I have to talk about my top 10 best Mario games before the official end of the 35th Anniversary celebration! My earliest gaming memories start on the NES with Super Mario Bros. 3, and Mario has been a delightful, whimsical, and always top-notch quality presence in my gaming life ever since. I would argue that nearly every “mainline” Mario game is of extraordinarily high caliber. But I want to look at my personal favorite picks-here are my personal top 10 best Mario games!
As with any list like this I make, I recognize nostalgia plays a big part. But I always try to prioritize how well the game holds up today as the biggest factor in ranking. And if you enjoy this list, please check out my rankings of the classic Sonic games, the Legend of Zelda series, and Metroid too! Okay, let’s-a-go!
10. New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U/Switch)
After four entries, the “New” Super Mario Bros. series might be starting to feel a bit “old”. But they’re still a great set of games! All of the “New” titles have charming graphics, catchy music, balanced challenges with finding the star coins and secret exits, and silly fun with the return of the Koopa kids. My favorite of the bunch is New Super Mario Bros. U (followed by the underrated NSB 2 on 3DS) largely because I had the most fun playing it. I really enjoyed the return of a world map filled with so many secrets, the fun Yoshi power ups, and a new “Star Road”. And let’s be honest, the squirrel suit definitely contributes too-it’s awesome!
9. Super Mario Bros. (NES/GBC)
The original is still amazing today! Unlike the first Legend of Zelda game, I actually played this one quite a bit as a kid. I found it pretty tough at the time (Mario 3 was more my jam-see below!) but discovered new love for it when the Deluxe version was released on Game Boy Color. Mario’s movement can feel just a bit unrefined compared to the more modern games, but once you get the hang of it you’re in for a treat. Level design is as excellent now as it was then, and those classic Mario themes don’t get old. Replaying it recently on my Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. I can confidently say it holds up very well. And it’s a blast to speed run!
8. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (Game Boy)
Six Golden Coins is an underrated gem-easily one of the best Mario games AND original Game Boy games. A lot of folks seem to prefer the first Mario Land title, but I love the innovations and general zaniness of this entry! The open world map that lets you tackle worlds (“zones”) in any order was way ahead of its time. Each zone was extremely creative and varied in design, the soundtrack was insanely catchy, power-ups were fun, and the game introduced Wario. It’s a fairly short experience, but I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week. An absolute joy to experience today, and worth tracking down!
7. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (Switch)
This was the first game I played after our recent move back to New England. As video games have always been a source of comfort in stressful times, it was a delight to sit on the couch with my two girls and relax in this colorful world! I already adored the game on the Wii U for its creativity, whimsy, and charm. But playing it again with my daughters, and experiencing the stellar new Bowser’s Fury, made it all the more special. Speaking of which, I’d love to see Nintendo make a full length game in the style of Bowser’s Fury! Searching the huge open world for secrets and cruising around on Plessie the dinosaur (who needs to make more appearances) kept me smiling for hours and hours. If you have a Switch, pick this one up-it’s both relaxing and a great challenge!
6. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Like most every Mario fan that experienced this classic at release, I was absolutely blown away. Mario Galaxy is an almost textbook example of why I love Nintendo. The gameplay and level design is experimental and boundary pushing, yet familiar and cozy with nods to the entire franchise. The setting and game design was so clever, especially with the plays on gravity. The controls were perfect. The pacing was tight. And the story was surprisingly touching! Playing through it again with my girls recently in the 3D All-Stars Collection, I was also taken aback by how much the themes resonated. And can we see a new (non Mario-sports) game starring Rosalina, please?
5. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES/GBA)
Honestly, from here on out the rest of the list could fluctuate on any given day! That’s how stellar the best Mario games are. For today, my favorite NES game takes the #5 spot. What else needs to be said about Mario 3? From the time you see Mario on the World 1 map and the delightfully nostalgic theme plays, you know you’re in for something special. The game’s innovations wowed the gaming world when it released, and the blueprint it set is still being followed today. The gameplay is tight, the power ups were a revelation (how cool yet unnecessary was the frog suit?), and the world maps brought a new sense of immersion. This was the introduction of the Koopalings too! It’s a lengthy and substantial game that holds up beautifully today, in its original incarnation, Mario All-Stars, or played on Game Boy Advance. If you’re a fan, I also strongly recommend The Gaming Historian’s “Story of Mario Bros. 3” video chronicling it’s development and legacy!
4. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Remember watching the E3 2017 trailers for this game? I was almost literally salivating. Mario Odyssey promised a return to the open world, sandbox-style adventuring from Mario 64 (and Mario Sunshine…but I could never got into it despite being a huge fan of the GameCube). And boy did it deliver! All of the different kingdoms are simply enchanting to explore and find all the well-hidden moons in. Movement feels absolutely perfect and the “capture” mechanic leads to a lot of variety (and often hilarious whimsy) in gameplay. The game is stuffed with fun references to Mario’s history and is a joy from start to finish, all perfectly encapsulated by the amazing “Jump Up Superstar” theme. I’m still hoping the Big N surprises us with a “Super Mario Odyssey 2”, in the same vein as the next game in my list…
3. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Take everything I said about the original Mario Galaxy, and multiply it by 10. While lacking the impactful story, the gameplay of Mario Galaxy 2 seriously approaches perfection. Having honed their skills in the first game, the devs fine tuned what was already amazing to create platforming nirvana. Levels are absurdly creative, and Yoshi makes a triumphant 3D return too! Each time I play through this gem I have a tough time putting the controller down, especially with a streamlined interface for choosing galaxies. I don’t think I’ve seen a list of best Mario games that doesn’t include at least one of the two Galaxy games, and with good reason. They’re my two favorite Wii games; spectacular works art that are endlessly fun to play from start to finish.
2. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)
I have to be honest and admit that nostalgia gets the best of me here. To be sure, much of this game does hold up very well! I recently replayed to it 100% in the 3D All Stars collection (ranking every single course along the way!) and was addicted as I ever was. The early courses in particular are spectacular, with lots of interesting and innovative star missions; perfect displays of what the N64 was capable of. But between camera troubles and occasionally finicky controls, later courses can be tough to the point of frustration. I’m fully aware of it, but the nostalgia of playing this game when it released is beyond measure. It was a revolution in gaming that we may never see the likes of again, and playing the game today still wows me.
1. Super Mario World (SNES)
Today’s console launch games just look silly when compared to this opus that launched with the Super Nintendo way back in 1991. The game skillfully built on the already phenomenal foundation of Mario 3, truly making everything more “super”. The graphics are almost comically charming to this day. Movement feels better and tighter. Levels are longer, more creative, and often vertical. The world map is fun, colorful, and full of secrets. There’s more Yoshis, and they have different abilities! The Special Zone is a true challenge of your platforming prowess. And the cape is still my favorite Mario power up of all time. A joy to take your time playing through or to speed run quickly (like I did on Christmas Eve this past year with my girls!), it tops my best Mario games and is a masterpiece for the ages.
How similar is your personal list of the top 10 best Mario games? Did I make an egregious error by leaving a specific game off? Let me know in the comments below!