From the intricate battle strategies of “Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope” to the nostalgic charm of the original “Super Mario Bros.,” the vast universe of Super Mario continues to captivate gamers with its whimsical worlds and endlessly innovative gameplay. In this comprehensive rundown of the top 15 games in the franchise, we delve into the captivating realms of the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond, traversing through time from Super Mario’s pioneering beginnings to its boundary-pushing recent releases.
We explore the hallmarks that make these games extraordinary, whether it’s the underdog appeal of “Super Mario Sunshine,” the mobile revolution with “Super Mario Run,” or the return to sandbox freedom in “Super Mario Odyssey.” So get ready to power up your gaming knowledge, as we embark on a thrilling warp pipe journey through the Super Mario Hall of Fame.
Table of Contents
Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope – A Galaxy of Freedom and Creativity
In the tactical universe of Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope, the game’s battles often present an imbalance between the vast collection of choices available to the player and the game’s overall difficulty. This contrast is quite noticeable when compared to the meticulously designed and challenging skirmishes of its predecessor, Kingdom Battle. However, this doesn’t lessen Sparks of Hope’s standing as a delightful strategy game on its own merits.
While the battles in this sequel don’t exactly build upon the foundational elements of the original game, they present an admirable shift towards more freedom and creative gameplay. This shift, though, can at times undermine the seriousness of Cursa’s galactic takeover attempts. A slightly more rigorous difficulty level might have nudged players towards deeper experimentation and strategic thinking to emerge victorious. Nevertheless, outside of these battles against the Darkmess, Sparks of Hope gleams with engaging puzzles, quests, and beautifully crafted locales that make this Rabbid-centric journey a must-play for all Mario fans and strategy game enthusiasts.
Super Mario Sunshine – A Charming Underdog
The track record of successful releases under the Mario franchise is nothing short of spectacular. The anticipation that builds with each new mainline installment is sky-high, and it’s awe-inspiring how, more often than not, these expectations are exceeded. Super Mario Sunshine, now playable on Switch through the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, is a remarkable game that — due to a hurried development cycle — doesn’t quite boast the flawless polish typically seen in the Mario series.
However, what it lacks in finesse, it makes up for with its unique charm and ingenious mechanics and setting, earning it an underdog status in the Mario lineup. And who doesn’t love a good underdog? As a follow-up to Super Mario 64, Sunshine might not be the groundbreaking classic that fans yearned for. Still, with time, we’ve come to appreciate the numerous elements Sunshine excels at. The upbeat Isle Delfino theme alone warrants a revisit, and if you’ve bypassed this chapter in Mario’s illustrious history, don’t let its reputation deter you. While the Sunshine Defence Force may be a tad overzealous in their praise — the game indeed has its shortcomings — it remains a commendable entry in the series from our perspective.
Super Mario Bros. – A Timeless Pioneer in Gaming
Assessing Super Mario Bros. all these years later requires an appreciation of its monumental historical significance. This game laid the foundation for not just the Mario series, but also the video game industry as a whole. It has woven itself into the cultural fabric, inspiring countless games and game developers since its debut in 1985. In fact, one could use this game to distinguish historical eras in gaming: ‘Before SMB’ and ‘After SMB’.
Returning to Super Mario Bros. after all of Mario’s subsequent 2D escapades reveals that it has aged, naturally, and its controls aren’t as tight as the Super Mario Bros. theme in the Mario Maker games. However, it remains the original and, as some might argue, the best. Not us, but some. Chances are, you’ve revisited this game numerous times, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. And why not? It’s a classic for a reason.
Super Mario Run – A New Chapter in Mobile Gaming
Marking Nintendo’s significant step into the world of mobile gaming, Super Mario Run shines as an outstanding representation of Nintendo’s adaptation skills (if we dismiss the less-than-successful Miitomo). On its own, this mobile game stands as a commendable attempt, incorporating ingenious adaptations that cater to the one-touch control interface typical of smartphone games, while splendidly transitioning the beloved 2D plumbers’ universe into the mobile domain.
In this game, Mario runs automatically, elegantly hopping over enemies and small barriers. The player can execute various tricks by appropriately timing their screen taps, with the jump height varying based on how long they keep their finger on the screen. Its visual and gameplay elements are reminiscent of the ‘New’ series of 2D Marios, which perhaps raised the expectations bar quite high, especially for the first Mario game that didn’t emerge from Nintendo’s hardware in a long while. Nonetheless, it represents an impressive example of how to transfer a cherished character and franchise onto an entirely different platform, while catering to the unique characteristics of the new medium to provide a customized experience.
Nintendo also enriched the original game by introducing a Remix mode, delivering addictive, quick, and easy-to-play levels. Super Mario Run may not be the crown jewel in the series, but it offers a thoroughly polished experience devoid of microtransactions, in-game currencies, or cooldown timers. While it won’t compete with Mario World in terms of memorable 2D platformers, it wasn’t intended to. It delivers brief, enjoyable moments of fun, ideal for those times when using your Switch isn’t practical. Super Mario Run effectively achieves its goal, and for that, it deserves commendation.
Super Mario Bros. 2 – A Unique Addition to the Mario Saga
Super Mario Bros. 2, known as Super Mario USA when it traveled back to Japan in its ‘plumberised’ avatar, is the sequel to the original Bros. This game is renowned for being a reimagined version of Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, a game exclusive to Japan that was devoid of any Mario references, and had gameplay mechanics quite unlike the original Mario game. This version introduced the capability to pick up and throw objects and incorporated a scrolling screen that moved in all directions.
The introduction of verticality to the levels signified a significant departure from the first game. However, despite its unique character in Japan, Super Mario Bros. 2 had a tremendous impact on the overall imagery of the Mario series. The game is certainly worth a revisit – you can easily find it on Nintendo Switch Online – if only to jog your memory of how distinctive it is from the versions that preceded and succeeded it. With a choice of four diverse playable characters, we strongly recommend you experience this game.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury – A Platformer’s Delight
Even though it initially flew slightly under the mainstream radar on its Wii U release, Super Mario 3D World is indeed a treasure trove of enjoyment for platformer enthusiasts. The game’s brilliant gameplay dynamics, charming cat costumes, visually delightful graphics, and the feature to play in a four-player co-op mode at any time combine to create a thoroughly enjoyable experience for fans of the genre.
The excitement doesn’t stop there. In 2021, Super Mario 3D World was given a second wind on the Nintendo Switch with a repackage that included the all-new open-world mode, Bowser’s Fury. This excellent addition to the game provides a fresh reason to dive back into the 3D world of Mario. So, there has never been a better time to relish this particular installment of 3D Mario brilliance.
Super Mario Maker – An Artisan’s Joy
The original Super Mario Maker, launched on Wii U and refined over time through various updates, enhancements, and tweaks, is a title that single-handedly justified the existence of the Wii U GamePad. This game, with its elegant user interface and excellent finish, offered players the opportunity to design levels in the style of the original game, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and the New series. The game fit the Wii U GamePad’s second screen like a glove. Unfortunately, it arrived late in the system’s life cycle and couldn’t significantly impact its fortunes.
Despite Super Mario Maker 2 introducing fun new elements like slopes on the Switch, the sequel owes much to its predecessor. The original’s intuitive course creation experience is arguably best experienced on the Wii U GamePad. Although Nintendo’s solutions for online sharing may seem archaic, if you’ve ever been fascinated by a 2D Mario game and possess a creative and playful spirit, the original Mario Maker is worth your attention, even if online sharing of your creations isn’t possible anymore.
Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins: An Eccentric Classic
What makes Super Mario Land 2 a standout among the rest is its notable accomplishment in packing an incredibly entertaining experience into a GameBoy title. Despite its portable nature, this game successfully competes with its console counterparts, far exceeding the first Super Mario Land in quality and fun.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Super Mario Land 2 is its offbeat charm. It presents a unique spin on power-ups, offering tiny rabbit ears that allow Mario to glide across levels. And speaking of levels, how about a stage that has a Halloween undertone or a gigantic robot shaped like Mario that we’ve affectionately named ‘Mario Zone’? Even the game’s title, ‘6 Golden Coins’, hints at an intriguing twist, implying the dozens of coins collected in each level could be considered fakes. In such a quirky game, the addition of Wario to the Mario franchise seems entirely fitting. All in all, Super Mario Land 2’s eccentricity is hard not to love.
Super Mario Bros. 3 – A Timeless Masterpiece
While the original Super Mario Bros. was undoubtedly groundbreaking, Super Mario Bros. 3 took the franchise to staggering new heights, offering a monumental advancement in nearly every aspect. It didn’t just refine the game’s foundational elements; it also revamped the visual experience and incorporated a stunning variety of mechanics and unique elements. This was a game so packed with surprises that even now, fans might not have discovered all of its suits, stages, or hidden treasures.
Many ‘classic’ games require a certain historical perspective to appreciate fully, or come with caveats when revisited years after their release. However, Super Mario Bros. 3 needs no such contextualizing. It remains as inventively delightful and fresh as it was on its debut, standing tall as one of the most exceptional video games ever crafted. It’s a must-play, right now.
Super Mario 3D World – A Beloved Successor
Super Mario 3D World, another beloved installment in the Super Mario series developed and published by Nintendo, is a testament to the enduring appeal of Mario’s adventures. Released in 2013 for the Wii U platform, this game is the sequel to the Nintendo 3DS game, Super Mario 3D Land, released in 2011.
The storyline sees Mario and his companions on a mission to rescue Sprixies from Bowser, who has infiltrated the Sprixie Kingdom. The gameplay remains faithful to previous iterations, challenging players to navigate through a multitude of levels to reach and defeat Bowser. It’s no surprise that this straightforward yet captivating formula has won over many fans.
Praised for its stunning presentation, memorable soundtrack, creative level design, and impressive replay value, Super Mario 3D World has earned critical acclaim. The game has sold over five million copies worldwide following its release, making it the second-best-selling game on the Wii U platform. This attests to its popularity and quality as a game that truly enriches the Super Mario franchise.
Super Mario World – An Evergreen Masterpiece
The debate whether Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World is the superior game continues to divide fans. However, we believe that they represent two distinct aspects of a singular, monumental landmark in the gaming world. Super Mario World is an exceptional display of innovation and entertainment that has set a benchmark in the 2D platforming genre that remains largely unchallenged.
Introducing the character Yoshi and expanding the overworld with multiple pathways, the game was packed with secrets and hidden exits, fueling many a playground conversation and cementing its place at the pinnacle of platform video games, whether in 2D or beyond.
Even after three decades, few games can rival the appeal of Super Mario World. While it’s commonly said that no game is flawless, if there ever were an exception to this rule, it would undoubtedly be Super Mario World.
Super Mario 64 DS – A Fresh Take on an Old Classic
For those who are new to the Super Mario 64 universe, it might be best to start with the original home console version, primarily due to its more intuitive control system. The DS remake, while a commendable effort, struggles with somewhat cumbersome controls on the original DS hardware, making it hard to favorably compare to the N64’s flagship title. Nevertheless, Super Mario 64 DS revitalizes an indisputable classic, enriching it with fresh characters, mini-games, and modifications, making it well worth exploring if you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the original version.
While the DS’s control system might be less than ideal, we believe the analog nub on its successor system significantly enhances this game’s gameplay, drawing it closer to the feel of the N64 classic. If you plan on playing Super Mario 64 DS – and why wouldn’t you, considering it’s the only official Mario 64 release where you can play as Luigi, Yoshi, and Wario – we strongly suggest playing on the largest available 3DS or 2DS. This game offers an intriguing spin on a genre-defining classic.
Super Mario Galaxy – A Stargazing Adventure
Where Super Mario Sunshine didn’t entirely hit the mark, Super Mario Galaxy ascended to the heights of gaming brilliance. Launching Mario into the vast expanse of the cosmos, Nintendo expertly played with gravity and introduced an exciting variety of planetary playgrounds. This leap into space set the stage for a never-ending array of creatively crafted platforming experiences that sparkled with innovation.
But the delights of Super Mario Galaxy extend beyond its gameplay. There’s an underlying narrative featuring Rosalina and the Lumas, which, if you delve into it, is a beautifully crafted tale adding depth to this outstanding game. Available for play on the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Galaxy is a joyous galactic journey that leaves players wondering where their favorite plumber will journey next.
Super Mario Odyssey – A Return to Sandbox Freedom
Many would argue that the authentic successor to Mario 64 wasn’t realized until the release of Super Mario Odyssey. The FLUDD mechanism in Sunshine, the planet-focused design in the Galaxy games, and the more linear approach of 3D Land and 3D World each brought something unique to the table. Still, they moved away from the expansive sandbox exploration that fans craved since 1996.
Super Mario Odyssey answered this call, bringing back the beloved open-world adventure format, and did so with more flair and excitement than anyone could have anticipated. With Cappy’s capturing abilities, players were introduced to fresh gameplay mechanics within a game that effortlessly combined a variety of art styles and concepts. What’s remarkable is how seamlessly the different components coexist, from the human residents of New Donk City to the anthropomorphic cutlery of Luncheon Kingdom, and the endearing characters of the Mushroom Kingdom. The developers executed this fusion to perfection, creating a compelling and joyfully chaotic world that offers endless exploration and discovery. Super Mario Odyssey is an extraordinary entry in this iconic series and a must-play for any gamer, regardless of their feelings about Mario.
Super Mario 64 – Defining the 3D Platformer
Super Mario 64 was the game that laid the groundwork for what a 3D platformer should be. The brilliance with which Shigeru Miyamoto and his team entered this new dimension is astounding. Their design felt fluid and natural, as if the game’s mechanics had always existed and simply evolved into this form. The foundational principles set by Super Mario 64 were so spot-on that even today, the basic template for 3D platformers remains largely unchanged.
Available on the Nintendo Switch as part of the time-limited Super Mario 3D All-Stars package or through a Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack subscription, Super Mario 64 is a testament to innovative game design. This game laid the groundwork for future 3D gaming, offering a treasure trove of intricate details that continue to bring joy to players, even after many years. It’s a game that never loses its charm, and even if you’ve played it before, it’s worth revisiting to experience the magic it first delivered all those years ago.