Top 10 Mario games ranked: 5 - 1
Now we're down to the top five Mario games. These titles left a serious impact on Nintendo, the gaming community, and subsequent Mario games, making them the greatest of all time.
5. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch 2017)
From the very beginning of Super Mario Odyssey, you knew this game was going to be amazing. It starts with a cinematic showdown between Bowser and Mario. Upon Mario's defeat, we follow the familiar Mario-game-story beats until we land in the Cap Kingdom and team up with Cappy to collect Power Moons. This Kingdom, though, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Mario is about to embark on a journey that combines the best parts of every Mario game to date using clever and innovative level design and Cappy's possession mechanic. Want to be a Goomba? Sure! How about a Bullet Bill, or maybe a T-Rex? Mario can literally possess different creatures to get the skills he needs to complete puzzles, overcome obstacles, and take down enemies. You think you would miss the power-ups of older Mario games, but this spin takes them completely out of the equation with something more exciting. That's a showcase of how great this game is; you can remove one of the most iconic features, and fans still love it.
We also have to talk about how huge and beautiful this game is. Each world is expertly crafted and unique, with charming NPCs and vibrant graphics — and they are massive! Power Moons are hidden everywhere on the map and there are secret areas, levels within levels, and special 2D platforming areas. Plus, players can find mini-games, unlock special collectibles like costumes and stickers, and snapshots in the game's photo mode. Nintendo even added a hide-and-seek mini-game called "Luigi's Balloon World" so players could compete online. The only downside here is the two-player option is pretty terrible. Still, this game is the best example of what Mario games could be.
One of the reasons Odyssey deserves to be on this list is because it helped validate the existence of the Nintendo Switch. After the colossal failure of the Wii U, people were wary of jumping on Nintendo's next console. Odyssey proved that Nintendo was still a solid contender in the gaming market.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii 2010)
It's hard to mention Super Mario Galaxy 2 without referencing the innovative original. The idea of exploring space and jumping from one planet to the next had been a fascinating new approach for Mario, but the sequel built upon that foundation, providing more complex environments and creative challenges for players.
There is less of a story involved in the second one, which is both a good and a bad thing depending on who you ask. This made it so players could immediately jump from course to course rather than getting hung up on cutscenes. However, it did provide less of a plot-related reason to continue.
In the end though, this game is honestly just a joy to play. Running around celestial globes, making tricky moves while Mario is upside down, and using Yoshi power-ups to play in new ways was both super creative and fulfilling. It's this level of innovation that we've come to expect from Mario games and has continued in subsequent titles.
3. Super Mario 64 (N64 1996)
Super Mario 64 was a game of many firsts for the plumber. For starters, Charles Martinet had just been cast as the voice for Mario. Although he had already voiced Mario in a computer game called Mario's FUNdamentals, this was the first time that many people ever heard the plumber speak in a console video game. Remarkably, his high pitch and light-hearted voice matched everyone's expectations for what Mario would sound like. It was magic.
The game was also groundbreaking in that it was Mario's first adventure into a 3D world. However, what made it truly great was how the game made better use out of that space than many of its contemporaries. Nintendo got creative with their courses like underwater pirate ships, deserts, and even a wacky clock course that played around with mechanics in ways we hadn't seen before. This innovation piloted many discoveries that other developers would attempt to replicate later on.
Mario also got way more skills than he'd had before, which allowed players to use tricky maneuvers to reach Stars and Coins. Getting to wander further and further into Princess Peach's castle and explore the strange worlds that lived beyond locked doors filled players with curiosity and propelled them forward. Super Mario 64 was a game-changer that impacted other games at the time and continued to influence both players and developers for years to come. As such, it's still considered one of the best Mario games of all time.
2. Super Mario World (SNES 1990)
These last two slots were brutal. Super Mario World is an epic experience for Mario fans, and to this day, it remains one of the best games to pick up and play on a Nintendo console. This direct sequel to Super Mario Bros. 3 has the Mario Brothers visiting Dinosaur Land for some well-deserved R&R. Of course, Bowser can't let that happen, and the brothers have to save Princess Peach, their new friend Yoshi, and all of his dino siblings.
Super Mario World is the best-selling game on the SNES, and it earned that title for a reason. This is the first game to feature fan-favorite character Yoshi, and the newest power-up: the cape. Much like the previous game, it featured an expansive overworld map, and players would enter different levels trying to overcome all the obstacles to reach the goal at the end.
What makes this game one of the greatest of all time is simply the design. Super Mario World is so much fun. Regardless if you played it in the All-Stars collection, the original, or one of its many ports, the platforming is the perfect blend of challenging and fun. It has secret areas and levels to uncover, multiple ways to complete levels, and requires a fair amount of strategy to beat. The color palette and music are a perfect combination, and you are drawn into this amazing new world, even as you curse at it after dying a thousand times. While it just misses our top pick, Super Mario World and its sequel, Yoshi's Island, are definitely two of the greatest SNES games ever.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES 1988)
Every so often, near-perfection is released as a video game, and Super Mario Bros. 3 fills that mold. Released as the NES' swan song — what a game to go out on! — it also provided the framework that Mario games still adhere to today: multiple worlds, crazy suits with special powers, and overworld maps. All in a grandiose way.
All the world is a stage, and Super Mario Bros. 3 is structured like a stage play. Bowser and the Koopalings have taken over the Mushroom World, turning the leaders of the seven kingdoms into animals. As players conquer their enemies through 2D platforming, they can retrieve stolen magic wands from the Koopalings and use them to restore the rulers to their former selves.
This game is the pinnacle of platforming, whether you're talking about the overworld or each level. The levels are unique, challenging, and vibrant, even for NES graphics. The stage framing device works perfectly, and you can catch it in every detail, from the stage decorations bolted to the ground to Mario walking off stage right at the end of each level. It's hard to notice these details as you try to stay alive, but luckily, the difficulty of this game is balanced, starting with easier levels and slowly ramping up the difficulty. Each world has its own unique trials, from an angry sun attacking you in a desert or trying not to fall out of the sky in the cloud world. And you don't have to go solo. This can be a two-player affair that can be done cooperatively or competitively.
But really, we all know we remember it for the fan-favorite power-ups (costumes), including the Tanooki Suit, the Hammer Bros. Suit, and the P-Wing. Mario's Raccoon suit is pretty iconic at this point, and you have Super Mario Bros. 3 to thank for it. It really is peak platforming and the best Mario game of all time.
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Sara is the Freelance Coordinator, writer, and editor at iMore. When not editing or writing away, she's glued to her Nintendo Switch, Xbox, or PS5, though she's a retro gamer at heart.