Top Ten Mario Games of All Time

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With everything going on over the whole world right now, it’s easy to forget that this year marks the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. and the gaming revolution it left in its wake. Most Smashboards readers likely weren’t even alive when that happened, but probably all grew up with Shigeru Miyamoto’s greatest creation. I say this because Mario is unique in his ability to stay at the forefront of gaming culture no matter how much time has passed by releasing the medium’s best titles at a consistent rate without fail while setting a few industry benchmarks along the way.

Mario has never gone through a dry spell like his competitors, which has allowed generations of players to share him as an icon of our favorite pastime. So let’s celebrate how far the series has come by ranking the top 10 Mario games I’ve enjoyed the most.



10. Super Mario 3D Land

2D and 3D Mario games have generally followed fairly different design philosophies. But this Nintendo 3DS masterpiece was able to satisfy fans of both styles by taking the tight bite-sized linear levels of the 2D games into the third dimension with some of the exploration elements and different jumping abilities seen in the 3D games.

Thanks to inventive level-design and controls that work like a dream on the 3DS circle-pad combining forces for a fun—if not especially challenging—game that packs a ton of content into its tiny cartridge, the result is the best of both worlds.



9. New Super Mario Bros.

We’ve all poked fun at the New Super Mario Bros. sub-series for how iterative it became far past the point of being new. So younger readers may be surprised to know how refreshing its first release on the DS was. Aside from remakes and re-releases, we hadn’t had a new 2D Mario game in 14 years. Fans hungered for the fast, precise gameplay that had given way to the different (although equally fun) 3D sandboxes of the newer games.

But New Super Mario Bros. was more than a step back. It made great use of the DS’ defining features with wireless single card multiplayer, clever use of the system’s two screens, bringing most of the aforementioned 3D moves into 2D for the first time. And let’s not forget the immensely satisfying Mega Mushroom power-up, allowing players to channel their inner-kaiju.



8. Super Mario Sunshine

The somewhat forgettable F.L.U.D.D. gimmick, tedious completion requirements, and the worst final level in mainline Mario history have all made Sunshine a divisive game among players. Those willing to look past those flaws will be greeted with some of the series’ most engaging boss fights, a setting that’s instantly appealing and levels to match. Isle Delfino and its many locales overflow with personality while boasting arguably the most challenging levels seen in any 3D Mario game.

Plus, Super Mario Sunshine also gave us a bop of a soundtrack and the debut of Bowser Jr. The franchise has been better for it ever since.



7. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

The first Super Mario Land wasn’t notable for much besides being the character’s first adventure on the Gameboy. But, its sequel showed that portable Mario can be just as much fun as console Mario with controls and graphics that closely mirrored those of Super Mario World.

Special mention also has to go to the stages, which are divided into some of the most imaginative worlds the series has ever seen. These include a giant Mario automaton, a common house in which Mario is shrunken to the size of an ant and a series of levels inside the stomach of a giant turtle. This turtle’s stomach also somehow has an even larger whale inside it, who acts as the boss. Speaking of bosses, 6 Golden Coins introduced Wario, the best non-Bowser baddy of the entire series both in terms of personality and combat. He proved so popular that he hijacked the third Super Mario Land game to start his own series, but that’s a topic for a different list.



6. Super Mario Bros.

The first entry of any series that spans 35 years, will inevitably have to be surpassed, but it's amazing how well the original Super Mario Bros. has held up after so long. Sure, it doesn’t have the graphics or the power-ups of later entries, but its physics are almost exactly as tight as those of today’s Mario games. 35 years later, the game that started it all shows us that the NES title still has the complete foundation of what makes each entry so good.

Plus, the level design builds on that foundation brilliantly. Not only by making all-time classic levels that perfectly balance challenge and accessibility but by using the construction of each stage as a teaching tool to introduce players to the then-new style of gameplay. This ensured that beginners knew exactly what they need to do to win while the especially astute crowd could pick up subtle hints at how to get ahead the easy way. 35 years later, the feeling of landing in a warp-zone is still just as welcoming.



5. Super Mario Odyssey

Odyssey relieved us from the drought of open 3D Mario games started by the Wii U, legitimizing the Nintendo Switch in the eyes of many. What it admittedly lacked in expanse, it made up for in its sheer volume of new challenges. The best of these utilized Mario’s new friend, Cappy, who allowed the mustachioed maestro to possess his enemies and commandeer their unique abilities.

That may sound like a simple gimmick in theory, but in practice, it’s one of the most enjoyable extensions of Mario’s already excellent maneuverability we’ve seen in ages. Looking back, it’s almost surprising this feature wasn’t introduced sooner.



4. Super Mario World

True to its name, this SNES launch title felt like it brought those who played it to a whole new world. Thanks to immersive 16-bit graphics and a greatly expanded world map, levels felt truly alive for the first time in the Mario series. The timeless feel of a classic Mario game was still there, but it was elevated thanks to cleverly hidden secrets, branching paths, and Mario’s new dinosaur buddy, Yoshi.

The best thing about Super Mario World is it’s overflowing with content, none of which feels like padding. The main campaign is already plenty long without seeking out its many hidden stages, but once that’s all taken care of, players will still have the Star World and Special Zone to complete. They hide the game’s most difficult yet rewarding stages. Add some hidden Yoshis with their own special powers and you’re left with one of the most replayable Mario games in existence.



3. Super Mario Galaxy

“Mario in space” doesn’t sound like such a grand concept on paper, but Nintendo and director Yoshiaki Koizumi were able to realize it into one of the greatest platform games of all time. Soaring through space at high speeds and discovering new worlds with diverse civilizations is already appealing, so it makes sense that building a Mario game around that would be cool, but Galaxy’s true brilliance lies in its unique use of gravity. You could find yourself on a typical platforming setup with jumps and pitfalls you can fall down in, but hop over to another nearby planet and you’ll suddenly be on a sphere whose gravity pulls you back towards it rather than letting you fall.

If that sounds shallow, I can promise you it's just as deep as the space it’s set in. Each part of this over 20+ hour game introduces a new riff on this gravitational gimmick, ensuring that the stages always have something fresh to offer right until the final moments of the game.



2. Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64
launched after 5 years of hard work from series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and his team, and at a time when the gaming industry’s most illustrious franchises seemed to fall one after another as they all failed to transition into 3D gameplay. So it’s amazing that the resulting game feels so effortless. Mario effectively did with 3D platforming what he had already done in 2D, introduce a control scheme that would immediately become standard, showcase the capabilities of a brand-new console, and make a game that ages like fine wine while doing it.

But Super Mario 64 did so much more, and that’s clear from the very first moments when entering the master stroke of hubworld design that is Peach’s Castle. After years of running from left to right, players were given an open world that—while signposting a clear intended route—let them progress however they wanted, and the new types of jumps in Mario’s arsenal were the perfect tools for them to do so. Even better, that stayed true in each of the game’s levels. Mario has never given players so much freedom since, so it’s no wonder why this game is still being played, replayed, and speedrun to this day.



1. Super Mario Bros. 3

Despite all the technological advancements and breakthroughs in video game creation over the last three decades, the third time is still the charm. Super Mario Bros. 3 redefined the ideas behind the series and executed them so well that its standard is still the one being followed all these years later. It dropped players into multiple worlds traversed mainly via bite-sized but bountiful stages, each of which used the game’s mechanics creatively to present a new type of challenge. It also threw in the occasional castle or airship to mix things up with longer, more dangerous levels complete with their own boss fights.

Mario 3 also expanded on the classic super mushroom, fire flower and starman trio with new items, each allowing new gameplay approaches that can overcome even the game’s most challenging obstacles if used in the right place, creating the best overall set of power-ups seen in any Mario game to this day. Super Mario Bros. 3 represents the classic Mario gameplay we’ve come to expect at its most undiluted state, but also at its highest quality. While the many twists we’ve seen subsequent games add to the status-quo set by the NES classic all deserve love, Super Mario Bros. 3 is still the yardstick by which the rest are measured. And 32 years later it’s still the best choice for anyone looking for the type of fun that can only be found in the Mushroom Kingdom.

But of course, the Mario franchise is still just as red hot as a burning fire flower and isn’t showing the slightest sign of being extinguished anytime soon, so hopefully we’ll soon see some new games shake this list up. But for now, here’s to 35 years of amazing Mario games and to looking forward to 35 more.

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Will "Octrockandroll" Bertazzo Lambert

Comments

1. Super Mario RPG
(The number one spot is the only concrete placing, the others can change depending on nostalgia that day)

2. Super Mario 64
3. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
4. Super Mario Odyssey (The fact this game is edging out so much nostalgia shows how incredible it was to me... I'm an old dog)
5. Super Mario World
6. Super Mario All-Stars (I could easily put Super Mario Bros higher for the legacy factor but I'd rather play the above games to be honest.)
7. Super Mario Land 2: 6 golden coins (Underrated and quirky masterpiece, the amount of batteries I used in that big old blocky Gameboy on plane trips!)
8. Super Mario Land (was the first game I ever completed in my life!)
9. Super Mario Sunshine (I should replay this, I'm not sure how good it actually was, but it had a cool feel to it from what I remember at least)
10. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (I thought the Galaxy games were great, they just felt a bit disconnected somehow. Like Mario 64 pulled off the hub world really well, everything about galaxy felt so separated and alone, which is especially fitting for the context of galaxies and small planets and such.)
 
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While I wanna say 64's my favorite, Mario 3 is in a close second and I absolutely respect it's placement here. What a special game. It strikes a perfect balance between series tradition and innovation. Not as simplistic as 1 but also not overcomplicated like I'd consider World. It's also just fun to replay too. I've pretty much memorized the warp whistle placements at this point. Lol.
 
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It's so hard for me to rank the Mario series, but if I had to rank them in a top 10 list it would probably come out like this:

10. Super Mario Bros. 3
9. Super Mario Sunshine
8. Super Mario Bros. 2/Doki Doki Panic
7. Super Mario Bros.
6. Super Mario Galaxy 2
5. Paper Mario
4. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
3. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
2. Super Mario World
1. Super Mario 64
 
My top 10 would probably be:

1. Super Mario Galaxy
2. Super Mario World
3. Super Mario Bros. 3
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
5. Super Mario Bros. 2
6. Super Mario 3D World
7. New Super Mario Bros.
8. Super Mario 64
9. Super Mario Odyssey
10. New Super Luigi U

I could probably shuffle some of the lower entries in that list around, but the top 5 or 6 are pretty set in stone for me. My biggest grievance with the OP is the absence of 3D World, which is an incredible game! It's a masterclass of local co-op, has great level design (and is actually occasionally challenging, unlike 3D Land), and has beautiful graphics. Might be the Wii U's finest game (not counting BotW).

1. Super Mario RPG
(The number one spot is the only concrete placing, the others can change depending on nostalgia that day)

2. Super Mario 64
3. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
4. Super Mario Odyssey (The fact this game is edging out so much nostalgia shows how incredible it was to me... I'm an old dog)
5. Super Mario World
6. Super Mario All-Stars (I could easily put Super Mario Bros higher for the legacy factor but I'd rather play the above games to be honest.)
7. Super Mario Land 2: 6 golden coins (Underrated and quirky masterpiece, the amount of batteries I used in that big old blocky Gameboy on plane trips!)
8. Super Mario Land (was the first game I ever completed in my life!)
9. Super Mario Sunshine (I should replay this, I'm not sure how good it actually was, but it had a cool feel to it from what I remember at least)
10. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (I thought the Galaxy games were great, they just felt a bit disconnected somehow. Like Mario 64 pulled off the hub world really well, everything about galaxy felt so separated and alone, which is especially fitting for the context of galaxies and small planets and such.)
I think this list was covering only mainline Mario games, so SMRPG wouldn't fall under that umbrella (arguably Yoshi's Island wouldn't either). Same with All-Stars, since that's a compilation. Great games, but I don't think the original post was considering them.
 
I respect your opinion, it's fair if you want to structure your list to fit certain guidelines. To me, the title says Mario games. I still consider Mario RPG mainline, and easily my favorite. That's like saying Zelda 2 isn't mainline because it was a funky side scroller. Or like Sonic Adventure games aren't mainline because Sega teamed up with Now Productions.

All-Stars was a cheeky pick, I'll give you that. I wanted to just put Super Mario Bros... but I respect Mario Bros 3 and Mario All-Stars was where I played 3. Ultimately my list doesn't change though. I'd consider taking Yoshi's off but I guess it's just a statement of saying Yoshi the "Mount" outperforms a large portion of Mario games for me. If I was going out of my way to pick Mario "non mainline" games then Mario Kart 64 or one of the party/sports games might fit in somewhere.

anyway, you have a solid list. Mario 64 so low though!!! I guess I played it the day it came out so it was pure magic for me.
 
SMRPG is my favorite. I'm not sure I could really rank other Mario games because I love them a lot. Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and the first 3 Paper Mario games are some of my favorites. And then there's stuff like Super Mario Land and Mario Kart 64 that, while they don't hold up that well today, I have a lot of nostalgia for
 
I respect your opinion, it's fair if you want to structure your list to fit certain guidelines. To me, the title says Mario games. I still consider Mario RPG mainline, and easily my favorite. That's like saying Zelda 2 isn't mainline because it was a funky side scroller. Or like Sonic Adventure games aren't mainline because Sega teamed up with Now Productions.

All-Stars was a cheeky pick, I'll give you that. I wanted to just put Super Mario Bros... but I respect Mario Bros 3 and Mario All-Stars was where I played 3. Ultimately my list doesn't change though. I'd consider taking Yoshi's off but I guess it's just a statement of saying Yoshi the "Mount" outperforms a large portion of Mario games for me. If I was going out of my way to pick Mario "non mainline" games then Mario Kart 64 or one of the party/sports games might fit in somewhere.

anyway, you have a solid list. Mario 64 so low though!!! I guess I played it the day it came out so it was pure magic for me.
The definition of "mainline" is pretty well-understood to mean the "Super Mario" platformers. This is a pretty good list (under "Main"), although I consider the inclusions of Super Mario Run and the Makers a bit dubious. https://www.mariowiki.com/Super_Mario_(series)

I'm just saying it seemed pretty clear to me that the author's intent was to rank that subset of games.

Here's a list that agrees exactly with my definition of mainline (although its ranking is way off in my opinion lol) https://www.polygon.com/features/2017/11/8/16621744/the-best-mario-games

I'm not really detracting from your list. It's a great list of games! I'm just telling you what "mainline" means in common parlance. You can disagree, but you'd be disagreeing with something that is fairly well-established.

I'd say it isn't really like saying Sonic Adventure or Zelda II aren't core series games at all. Those pretty obviously are! They are not a departure from genre, even if Zelda II is a bit weird. They both still have a basically similar gameplay loop to the rest of their series. Meanwhile Mario RPG and Paper Mario do not. Yoshi's Island is certainly still a platformer, and Mario is even there the whole time, but the difference that clinches it for me, though, is that it spawned a whole separate Yoshi series much like Wario Land. In general, I think you will find the consensus rests with the RPGs, Kart racers, etc as not being mainline games.

But again, all I was really saying is that I think that's the prompt the OP was answering, which would explain why some of your favorites aren't on it. That's the core of what I was getting at. But I could be wrong!

Anyway, as for Mario 64, it was one of my very first video games! I love it! It's better than most games. I just don't think it's as good as the even better games above it. :)
 
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Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal are mainline games. Pokemon Pinball and Snap isn’t. They are offshoots.

Skyward Sword, Phantom Hourglass, and Zelda II are mainline games. Hyrule Warriors and the Tingle games are offshoots.

Nearly every single Fire Emblem game is a mainline game (like how Sakurai notes) but Heroes and Warrior is an offshoot.

By definition, an offshoot is a type of medium derived from an already established source - even if it contains new content and material not seen in the mainline games. With that in mind, looking at Mario, the sports games, Mario Kart, Mario Run, and evening SMRPG are technically offshoots - even if they are popular or even more popular than some of the mainline Mario games.
 
1) Super Mario Galaxy
2) Super Mario Maker
3) Super Paper Mario
4) Super Mario Odyssey
5) Super Mario World
6) Super Mario 64
7) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
8) Super Mario Bros. 3
9) Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
10) Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
 
having played just about every major mario after 64, I'd certainly say that the platformer games, 2D or 3D, kinda start feeling the same to me after Galaxy and Galaxy 2... as much of a breakthrough Odyssey is in many players' eyes, I can't really feel all that interested in it myself. [now that I think about it, Pokemon, Zelda, and Mario seem to have that in common they all have a very strict formula to adhere to in every mainline game, it's often the spinoffs and crossovers that have more interesting ideas. Pokemon Gen V TRIED to shake up the formula, and nowadays, people look back on it fondly... but at the time, the fans were too complacent... but that's a whole different discussion.]

with that in mind, though... after having played the first four Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario games, you sort of start getting the impression that the design mentality is shifting in a direction that starts flinging crap at the wall until something sticks. leads me to be reluctant to bother with M&L: Paper Jam or ANY of the Paper marios beyond the very forgettable Sticker Star...
 
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Not to beat a dead horse here, but the Mario Direct ended with literally the exact games I was talking about above. Pretty definitive source for what "mainline" is.

 
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