I don't even remember when Mario was first introduced into my life. He's kind of always been there, with new hits releasing every few years. Now with it being Mar10 Day (March 10), I can't help but reflect on the Mushroom Kingdom and all of the Mario games I've played through the years. But which ones are truly the best?
This turned out to be a far harder question than I thought, but we at iMore took on the difficult task of ranking the top 10 Mario games of all time. In fact, my favorite Mario game didn't even make it onto this list because we tried to rank them using a system and not just going with our personal preferences.
Want to learn more about Mario on MAR10 Day? Check out 10 obscure Mario facts you might not know.
How we ranked
So many Mario titles have been game-changers that have not only affected the direction of future Mario games but also broke new ground for their contemporaries to follow. Instead of just choosing our favorites, we determined this order by considering three categories:
- Legacy: The games were selected because they had a stronger impact on the subsequent Mario games that followed after them. This is often due to innovative new elements and creative ways of employing mechanics.
- Cultural impact: These Mario titles created a splash when they released and are still highly talked about today.
- Current replay value: Sometimes as games age, they don't hold up very well. The Mario games we chose are still enjoyable to play, even today.
10. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii 2009)
Starting at the very bottom of the list is an excellent Mario multiplayer that sold over 30.32 million copies on the Wii. The game wasn't that innovative, but it brought retro sidescroller gaming into modern times with its 3D graphics while also paying homage to Mario's earlier titles. Not to mention, it was an absolute blast to play with family and friends of all ages.
To this day, the gameplay holds up. It perfectly balances level difficulty with progressively trickier courses. This game's success revitalized Nintendo's sidescrolling Mario games and is the reason we later got New Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario 3D World, and New Super Mario Bros. U.
9. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury (Switch 2020)
It might seem a little strange putting Super Mario 3D World on this list, and honestly, the game wouldn't fit if it wasn't for Bowser's Fury being tied to it. Super Mario 3D World didn't bring a huge change to the Mario franchise. In some ways, it was even a step backward as Nintendo chased after the popularity of the New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Don't get me wrong, being able to run through Mario courses with up to four players is definitely a fun romp, but it was also challenging.
The addition of Bowser's Fury on the Switch version brings this title up above other Mario games and lands it on this page. Though a small standalone game, this adventure has Mario exploring a truly open-world map instead of using a hub to access the various courses. It plays a lot like Super Mario 64, but the controls work way smoother, and you get to go up against a Godzilla-esque fiery Bowser while playing as a Super Saiyan Mario. It feels epic and holds a lot of promise for where the next Mario games will go.
8. Super Mario Maker 2 (Switch 2019)
Super Mario Maker was one of the best games to release on the Wii U, and while it was groundbreaking, several limitations held the game back. So when Super Mario Maker 2 was released on the Switch with hundreds more items and options at players' disposal, it filled in all of the holes from the original game, which allowed players to get even more creative with their malicious death traps.
The whole online community (accessed via Nintendo Switch Online) allows you to upload your crazy courses for others to play and also lets you check out imaginative fan-made levels that you'd likely never see in an actual Mario game.
Another thing that makes Super Mario Maker 2 the far superior game is the inclusion of a story mode. Since 100 courses were built into the game, players didn't need to rely on creating their own courses or jumping into other people's courses for entertainment. Playing Mario games is fun, but being able to create your own levels puts Super Mario Maker 2 on the list of the best Mario games.
7. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GameCube 2004)
There can't be a list without Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. It was a hard-fought battle between the original Paper Mario and the amazing Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, but we had to give it to TYD. There's a reason why this game is so beloved.
Unlike typical Mario games, this is a 2D RPG game that features a few non-traditional RPG elements. Mario, along with his arsenal of unique partners, is on a journey to Rogue Town to find and, eventually, save Princess Peach. However, just like Rogue Town itself, not everything is as it seems.
This game is just fantastic. It's a perfect balance of RPG wonder and platforming as well as unique story-telling and amazing gameplay mechanics. It really leans into the fourth wall breaks too by utilizing Mario's "paper-ness" and giving players new and different ways to explore, solve puzzles, and fight enemies. Paired with a "chapter book meets play" style of telling the story, we are introduced to an unforgettable cast of characters with special abilities that help Mario uncover the mystery of the Thousand-Year Door.
From start to finish, this game exceeds expectations as a sequel, and sadly, no game in the series following comes even close, though Paper Mario: The Origami King is a step in the right direction. Sadly, a game like this will likely never be seen again. But, if you have a GameCube, you can still boot-up this gem.
6. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii 2007)
In the wake of Super Mario Sunshine, which left the fanbase split, the Wii united the Mushroom Kingdom with a game that took 3D platforming to new heights. Super Mario Galaxy polished everything great about Mario 64 and added a little spice to it. It even took a feature that potentially hurt a few Wii games, the motion controls, and utilized them beautifully. Super Mario Galaxy is nothing short of inventive!
Taking us outside the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser once again takes off with Princess Peach and her castle, but this time, he escapes to outer space. Together with Rosalina, the enchantress, and her Lumas, Mario must reclaim the Power Stars Bowser has stolen, restore Rosalina's observatory, and save the Princess once again.
While the story is standard Mario fare, the gameplay is next level. Players collect Stars, complete missions, and defeat bosses as they explore individual planets. The game uses gravity and the Star Pointer to explore, fight enemies, and maneuver through the game. And each of these worlds is gorgeous and different. Plus, you can play as a Bee!
You can tell great care went into making sure all aspects of this game worked and helped inspire future Mario titles to think outside the galaxy. You can play this game, Sunshine, and Mario 64 in the new Super Mario 3D All-Stars if you haven't had the chance to experience these gems before. However, you'll need to hurry as Nintendo is pulling this collection from the eShop at the end of March.
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Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.