There are very few other gaming franchises out there today that have managed to stand the test of time and continuously put out amazing new titles year after year as Nintendo’s iconic Mario. We got to thinking about what some of Mario’s greatest adventures over the years have been.
Who could ever get tired of a new Mario game? Ever since he made his first appearance in 1981’s Donkey Kong arcade game, we haven’t been able to get enough of our favorite Italian plumber.
These days, Mario is even better than ever, as games like Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Odyssey continue to celebrate the character’s long legacy of platforming adventures. And there are so many other great installments to choose from, too!
So we decided to rank all of the best main entry Mario games, across all generations and consoles, to find out just exactly how our favorite platforming plumber has shaped the way we’ve played our games.
Now of course, with so many great games to choose from, there’s no question that everyone will naturally have their personal favorites: so be sure to hit the comments and let us know what you think of our list, and what your favorite Mario games of all time happen to be!
20. New Super Mario Bros. 2
2012 | 3DS
Kicking off our Mario list is last year’s 3DS-exclusive New Super Mario Bros. 2, which saw the long-awaited return of Mario and Luigi to their traditional sidescrolling platforming roots. But aside from the gorgeous 3D visuals, New Super Mario Bros. 2 wound up recycling many of the same environments and mechanics from its big-brother console version on the Wii, and the gimmick of collecting 1 million gold coins just felt like a cheap way of squeezing more replayability out of a game that was just uninspired and repetitive from the very start. Well at least the yellow game case was still pretty cool!
19. Super Mario Land
1989 | GB
I still have some pretty fond memories of playing Super Mario Land back on the original Game Boy, and despite the obviously outdated black and white graphics, the game still holds a pretty impressive challenge even today. Taking everything that made the original NES games so great and squeezing it into a simplified portable format, Super Mario Land was a mind-blowing thing for us kids at the time. Nifty point of interest: this was also the first Mario game to feature Princess Daisy (albeit in a heavy pixelated form), who has now become a staple character for every Mario Kart and Mario Party release these days.
18. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
1992 | GB
Sticking with the portable theme for now, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins was the direct sequel to Mario’s first outing on Nintendo’ Game Boy, and it managed to improve upon its predecessor in nearly every way. With highly refined monochrome graphics that actually resembled things like Goombas and Koopa Troopers, 6 Golden Coins pits our hero Mario against the evil Wario for the very first time. Providing classic Mario platforming gameplay through and through, 6 Golden Coins was a crowning achievement of its time on the Game Boy: not to mention responsible for the oft-forgotten Carrot power-up that turns Mario into a hopping bunny.
17. Super Mario Bros. 2
1988 | NES
Super Mario Bros. 2 is probably the most controversial of all the main entry Mario games, simply because most gamers tend to either love it or hate it. There’s no getting around the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 is easily the black sheep of the series, with vastly different gameplay mechanics and just an all-around weird vibe going on (and that’s because it was basically a recostumed version of a Japanese game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic). Regardless though, the game is still quite a trip to play, and it was also responsible for introducing Birdo into the Mario universe, who never fails to give me the creeps.
16. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
1986 | Famicom, SNES, GBC
If you thought the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES was a difficult time back in the day, then you had no idea what you were in for when The Lost Levels came around. Billed as a collection of levels that had been removed from the classic game’s final release, The Lost Levels was like a sadistic reimagining of Super Mario Bros. with impossibly difficult platforming sections and a steep challenge for only the most hardcore of gamers. But besides the extreme new difficulty, though, everything else in the game, from the graphics to the enemies, were more or less identical to Super Mario Bros.Fun fact: The Lost Levels was originally released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan but was deemed to difficult for American audiences, which is why North America got Doki Doki Panic.
15. New Super Mario Bros.
2006 | DS
New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS was the very first entry of sub-games that served to reimagine the classic Mario sidescrollers with updated 3D graphics and gameplay. Released at a time when the Mario Party and Mario Kart games had all but taken over the Mario universe, New Super Mario Bros. was a breath of fresh air for those gamers who still longed for the Mario days of old. And the best part about it was that the game was pretty decent, and it also introduced the Mega and Mini-Mushrooms that have since gone on to appear in many other Mario adventures today.
14. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
2009 | Wii
Much like its predecessor on the DS a few years earlier, New Super Mario Bros. Wii brought the same new stylized form of platforming goodness to Nintendo’s home console, and its 4-player co-op capabilities positively blew the doors off the place (despite the odd inclusion of a Blue Toad and a Yellow Toad as players 3 and 4). Above all else, New Super Mario Bros. Wii served to show that there was still room in the gaming world for classic sidescrolling adventures, and its gorgeous environments and old-school boss battles are still some of the most memorable encounters that we’ve had in a Mario game today.
13. Super Mario Galaxy 2
2010 | Wii
The hugely successful sequel to Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii hit the scene with a bang in 2010 (not to be confused with the universal Big Bang, of course), and brought us more of that intergalactic 3D platforming goodness. This second time around, Nintendo decided to place an emphasis on using smaller, more compacted worlds than the rather explorative ones seen in the first Super Mario Galaxy game, and even though this ultimately made the sequel lose a bit of that initial wonder when compared to its predecessor, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find another game out there of any generation that can match Super Mario Galaxy 2’s heart and creativity.
12. New Super Mario Bros. U
2012 | Wii U
The first official Mario game to be presented in glorious high-definition on Nintendo’s Wii U, many gamers were hesitant about New Super Mario Bros. U at first, especially given its extremely close release to the lukewarm New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS. But once gamers actually got a chance to take Mario on another sidescrolling romp through the Mushroom Kingdom, it immediately became clear that the mustachioed plumber had never moved so seamlessly. From the wonderful variety in level design, not to mention the insanely awesome Challenge Mode for the most hardcore of Mario fans, New Super Mario Bros. U is the pinnacle experience of this blend of Mario game.
11. Super Mario 3D Land
2011 | 3DS
Simply put, Super Mario 3D Land was a 3DS system seller for me, as I’m sure it was for many, many others. Not only were the quick bursts of 3D platforming gameplay an absolute blast to behold, but the 3D effects were simply superb, and the combination of the classic short level format from Super Mario Bros. and the light open world exploration elements from Super Mario 64 was an emphatic moment for many Mario fans, to be sure. And is if all of that wasn’t reason enough to fall completely head over heels for this portable gem, Super Mario 3D Land also marked the long-awaited return of Tanooki Suit after all these years!
10. Super Mario Sunshine
2002 | GC
I’ll always have a soft-spot for Super Mario Sunshine as being one of my favorite Mario games of all time. The exclusive GameCube release just showed Nintendo taking so many exciting chances following Super Mario 64: from the extremely darker tone in the story, to the widespread use of Yoshi and his awkward fruit juice squirting animations, and of course, the introduction of F.L.U.D.D. and the way that simple water mechanics went on to define the entire groundwork of the game. The beach resort town of Delfino Plaza and its surrounding areas were just so full of life, and provided some of the greatest platforming challenges in Mario history. I’m still waiting for my HD remake of this one, Nintendo!
9. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
1995 | SNES
Even the mere mention of the name “Yoshi’s Island” today is still capable of making the most serious of gamers go giddy with nostalgic excitement. And rightfully so: there was just something so captivating about controlling the fearless Yoshi and having to protect poor Baby Mario at all costs through the many dangerous worlds that were positively bursting with color and charm (and lots and lots of smiling flowers). What’s more, the gameplay mechanics in the game were just different and FUN, especially throwing your Yoshi eggs at enemies and chasing after a crying Baby Mario as he floated off in the other direction, encased in his protective spit bubble.
8. Super Mario Bros. (NES)
1985 | NES
Nothing beats the classics, am I right or am I right? For many people, the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES was their very first introduction to the wonderful world of gaming, and it’s hard to find another game that has really achieved the same kind of widespread iconic status. But the crazy thing about it is that Super Mario Bros. has still fared extremely well over all of these years, and it still proves to be one of the greatest sidescrolling platformers of our time. And for that reason, I guess we can overlook the fact that the game was once coupled with Duck Hunt, and that damn smarmy dog.
7. Super Mario 3D World
2013 | Wii U
The Wii U’s first addition to Nintendo’s incredible Mario legacy also happens to be one of its best, and it’s the most fun we’ve had with any video game in recent years, period. Super Mario 3D World builds on the foundations first introduced in Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS, but magnifies and improves upon every single concept by tenfold. The sheer amount of levels and variety in this game is simply astounding, the Cat Suit gives the 3D open world platforming an awesome vertical touch, and words cannot convey what the 4-player competitive co-op mode has brought to the genre as a whole. If you’re looking for a reason to dig out your Wii U from storage, then look no further.
6. Super Mario Maker
2015 | Wii U, 3DS
Super Mario Maker is everything. Released on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the very first Super Mario Bros. game, this side-scroller platformer/game creator is a must-have for lovers of the character’s earlier adventures. Not only does the game come with remixed versions of classic Mario levels from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, but it also provides the tools for fans to create their own challenging levels! Best of all, you can upload your creations and give other player creations a try. Super Mario Maker is basically the never-ending Mario platformer, full of dazzling creations and some truly hardcore platforming. Beware: there are some deliciously impossible levels in this game.
5. Super Mario Bros. 3
1988 | NES
Super Mario Bros. 3 is just one of those games that are hard to put into words as to why they’re so amazing: but the second you actually start playing it, everything becomes immediately clear. Maybe it’s because of the highly updated graphics and pitch-perfect platforming gameplay as far as NES games went at the time. Maybe it’s because of the awesome introduction of the Koopa Kids and their nail-biting boss fights at the end of each themed world, like desert, lava, and sky. But if you ask me? My money’s on the Tanooki Suit and the Frog Suit that just made Mario look so darn cool and he’d run and jump across all sorts of sheer platforming perfection.
4. Super Mario 64
1996 | N64
In terms of sheer innovation, few other games can match what Super Mario 64 brought to the Mario universe. For starters, it served as the commercial precursor for 3D open world platformers, as gamers were given free rein to explore the grounds of Peach’s Castle for the very first time. They could enter fantastical worlds by hopping through paintings, and of course, they could battle Bowser himself in one of the most climactic boss fights to ever grace the world of gaming. There’s just always been something so magical about Super Mario 64, and I can’t tell you how many days I spent as a kid trying to earn all 120 stars and unlock that mysterious cannon that gave access to the castle roof.
3. Super Mario Galaxy
2007 | Wii
If Super Mario 64 was innovative in bringing the Mario franchise to the realm of 3D exploration, then Super Mario Galaxy on Wii further broke the rules of gravity and thrust our platforming hero out into the open universe. The overall space theme worked wonderfully well in this game, and each planet that players would come across was so unique and diverse from the last, that you’d never know what fun surprises would be waiting for you around the next bend. The spherical levels were also completely genre-shattering, and even the simplest of actions like using the Wii Remote to scoop up stray Star Bits had this immense amount of polish and satisfaction to it like no other Mario game quite before it.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
2017 | Switch
Coming just year after Mario’s 35th anniversary, Super Mario Odyssey is a true celebration of what makes Nintendo’s beloved Italian plumber the greatest icon in video games. This game returned to the 3D open-world play style of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine while also paying tribute to the franchise’s 2D platforming roots, with special retro levels integrated into each world. But Odyssey is also jam-packed with innovations, including the ability to control enemies and objects with Mario’s new sentient hat, Cappy, and customization options that allow you to dress up the little Italian hero however you want. And then there’s the plot, which is about the strangest narrative ever feature in a Mario game. There’s so much to love in this game and so many Power Moons to collect. It’s a must-have on the Switch.
1. Super Mario World
1990 | SNES
Well here we are at the top of our list at last, and if our number one Mario game comes as a surprise to you, then you’ve obviously never spent some quality time with a Super Nintendo before: of course it has to be Super Mario World! A sequel of sorts to the incredible Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mario’s shining debut on the SNES, Super Mario World managed to surpass everyone’s wildest expectations of what a Mario game could achieve at the time, with a massive adventure on an interconnected world map, to ability to ride on your trusty pal Yoshi, and just amazing platforming level design from beginning to end.
Joe Jasko is a staff writer. Read more of his work here.