The Top Ten Mario Games Of All Time

by Dan Ryckert on Mar 30, 2011 at 09:49 AM

There's a good reason why Mario is the most recognizable face in the history of the gaming industry. His core titles have been, without exception, fantastic gaming experiences and pure platforming bliss. While the plumber has seen missteps in spin-off series like Mario Party, Mario Sports Mix, and his Olympic romps with former rival Sonic, the core series is as close to perfection as we've seen in a long-running franchise. With this blog, I'm inviting plenty of debate in the comments about how it should be ordered. Some gamers hate Super Mario Sunshine, others will passionately debate whether Super Mario Bros. 3 or World is better, and others will trash Super Mario Bros. 2 for not being a "real" entry. Regardless of what your personal choices may be, here are my picks for the ten best Mario titles of all time. I'm not weighing factors such as historical importance...these are ranked strictly on fun factor. Debate away.

10. Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

With the introduction of series mainstays like the fire flower and mushroom, the iconic music and sound effects, and its challenging-yet-rewarding gameplay, the first Super Mario Bros. laid a foundation that still has an impact in 2011. Every Mario game ever owes its existence to the great platformer that Shigeru Miyamoto presented to gamers in 1985, and it still plays well today. It may not feature all the bells and whistles of later titles, but its rock-solid controls and level variety make it more than just a nostalgia act.

9. Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES, 1988)

Out of the ten games on this list, this is the only one that doesn't feature the traditional "jump on that thing's head to kill it" gameplay. The reasons for this dramatic departure are well known, but that doesn't make it stick out any less. By giving gamers access to four characters with wildly different play styles, relying on an odd vegetable-throwing mechanic, and omitting familiar enemies from the first Super Mario Bros., Nintendo certainly ran a risk with this sequel. This risk paid off, as Super Mario Bros. 2 proved to be a fantastic title that plays better than the legendary original.

8. New Super Mario Bros. (DS, 2006)

This DS title released over a decade after the last proper 2D entry, and it proved that Nintendo hadn't missed a beat. New power-ups like the Mega Mushroom and blue Koopa shell felt natural in this familiar environment, and the game controlled like second nature to longtime fans. Its 80 stages presented classic gameplay without relying on touchscreen gimmicks, making the game seem like a natural successor to the series' SNES entries. With nearly 20 million units sold, this return to form was an undeniable success. Lifelong Nintendo fans loved it, but (more importantly) it simultaneously introduced an entirely new generation to the joys of 2D Mario.

Read on to see where Mario's 3D debut ranks among his best games.

7. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996)

By being one of the pioneers that ushered in 3D gaming, Super Mario 64 unquestionably has immense historical value. That isn't what this list is about, so this game ranks in at #7 thanks to its superb gameplay. Previous games in the series featured the occasional split path, but this was the first to significantly open up options to the player. You could meticulously chip away at a level until you had received all of its stars, or you could mix things up by bouncing between the various areas. Bringing a beloved 2D franchise to the third dimension is a tall order, but Nintendo and Miyamoto absolutely delivered with Super Mario 64.

6. Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube, 2002)

The phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" came to many gamers' minds when they first saw Mario equipped with the FLUDD water pack. As they did with Wind Waker's cel-shaded reveal, Nintendo fans recoiled at the idea of a notable change to their most beloved of gaming icons. To this day, many decry Super Mario Sunshine as a misstep for the series. I'm not sure if they didn't play the game or if they simply fear change, but the plumber's lone GameCube outing is a blast. Elements like a fruit juice-vomiting Yoshi were a bit odd, but the new scenery and water-based gameplay mechanics were a welcome change of pace.

5. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES, 1995)

The gaming world was obsessed with the shift to 32/64-bit consoles in the mid-90s, which is why this gem is often overlooked when discussing the best Mario games. I felt bad for anyone who hastily traded in their SNES for a Playstation back then, because they missed out on one of the greatest platformers of all time. Thanks to the warm reception Yoshi received in his Super Mario World debut, Nintendo made him the star of its sequel. Tasked with protecting Baby Mario, the trusty dinosaur (disturbingly) threw his own eggs at anything and anyone who might mean the infant harm. This projectile-based mechanic was a dramatic shift from Mario's standard gameplay, but it added another element to the perfect platforming action. With one of the most striking art styles in series history, a huge collection of interesting boss fights, and the new egg-throwing mechanic, Yoshi's Island offered plenty enough to make you forget about Baby Mario's annoying cries.

Only 4 left...

4. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)

The Wii made its way into millions of homes thanks to its unique motion controller and anyone-can-play Wii Sports pack-in, but it was lacking in games for the hardcore crowd. Zelda and Metroid games were available within the first year, but a Nintendo system didn't feel like a Nintendo system without a true Mario game. Super Mario Galaxy arrived in November of 2007, and it impressed virtually everyone who laid their hands on it. It delivered beautiful visuals, a stunning new setting, and star-collecting gameplay that challenged and amazed even the most veteran Mario players.

3. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii, 2010)

A 3D Mario title had never received a direct sequel, so Galaxy 2's announcement at 2009's E3 conference raised some eyebrows. Gamers wondered if it would feel like more of a mission pack than a true, full Mario title. These worries were washed away in no time, as it proved to be even better than its amazing predecessor. Yoshi's involvement in Sunshine was somewhat disappointing, but he's a great addition to Galaxy 2. The abilities he gains from eating various fruits are reminiscent of his shell powers in Super Mario World, and his sprinting segments offered some of the most fast-paced challenges in a 3D Mario game. Extending the replay value of the game significantly was the addition of 120 green stars, which unlock two extremely difficult star challenges once collected. With more to do than any other entry in the series and the best controls in 3D platforming history, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the greatest 3D entry in the franchise.

As you might have guessed, the list comes down to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Which is the best Mario game ever made?

2. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990)

Mario's third NES adventure received a level of hype that is still unmatched over two decades later. A full-on media blitz trumpeted its US arrival, with commercials, newspaper articles, and even the full-length film The Wizard ensuring that everyone was aware of the plumber's return. Mountains of hype don't ensure a quality game, but Super Mario Bros. 3 delivered on even the highest expectations. A new set of awesome power-ups included the iconic raccoon suit, the rare Hammer Bros. suit, the infinitely useful P-Wing, and plenty more. An overworld map allowed players more choice when it came to level progression, hidden warp whistles rewarded players for exploration, card-based minigames offered a fun break from the platforming action, and Bowser's seven children made for intense boss battles. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a flawless experience, and almost stands at the very top of the platforming pile...

1. Super Mario World (SNES, 1991)

As amazing as Super Mario Bros. 3 unquestionably is, its follow-up took everything that it did right and managed to improve upon it. Mario's yellow cape may not be as visually iconic as the raccoon suit, but it offered a more engaging flight experience. The debut of Yoshi added an entirely new element to the Mario series, and his flight, fire, and stomp abilities ensured variety (and made sure you kept an eye out for colored shells). Previous games featured puzzle rooms that required specific actions before you could progress, but Mario World's ghost houses made them more frequent and more clever. Added abilities like climbing on gates, spin-jumping enemies, and pocketing power-ups helped mix up the gameplay. Mysterious outlined blocks would be made whole after finding "!" switches, opening entirely new paths through levels and the game as a whole. The super-challenging Star Road levels were a great bonus for completionists, as were the numerous hidden areas. I could go on and on with bullet points about how great this game is, but it all comes together in a perfect combination that has to be played to really be appreciated. The core Mario series is the most consistently stellar in gaming history, and Super Mario World stands alone as the best of the best.

Deciding where each of these games fell on this list was a hard task, but the important thing is that every single one of them is still a blast to play in 2011. Younger gamers that were introduced to the series via New Super Mario Bros. can still enjoy these classics, and so can longtime gamers who will get a shot of nostalgia along with timeless gameplay. Even if his history with spin-offs is a bit spotty, Mario has a perfect record when it comes to his core adventures. He's the most recognizable face in gaming, and these experiences prove that he earned that spot for a reason.