PCs, Xboxes and PlayStations may battle it out with most gamers in the arena of best gaming system, but many of us would put our money on Nintendo, in large part due to its emphasis on local co-op gaming and its nostalgic value. We can even remember our parents coming home with an original NES, much to our childhood excitement, only to have to wait hours before we could get the controller from them.
Nintendo is popular with gamers of all ages for a reason. The Mario franchise is by far the best-selling videogame series in history and we might even be personally responsible for shoving fistfuls of money at Nintendo while screaming for new Mario games (and even versions of the original NES games more than once thanks to virtual console games) over the years.
We love those little green and red, mustachioed plumbers so much we decided to take the time to make the definitive list of all the Super Mario games ever made, ranked from worst to best. And if you disagree, we’re sorry, but your princess is in another castle.
19. Super Mario Sunshine (2002)
Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube ended up, through a difficult process of elimination, being the last game on our list. But honestly, it’s really quite a good game, so that should tell you how great the entire Super Mario series is. We think it ended up being this low on the list because it suffered from the biggest wait on the list, coming out 6 years after the previous game in the series (Super Mario 64). Can you imagine going six years without a Super Mario game?!? Those fistfuls of cash we mentioned in the intro might turn into fistfuls of our first-born children, Rumpelstiltskin style, if that happened again. So, as you can imagine, there was a lot of anticipation for Super Mario Sunshine and maybe, even though it was good, it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. It used very similar gameplay to Super Mario 64 and we were left feeling that 6 years should have brought a much more improved playing system rather than a rehashing of the previous game.
18. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (1986)
Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels actually came out in Japan (as Super Mario Bros 2) as the sequel to the original NES Super Mario Bros. game. If you’re reading this list, you probably already know that it was considered to be unfavorable for a North American audience, so we got what most of us know as Super Mario Bros. 2 instead. If the game’s disparity of positioning on this list is any indicator, Nintendo made the right decision. This game may have come out in 1986 in Japan, but it didn’t find its way to North American audiences until 1993 and, honestly, we’ve always sort of viewed it as a bonus game but never really felt that it held up as well on its own because it was pretty outdated by the time of its arrival. Still, we like playing this game for its steep difficulty. The style is almost the same as the original NES game, but quite a bit more challenging, so if you love the first one but haven’t played this, give it a go!
17. Super Mario 3D Land (2011)
Honestly, this game is really good. Now that we’re seeing it so low on our list, we’re second-guessing things. But, bravely, we continue on because already, at number 17, we look ahead and can’t imagine knocking a single game down a spot on the list. Everything is just so good! It might be a bit low on the list, though, because the 3DS is probably one of our least favorite Nintendo systems in recent years, probably as a result of the DS hangover, from a system that kept us up all night for years and left us almost unable to love the next system as much, no matter how great it was. That said, Super Mario 3D Land is great and almost makes it worth buying a 3DS even if you don’t plan on getting any other game for it. Don’t be fooled by the title, though. While the game is in 3D, it plays as a side-scrolling game with a fixed path, much like every Mario game before the Nintendo 64.
16. Super Mario Land (1989)
You might notice that our list puts the Game Boy games a bit lower than games for most other systems. The Game Boy games are in black and white and the overall visual aspects just can’t live up to any of the other games. Still, these games are great and we own them all on our 3DS and have replayed them many times. Super Mario Land is never quite as good as the sequel that followed one year later, but this was still an amazing moment in our childhood, videogame-filled lives as we were finally able to take Mario with us on the go! The game has typical Mario side-scrolling gameplay, but it is unfortunately very short. Plus, it has Mario questing to save Princess Daisy and we all know everybody reading this can’t stand the thought of anyone getting between Mario and Peach, right?
15. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992)
Coming in just slightly above its predecessor, Super Mario Land 2: Golden Coins sees Mario change his goal from freeing a princess to trying to reclaim his castle. That’s right. Mario owns a castle. The economic system must be pretty topsy-turvy in Mushroom World if plumbers are able to earn that much! This game also introduces Wario, Mario’s evil doppelganger and the thief of the aforementioned stolen castle. We prefer it to the previous Game Boy game because it switches its style more toward Super Mario Bros. 3 and has a world map. It also benefited from more levels and a longer playtime than Super Mario Land. Another great thing about Super Mario Land 2 is that each area has an individualized boss, providing the gamer with much more variety than before.
14. Super Mario Maker (2015)
Super Mario Maker has been reviewed extremely well and some people really love it. We’ve enjoyed our time with it, but it’s not as high on our list as some might have put it because we honestly don’t really go to Mario games for building levels. However, this game has brought a fresh new idea to the Super Mario series with its customizable level-building system. The coolest thing about this game, for us, is that you can download levels created by other people and play them, which gives the game an almost infinite replayability factor. We were a bit disappointed in how easy the actual Nintendo-created content was, though, and since we aren’t the biggest fans of using the level editor, this game couldn’t climb much higher on our list, even though we appreciate what this unique entry into the Super Mario series has to offer.
13. Super Mario 3D World (2013)
Super Mario 3D World, which came out for the Wii U, is the second most recent Super Mario game. The visuals are great and we have to admit that Mario looks pretty cute in that Tanooki suit. Would it be inappropriate to say that we kind of want to pet him behind the ears and rub his soft belly? …Anyway, this game is really good. It seems low at number 12, but we’re already into that territory where each one of the games ahead is either excellent or so full of nostalgia (while also being excellent!) that there is nowhere higher for it to go. The game is in 3D, but it follows a side-scrolling format as characters move from left to right across the screen and end by reaching the iconic Mario flag. Plus, it’s great being able to play as 4 characters again, and, in fact, there’s a fifth unlockable character, but we won’t spoil who that is for you!
12. New Super Mario Bros. 2 (2012)
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the second entry for the 3DS. It’s a pretty standard Mario game in that it focuses on saving Princess Peach from Bowser. The thing that you might remember from this game, though, is the crazy abundance of coins! Nintendo advertised this pretty heavily, leading up to the game’s release. It may seem simple, but we loved the fun flashiness of collecting all the coins that erupted across out little 3DS screens. The game didn’t review quite as well as some Super Mario games, but we really enjoy it. Plus, it looks great on the 3DS and comes with the added bonus of not requiring a TV, allowing us to play while lying in bed (potentially in our boxers with a box of pizza by our side and crumbs all over the covers. Potentially.)
11. New Super Mario Bros. U (2012)
2012 was a good year for Super Mario games! Neither of them quite cracked our top 10, but we really enjoyed New Super Mario Bros. U and our previous entry. The gameplay is very similar to what we experienced a couple years prior to this release with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why we love this game so much. Unfortunately, this seemed a little bit too much like revisiting the game from two years before, so while it was fun to play, it was a tad too underwhelming to be rated higher. Nonetheless, it is a blast to play if you ignore the progression pattern. Additionally, because of the GamePad, it is the first full-feature Mario game we were able to play on a handheld in our beds, which, as we mentioned before, we do in a very classy manner.
10. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a lot like its predecessor and plays very similarly, with the theme of playing on various planets in 3D. The player travels through multiple galaxies in what is a very beautiful setting for a Super Mario game. There are many notable improvements upon the original Super Mario Galaxy game, which led to it being very well received, but for us, the improvements were not enough to place it higher on the list than the original. You should take that criticism with a grain of salt though, because this game is excellent. The gameplay is classic Mario fun and the levels are so varied that playing through this considerably lengthy game feels like playing a bunch of different Mario games at the same time.
9. New Super Mario Bros. (2006)
This was the only Super Mario game to come out for the Nintendo DS, but even so, it was one of the reasons we fell in love with the system (aside from the innovative, for its time, touchscreen, and all of those JRPGs. So. Many. JRPGs.). It was also a particularly exciting release for fans of the original Super Mario games because it was the first side-scrolling entry into the series in 14 years. We’re not even sure how we survived those in-between years, which we often refer to as the dark ages of gaming, but we got through, weary and grizzled, and are here to tell the tale. When New Super Mario Bros. was released, it felt like meeting back up with an old friend. And, on top of that, it looked good on a handheld!
8. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)
For some reason, we never really hear people talk about this SNES classic. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island involves controlling Yoshi as he carries Baby Mario on his back through the levels. It’s possible the game has received less attention because of the oddity of casting Yoshi as the main character, but we love it! Besides, Yoshi is basically the main character in Mario Kart. If you play with anyone else (except maybe Toad), you’re crazy and we don’t want to hear any excuses. Unless you lived through the previously mentioned dark ages of gaming. If you did, we can probably get together, show old war scars, and discuss matters further.
Back to the game, though, playing with Yoshi regularly was a fun change of pace. You can do the usual Yoshi tongue action regularly, eating enemies instead of just jumping on them. And once you eat a bad guy, you can fire it forward to kill enemies or you could swallow it and throw the resulting egg at a different angle. This game was a welcome change of pace and we spent countless hours enjoying it!
7. Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)
We are referring to the North American Super Mario Bros. 2 here, not to be confused with the Japanese one that was all the way back at number 18 on our list. When we were growing up, we remember people trashing this game pretty regularly for how different it is from the rest of the Super Mario series, but that’s exactly what we love so much about it. It’s a bit of a different setup from other Super Mario games a well, with the characters travelling through a dream world and picking things up, such as enemies or vegetables plucked from the ground to be thrown. Players can also choose between four characters, each with distinguishable characteristics, such as Toad’s quickness or Princess Peach’s crazy, gliding power jumps. The enemies are also strange new creatures, many of which only ever featured in this game. Overall, we love this entry for its insane originality!
6. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
We have to admit that our minds were pretty blown when this game was released. It was unlike any Super Mario game we’d seen before. Traveling across galaxies with Mario became a new adventure that was exciting and often involved beautiful new levels and graphics. Another cool development was the varying gravity, allowing Mario to move differently in different galaxies, which was the most innovative thing we’d seen enter the series in a long time. Another interesting innovation was the use of the Star Pointer. This involved using the Wii Remote to point at the screen in order to do a few things, such as picking up certain objects that can be used for attacks or latching onto other objects to propel Mario forward. Interestingly, though, this wasn’t our favourite Super Mario game to come out for the Wii. Stay tuned to see which one was!
5. Super Mario 64 (1996)
This game stole so much of our childhood from us, but we honestly don’t mind. Sure, we could have been outside playing in our neighborhoods, but exploring the 3D world outside of Princess Peach’s castle was just so much better! We can still remember spending more time on our Nintendo 64s than seems sane just climbing the trees and doing handstands from the top. The 3D world in Super Mario 64 was a groundbreaking advancement for the Super Mario series, and while we admittedly love the 2D platforming model, this was a great change of pace! One of the cool changes to this game was also getting rid of the time limits, so every time you jumped through a picture into a new world, you could explore it to your heart’s content! This game was incredibly long and involved and we couldn’t see a list like this not included in the top 5.
4. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
We strongly considered putting this at the top of our list and that would be fitting for Super Mario Bros., the first ever Super Mario game, which came out on the NES all the way back in 1985. We love it for the nostalgia, and it’s really just a great game, but it would have needed to be more complex and involved if it wanted to crack our top 3. Being introduced to Mario and Luigi for the first time, in all their 8-bit glory, was an amazing experience – we’re talking about love at first sight stuff, here. And if you were lucky enough to have a copy with Duck Hunt, we’re certain you were probably one of the most popular kids on your block and had a never-ending parade of kids through your living room. But while they may have been wowed by the Zapper gun, they always came back for the substance of Super Mario Bros.. Now, the game is two-player, but you do have to play at separate times. Maybe we were more patient back then, but for some reason this was never a problem and we bet you can remember watching your friend play while pushing the buttons and jerking your control all over the place as if you were the one playing.
3. Super Mario World (1990)
Super Mario World was actually available at launch for the SNES, which makes a lot of sense because it was one of the best games the system ever got and probably helped Nintendo move a lot of units. After moving up from the NES, the colors and graphics in this game seemed like a monumental upgrade. The colors are bright and vivid and the characters have rounded edges and great character designs. Plus, everybody’s favorite little green dinosaur makes his first appearance in this game and can be ridden. The game keeps the world map from Super Mario Bros. 3 and is the last non-handheld console game to use 2D side-scrolling for 16 years. Each world also has a final level that culminates in a battle against one of the Koopalings, which is a system maintained in recent games for the Wii systems.
2. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)
We have a feeling this will be a pretty controversial entry to find so high up the list. But this is a really, really, really excellent game. Although the game truly came into its own if you had a bunch of Wii Remotes. No other Super Mario game had ever allowed gameplay with multiple players playing together at the same time before. If you had a group of 4 people and enough controllers, this game was an absolute blast and redefined what play Super Mario could be. Honestly, it is probably easier to play a good game with just one person (maybe two), but we wouldn’t trade our multiplayer fun for that. Sure, sometimes you bumped into each other enough to make you want to throw your controller, but that was part of the fun! The series gained a busy intensity it had never had before, and honestly, it was pretty fun intentionally jumping on your friends and sending them down a hole to their virtual deaths.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)
It should come as no surprise that Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES topped our list. We aren’t even ashamed to say that we bought this on 4 separate systems: the NES, Wii, 3DS and Wii U. This game was particularly fun because of the addition of new suits that have become mainstays throughout the rest of the Super Mario series, such as the Tanooki suit and the Hammer suit. There is even a level where you can jump around in a strange green sock and we always regretted that you couldn’t take it with you past the end of the level. Super Mario Bros. 3 also introduced the world map, which has become a mainstay in the series. We loved this game in every way and were willing to endure parental upset at leaving the system on for days at a time because you couldn’t save in the middle. This game may be benefitting from its nostalgic charm, but playing it all these years later, it holds up very well to the test of time. Any gamers born post-2000 should really spend some time playing Super Mario Bros. 3 before knocking it down even one spot on their own list.