After all these years, Super Mario is still number one. The biggest name in video games is also one of the most recognizable mascots around the world. Though Mario games may be silly, narratively vapid, and even frivolous at times, the core mechanics and sense of adventure in these titles have unarguably pushed the medium further, as much as any other leading franchise in the history of gaming.
The first platformer starring Mario was released all the way back in July of 1983 for arcades. So, with Super Mario Maker 2 coming out on Friday, that’s about 36 years of Super Mario adventures. There are so many games to consider through the years that we decided to limit our selection to only what we consider the “true” Mario titles: no sports games, Party games, or mashup titles. Here are the 15 best Mario games of all time, ranked.
15. Super Mario 3D Land (2011)
When 3D Land was announced, fans were baffled by the concept of a Mario game that would literally pop right off the screen. Though gimmicks like this have been attempted before, none seemed to inspire much hope for a stereoscopic 3D Mario title (see: the Virtual Boy disaster). Turned out, though, that this one actually worked. —Dom Nero
14. Super Mario RPG (1996)
13. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)
Combining action- and reaction-based minigames with traditional RPG strategy, plus a fantastic art style, this GameCube iteration really hit on the wackiness of Mario. By expanding on an already great battle system, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door remains immensely replayable; both its mechanics and visuals hold up extremely well. —Cam Sherrill
12. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)
Much like Paper Mario, Yoshi’s Island is responsible for one of gaming’s most identifiable looks. In it, you played as Yoshi protecting Baby Mario with egg-throwing mastery in a beautifully hand-drawn-esque style. It also made you pull your goddamn hair out whenever you lost Baby Mario as he screamed in his dumb bubble. Regardless, this game was a fun, different kind of platformer, even if it did serve as paternity propaganda to kids. —C.S.
11. Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)
Easily one of the weirdest video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 2 took the success of the first Mario game and brought it into very surreal new territory. Today, the game has become something of a punching bag for critics of the franchise, but it still stands as a damn good title. Hey, you can pick up radishes in this one. —D.N.
10. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)
This game continued the immensely popular New Super Mario Bros. series for the 3DS, giving us four-player simultaneous gameplay and featuring everyone’s favorite characters, Blue Toad and Yellow Toad. Hectic gameplay let you work with—or absolutely fuck over—your friends, and new power-ups and beautiful worlds made it a good adventure. —C.S.
9. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (2012)
The New Super Mario Bros. series has remained relatively the same since its initial Wii release, just with new character modes and face lifts. But seeing as a lot of people missed everything on the Wii U, Nintendo decided to re-release New Super Mario Bros. U and the surprisingly challenging New Super Luigi U in one bundle for the Switch. It’s modern but classic Mario action, and we can’t gloss over the Super Crown/Peachette feature that sent the internet into a spiral. —C.S.
8. Super Mario 3D World (2013)
Fusing the manic gameplay of the New Super Mario Bros. series with the interesting platform landscape of 3D Land, 3D World was a much-missed gem. Players could choose a variety of characters and scour 3D platforming worlds with some of the most inventive obstacles, power-ups, and enemies in the series thus far. With the new Mario Maker, some of those power-ups are even making their way to 2D Mario. What we wouldn’t give for a port, or better yet, a new title on Switch. Here’s to you, cat Mario. Hopefully we meet again soon. —C.S.
7. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
After becoming 64-bit and hopping into the third dimension, fans of the franchise wondered where the heroic plumber could go next. With the Galaxy series, Nintendo served us the true successor to Super Mario 64 by launching the whole gang into space. And it really, really worked. —D.N.
6. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
This was the game that started Mario Mania, launched as a bundle with Duck Hunt for the NES. While it was not Mario’s first appearance, it certainly served as the starting pistol. This title was responsible for giving Mario the mushrooms, the fire flower, his jumping and platforming style, and so much more that identify him as the hero plumber we all know today. —C.S.
5. Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
The most recent 3D Mario platformer is also one of the all-time greatest. Odyssey helped Nintendo achieve its victory lap on the Switch by recapturing that sense of adventure we all knew and loved from Super Mario 64. The developers took a huge risk by adding the new Cappy mechanic, but it really paid off in this instant-classic of a title. —D.N.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
The sequel to Galaxy took the already stellar series to soaring new heights by adding Yoshi and some tougher gameplay mechanics. It was odd to see a straight sequel to a modern 3D Mario game, but this one really made the case that all successful Mario games deserve a full-fledged follow-up. Now, when are we getting Super Mario Odyssey 2? —D.N.
3. Super Mario World (1990)
Capes! A stunning new color palette! Completely new character designs for the whole gang! Super Mario World was the last of the classic side-scrolling Mario titles, but by no means the least significant. Everything from the iconic soundtrack to the Koopa children made this game one of the most important titles in the history of the medium. —D.N.
2. Super Mario 64 (1996)
The game that completely changed video games still feels as fresh as ever, almost 25 years later. Many titles from its time tried to imitate and recreate the magic of Super Mario 64, the first full-blown 3D platformer, but none quite achieved the childlike sense of wonder that this marvelous game inspired. —D.N.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
Many will argue about the greatest all-time Mario game, and sure, it’s tough to judge–but it’s almost impossible to deny that Super Mario Bros. 3 is the most enduring success of the Mario franchise, and perhaps, the greatest video game of all time, too. As Nintendo rose into cultural significance and launched this title, Super Mario became a broader, more intricate, and more complex series, providing players with hours upon hours of adventure, and hopping to new worlds never before captured in the medium. It changed the game. And, the raccoon tail was pretty cool, too. —D.N.