Does Mario even need an introduction? It can be daunting for any ranking of the best Mario games to sum up arguably the most iconic video game character in history. More than that, Mario continues to be as relevant as ever, with a massively successful theatrical film release, new games on the horizon, and the character remaining Nintendo’s first and foremost mascot character. This character has been a fixture across every Nintendo console, appearing in just about every type of video game you can imagine.
Exactly how many Mario games are there? The number varies, depending on what you include, but the number of games simply featuring Mario in some form or fashion numbers in the hundreds. We’re not going to cover all of that, because only a lunatic would do that, but we are going to look at the very best games with the mustachioed plumber at the center of the adventure. So that means no Mario Kart, Mario Party, or anything along similar lines. It must be a narrative adventure starring the greatest fictional Italian hero since Rocky Balboa.
With that in mind, put on your freshest dungarees and chow down on the ripest mushroom as we reel off the best Mario games ever made.
The Best Mario Games
20. Super Mario Land
Platform(s): Game Boy
While Tetris may have been the bundled game with Nintendo’s mighty new handheld called the Game Boy, Super Mario Land made it clear that Mario would always be a big part of Nintendo’s plans for any given system. It was an impressive release for 1989, capturing at least the spirit of Mario as Nintendo put in what retroactively proved to be one of his strangest adventures.
Clearly, Nintendo didn’t quite know what a Mario 2D platformer should entail at this point, but everything you need for a good time can be found here. The game looks pretty good for its age and still plays very well. The only particularly negative thing you can say about Super Mario Land is that it’s far too short, but this series would quickly improve upon that.
19. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Platform(s): Game Boy Advance
Combining turn-based RPG elements with normal expectations for a Mario adventure, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga proved to be a great, unique addition to the Game Boy Advance in 2003. From visuals that evoked Mario yet felt quite different from anything made before, to the consistent-but-accessible challenge of controlling both Mario and Luigi across this unique title, Superstar Saga was a breath of fresh air more than 20 years ago.
In the present, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is still lots of fun. The main quest itself is quite beefy for the Game Boy Advance, and the game maintains a sense of wonder and charm that never overstays their welcome. The sense of humor present in Superstar Saga is also to be appreciated, with character-driven humor and moments of crazed silliness, particularly in some of Luigi’s cutscenes. This is a cute game with more depth than you might think.
18. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
Platform(s): Famicom, SNES
With the 1993 release of Super Mario All-Stars, fans finally had a chance to play the original sequel to Super Mario Bros, dubbed The Lost Levels for its western release. Perhaps wanting to show off a visually stronger game for the 1989 sequel the West did receive, combined with the belief that the 1986 Japan-only sequel would be too difficult for players outside of its native country, accounts for why players waited nearly a decade for this game.
Honestly, while a significantly fun and relatively much more challenging game than the 1985 Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels is not nearly as good as Super Mario Bros 2, but this is still a deeply satisfying Mario game for those who want to play it. Just be wary of just how tough it can still be to this day.
17. New Super Mario Bros
Platform(s): Famicom, SNES
The 2006 release of New Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo DS was something special at the time. It would be Mario’s first 2D adventure in some 15 years, but with a number of twists to the formula. Those twists pay off, with New Super Mario Bros offering a wide offering of surprises as you stomp through levels that are familiar in many cases, but not too familiar.
New Super Mario Bros started a new run of games that further explored what then-modern technology could do with the formula that made Nintendo into a giant. This first effort at a time when nostalgia for classic gaming started to seriously pick up steam would be dramatically improved upon later, New Super Mario Bros still stands among the best Mario games.
16. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Platform(s): Game Boy
The enduring appeal of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins comes down to the game being an improvement on everything Super Mario Land tried to do. In terms of its mechanics and graphics, 6 Golden Coins is unquestionably an early 90s Mario title. Yet the worlds Mario must travel to in order to collect — hold on to your red cap — 6 golden coins, are unlike anything players had seen at this point. From its enemies to the layouts of the levels themselves, Mario truly feels like a stranger in a strange land here.
At the same time, the game doesn’t make you do anything that would be unusual in one of his platformers. You’re not piloting a ship as in the first Super Mario Land, for example. Everything around you is just very different from the norm, with new elements, characters, and challenges within the range of what you’re expecting. There’s something pretty charming about such a successful execution of a platonic ideal.
15. Super Mario Sunshine
Perhaps no other game in the mainline Super Mario franchise is more difficult to like at times than Super Mario Sunshine. That’s because this game, which sees you using F.L.U.D.D. to clean up a tropical paradise, has oodles of originality, style, humor, and many other qualities that make up Mario’s most essential outings. It’s just that the other crucial components to a good Mario game, particularly the gameplay itself, are at times broken on a fundamental level. Get ready for new levels of frustration over things that aren’t your fault.
Questionable physics and brutally challenging moments aside, Super Mario Sunshine is still worth time, even if you never caught it first time around on the GameCube. Even if you wind up seeing the game as a failure, as some do, it’s an interesting failure, and you won’t be sorry you took the time to discover that. Just keep the blood pressure meds handy for the Sand Bird level.
14. Paper Mario
Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64 wasn’t the true sequel to Super Mario RPG that fans were hoping for. Operating as more of a spiritual successor to that classic, this unusual 64-bit era Mario game would prove to have more going for it than some of the most interesting visuals the console would ever see. The RPG mechanics that some players desperately wanted to see back in the Mario universe can be found here.
However, whereas Super Mario RPG was a relatively traditional example of its genre, Paper Mario deviates from expectations on more than one occasion. This is particularly evident in how the game looks, with graphics that resemble bright stickers meant for a scrapbook. Also in terms of how Paper Mario plays, utilizing RPG mechanics, and even with a sense of humor that does everything from break the fourth wall to evoking the kind of banter and silliness of a classic Looney Tunes short.
It might not be for everyone, but Paper Mario remains a great example of how versatile the character had become at this point. You owe it to yourself to play Paper Mario at least once.
13. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
A brilliant remake made better by assorted tweaks, with basically a new game thrown in for good measure, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is essential platforming fun for Switch fans. Everything about the Wii U title, one of the best released for that unfortunate console, is kept intact here. There’s just so much added and improved upon, it can feel like you’re playing a completely different release from the Wii U original. To a large extent, you are.
The first 3D Mario game with four players and a chance to play as Luigi, Peach, Toad, and others, teamwork is obviously the most enjoyable way to experience these worlds. These games throw at players a striking combination of puzzles and serious platformer challenges. Bowser’s Fury feels like the same sort of game, and to a certain extent it is, but there’s more of an open world approach to things that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable bundle when combined with 3D World. Bowser’s Fury makes for an interesting note on what the future may hold for 3D Mario titles.
12. Super Mario Maker 2
Being able to create and edit your own Mario levels naturally made Super Mario Maker a runaway success in 2015. Super Mario Maker 2 proved to be a superior sequel in every possible way.
Utilizing backdrops, items, and even aesthetics from a wide variety of titles featuring Mario, Luigi, Peach, and the rest of the gang, you could build just about any sort of Mario level imaginable. As we’ve seen over the years from the levels made by fans, ranging from a stiff challenge to what can feel like an eternal nightmare mode, the creative potential behind Super Mario Maker 2 is enormous.
Multiplayer, a shockingly ample story mode, and the overwhelming and seemingly boundless catalog of items and characters (and more) at your disposal makes Super Mario Maker 2 a classic of sheer potential.
11. Super Mario Bros
It’s a testament to the stature and unshakable enjoyment still inherent in the DNA of Super Mario Bros that it almost cracks the top 10 of the best Mario games even today. You know the game. You know where the secret warp pipes can be found. Even the soundtrack for Super Mario Bros has a level of acknowledgement that goes beyond video games. Even people who haven’t played a single video game in their lives, including this one, have a good chance of being able to recognize some or all the pieces of this game.
But when you pick up the controller to play Super Mario Bros, none of the above really matters anymore. You can almost effortlessly find yourself pulled into the experience. If only for a few minutes, although most of us know that if we’re playing SMB in any form, we’re going all the way to the end.
10. Super Mario Bros 2
30+ years since its release, and who honestly still cares that Super Mario Bros 2 is easier than the Japan-only sequel, or that it’s based on a very interesting-on-its-own-terms platformer called Doki Doki Panic? This is another Mario game in which it’s difficult to find unique praise because it literally hasn’t stopped for Super Mario Bros 2 since 1988.
Besides proving that fans would follow the Italian mascot character to different sorts of games, Super Mario Bros 2 in a vacuum is a near-perfect playing experience. Featuring four distinct characters, Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad, with their own abilities and weaknesses, Super Mario Bros 2 backs up its cute graphics with addictive play and challenges that are unexpected but not insurmountable. These qualities haven’t dampened with time.
It’s a perfect introduction to old-school Mario for the young, and it’s still a lot of fun for the rest of us.
9. New Super Mario Bros U
Platform(s): Wii U
The first Mario game offered as a launch title for a Nintendo console since the N64, New Super Mario Bros U is another great Wii U game whose only sin was being released on one of Nintendo’s biggest failures. In other words, not as many people played this thrilling, spectacularly bright 2D Mario release as perhaps should have. It’s good enough of a game to where it rightfully should have sold more consoles, but ultimately even Mario couldn’t convince people to
There’s a controlled madness to games like New Super Mario Bros U that makes it a blisteringly fun experience in multiplayer. However you choose to play this game, it’s fun in every way a Mario game should be. Eventually New Super Mario Bros U got a very good port on the Switch (that curiously kept the U in the title), so go play that if a Wii U is hard to come by.
8. Super Mario 64
Seeing Super Mario 64 at number eight might be controversial to some. However, Super Mario 64 and every other game from this point onwards are masterpieces of their time, place, and console.
The differences between Super Mario 64, which features some of the best work of Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s game-changing (literally) career, and anything after this is microscopic. Super Mario 64 is still a 3D adventure for Mario that pits the character against a dynamic and engaging universe of different worlds and degrees of difficulty. It was Mario’s 3D debut, and no mascot character could ask for a better end result.
Still, Super Mario 64 also retains its world-famous camera system, which remains a mixed bag almost thirty years later. There’s some small hiccups in this game that time and technology would iron out, but what we have is still one of the best 3D platformers of all time.
7. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Marrying platform game logic to RPG elements with Super Mario RPG proved to be a late-stage SNES winner for collaborators Square and Nintendo. The last time the two companies would cooperate with one another for quite some time, Super Mario RPG grabs everything people expect from traditional Mario games and runs off with them in the direction of a unique plot surrounded by gameplay elements that were very foreign to Mario in 1996.
Yet with the best of Square behind it, Super Mario RPG was and remains a Mario game unlike any other in a way that means something profound for these characters and their flexibility. Even with its many unique characters, visual touches, playing style, and everything else it does differently, this somehow also feels like a definitive example of a great Mario game.
6. Super Mario Odyssey
Returning Mario to lush 3D worlds that he could explore completely, Super Mario Odyssey feels like something players haven’t experienced in this form in quite some time. There’s something very simple about the basic concept of Mario visiting a stunning collection of worlds on a sprawling globetrotting adventure. At the same time, everything about this Switch exclusive redefines the most important aspects of a new Mario game.
The freshness of Super Mario Odyssey comes with a new system in the form of your ally Cappy’s “capture” ability, which does everything from collect coins to possessing certain items and enemies to aid you in your quest. This is the most unique and exciting selling point for Super Mario Odyssey. There’s also something initially shocking about the way the familiar interacts with the decidedly unfamiliar, but like everything else in Super Mario Odyssey, it grows on you almost immediately.
It’s remarkable that this joyful game (because there’s no other way to describe Super Mario Odyssey) reinvited Mario yet again without changing what matters most.
5. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Luckily, the soul-crushing shrieks of baby Mario are not enough to keep Super Mario World 2 from getting the respect it deserves.
As one of many Yoshis tasked with rescuing Baby Luigi, protecting Baby Mario, and foiling the machinations of Kamek and Baby Bowser, you’re going to hear Baby Mario cry every time he’s separated from you. Good news, that’s almost certainly going to happen many, many, many times.
But ask anyone who loves Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and that’s pretty close to everyone who’s ever played it, and they’ll talk about everything else instead. They’ll describe the quilted storybook graphics, intensely satisfying controls, and endlessly likable soundtrack. They’ll tell you Super Mario World 2 presents its own unique challenges, while opening up the possibilities of a Mario game even further.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
The only knock against Super Mario Galaxy 2 that most can come up with is that it’s not the first one.
That’s a common complaint for an inferior sequel, but the thing is that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is only marginally inferior because its predecessor was a 100% perfect game. Even replicating that, which Super Mario Galaxy does with stunning, almost intoxicating creativity and grace, means it’s at worst a copy of one of the greatest video games ever made. To a large extent, that’s exactly what Super Mario Galaxy 2 is.
And again, that’s perfectly fine. With minimal improvements and additions, Super Mario Galaxy 2 once again has us planet-hopping in one of the most epic journeys in Mario history. It feels more like an extension of the first game than a sequel in many instances, and again, that really shouldn’t be a problem for you.
3. Super Mario Bros 3
Super Mario Bros 3 is still a game capable of making you go “wow” when you fire it up. This is true for any version of the game that’s been released to date, including the pitch-perfect port for the Game Boy Advance in the form of the Super Mario Advance series.
The simple controls are easy to pick up for anyone, even if they’ve never played a video game. Shigeru Miyamoto’s attention to accessible gameplay gives one the ability to survive anything the game throws at them. This is one of his masterworks as a game creator.
For anyone who plays longer, the surprising visual touches and varied worlds reveal a depth of challenge and appeal that made Super Mario Bros 3 the best-selling NES game that wasn’t bundled with the console (17+ million copies sold), and continues to make it a game that people of all ages still love to play.
2. Super Mario World
Super Mario World is as good today as it was over 30 years ago. Nintendo was facing criticism as the 1990s began, including the company’s announcement that its upcoming Super Nintendo would require different cartridges from those of its aging NES, with some wondering why they should bother with investing in a brand-new console that would require entirely new games to enjoy.
Super Mario World almost entirely on its own answered that criticism. It continued Nintendo’s momentum with Mario and Luigi showing off everything the 16-bit console could do at launch. Which as it turned out was a lot, giving Mario a lush, massive series of worlds to explore. Secrets, challenging bosses and castles, and new gameplay elements all create the impression that millions still have for Super Mario World: It’s video game perfection.
1. Super Mario Galaxy
People get downright emotional when discussing Super Mario Galaxy. Described by some as one of the most enjoyable, moving, and groundbreaking video games of the modern era, it’s almost certainly one of the best games ever made for the Wii, utilizing the often-problematic controls of the console to such breathtaking success that you might get even angrier at the many Wii games that didn’t get those controls right.
Why is Super Mario Galaxy so good? Why do so many believe it to be the best Mario game of all time? There’s so much to praise about this game. From the way it uses the Wii controls (which translated nicely to the Switch for the recent 3D All-Stars), to its exploration potential, and more specifically in the sense of how you explore your surroundings, everything about Super Mario Galaxy elicits joy. The story, the graphics, the progression of collecting the 120 Power Stars found throughout the game. Everything in this game is worth your time.
All of it amounts to something in Super Mario Galaxy that can be sincerely described as moving. The video game as its own spectacular artform benefits from the existence of Super Mario Galaxy. That might be a little hyperbolic, but a game like Super Mario Galaxy standing above 19 other absolute classics demands such a declaration.
Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.
Gamezeen is a Zeen theme demo site. Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.