Note: Due to the expansive nature of the Super Mario Bros. series, spin-offs have been omitted from the rankings. This includes: Mario Party, Mario & Luigi, Mario Maker, and more.
18. Super Mario Land
Nintendo pulled off the impossible when they released Super Mario Land for the Game Boy. Many thought Mario’s gameplay was meant solely for home console releases. Thanks to Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the Game Boy, and the rest of the team at Nintendo’s R&D1, Super Mario Land was a successful port of the traditional Mario gameplay.
While the game didn’t do much to innovate Mario gameplay, it did introduce a fun alternative to traditional underwater levels by giving Mario access to a submarine capable of shooting missiles, transforming Mario into a side-scrolling shooter.
17. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
The second installment of the Land series saw the introduction of Mario’s infamous rival, Wario.
6 Golden Coins expanded on its predecessor with improved graphics, a save feature, and new power-ups. Unlike the original game, 6 Golden Coins added a significant amount of gameplay. Mario could now explore six new worlds in his quest to thwart Wario’s evil plan.
16. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Super Mario World 2 is a good game. However, it’s biggest problem is its namesake. Had it dropped the Super Mario World Moniker and retained the Yoshi’s Island subtitle, all would be well. Instead, the game disappointed many by dramatically shifting gameplay towards being a more straight forward action game.
Namesake aside, the game manages to elevate player stress through its clever timer mechanic. Should an enemy manage to land a hit on Yoshi, the little green dinosaur sheds baby Mario from his back, and players are then forced to scramble their way back towards a crying Mario trapped in a floating bubble threatening to float away.
15. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
The Wii release of New Super Mario Bros. transplanted the agility of Mario’s DS foray, and mixed it beautifully with co-operative gameplay. The resulting game, when played with three other friends, transforms the usual precision of a typical side-scrolling Mario game into a chaotic game of precision and teamwork.
The biggest downside to the game is its difficulty – or lack of it. The game is pretty easy, even allowing players to “bubble” to safety at the tap of a button should they venture off a cliff or come dangerously close to an enemy Koopa.
14. New Super Mario Bros. 2
New Super Mario Bros. 2 holds on to its “new” moniker, and actually means it. The focus of NSMB2 is coins. Lots of coins. The game motivates players to actually collect coins, by making it feel good to actually grab them. The key? Shoving loads of coins in players faces, and giving players access to new power-ups, like the Golden Block, which continues to give Mario coins the faster he runs.
This simple gameplay tweak introduces an interesting new dynamic: throw caution to the wind and collect tons of coins. However, racing towards the end of the level now comes with a risk – death. This gambling-esque gameplay tweak is fun and refreshing. But for all the coins the game manages to shove in players faces, it doesn’t do much to reward greedy players.
13. New Super Mario Bros. (NDS)
New Super Mario Bros. breathes a breath of fresh air into the traditional side-scrolling Mario experience. Mario retains his acrobatic abilities first introduced in Super Mario 64, and allows Mario to traverse a 2d landscape with style.
Fun new power-ups like the Propellor Mushroom and the Giant Mushroom force players to approach levels in new ways. And of all the “New” Super Mario games, this original DS title has the most cohesive level design, by forcing players to navigate thoughtfully made worlds.
12. New Super Mario Bros. U/New Super Luigi U
New Super Mario Bros U iterates on the cooperative gameplay introduced in the Wii version of New Super Mario Bros, and expands on it by introducing a fifth player to the mix via use of the Wii U gamepad. This fifth player has the ability to draw platforms and stun enemies.
New Super Luigi U ups the difficulty ten-fold, bringing a challenging new take on an otherwise easy game.
11. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels
The official sequel to the original Super Mario Bros game didn’t come to the US for quite some time, due to Nintendo believing the game to be too difficult for American audiences.
Fortunately, given the crazy success of Mario in general, they ultimately released this “Super Mario 2,” as The Lost Levels. Instead of walking you around the mechanics of the game, Lost Levels pushes you into the deep end right from world 1-1. This game is meant for people who’ve mastered the original game – the added challenge is nice, but can be discouraging for new players.
10. Super Mario Bros. 2
This unofficial sequel to the original Super Mario Bros game was actually a completely different game to begin with. Before the Mario title was added to the cartridge, Super Mario Bros 2 was actually a game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic.
The resulting game is classic Mario gameplay with an action-adventure twist. Not only does the game introduce a new cast of characters in addition to Mario, each with their own unique abilities, but it also allows players to go on the offensive by throwing items at enemies. The dream-like nature of the levels makes progression interesting and refreshing, ensuring players never grow weary of whatever challenge lies ahead.
9. Super Mario 3D Land
One of the few rare games to actually make excellent use of the 3DS’ 3D capabilities, Super Mario 3D Land brings the excellent design of 3D Mario games and squishes them into bite-sized chunks perfect for any road trip.
For those who aren’t big fans of New Super Mario’s gameplay, Super Mario 3D Land is intimate and puzzle-heavy. Perfect for player who want to feel invested in the portable world.
8. Super Mario Bros.
The game that started a legacy, and provided the gaming industry the shot in the arm it needed to stay alive, Super Mario Bros is a definitive masterpiece.
In terms of design and mechanics, Super Mario Bros reinforces player expectations through thoughtful, unobtrusive “teaching” moments disguised as challenges. Many platformers look to the source for inspiration, even newer Mario games, but few come close to capturing the feel of of loading into world 1-1 for the first time.
7. Super Mario Galaxy 2
The original Super Mario Galaxy was the first to bring players to space. Galaxy 2 was the reason for keeping them there. After having time to toy with 3D level design, Galaxy 2 features some of the most inventive level design in any Mario game.
But, the lack of any substantive hub world left the player rather lonely. Cohesion is an important part of tying all the levels together, and for Galaxy 2, it is sorely missed.
6. Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario 3D World is a culmination of the cooperative mechanics introduced in the New Super Mario Bros. console games, with the thoughtful level design of the 3D Mario games.
3D World retains the charm of uncovering secrets strewn about the beautiful environments, while injecting a shot of stressful mania that comes about when one player decides to stray away and do things for themselves. Plus – cat suit power-ups!
5. Super Mario Galaxy
While Super Mario Sunshine shied away from the open level-design of Super Mario 64, Galaxy retains it and brings it into the next logical representation of 3D space – space itself.
Bringing Mario to space brought with it an ability to overhaul traditional Nintendo level-design. While Galaxy 2 has arguably better level design, the original Galaxy has the luxury of being the first to wow audiences with a novel with a novel world….er, space.
4. Super Mario Sunshine
Mario’s shift to a higher polygon count came with a fresh new coat of paint – literally. Sunshine introduces a new twist to the standard Mario gameplay by giving Mario access to a new world to play around in and a new tool: F.L.U.D.D.
This super-soaker backpack not only allows Mario to clean up the graffiti-drenched walls of the tropical Delfino Plaza, it also helps Mario traverse the land with new power-ups. Tired of walking from place to place? Slap on the jet, and race around the world at break-neck speeds. Having trouble with a distant platform? Switch nozzles to “hover,” and gracefully glide across the air.
Despite all the new additions to Mario’s repertoire and world, Sunshine falls painfully short of Super Mario 64’s open-world design by forcing players to return to the main hub world after completing any objective, as opposed to SM64’s design that allowed players to freely float from objective to objective at their leisure.
3. Super Mario 64
Mario’s first appearance on the N64 shook the gaming world to the core. The 2D franchise was successfully brought into the third-dimension, and showcased what a Z-axis provided for video games as a whole.
The brilliance of the game can be seen in the design of the Castle Courtyard seen shortly after Mario’s introduction. Players needed time to adjust to this added dimension of gameplay, and this courtyard served as a playground to see what new moves Mario picked up in the transition.
But Super Mario 64’s appeal isn’t limited to a retrospective glance. Despite being an early 3D hodgepodge of clumpy polygons, SM64 holds up remarkably well thanks to brilliant world design and challenges. Each new world introduced in SM64 adds a new layer of expectations for players, testing their mettle against the rising challenges presented as you progress throughout the game. Good luck acquiring all 120 stars though…
2. Super Mario Bros. 3
In 1988 players all around the world thought that game developers had maximized the potential of what the NES hardware. Then Super Mario Bros. 3 released.
The world first gained a glimpse at the sequel to the beloved Mario Bros. franchise in the 80s film The Wizard, and what they glimpsed was a world of wonder and intrigue. SMB3 was completely different from the Mario games of the past. Sure – it still revolved around platforming, but now, Mario could bank power-ups, traverse floating airships, and utilize a wide variety of crazy new abilities that changed the fundamental nature of a Mario game.
1. Super Mario World
Super Mario World debuted on the Super Nintendo in 1991 cementing Nintendo’s position as the premier console of the early 90s. Many games since have attempted at recreating the precise platforming, genuine feel-good momentum, and inventive power-up design, but none have come close to this platforming powerhouse.
Despite being a platformer, Super Mario World subverts the genre expectations by allowing players multiple ways of clearing new levels and old, thus incentivizing players to make their way back to previously completed locations. If you have yet to play this Mario masterpiece, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy.