Mario is a lovable Nintendo character created by legendary video game developer Shigeru Miyamoto. Originally referred to as “Mr. Video” and “Jump Man” in his 1981 “Donkey Kong” debut, Mario quickly became the face of the Nintendo video game brand. Since his creation, Super Mario has appeared in over 200 Nintendo video games. Our list of the top five best “Super Mario” video games is a collection of some of Nintendo’s finest efforts to date.
Mario has his roots firmly set in the coin-operated arcades of the early 1980s. “Donkey Kong” is the game that started it all. This 1981 arcade title was a breakthrough in terms of graphics, gameplay, and sound. Gone were the basic geometric shapes and simple flashing lights. Instead, “Donkey Kong” boasted an ape, a kidnapped damsel, and a mustachioed hero. In this game, Mario needed to deftly avoid obstacles on his way to the top of a tower to defeat DK. The following year saw the tables turned in the game’s sequel, “Donkey Kong Jr.” where DK has been captured by Mario and needs rescuing. Originally labeled as the third entry in the “Donkey Kong” series, “Mario Bros.” was released and introduced the world to Mario’s pixel-swapped brother, Luigi.
1985 would prove to be a memorable year in gaming with the North American release of the Nintendo Entertainment System [NES]. For the first time, consumers were able to play video games at home that matched or exceeded the capabilities of many popular arcade games. Moreover, as compared to other home gaming consoles and early personal computers, the graphics and chiptune sounds of the NES were mind-blowing. Children of the ‘80s can describe the absolute sense of wonder they might have felt the first time they pressed start and the now-famous “Super Mario Bros.” musical intro played. From that moment forward Mario would be synonymous with Nintendo gaming. The ‘80s would see a continuous stream of Mario titles on the NES, portable handheld system Gameboy, and later the Super Nintendo [SNES] among others.
The adorable little plumber that everyone knows, Mario and his ever-growing cast of zany supporting characters have been video game pillars for over 30 years. With such a wealth of classic titles available we needed our sources to rank the top five “Super Mario” games of all time. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!
The List: Best “Super Mario” Games, According to Experts
16-bit video game consoles of the 1990s, including the SNES, represented a major leap forward in home console technology. “Super Mario World” offers a huge overworld map with 96 levels and was the first time that many gamers met Yoshi, the lovable hungry dinosaur. Game Informer declares, “Following up ‘Super Mario Bros. 3’ with a worthy successor may have seemed like an impossible task, but Nintendo somehow managed to do that and more. Continuing to use the overworld style map, Nintendo introduced more branching opportunities than ever before, encouraging players to explore each stage for hidden exits that unlock hidden areas. Players could also finally save their progress, encouraging them to take their time with finding every secret in the massive adventure.”
— GreenOne (@JustGreenOne) August 13, 2023
Kotaku raves, “This is it. ‘Super Mario World.’ The best 2D Mario game Nintendo ever made is thus the best Mario game overall. Elegant and simple yet challenging and complex, the 1990 pack-in launch game for the SNES has aged like a fine Bordeaux: silky smooth and exquisitely harmonized. It controls like a dream. The pixel art still looks great.”
Nintendo Life gushes that the game “remains an incredible achievement of invention and sheer entertainment that the 2D platforming genre has struggled to match ever since. Introducing Yoshi and an expanded overworld with multiple paths, this game overflowed with + and secret exits, perfect for fueling playground gossip and elevating it to the upper-most echelons of platform video games, 2D or otherwise. Three decades on, it still doesn’t get much better than this. All games have flaws, but if there’s an exception to that rule, ‘Super Mario World’ is it.”
In fierce competition to be the best, “Super Mario Bros. 3” is a beloved title by many gamers that grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s. This NES game resonated with kids of that era in a way that had not been seen prior to its 1988 release. Destructoid guide editor Timothy Monbleau writes about how “Super Mario Bros. 3” influenced his career: “For me, ‘Super Mario Bros. 3’ is different because it shows why video games themselves are special. Anyone can pick up this game and learn it in a handful of minutes. Yet uncovering its secrets and overcoming its challenges captures the core of why we play video games. Even its stage play aesthetics indicates games should not merely be experienced but analyzed as a form of art. ‘Super Mario Bros. 3’ is why I’m writing about video games professionally. It is pure fun distilled to its most basic possible form. It is, and always will be, the heart of gaming as we know it.”
Super Mario Bros. 3 released on October 23rd, 1988 in Japan. Happy 30th! pic.twitter.com/y3QhuyHsyr
— IGN (@IGN) October 23, 2018
“Nintendo tweaked what made the original so exceptional and somehow managed to improve it, with even better stage design and an added layer of verticality that puts Mario’s new abilities to good use. The world map and its events, random enemies, and secret passages make for a more immersive experience and give the Mushroom Kingdom a sense of place like it never had before,” praises For The Win.
Eurogamer fondly describes it as “a proper sequel to the first ‘Super Mario’ game delivered in brisk, biscuit-sized levels, each of which throws in a one-off twist before you’re off to somewhere else. The Tanooki Suit is the obvious star here, but personal favorites include the Goomba Shoe, a level that starts by scrolling you in the wrong direction, and that desert level where you’re dive-bombed by the sun. Also, the honky-tonky player piano soundtrack has never been better. AND there’s a level where Mario can be straight-up swallowed by a fish.”
This Nintendo Switch title is one of the most fun iterations of Mario’s 3D adventures. “Super Mario Odyssey” is a masterpiece of gameplay, art, and musical orchestration. The veneration with which Nintendo treats Mario is obvious in this beautiful game. IGN exclaims, “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.”
Gaming Gorilla writes, “‘Super Mario Odyssey’ returns to the primarily open-ended 3D platform gameplay, instead of the linear side-scrolling platform games. ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ received universal acclaim from critics, who noted it as one of the best games in the series, and one of the greatest games of all time. The game sold over 16.59 million copies by December 2019, making it one of the best-selling Nintendo Switch games ever!”
Dexerto also adds: “‘Super Mario Odyssey’ feels like a culmination of everything that’s great about Mario games, taking all of the classic features that have appeared throughout the decades and expanding on them with some of the most innovative, expansive, and downright fun levels we’ve ever seen in a video game.”
‘90s kids know what’s up when asked what the best Mario game is. “Super Mario 64” was another example of a Mario game simply setting the highest standard of what a video game could be. Dexerto offers highest praise, “Even now, almost three decades later, the impact of Mario’s first 3D adventure can be felt on pretty much every video game that gets released. ‘Super Mario 64’ isn’t just the best Mario game, it’s one of the greatest and most influential video games of all time.”
— Rob McCallum (@RobMcZob) September 10, 2022
The Washington Post adds: “The current history of video games can be split between an age before and after ‘Super Mario 64.’ In the ‘90s, video games were growing to three dimensions, and characters and cameras thrashed and flailed around as developers struggled to depict how to move in this new space. Once again, Mario showed everyone how it’s done in a single try. As the first Mario game defined platformers, the launch Nintendo 64 title wasn’t just a showcase for the console, it was a showcase for gaming’s future.”
For The Win writes of this prominent game: “‘Super Mario 64’ is the most significant evolution in the series and the fulfillment of what Nintendo promised in the original NES game. It effortlessly translates the thrill of classic Mario’s running and jumping into 3D and gives you an impressive range of new abilities to play with across its themed worlds and their challenging, but thrilling platforming puzzles. Those worlds and even Mario’s movement may seem dated and clunky now, but the influence they had on Nintendo and the broader games industry was immeasurable.”
The Nintendo Wii was an innovative console that featured heavy use of motion sensor controls. “Super Mario Galaxy” made limited use of this feature and instead focused on game play elements, making it a great success. Game Informer says that “‘Super Mario Galaxy’ took Mario and friends to outer space, implementing interesting new mechanics like gravitational pull as well as some of the greatest level design the series has ever seen… ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ controlled even better than ‘Super Mario 64’ and didn’t detract from the core game play with shoehorned motion controls. ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ also introduced us to Rosalina, who has since made appearances in ‘Mario Kart,’ ‘Super Smash Bros.,’ and other spin-off series.”
IGN lauds, “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’… 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 game play 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 stands tall as one of the best Mario games of all time.”
The Washington Post also notes, “it’s the most thematically cohesive title in a list full of incredible games. If Mario games always feel confident, the first ‘Galaxy’ for the Wii knew it wanted to be the grandest conception of Mario’s previous ideas… It’s the product of the best lessons of ‘Super Mario 64,’ ‘Sunshine’s’ secret levels and ‘Super Mario World’s’ sense of exploration and wonder. It was a game so good; Nintendo took the very rare, remarkable step of repeating it with ‘Super Mario Galaxy 2.”’
You might also be interested in:
- Best Nintendo Games of All Time
- Best Nintendo Switch Games
- Best RPGs on Nintendo Switch
- Best Cozy Games on Nintendo Switch
- Game Informer
- Nintendo Life
- For The Win
- Gaming Gorilla
- The Washington Post
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