The one character that managed to be more recognizable to children than Mickey Mouse was in the 90’s. Nintendo created a mascot that has, and will continue, to stand the test of time. His games? They don’t call them “Super” for nothing.
For over thirty years, the Italian plumber from Brooklyn has been jumping his way onto our television sets and stomped out the competition with world class controls, stage layouts and its sheer brilliance. In what could be Nintendo’s Mario magnum opus, Super Mario Odyssey is on its way to the Nintendo Switch. What better time to take a look at the best Mario games out there!
While we have seen Mario make appearances outside of the platforming genre, including the near immaculate Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, this list pertains to platforming games staring Mario himself. We have seen him through both 2D and 3D platforming, with a majority of the adventures being timeless classics. Did your favorite make the cut?
11. Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)
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Remasters and remakes have become a staple in gaming, with even the most mediocre installments of a franchise receiving a visual boost of sorts. Way back in 1993, Nintendo pooled together all four of its 8 bit Mario games and gave them a 16 bit coat of paint, resulting in Super Mario All-Stars.
The momentum, physics and stage layouts all remained the same, with the audio and video utilizing the power of the Super Nintendo. While I could do without the abysmal 16 bit musical tweaks, everything else synced together in a commendable manner. All-Stars was also the first time Super Mario Bros. 2j was released in North America, a substantially more difficult Mario game that was thought to have been “too hard” for the North American audience at the time of its release.
Even with the music lacking the presence it had on the 8 bit console, the rest of the Super Mario All-Stars package is…super! Four magnificent games in one package, with a fresh new coat of paint. You can give this a go on the no-so-easy-to-find cart on the Super Nintendo, or the Nintendo Wii version.
10. Super Mario Land (GB)
Nintendo’s handheld dominance began with its “black and white” brick, the Game Boy. With the limited graphics prowess, many thought a proper Mario title wouldn’t fit in with the new handheld. Surprisingly, Super Mario Land, while it wasn’t a visually pleasant title, played and performed exceedingly well.
It might have been one of the shortest Mario games, but outside the expected lack of visual fidelity, the audio, gameplay and game world its self was engaging, proper and thoroughly enjoyable.
Returning to Super Mario Land today, it’s still as delightful as it was way back when. Even the music is still catchy as all hell, regardless of if it lacks the memorable hooks of the original. Jump back into Super Mario Land, it deserves to be replayed.
9. Super Mario Bros. (NES)
The first 2D side scrolling main line Mario title (though not Mario’s first appearance), Super Mario Bros. was an innovator. A pack in title with some Nintendo Entertainment System consoles, Super Mario Bros. was, for many, the first taste of what gaming in the post video game crash life can deliver.
Shigeru Miyamoto helped create a franchise and mascot that has endured the test of time, thanks in large part to this very first game. From the iconic control scheme to the wonders of discovering a warp zone or cloud city, Super Mario Bros. encouraged breaking each brick, running up top above the score and timer, leaping higher to reach the top of that flagpole, and more.
Super Mario Bros. has been “remastered” and re-released on a myriad of consoles, virtual consoles and plug ‘n plays. You’ll probably see it as a virtual reality game in twenty years when Nintendo decides to release a Virtual Boy 2. Regardless, it’s a milestone in gaming, and still hasn’t lost its luster over the years.
8. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
The Mario game that originally wasn’t, Super Mario Bros. 2 was a reskinned version of a Japanese game Doki Doki Panic, and no one in North America really knew until years later. Actually, for many, this was their least favorite Mario game on the NES, mostly because of how radically different the gameplay was. I think that’s why I gravitated towards it as much as I did.
The visual leap was tremendous, though mostly due to the fact that the game was both not a Mario game in Japan, but was also created to be one (confusing, isn’t it?). The colorful game world introduced vertical gameplay to the franchise and a plethora of villains that would make reoccurring appearances in future releases.
Still regarded as one of the most unconventional main line Mario games, Super Mario Bros. 2 offered, IMO, a lot more than Super Mario Bros. 2j did for the franchise. The removal of stomping enemies in favor of throwing them, as well as introducing a completely brand new cast of enemies, helped give the game its unique identity, one that’s still worth investing time into.
7. New Super Mario Bros. (NDS)
“Everything old is new again” seemed to be the motif for New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS. The first proper and original Mario game on a handheld since Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins on the original Game Boy (paying no mind to the Wario set of games) New SMB was a return to form – a 2D side scrolling Mario game during a period when 3D platforming was ever expanding.
The introduction of a super sized Mario and a tiny Mario was a neat little addition, giving players the ability to bulldoze through portions of each world, or take alternate routes that led to different stages. The world layouts were the typical platformer builds, with lava, ice and other types of worlds for Mario to visit.
New Super Mario Bros. was a gorgeous game, and it also brought Mario back into a 2D realm, where he now shares residency with his 3D titles. By far the most enjoyable of the New Super Mario Bros. games to have been released, and one that should be replayed when possible.
6. Super Mario World (SNES)
If Mario wasn’t super enough, his 16 bit debut on the Super Nintendo, Super Mario World, was arguably one of the finest 2D platformers of all-time. Along with a new friend named Yoshi, Mario’s first adventure in the 16 bit realm was filled with more awe, secrets and more replayability than previous titles had.
The brighter, more detailed game world was a sight to behold, even when compared to late entries to the console. Banking a power up for future use, multiple exits out of many of the stages, debuting enemies, solid audio and so much more, helped piece together a Mario game that both launched Nintendo into the 16 bit era, and felt like the proper evolution of the franchise.
Quite a few fans put Super Mario World ahead of just about every other Mario game released. Coming in at number six isn’t trying to downplay its importance and overall value; it’s a fantastic game that is timeless. It continued to show that Nintendo was the watermark for 2D platformers, and it set the mark so absurdly high that very few were able to supersede it, even to this day.
5. Super Mario 64 (N64)
Out of all the Mario games on the list, Super Mario 64 has arguably not aged well in certain regards. Visually it has its charm, but being an early Nintendo 64 game, it’s lack of textures and rough look might turn many off. The camera system is a bit finicky, though it was light years ahead of just about every 3D platformer that was released before it and immediately after.
Regardless, the overall package is still brilliant. Mario’s debut in 3D platforming, at its core, worked impressively well. Open ended stages with multiple stars that can be obtained, which each new star unlocking more to each stage, really added a layer of depth and immersion to the franchise.
What sticks out the most for me with Super Mario 64 is how my first experience with it was a moving one. Seeing the evolution of gaming in the mid 90’s, witnessing one of my all-time favorite franchises leaping into a new era, it really was an emotional moment when I got my first hands on the demo unit over twenty years ago. I still get some wicked chills when I enter Peach’s castle and hear that music. Hopefully we will see a Nintendo 64 Classic in 2018, and if not, I still feel that it’s work hooking the N64 back up to play, or even give the Nintendo DS version a whirl.
4. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
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In hindsight, the Nintendo Wii, for a console that printed money and was a hot commodity for years, published a ton of shovelware. When it came to first party titles though, they hit it out of the park, and that held especially true for Super Mario Galaxy, one of gaming’s brilliant gems.
The scope of Mario’s world was galactic, where motion sickness could come into play for some, due to how Mario traversed through each stage. But for those who weren’t affected, it was a marvel in both visual and mechanics. While the Wii felt like a souped up Gamecube in terms of graphical power, Super Mario Galaxy looked light years more impressive when compared to some games on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
As with the next three Mario games on this list, there’s next no nothing that outright turns me off about Super Mario Galaxy. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it has an engine that’s worth revving repeatedly until the end of time. Out of all the 3D Mario titles released before Super Mario Odyssey, the Super Mario Galaxy franchise is a showcase of brilliance in every single facet.
3. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
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One of an incredibly small handful of games I see as “near flawless”, Super Mario Bros. 3 is the shining example of why I love video games as much as I do. Much like how Super Mario Bros. 2 was a mighty big leap from the original game, Super Mario Bros. 3 trumped the previous game, and was the 8 bit video game of all 8 bit video games.
Each stage was a bite sized morsel to an overall feast fit for a king. The difficulty was just right too; the early and mid worlds felt proper, with the later worlds increasing in difficulty accordingly, though never completely unfair. Raccoon Mario did help make getting through stages a breeze, though it wasn’t as game changing as Cape Mario was in Super Mario World. Add in the inventive, though oftentimes useless Frog Mario and always elusive Hammer Bros. Mario costume, and the gameplay variety seemed to almost blow away any other game in the genre.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was a textbook example of how to create a brilliant 2D platformer, one that should always be looked back at as both one of the greatest in the genre, and one of the greatest of all-time. It combines a magical world, tight gameplay, gorgeous 2D sprites and a wealth of content within each bite sized stage.
2. Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 (SNES)
Now I know what a lot of Mario fans will say – “it’s such a radical departure from what we’ve come to learn and love with the franchise” and “how can anyone stand baby Mario crying? Burn it with fire!” For me though, while it’s no a perfect 2D platformer, the experience with Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 is one of the greatest and most enjoyable I’ve ever had with any game, hands down.
The more cartoony aesthetics was charming, and it felt more light-hearted in tone to match the fact that players are playing as Yoshi with a baby Mario in tow. The Super FX chip added in some amazing scaling on most of the bosses that, in conjunction with the visual presentation, created an atmosphere unlike anything the franchise had seen previously. The music, from the beautiful title screen music to the heartstrings tugging end theme, helped set the mood perfectly. Along with other new gimmicks added into to help push the gameplay forward, this became an instant classic.
Those that whined and complained about how obnoxious baby Mario is when Yoshi loses him, the old adage of “git gud” comes to mind; just try and not to get hit much, and you won’t hear it as often. It’s a bloody difficult game at times yes, but it’s not like baby Mario is always off Yoshi’s back. The overall package is beyond compare, and one little non-issue shouldn’t sully the reputation of an otherwise outstanding video game. Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 is my all-time favorite 2D platformer, and it’s charm, brilliance and solid gameplay makes it a must play, and number two on this list.
1. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
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Even though it’s been almost eight years since its release, Super Mario Galaxy 2, much like the original, has and will continue to age gracefully, and be as impactful as it was when it first launched. There isn’t a single thing it does outright wrong, while doing everything right, creating a Mario game that transcends not only the other Mario games, but any 3D platformer before it, and since.
For me, Super Mario Galaxy 2 feels like a culmination of ideas and executions throughout all the Mario games from the 8 bit era, right up to the Nintendo Wii. It’s gorgeous, more so than the first Super Mario Galaxy, it refines the camera system that Super Mario 64 had set a then standard with, the small stages filled with life felt like they were inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3, and so on. Every time I play Super Mario Galaxy 2, I have this permanent smile on my face, loving every second spent with it.
As mentioned earlier, the Nintendo Wii’s game library overall is pretty piss poor, but the first party line up was stellar, none more so than Super Mario Galaxy 2. It’s the closest 3D platforming has come to perfection, in every single facet. As much as I love Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2, it’s a distant second to Super Mario Galaxy 2 in every respect Its creativity is unparalleled. Its scope is massive. You owe it to yourself to play Super Mario Galaxy 2 if you haven’t, and once more if you have.
Super Mario Odyssey is coming to the Nintendo Switch on October 27. If you’re not hyped up enough for it, why not check out my hands-on time with Super Mario Odyssey at E3 2017, as well as naming it my Best of Show for E3 2017!
You still have time to get your preorders in with Shopville Canada! Click here to go to the preorder page. Time is running out – don’t miss out on preordering one of the hottest releases this year!