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We Ranked the Mario Games for Anyone Who Saw the Mario Movie and Thought “Who Is Mario?”

Mario has worked a lot of jobs in his career: golfer, doctor, chef, tennis superstar- the list goes on and on. But while he’s out partying with his pals or racing his titular Mario Karts, he’s never forgotten his humble origins as a mascot for the platforming genre. Hell, there’s a good chance that Mario’s smiling face might be the first thing to pop into your mind at the mere mention of the words “video” and “game”.

When a mainline Mario game releases (to be clear, this doesn’t count spin-offs, RPGs, or wacky crossover events) it’s often an industry-defining experience that sets the bar for all to follow. Super Mario Bros. set the standard for side-scrolling video games, and Super Mario 64 paved the way for three-dimensional games in its wake. Many other entries would continue to release in-between, and fine-tune the fundamentals already put in place. But, what are the best mainline Marios? How would I rank them, you may ask? What if I listed them in order from lowest preference, to highest preference? Sure, I can do that.

So if you saw Illumination Studios’ The Super Mario Bros. Movie and you’re upset that you missed out on the 10 easter eggs per minute (EEPM), we’ve got you covered.


18. New Super Mario Bros. 2

This is the first mainline Mario outing where I thought, “well, they can’t all be winners”. While the basic game itself is fun enough, it just doesn’t live up to the standards from previous games in the series. By the time this game was released, we already had a much more interesting Mario game on the 3DS, and the brand-fatigue of “New” Super Mario Bros. was already sort of groan-inducing. You collect a lot of coins in this one, I guess that’s different.


17. New Super Mario Bros. U

Yeah, I’m going hard on these “New” entries right from the get-go. This was a particularly bland time in Nintendo’s history– the hype from the Wii had come to fizzle out, and the technological gap between Nintendo and their competitors felt larger than ever. So, when Nintendo announced a new system that would finally play games in HD (Yes!) that would also have a giant GamePad controller (No!) and launch with a new Mario (Yes!) but in the “New” series again (No!) and generally have the same bland aesthetic and simple side-scrolling controls we’d grown sick of by this point– a lot of people checked out, myself included. Yet, the Mario maniac in me knew I had to at least give it a shot, and again, it was fun enough. But we all know Mario can do better than the bare minimum.


16. New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Listen, I’m sure I’m not making any friends by opening my list like this, but that’s fine– I know some of you agree with me. And hey, I really did have some fun with this game. The multiplayer, while somewhat frustrating, was a unique concept at the time, and was the first side-scrolling Mario we’d had on consoles in almost two decades. That alone was an exciting concept, but my main gripe is the same as before: what’s “New” is old!

15. Super Mario Bros. 2 (The Lost Levels)

Didn’t do much to build off its predecessor, and it’s hard as hell. Fuck this game!


14. Super Mario Land

Contrarians love to say Super Mario Land is their favorite Mario game. It’s definitely an oddball in the list, but the fact that it is weird speaks volumes in its favor. This game has its own identity that is very unique, and it introduced several key elements that are mainstays in the series to this day, like Princess Daisy, and… actually that’s about it. At the time this game was released, it was a technological feat– a full Super Mario game on the Game Boy? Completely portable? Visible only at night if you have a third-party worm-light attachment? Sign me up!


13. Super Mario 3D Land

A namesake reference to the title above, yet nothing alike at all, Super Mario 3D Land was similarly impressive in that it was the first 3D Mario game that was fully portable. This was the game that challenged my willpower and made me cave in and buy a 3DS. Thankfully it was worth the price of admission, with a lot of creative level design and simple, breezy gameplay that was easy, yet satisfying. Plus, it brought back the tanooki suit. Remember the tanooki suit? I’m still not 100% sure what a tanooki is to be honest, but apparently they can fly.


12. New Super Mario Bros.

The first and best entry in the “New” Super Mario Bros. series, before they would continue to milk the same art style for several games to come afterwards. This was the first side-scrolling Mario game in quite some time, and the first original handheld Mario to be released in quite a while as well. It still feels somehow more unique than the “New” entries to follow it, and was just a joy to play. After a time in which Nintendo had taken some wild, interesting, weird, and even divisive decisions in the Mario games, this felt like a much-needed palette cleanser to play on a DS Lite.


11. Super Mario Bros. 2 / Super Mario USA

“Did You Know?” Yes, we all know. Super Mario Bros. 2 was originally a game called Doki Doki Panic in Japan and, well, if you’re reading this you probably know that too so I’ll shut up and continue. This game is obviously another oddball in the series, yet had also solidified so many staples that would become series regulars throughout the years. Much of Mario’s bestiary actually came from this game (Birdo, Shy Guys, Bob-Ombs) and Luigi’s flutter jump continued to stand the test of time as well. Controlling Mario and his friends is markedly different than it is in other games in the series, but at its core- it’s still Mario, no matter what anyone says.


10. Super Mario 3D World

In many ways this feels like an homage to Super Mario Bros. 2. It’s the same cast of characters, retaining their same signature moves. Super Mario 3D World was the WiiU’s follow-up to New Super Mario Bros. U, and while it was a much better showcase of Nintendo’s daring new foray into high-definition gaming™, it’s hard to say that it didn’t feel at least a little bit like “Super Mario 3D Land, but on the big screen”. That is selling it short just a bit, but compared to juggernaut titles of Mario console releases in the past, it doesn’t quite hit those same high notes, albeit containing some very tight platforming and level design. Multiplayer is fun too, if you don’t mind accidentally grabbing and throwing your friend into lava pits every once in a while.

Bonus points for the addition of Bowser’s Fury in the Switch re-release. Bowser’s Fury is great.


9. Super Mario Bros.

Ah yes, the game that started it all. Well, if you don’t count Donkey Kong. Well, if you don’t count Mario Bros., minus the Super. Super Mario Bros. is probably the most famous video game of all time, and I reckon it will be for many years to come. Maybe even forever. Everyone knows this game– you run, you jump, you shoot fireballs, you fight Bowser, and you save Princess Peach. It’s the true essence of video games distilled into a single experience, and by that logic the most monumental achievement made by mankind. Suck it, Armstrong. Later entries did refine and improve what was in place, but come on, if you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you were also an awkward teenager wearing an NES graphic tee in high school that had this same 8-bit Mario sprite on it. Respect where respect’s due.


8. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

The second of two Mario games to be released on the Game Boy, Super Mario Land 2 felt more Mario than Super Mario Land 1, but it still very much stands on its own. There are a ton of unique enemies and environments in this game that aren’t beholden to the status quo of Grass Land, Desert Land, Ice Land, etc. And it’s one of the few games on this list that doesn’t have you fighting Bowser at the end, but instead, Wario! They should put Wario in the mainline games again. Can we make that happen please? I’m asking nicely.


7. Super Mario Galaxy

Fresh off the white-hot success of the Wii’s early years, Super Mario Galaxy is an absolute delight to play, and really hits a lot of gameplay beats that fans had been begging for for so many years. It took creative risks without being divisive, and sent Mario into outer space, where all intellectual properties eventually end up. This lended itself well to Mario’s gameplay style of running and jumping, and opened up so many creative opportunities and broke so many limits that many had desired or didn’t even know they desired! Motion controls be damned, it’s a great time.


6. Super Mario Sunshine

Some of you may be mad at me for ranking Super Mario Sunshine this high on my list. And that’s fine, you can make your own list. The GameCube was the first Nintendo home console to launch without a mainline Mario title, so Super Mario Sunshine just arrived a little later than expected, but had a lot of big expectations to fill. This game is very divisive with fans, in a way that most Mario games are not, and that alone makes it one of the most interesting entries on this list. It builds off of Super Mario 64‘s approach to a more tangible world that begs to be explored, along with objective-based missions instead of racing to each goal post. However, some fans were ready for the vacation to be over before it started, tiring of the many beach-themed levels and FLUDD’s waterpack gameplay, even though it would open up new ways to complete missions while also building off of the classic platforming we’ve come to know and love in Mario games. Come on, this game is good!


5. Super Mario Galaxy 2

In a similar vein to Lost Levels, this entry doesn’t do much to build off of its predecessor– at least at first glance. However, it is far more ambitious and creative, and features level design that is “out of this world”! Sorry about that. Super Mario Galaxy 2 gave fans more of what they didn’t even know they needed. This was released towards the end of the Wii’s lifecycle, and was a shocking boom of innovation and fun that many did not expect. It still holds up to this day, and should have been included in the 3D All-Stars pack. Yeah, I’m still not over it.


4. Super Mario 64

Now, this is where the list gets tricky, and it’s hard to truly rank games that are this high up. That being said, Super Mario 64 is an absolute treasure. It’s the first game I beat all on my own, so it’s hard to look at it with a truly objective lens. Thankfully, this is a subjective list. The atmosphere in this game is incredible. It’s basically “liminal spaces- the video game”. It feels bright and vibrant, yet mysterious and somewhat lonely. The fact that they executed the triple jump into the third dimension so well on the first try still blows my mind. The hype leading up to this game was unimaginable. “Can videogames ever look better than this?” Well, maybe. As mentioned earlier, this game foregoes the simple “race to the finish” level design of older Mario games, and instead has Mario exploring larger worlds with multiple objectives to clear. Apparently this is because they couldn’t fit enough data on the cartridge to include as many courses to play on, but to me, it feels like an intentional decision, one in which the series grew and matured in unexpected and exciting ways. The ending credits sequence still gives me goosebumps.


3. Super Mario Bros. 3

Probably the best game on the NES. It released very late into its lifecycle, but again, was one of those games where the hype leading up to it was insane- they even advertised it within a Hollywood movie. This was before the internet, before Resetera leaks, before YouTubers making 20 minute videos based on tiny scraps of rumors. It was so much more than its predecessors- it had multiple power-ups, multiple pathways, and even multiple world maps, which was a huge leap forward for the series at the time. In many ways this is the perfect Super Mario experience. It felt bigger and better in just about every way.


2. Super Mario World

Wait, did I say Super Mario Bros. 3 was the perfect Super Mario experience, even though the list is still going? Well, that’s because Super Mario World did the impossible- it built upon perfection. This is the best side-scrolling Mario game, bar none. The game released only two years after Super Mario Bros. 3 as a launch title for the Super Nintendo. It had the benefit of being on a brand new, more powerful home console, and completely took advantage of that fact. World maps were back, there were secrets to uncover both inside and outside of the levels, and most notably, it introduced Yoshi! Having a rideable, trusty steed was a really cool addition. And hey, who doesn’t love Yoshi. Mario controls so well in this game, and it still holds up to this day. I’ve played through it many times, nearly 100% completing it on each run through (I can never remember that one secret exit in the Forest of Illusion).


1. Super Mario Odyssey

Speaking of controlling well, holy shit! Mario’s movement feels absolutely perfected in this game. After what felt like a drought of creativity, Super Mario Odyssey was an absolute monsoon of innovative ideas and included every aspect of Mario games prior that made them all great. I did not expect to enjoy this game as much as I did, nor for it to top my list in a series I have been playing for literally as long as I can remember.  Super Mario Odyssey was not only a fun game, but it made me feel a lot of emotions in unique ways that only a Nintendo game can. The New Donk City festival felt like a tribute to an entire medium of entertainment, one that said “look how far we’ve come!” in a very tasteful and fun way. The capture mechanic in this game was incredibly rewarding to explore, and offered a lot of gameplay variety, keeping the experience fresh and interesting every step of the way. It gave me hope for the future, made me excited about video games, and sparked my imagination just like when I was a kid. And honestly, what more could you really ask for?