Gaming veterans and historians alike agree that Nintendo, and a jovial pair of plumbers from Brooklyn, single-handedly saved video games from extinction. The Video Game crash of 1983 left the industry in a state of ruin with little hope it would ever bounce back. The Nintendo Entertainment System launched on October 18, 1985, in North America, and brought the video game industry back to life. In the words of Luigi Mario himself, “Nothing’s impossible, you just gotta believe.”
Selling over 1 million copies in its first month, Super Mario Bros. for the NES took the world by storm and codified the key to Nintendo’s success, innovation. To date, 390 million Mario games have been sold, generating about $22 Billion in revenue for Nintendo worldwide. Join us as we lock in some of the most iconic games in video game history as we rank the best Mario games ever made.
10 Super Mario Bros.
- The first Super Mario Bros. is still played repeatedly to this day.
- Set the golden side-scroller standard for the franchise.
Starting the show with a showstopper at number 10, Nintendo’s video game savior, Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System, is sort of the reason you are here. There was a time when the names Nintendo and Mario were synonymous with video games. The first installment in the Super Mario Bros. franchise was originally intended to be the last game on the Original NES by its creator, Shigeru Miyamoto. That’s right, the supposed NES Swan Song ended up saving the industry.
While legendary not only for the games industry but also for the entertainment industry, Super Mario Bros. was not without flaws. Mario controls are very precise and often when you die it is your own fault, however, the game’s difficulty spikes during Level Four when platforming skills become essential to progress the game is brutal. With no save feature and a limited number of lives, Super Mario Bros. may be the single most difficult game on this list. Bring your A game, this granddaddy pulls no punches.
9 Super Mario 64
- One of the most beloved titles in the franchise among fans.
- The first fully 3D Mario game.
In its day, Super Mario 64 was the most influential and revolutionary Mario game ever created. Prior to 1996, every overall wearing jump-man game revolved around two-dimensional gameplay.
Super Mario 64 broke most children’s realities when it so effortlessly managed to evolve 2D sprite-based platforming into a genre-defining tightly controlling Mario game. In direct contrast to some of the earlier Mario games, Super Mario 64 offered hours of platforming bliss in lush, brilliantly designed 3D environments.
8 Super Mario Maker
- Endless replayability thanks to user-generated content.
- Features mechanics sprites and objects spanning generations of Mario games.
In what can only be described as a fever dream for more than a handful of 90s kids and legions of Mario fans across the globe, Super Mario Maker allows you to create your own Mario levels with an easy-to-understand creator interface and intuitive touchscreen controls. You can share your created levels with your friends and challenge each other’s completion times on global and local leader boards.
Super Mario Maker creator tools are designed around a grid-based drop and drag system that makes creating levels a joy to do. The game has tile and sprite sets from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U and you can choose which of these games’ toolsets you’d like to use with the push of a button in editing mode.
7 New Super Mario Bros. Wii
- The first Mario game to feature 4-player co-op.
- One of the best games on Nintendo Wii.
Nintendo’s first 4-player Co-Op Mario game, New Super Mario bros. Wii. Nintendo’s state-of-the-art design and the challenge of legacy Mario games shine bright in this 2D side-scrolling platformer. You and three of your friends will have an absolute blast with the new power-ups like the Helicopter and Penguin Suits.
Nintendo’s formula of fluid platforming gameplay and tight, masterfully crafted levels ensure this Mario title can be played in any year and still be memorable to play. While hilariously fun and frustratingly difficult at times during 4-player cooperative play, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is more than competent enough as a solo Mario adventure.
6 Super Mario 3D Land
- 3DS hardware creates a unique sense of depth.
- 3DS Circle pad provided the first full range of motion in a handheld Mario game.
Super Mario 3D Land is a game that reminds you why Nintendo is the best innovator in the industry when it comes to inventing new ways to enjoy video games. Being the first Mario title to be released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, Super Mario 3D Land became the reason to own a 3DS shortly thereafter.
Since Super Mario Land on the original Game Boy, Mario games have always felt natural as standalone handheld titles. 3D Land takes Mario’s gameplay to another world, or dimension rather. The use of Nintendo’s patented stereoscopic 3D display allows you “see” 3D effects without the use of special glasses. Essentially, you’d control Mario with a deeper depth of field you can interact with and adjust intensity should you choose via the 3DS’ physical 3D intensity slider. This technology works nearly perfectly when paired with the precise controls and fun platforming of a handheld Mario game.
5 Super Mario World
- Less challenging level designs.
- First appearance of Yoshi.
Often touted as one of the greatest games ever made, Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo is a wonder of video game design. With just over 20 million copies of the game sold, saying Nintendo struck when the iron was hot with this installment of Mario, is an understatement.
Gone were the frustratingly difficult levels that may have put some people off the initial installments and welcomed new to the series were a save feature, Yoshi, and over 70 levels in 9 fun to play worlds.
4 Super Mario Bros. 3
- The first appearance of the Koopalings.
- The first game to feature an inventory system.
Just the sight of gameplay from Nintendo’s 1990 video game Goliath, Super Mario Bros. 3, is enough to make the thumbs on the most seasoned Mario fan experience phantom pain. To put it into perspective; In 1989 an entire full-length feature film The Wizard was made more as a commercial for Super Mario Bros. 3 for kids, than a movie for the general public.
The game features 10 easy-to-navigate over-world levels; new power-ups and suits Mario can get on the fly or stash in his inventory for later; and Mario Party-like mini-games. This was also the series’ first-ever introduction to the Bowser Koopalings antagonists.
3 Super Mario Wonder
- Best visuals of any side-scroller Mario game.
- Wonder Effects make level engagement higher than ever before.
Super Mario Wonder sees 8 different character choices able to tackle the new world of the Flower Kingdom. The game brings the classic side-scrolling Mario gameplay with levels selectable from an Overworld. Players will be able to earn badges by completing certain parts of the game to give their characters special abilities.
As players make their way through the various levels collecting Wonder Seeds, residents of the Flower Kingdom will speak to the players. The game features plenty of returning classic enemies and provides a lot of new types of power-ups — with one of the most well-known being the Elephant Fruit.
2 Super Mario Galaxy
- Curving-level designs and planets create a whole new feel for gameplay.
- Bosses featured a grandeur not yet seen in Mario games.
Nintendo’s 2009 follow-up to Mario Sunshine came in the form of Super Mario Galaxy. This Wii title was, and remains, an absolute delight to play. Never overstaying its welcome are unique yet intuitive Wii remote controls and masterfully crafted levels with a gravitational twist.
Mario Galaxy allows for Co-Op play, however, it’s Mario’s now-patented Spin Move and mind-bending planetoid-platforming gameplay take the show here and are enough to cement this Mario title as one of the best mainline Mario games of all time.
1 Super Mario Odyssey
- Introduced the ability to take control of enemies.
- Features one of the best Soundtracks in a Mario game.
Released on October 17, 2017, Nintendo’s 3D open-world adventure platforming masterpiece, Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch is a recipient of multiple awards including the BAFTA Games Award for Best Family and Social Game and The British Academy Video Games Award for Game Design. Every Mario game on this list has either innovated on a previous installment in the series or has added something revolutionary to the mix. Super Mario Odyssey arguably perfects every single Mario gameplay trope since the disheveled little plumber’s inception in 1985 with Super Mario Bros for the NES.
Nintendo’s lifelong commitment to innovative gameplay, fresh and never stale levels, and art design, as well as unbridled dedication to Mario fans, has ensured that you should probably check out the latest game in the Mario series when it launches, because you may be one of the first to experience greatness.