Mario is, without a doubt, one of the most well known and iconic characters in any medium. He’s appeared in hundreds of games across about a dozen platforms, and has had at least twice as many jobs. Now with the arrival of the new Super Mario Bros. Movie, it's clear that the era of Mario is only just getting started.
At the end of the day, though, it’s been the core Mario platformer games that have kept players coming back for forty years. So, without further ado, these are our picks for the the 10 best Super Mario games of all time.
Note: This list was originally published in 2017, but has been updated to factor in newer games. We've excluded non-platformer titles like Super Mario Maker from our rankings.
10. Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario 3D Land was the clear front-runner for best handheld Mario game until the Nintendo Switch came along. The 3DS entry is chockfull of some of the most fun, bite-sized Mario levels and absolutely filled to the brim with content. Perfect for on-the-go play, Super Mario 3D Land dug through every trick in the Mario design handbook whether it was immaculate 3D platforming, or throwback retro 2.5D retro levels. It also took advantage of the system's glasses-free 3D in a way that no other game has come close to, making the game feel truly alive. – Matt Kim
Read our review of Super Mario 3D Land.
9. Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine may have tried to sell itself on a strange premise (Mario cleaning up gunk around a tropical island?), however the addition of the F.L.U.D.D. as both a cleaning tool and platforming device let the series soar to new heights in some very clever ways. Featuring some of the most vibrant levels worth coming back to multiple times, it also finally gave us access to Yoshi in a 3D playground teeming with excellent platforming possibilities, alongside some truly challenging segments. – Brendan Graeber
Read our review of Super Mario Sunshine.
8. Super Mario Bros.
You could write a book on how Super Mario Bros. not only helped save the video game industry, but also paved the way for the 30 years of our medium that followed. It solidified our fearless plumber as an icon synonymous with video games. It offered a perfectly-tuned challenge while also encouraging exploration and experimentation. And it gave players a sense of ownership via Mario’s pinpoint inertia that had rarely been seen in games before that. But apart from the NES masterpiece’s undeniable mark on history, it’s the little details that stick with us after all this time. Like the way that the clouds are just palette-swapped bushes. Or how the increased tempo of Koji Kondo’s incredible score is matched with the dwindling timer. There’s a reason Super Mario Bros. has been re-released about a hundred times in the past three decades — simply put, it’s one of the foundations of our medium. – Marty Sliva
Read our review of Super Mario Bros.
7. Super Mario 3D World
Not only is Super Mario 3D World one of the very best games on the Wii U, but it stands tall as one of Mario’s absolute best adventures. It builds upon the diorama-feel of 3D Land by making the stages larger, filling them with interesting puzzles, and constantly switching up the aesthetic. You can also play through all of 3D World alongside three friends, which makes for some of the absolute best multiplayer the series has ever offered. Finally, it pulls in a ton of classic Mario power-ups, while also introducing a few that pretty much need to be in every Mario adventure for the rest of time. Seriously, once you see Mario and pals wearing cat costumes then cloning themselves using Double Cherries, your life will never be the same again. – Marty Sliva
Read our review of Super Mario 3D World.
6. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is to 3D Mario games as Super Mario Bros. 3 is to the 2D iterations: pure platforming goodness. Coming so quickly on the heels of Galaxy 1, SMG 2 is not nearly as surprising as its predecessor, but it is so much more refined. Focusing on pushing players from one level to the next rather than having them explore for challenges, SMG 2 hones in on what made the first game such a breath of fresh air while making smart tweaks and additions to the formula. The inclusion of Yoshi and new powers like the Drill and Cloud suits only further push the possibilities of the gravity-based challenges. But more so than just throwing new ideas at an already solid foundation, Galaxy 2 feels like a culmination of so many ideas from past Mario experiences pieced together in a brilliant platformer that, even at its most difficult, is still a joy to play. – Jonathon Dornbush
Read our review of Super Mario Galaxy 2.
5. Super Mario Galaxy
If there was one Mario game that exemplified the sheer creativity and sense of wonder that’s at the heart of the series, it’s the first Super Mario Galaxy. Galaxy 2 may have improved upon many of its ideas, but it was also built on the foundation that Galaxy laid down, and that’s one of the strongest foundations you’ll find in the world of video games. Levels went from being just worlds to being galaxies, with tons of planets and open space in between, with each new area offering up their own unique gameplay challenges that pushed the boundaries of what was possible on the Wii hardware. Couple that outstanding design with the unforgettable, whimsical, orchestral soundtrack, and impressive visuals that still look great even today, and it’s not hard to see why Galaxy still stand tall as one of the best Mario games of all time. – Mitchell Saltzman
Read our review of Super Mario Galaxy.
4. Super Mario 64
Much has been made of Super Mario 64’s influence on game design and how it nails “feel” and control in a 3D environment. How it’s hard to resist wasting minutes in the opening castle garden just running, jumping, and flipping about. Or how thoughtful it is about introducing players to 3D platforming – the game actually has you meet your Lakitu cameraman! But what is most notable about the game is how fresh, fun, and playable it still feels today, a full 27 years later, despite being part of an era of games whose graphics haven’t aged gracefully.
If you think Mario 64 finds its way into Top 10s merely on pedigree and influence alone, give it another go. It takes the concept of multiple stage exits from its 2D predecessors and presents us with perfect little playgrounds filled with tasks and scavenger hunts of carefully escalating difficulty levels. At the core of this timeless game system is a physics engine that lets you have fun with mass, weight, inertia, size, and even time. It’s obvious the designers carefully placed each block, seesaw, slide, trap, and enemy to challenge and delight. It may not be the single greatest Mario game on our list, but there’s no denying that Super Mario 64 is a rare timeless 3D classic of the highest quality. – Peer Schneider
Read our review of Super Mario 64.
3. Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario World expanded on the potential of a Mario game to be more than just a level-completing platformer challenge, but that challenge has rarely been as pixel perfect as it is in Super Mario Bros. 3. While establishing the series’ penchant for secrets (the Warp Whistle in World 1-3 is still one of the 8-bit generation’s best surprises), SMB 3 also delivered on some truly difficult challenges throughout its eight kingdoms. From the hilarious perspective shifts of Giant Land to the brutal challenge of Dark Land, SMB 3 never lacked for inventive world design, all while setting a precedent for Mario worlds and power-ups in future installments. After all, there are few wardrobe changes better than the Tanooki Suit. – Jonathon Dornbush
Read our review of Super Mario Bros. 3.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey brought the plumber truly into the new generation. As part of the Nintendo Switch launch, Nintendo busted out everyone's favorite plumber for a new, globe-trotting adventure. It truly felt like a back-to-basics approach, save for the unique hat mechanic that allowed Mario to transfer his consciousness into objects and enemies. But while the new mechanic is fun, Super Mario Odyssey's strength lies in its pure game-feel. Not since Mario 64 has there been a 3D platformer that just plays so great, and looks this amazing. – Matt Kim
Read our review of Super Mario Odyssey.
1. Super Mario World
Super Mario World took everything that was great about Mario on the original Nintendo, and multiplied it by at least 100. As a testament to its pitch perfect gameplay and outright , Super Mario World appears in the number one spot of countless “Greatest of All Time” lists, and for good reason. Built on the framework of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World expanded the overworld map, introduced more challenges and powers, and packed more secrets into a 16-bit cart then anyone could have anticipated back in 1990. Super Mario World’s biggest contribution the future of the franchise is, without a doubt, it’s emphasis on exploration. Some levels contain multiple paths and exits, which in turn reveal switch palaces, secret levels and even entire secret worlds filled with some of the most challenging platforming levels ever created.
Mechanically, it’s a dream to play. Every jump, every fireball, and every cape spin perform exactly the same as the one before it, and this reliability allows masterful players to navigate Dinosaur Lands whopping 96 levels with the fluidity of someone composing a symphony. On top of this, the game is full of little details and charm in some of the best sprite animation to this day. When Mario jumps, his hat pops off his head just a bit, when he flies, he holds the corners of his cape to catch the wind. Animations that would seem commonplace now showed an attention to detail and added an enormous amount of character to every action and solidified Mario, and his goofy supporting cast of friends and enemies, as Nintendo mainstays, not just on the NES, but forever. – Zach Ryan
Read our review of Super Mario World.
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