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It's MAR10 Day. Yep, March 10 is now, and will always be, the one day of the year where everyone, across the world, can properly celebrate the contributions to society that one mustachioed plumber - and tennis umpire, boxing referee, carpenter, doctor, artist and more - has provided. Call him Super, Jumpman, or simply the other brother - whoever you are, wherever you are, now is the time to say: sure, Mario is a thing.
And of course, facetiousness is a thing, too. Nudge, wink. To mark MAR10 Day 2020 - in the 39th year of the Nintendo mascot's existence (he's almost as old as me, gadzooks!) - I thought it'd be a laugh to rank all the mainstream Super Mario games. As in, the side-scrolling (and, later, 3D) platformers that he's really made his name with. No spin-offs, so no karting, no doctor stuff, no athletics or party games. This was a good idea when I started; perhaps less so, 21 entries later.
As per previous articles where we've ranked popular games from popular series - like Sonic, and Zelda - I'm using the tried-and-tested tiers of God, Great, Good, Average, Bad and Avoid. Thankfully for our little leap-everywhere pal and his famous dungarees, there haven't actually been many duffers in the mainline Mario line of games, so Bad and Avoid don't factor, here. (And Average is really stretching things, TBH - all of these games are worth your time.)
Want a Mario list with a few of his spin-offs, and the game where it all started, Donkey Kong? Check out our Evolution of Mario video on Facebook, and embedded below.
Not the game that started it all, but SMB3 on the NES was - and remains - Mario's greatest 8-bit adventure. It brought in the series-staple world map, expanded its formalised cast with the inclusion of the Koopalings, and it still plays fantastically well. I'm not sure there's a more perfect platformer of SMB3's era - and I'm someone who was all about SEGA, back then. It's testing, rewarding, inimitable and untouchable.
Mario's debut on the Super Nintendo was a launch title that didn't fade away as the console's catalogue expanded. Beautiful to look at and sublime to play, Super Mario World is a natural evolution of SMB3, adding new features to an already amazing experience without diluting what made it special. It introduced Yoshi to the Mario universe, and its 96 levels are wonderfully diverse.
Another launch game that went above and beyond the requirement to simply be something, anything to play on Nintendo's latest console. Super Mario 64 defined three-dimensional platforming in the 1990s, and quite probably remains the most essential blueprint for the genre (within a genre) in the present day. Its camera was a little fiddly at first, and its hard-edged graphics aren't anything to be excited about by today's standards; but back then, at launch, you'd have sworn you were walking, leaping and sliding your way through the Mushroom Kingdom. Another as good as perfect entry in a series that had only rarely put a foot wrong in its first 15 years.
Mario's third 3D game is a favourite for many - a glorious, escapist fantasy of a galaxies-spanning romp through the (power) stars. It was also a needed pick-me-up after the divisive Super Mario Sunshine of the previous console gen. With a sumptuous symphonic soundtrack to match its intoxicatingly out-there visuals, and motion controls that didn't drive the player bananas, Galaxy received a near-unparalleled critical reception, earning copious 10/10 recommendations. If you've never taken it for a Wii nunchuck-twirling spin, please, go and do so. If you don't come back smiling, you played the wrong game.
I'll be wholly open and honest here: until I played it, I wasn't sold on the whole throw-your-hat mechanic, and the added (playable, with a pal) character of Cappy. But in execution? Oh my, Odyssey is just delicious. It's got levels packed full of secrets, a dazzling array of enemies to turn into allies courtesy of Cappy's abilities, and features all manner of tasteful callbacks to Mario history - the New Donk City celebration of all things Donkey Kong, the game that marked Mario's debut (albeit as a then-unnamed carpenter, later upgraded to Jumpman and finally Mario), is just the most breathlessly brilliant tribute. Much like Galaxy, this is a Mario game expertly designed to make you feel amazing, all the time.
Not the first Mario, but the first Super Mario, and perhaps the game with the most famous first level in the world. It might look positively prehistoric in 2020, but play Super Mario Bros. today and you'll find it's just as addictive as it felt to gamers of the mid-'80s, even with all the competition the 21st century can offer. And yes, I played it in the mid-'80s.
The Nintendo DS was a juggernaut of a handheld, a more-than-worthy successor to the Game Boy range, and New Super Mario Bros. was the console's best-selling game with over 30 million units shifted. Sure, it being a Mario game in the first place gave it a definite advantage - but New Super Mario Bros. is much more than a simple recycling of what's come before. Making use of the DS stylus across a handful of mini games, and giving players that same tight, precise platforming that they've come to expect - albeit with slightly less of the teeth-grinding difficulty, compared to the NES era - this is probably the best handheld Mario experience out there, Odyssey aside.
With Galaxy and its sequel giving players awesome 3D experiences on Wii, this title provided traditional 2D thrills on the same console. It's a great Mario game in and of itself, albeit a pretty challenging one (maybe that's your thing, mind). But it really shines as a multiplayer title, with four players supported in local co-op, or against one another. Expect to begin such a session as pals, and end it tearing each other's hair out. Or maybe that's just my experience, who can say?
What if a really, really good game got a sequel, and it's another really, really good game? Imagine! The jury's out over which of the two Galaxy games is the best, so let's all agree that we want these games on Switch, we need these games on Switch, so Nintendo: please, give us these games on Switch. And while you're at it...
3D World might be the first 3D Mario game that you wanted to climb into your TV to explore, to feel and smell, for yourself, thanks to the Wii U's crystal-clear high-def visuals. That grass, uh, you just wanna roll about in it. As is the norm, Bowser's done some bad stuff and it's up to Mario, and pals, to sort it out - but this time, there's an all-new twist. Mario can become a cat! Kind of. He can don a cat suit, and claw his way up walls, and attack foes with his furious paws. It's more fun that it sounds, I promise. Super mario 3D World is such a pretty game, such a perfect little example of its genre, that it deserves better than what it got for being a Wii U exclusive. Namely: pitiful sales versus the other greats in this series. Nintendo, do the right thing. Pop this beaut on Switch.
What if you could make your own Mario levels? Based on the aesthetics of several past Mario side-scrollers? And then share them for the world to play? That's Super Mario Maker on Wii U. It's a little bit genius, but to really get the most out of it, as a creator, you really need to put the hours in. Good thing, then, that you could just treat it as a more traditional Mario game, and simply play your way through the levels created by others - thousands upon thousands of them.
AKA Japan's Super Mario Bros. 2, deemed too hard for us puny Western players, so what we got as Super Mario Bros. 2 was a different game altogether (more on that, momentarily). The Lost Levels finally came to Europe and the US as part of the Super Nintendo's Super Mario All-Stars release in 1993, at which point it became incredibly obvious that, yes, we were all way too puny for this challenge. Truthfully, it's more like an expansion of the first game, with everything engineered to be a lot harder, than a proper sequel. But if you wanna call it Super Mario Bros. 2, hey, you do you. Nintendo certainly did them.
The first Super Mario Land was a strange little game, a Mario title that felt out of step with what was on the NES at the time. 6 Golden Coins, however, was very much a handheld spin on what players were enjoying on SNES, with Super Mario World. Notable for being the first game to feature Wario, as Mario's nemesis, 6 Golden Coins is a cracking little entry for on-the-go play: detailed of sprite, imaginative of world design, and short enough that you can get through it all without having to change the batteries once.
If you liked FLUDD, Mario's water-spewing backpack buddy for this GameCube romp, you liked Sunshine just fine. If the gush 'em up gameplay wasn't your thing, you didn't. That's how Sunshine splits its players down the middle. Personally, I wasn't enamoured when I played it, feeling it failed to really improve on Super Mario 64, and haven't felt any compulsion to go back and try again, since. But others on the GB team rate it, so it's Good rather than Average in our tier structure. Take it up with them; I'm washing my hands of this one.
Yep, this is a good one. My son loves it. I always felt it was the inferior of the two '3D' games to arrive in the same generation, beside World, but I guess I just like shiny things. The gimmicky 3D effects rather play against it, and while there's a lot of fun being had in the level designs, it's not one that I've ever felt myself itching to return to. A very decent Mario game that finds itself way down here by virtue of its series just being that good.
It's like the Wii game, only this time, a fifth player can wreak havoc with the environments via the Wii U gamepad. It's good, really good, but much like the entry above it, feels somewhat redundant nowadays because of the higher-quality competition around it. You can get it in a Luigi version, too, if green's your thing.
This sequel - well, more of an expanded version of the 2015 game, TBH - is every bit as great as the original Super Mario Maker. But thanks to the Switch selling multiple truckloads in comparison to the Wii U's rookie numbers, it's DIY Mario with the massive audience that such a game, or creation tool, deserves. And that means: more levels! In addition to a very enjoyable story mode, over two million user-created levels are out there, so long as you pay your Switch Online subscription. Which you should, cos you then get the NES and SNES Mario games listed here, too. (And Yoshi's Island, which is rad as heck, and would be up there in God Tier, but not technically a mainline Super Mario game according to the internet.)
When is a Mario game not actually a Mario game? When it's Super Mario Bros. 2 for the US and Europe, which is actually a modified version of a game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. But you, being the knowledgeable gaming fan that you are, already knew that, I'm sure. But did you know that this is the first Mario game in which Princess Toadstool/Peach and Toad are available as playable characters? You did? Cool, cool. Well, did you know that this Super Mario Bros. 2 was also released in Japan, as Super Mario USA, in 1992? Yeah? Fine.
It's good, but it's no 6 Golden Coins. Also, Mario - and everything - is so tiny here. When you're already squinting at that blurry Game Boy screen to make sure you're not disappearing down a chasm or dashing into a goomba, having everything this microscopic is just unfair. A reliance on auto-scrolling levels and shooting sections make this feel like a Super Mario out of step with its series siblings, and it's dated way more than the NES games of the 1980s and '90s, but Super Mario Land is a fun-enough nostalgia trip if you give it an hour of your time today. And an hour is pretty much all you'll need to play it all the way through, too. Hooray for short games (sometimes).
It's fine. It's fine. You like Mario, this is Mario, and it's very likeable, if somewhat lackluster measured against other options on both its platform, and the wider franchise. But hey, it fits in your pocket, which is more than can be said for those old NES carts. It's no 3D Land, nor is it in the same league as its 'New' sub-line predecessor. But you'll jump. You'll dash. You'll woo-hoo. It's Mario, alright. Alright.
Can you believe it? A Super Mario game that isn't on Nintendo hardware. Unless the company started making phones and that information totally passed me by. Anyway, Super Mario Run is a lot of palm-sized, auto-scrolling fun that you'll only need one hand for, meaning that you could enjoy it while stirring soup, waxing a car, or stroking a much-loved pet. None of those things are euphemisms, you absolute gutter-filth, you. Unless you need them to be. These are trying times, indeed. And no, no Bad-tier Super Mario games exist. That's a fact, goodbye.
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