style which seemed like it came straight from a coloring book, as well as limited 3D elements which were very impressive for the SNES.
A prequel to the whole series, Yoshi’s Island introduced the world to Baby Mario, a nagging little brat whose irritating cries still haunt our dreams to this day. Being a baby, Mario is incapable of protecting himself, so it is up to Yoshi to carry the child to safety while also contending with Baby Bowser and Kamek the Magikoopa.
Many of Yoshi’s abilities, such as egg-throwing and his earth-shaking ground pound, were first introduced here. Yoshi’s Island was relatively easy compared to other Mario titles, but that was rectified in the arguably superior sequel, Yoshi’s Island DS, released in 2006 for — you guessed it — the Nintendo DS. The title featured adorable versions of characters like Peach, Donkey Kong, and even Wario, each with their own unique abilities. Yoshi DS retained the endearingly cutesy art style of the original, which stood in stark contrast with the blisteringly difficulty level.
10. Mario Kart: Double Dash
Mario Party may have the word in its title, but there’s no doubt that the ultimate “party” game will always be Mario Kart. Some people like the classic Mario Kart 64, while others prefer the motorcycle action of Mario Kart Wii, but we think the best entry in the series is Double Dash, for the Gamecube, which introduced the series to some of its best weapons and tracks. There are few thrills which can match being dragged by a Chain Chomp across Mushroom Bridge, knocking away other racers with righteous aplomb, seizing the lead… Only to be wrecked by a devilish Blue Shell.
The main gimmick in Double Dash was the ability for cars to hold two passengers, allowing players to pair up. For gamers who liked the action racing hijinks of the series but simply weren’t very good at it, riding shotgun and handling weapons while a more experienced driver flawlessly careened around corners was simply a joy. Besides, Birdo is more of a gunner than a pedal-to-the-metal type of character, anyway.
9. Super Mario Galaxy
The Wii successfully courted casual players and non-gamers alike with titles like Wii Sports and Wii Fit. There was a fear that hardcore Nintendo fans would be left behind, but when Mario Galaxy hit shelves in 2007, those fears were alleviated. Marketed as the true successor to Mario 64 (guess they didn’t much care for Sunshine), Galaxy promised non-stop platforming joy from start to finish, and boy, did it deliver.
Levels in Galaxy were set out in space, on comically tiny planets, which led to unique explorations of low-gravity gameplay. Despite the seemingly open nature of outer space, courses usually possessed a decidedly linear nature, especially in comparison to Sunshine and 64. Though Mario’s trusty steed Yoshi didn’t return, Galaxy introduced lots of creative new power-ups to the series. Our favorite is easily the Bee Suit, which lets Mario fly around while wearing adorable yellow-and-black stripes.
8. Super Mario Maker
The most recent game on this list, Super Mario Maker came out in 2015 on Wii U, and is set to release on 3DS in December 2016. Mario Maker allows players to, at long last, finally design their own courses and share them over the internet. The amount of tools at the player’s disposal is staggering, and the game smartly, though controversially, only unlocks them all as the game is played. However, given the absurd levels of complexity in some levels, the learning curve is generally appreciated.
Levels can be modified by using the aesthetic from either Mario Bros, Mario Bros 3, Mario World, or the New Super Mario Bros. series, and some items may work differently depending on which aesthetic is chosen. The title makes excellent use of the Wii U’s gamepad in designing courses; placing platforms is literally as simple as tapping the screen. Mario Maker’s nearest competitor in this regard is LittleBigPlanet for Playstation, which feels impossibly complex in comparison.
7. Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario 3D Land for 3DS was a noble effort, but the Wii U sequel blows it away with its stunning graphics and four-player co-op multiplayer, in which the characters retain their unique abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2. The courses are wider than in 3D Land, but they still retain their linear nature, while simultaneously offering players a degree of protection from accidentally murdering each other, which happened way too often in the New Super Mario Bros. titles.
Like most Mario titles, 3D World possesses 8 distinct worlds, but it also has four secret worlds with remixed versions of earlier levels. Within these secret worlds, Rosalina from Mario Galaxy can be unlocked as a playable character, giving Peach some feminine company. While 3D World generally isn’t a terribly punishing game, the final challenge, Champion’s Road, is easily one of the toughest levels in any Mario game, ever. It possesses no checkpoints — and no mercy. By comparison, S8-Crown from 3D Land is a naught but a simple cakewalk. Seriously, if you’ve beaten Champion’s Road, let us know in the comments!
6. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is essentially an expansion pack for Mario’s first Wii adventure, but bigger, better, and more imaginative. The power-ups are as creative as we expect from the series (with a special shout-out to Cloud Mario!), the levels are simply awe-inspiring in terms of their design and playability, and the triumphant return of Yoshi was a welcome surprise.
Unlike Mario Galaxy, as well as Sunshine and 64, this sequel all but does away with the hub world, reverting to a “level select map” akin to Mario Bros. 3. While some fans lamented this loss of exploration and discovering new levels, Mario Galaxy 2 ultimately made the right call by focusing on its biggest strength, which is bombarding the player with a nearly endless deluge of challenge and imagination. Galaxy 2 is distilled fun in its purest form, except maybe for its final challenge, Grandmaster Galaxy, which gives Champion’s Road a run for its money in terms of hair-pulling frustration.
5. Super Mario RPG
In 2002, Square Enix (then known as Squaresoft) shook the world with Kingdom Hearts, an action RPG which combined the worlds of Disney Animation (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) with the style and storytelling of Final Fantasy. An unlikely pairing, to be sure, but it was hugely successful and spawned numerous sequels.
Kingdom Hearts wasn’t their first outside-the-box crossover; that would be Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, an incredible little game which had the misfortune to be released at the tail end of the SNES’s life cycle, mere months before the debut of the Nintendo 64. Mario RPG may have been overlooked at the time, but it has since developed a cult following and reached a new audience thanks to its re-release on the Wii Virtual Console. The game is exactly what it sounds like: Mario as an RPG, with a unique story, turn-based battling, and a traditional level-up system. There may never be a true sequel to this game (and we may never see Mallow again, unfortunately), but the spirit of the title lingers in spinoff series like Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, which borrow many elements from this game, including its wacky sense of humor and isometric platforming.
4. Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. was not Mario’s first appearance (the character made his debut in 1981’s Donkey Kong), but it was certainly the game which made him a household name, and it remains a timeless classic that is as much fun today as it was when it launched alongside the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. Super Mario Bros. was the game which singlehandedly pulled the video game industry out of the slump caused by the Videogame Crash of 1983.
The premise was simple: run from left to right, avoiding obstacles and jumping on enemies, and end every stage by claiming the flagpole from Bowser in your quest to rescue Princess Toadstool (not yet known as Peach) from the evil king of the Koopas. It’s a formula that, despite the jump to 3D and an increased focused on exploration, remains largely unchanged to this day, and is still enjoyed by gamers of all ages.
3. Super Mario 64
Just as Super Mario Bros. was the game which set the standard for all 2D side-scrollers to follow, so too did Mario 64 lay the framework for all 3D platformers to come, a framework which persists even twenty years later. Moving Mario around in 3D was nothing short of a revelation, and Mario 64 is still the only game which truly feels “right” on the N64’s three-headed beast of a controller.
Unlike the world map and linear courses of older Mario titles, each of 64‘s fifteen courses are hidden within Princess Peach’s castle, which acts as a hub world and hides numerous secrets for the player to discover. Bowser can be defeated and the castle liberated with only 70 stars, but collecting all 120 allows Mario access to the castle’s roof, where his old friend Yoshi delivers a message from the development team, as well as 100 extra lives… Which are useless, since the game is finished.
The game was re-released as a launch title for the Nintendo DS, adding Luigi, Wario, and Yoshi as playable characters. While we like that version’s additions and refinements, having to go all the way back to the castle’s foyer just to switch characters really hurts the title’s pacing. It’s still a great port of an amazing game, but we prefer the N64 original.
2. Super Mario Bros. 3
After the off-kilter Super Mario Bros. 2 and the crushingly difficult expansion that was the Japanese version of Mario 2 (known here as The Lost Levels), Miyamoto and company decided that a true 2.0 version of Super Mario Bros. was in the cards. Super Mario Bros. 3 took the formula of the original game and expanded it with a non-linear world map, an expanded arsenal of effective power-ups, and, of course, the ability to scroll the screen backwards.
One of Mario 3‘s biggest additions was the inclusion of auto-scrolling levels. Despite the time limit in Mario 1, levels could, more or less, still be approached at the player’s pace. These levels, on the other hand, moved the screen at a fixed rate, and if Mario was too slow and unable to keep up, then it’s Game Over.
P-Wings, the Frog Suit, Magic Flutes, the Hammer Suit, the Super Leaf… It’s hard to think of any elements from Mario Bros. 3 that aren’t iconic symbols of what makes Nintendo a uniquely special company.
1. Super Mario World
Which is better: Mario World, or Mario 3? The debate will probably never end, but, for our money, we have to side with this Super Nintendo launch title. Super Mario World showcased the power of the SNES with its impressive color palette and varied music, which was leagues beyond the bleeps and bloops of the NES titles. Mario World also introduced players to Yoshi the dinosaur, who would become an iconic character in his own right (and definitely not a Pokemon). By the end of the game, the player gets access to Yoshis of multiple colors, each of whom possess special abilities when they eat Koopa shells. Also, Mario trades in his raccoon tail from Mario 3 for a stylish gold cape!
Super Mario World’s levels are among the best in the whole series, with all of the greatest elements from prior games distilled into this, Mario’s greatest adventure. Super Mario World isn’t just our favorite Mario title; it’s also one of the greatest games of all time, and the pinnacle of what run-and-jump platformers are capable of.
Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite Super Mario Bros. game? Have any of you actually conquered Champion’s Road?Sound off in the comments!