It has been 36 years since Mario came into our lives. (Which is actually longer than I’ve been alive, so that makes me feel young). First known as “Jumpman”, we were introduced to Mario in the original Donkey Kong. Mario has appeared in hundreds of games now – spanning all genres, platforms, and styles. Mario has had an incredible legacy and he’s still going strong today. With the release of Super Mario Odyssey (for Nintendo Switch only), he continues his impressive legacy. With that in mind, here’s a look back on the best games that he’s been part of. Many of these we grew up on.
15. Super Mario Maker (2015, Wii U)
This isn’t your typical Mario game, in the sense that creation is the centerpiece of this game. But Nintendo has done a fantastic job of making this process fun and perfect for the Wii U GamePad.
14. Super Mario Sunshine (2002, GameCube)
This was the first 3D game to follow Super Mario 64 and it was kind of a letdown. But it was more about creativity with this game. The FLUDD water sprayer (which was used to clean up gunk around the sunny island) unlocked great new platform gameplay elements.
13. Super Smash Bros. For Wii U (2014, Wii U)
Each Super Smash Bros. game was excellent for its time, but this is one series that keeps getting better and better. This is the best Wii U game yet. Delivering frantic eight-player fighting action, both locally and online.
12. New Super Mario Bros. (2003, Nintendo DS)
Whats old was made new again with the New Super Mario Bros., which put a modern twist on the classic for the Nintendo DS. By and large, the game stuck to the old playbook: side-scrolling challenges in themed stages, but with 3D graphics instead of the old style. Newer elements, like the ground pound and super-sized Mario power-up, helped to give it a fresh, exciting feel.
11. Mario Kart 8 (2014, Wii U)
Mario Kart 8 might not be the most important entry in this series, but it is definitely the best. The weird magnetic hybrid car allows for looping, twisting tracks that veer off in weird directions and it looks dramatically prettier than it didn’t in previous versions. What made this version so great was the sheer variety of tracks and locales.
10. Super Mario 3D Land (2011, Nintendo 3DS)
Nintendo nailed the visual depth capabilities with this game. It’s essentially a blend of the 2D and 3D branches of the franchise, the game bounces between free-roaming and fixed camera segments while being a total blast throughout. The 3D effect not only made the gameplay look amazing, but it also informed the gameplay too.
9. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995, Super Nintendo)
To many, this game will always be the “whiny baby” game. Mostly because it’s the one in which Mario is a little baby being escorted around by Yoshi. If he falls off Yoshi’s back, he begins to cry immediately. That aside, there are some pretty neat features to it. It’s a smart, strategic spin on the classic 2D design, but it feels very different.
8. Super Mario 3D World (2013, Wii U)
It’s true – 3D Land might have established the 2D meets 3D Mario design, but Super Mario 3D World amplified the premise and delivered one of the Wii U’s best games by far. This game comes with four player co-op support, and the stages are varied and brilliantly layered. Plus the game shows that even an old series can be expanded and tweaked after all this time. It’s also absolutely gorgeous. It’s easily the best-looking core game in the series before Odyssey came out.
7. Super Mario Odyssey (2017, Switch)
Super Mario Odyssey is another excellent 3D entry in the series. It acts as the long overdue successor (kind of) to Super Mario 64 and bundles in a wealth of new ideas. By and large, it sticks to Nintendo’s 3D Mario template, but thanks to Mario’s new companion Cappy, you can inhabit loads of different creatures in the world. Which makes it maybe the most 3D game int he franchise.
6. Super Mario Kart (1992, SNES)
Everyone has a favorite Mario Kart. Whether its Mario Kart 64, or Double Dash, you can’t argue with the sheer brilliance and incredible influence of the SNES original. I was young when this came out, but I certainly have a lot of memories because of it. Super Mario Kart singlehandedly created the kart-racer genre, bringing together colorful racing action with fun weapons and head-to-head battle mode. The original certainly lacks the polish and variety of the newer games, but this remains a legend.
5. Super Mario Bros. (1987, NES)
This might be the most influential game of all time. It certainly could go at the top, but the competition is also extremely fierce. Super Mario Bros., essentially defined the platformer template for countless games to follow, with each side-scrolling spring delivering the right blend of challenge and fun. Later games took the design to new heights, but the original remains one of the best.
4. Super Mario World (1992, SNES)
Super Mario World took advantage of the new hardware for improved graphics and a superb soundtrack, but it also expanded the game design with fresh power-ups, level themes, and everyone’s favorite rideable dinosaur, Yoshi. Best of all, it was huge. Delivering an amazing adventure to get lost in with your shiny new console.
3. Super Mario Galaxy (2007, Wii)
If you needed proof that the Mario platform design can be twisted into pretty much any wild, winning concept by Nintendo’s geniuses, then Super Mario Galaxy is it. The outer space theme, and camera-twisted stages showed that Nintendo could still reinvent the game. It is truly one of the most joyful, boundlessly creative games that ever existed. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is equally amazing, but these two tend to occupy the same space in our minds.
2. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1991, NES)
Super Mario Bros. 3 came out on the same system as the original game, and it was such a huge advancement in terms of gameplay design and aesthetic. Which meant this impact was incredible. 26 years later, and this still holds up as a paragon of game design. It set much of the thematic tone still used in the series today.
1. Super Mario 64 (1997, Nintendo 64)
It might be odd to pick a 2D game for the top slot, but after nearly two decades, there is still much to love about Super Mario 64. It not only brought the most important series in gaming into the third dimension, but it also set the template for the entire genre. It’s a legendary game in a series absolutely stocked with them. The newer games have a definite alluring quality to them, but the older ones still hold up.