The Best – and Worst – Mario Games

Super Mario Galaxy 2 has proven to be a rare high point in the 2010 Wii release calendar, while New Super Mario Bros. Wii has gone on to become one of the biggest-selling titles on any platform since its release last year. Here we consider the iconic plumber’s finest outings, as well as some of the more forgettable entries in the main Mario franchise.

A small note: We’ll revisit Mario Kart, Mario Party, Smash Bros, et al on another occasion and, in an effort to avoid repetition, the remakes and re-releases so favoured by Nintendo (Super Mario Advance, Super Mario All-Stars) will be omitted in favour of their original incarnations.

The Best

Super Mario Galaxy 2
Wii
Had this list been compiled just a few short months ago, it might have been topped by Mario’s first proper Wii outing, not its sequel. However, Super Mario Galaxy 2 features every bit as much vibrant imagination as its predecessor whilst expunging the cumbersome hub world and some of the extraneous story (did anyone really want to sit in the library with new girl Rosalina when Princess Peach was in peril?). That this superlative sequel sees the return of Yoshi is only the icing on the exquisitely-designed, perfectly-paced adventure-shaped cake.

Super Mario Bros.
NES
The game that started this gamer’s twenty-year love affair with all things Nintendo, this first foray into side-scrolling platforming action still stands up as one of Shigeru Miyamoto‘s finest creations. Be warned, however: you can expect something of a challenge if you haven’t played in a while. In addition to the genre-defining side-scrolling, this was the 40 million-selling game that introduced the masses to the Mushroom Kingdom and its myriad delights, not to mention its legendary soundtrack.

Super Mario Bros 3.
NES
Following the uncharacteristic misstep that was Super Mario Bros.2, Mario bounced back in a game that put the ‘super’ back into the Super Mario Bros. series. Arguably the best of the two-dimensional Mario games, SMB3 heralded the arrival of the overworld map and granted the portly plumber the ability to fly by means of the Super Leaf or Tanooki Suit power-ups. Each of the eight worlds boasted a distinct visual style, while advanced technology – built into the game cartridge – facilitated greatly enhanced graphical flourishes that placed the second sequel head and shoulders above most NES titles in terms of aesthetic appeal. Tight level design and an often demanding difficulty curve cemented the game’s legacy as a near-perfect classic and confirmed Mario’s place in the pantheon of gaming.

Super Mario World
SNES
The Super Nintendo launch title that united Mario with his faithful dinosaur companion, Yoshi, also saw the moustached hero enter the shiny new 16-bit era. Larger and even more colourful than its direct predecessor, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World also introduced the concept of levels that may be completed by more than one means, with multiple exits. That these alternative routes through the same terrain accounted for a proportion of the game’s fabled ninety-six levels did not detract from the satisfaction players derived from knowing they had truly triumphed when all were accounted for.

New Super Mario Bros. DS
DS
Mario’s two-dimensional appearances waned somewhat following the release of Super Mario 64. Indeed, his first true platforming adventure on the phenomenally successful Nintendo DS was actually a remake of the seminal 3D N64 game. However, a triumphant return to side-scrolling Goomba-bashing and Koopa-stomping was delivered in 2006 in the form of New Super Mario Bros. DS. Whilst never scaling the innovative heights of some of its predecessors, NSMB was a happy throwback to the days when gaming in three mutually perpendicular directions seemed unnecessarily futuristic. We had a new Mario game in our pocket, and we were happy to see it.

Honourable mentions

Super Mario 64
N64
Let’s get this out of the way: this is a personal compendium of the best Mario games and this gamer did not fall in love with Mario’s first 3D effort. Perhaps it was the timing of the release – the N64 era coincided with a renewed interest in alcohol-related pastimes – but, at the time, the additional dimension confused and disoriented, while levels felt strangely banal after to their NES and SNES forebears. However, there is no doubting the title’s significance: it ushered in the era of 3D platforming and paved the way for not only the exceptional Super Mario Galaxy games but pointed to a 3D future for the Legend of Zelda series, which also worked out rather well…

Mario Bros.
NES /Arcade
Bridging the gap between Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros, this minor arcade classic was the first to feature Mario by name, jettisoning his rather more prosaic ‘Jumpman’ moniker.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Wii
While Mario’s return to 2D on the DS provided nostalgic platform-based fun on-the-go, the Wii follow-up was something of a disappointment. The simultaneous multiplayer sounded like a good idea, but quickly became tedious when there was a disparity in the players’ abilities, or, indeed, their willingness to co-operate. The level design began to look rather mundane in places, too, when considered next to the inspired ‘forced-2D’ portions of the Galaxy games. That said, the tried-and-tested Mario mechanics are present and correct, and holding a Wiimote sideways provided a suitably retro approximation of the NES controllers of days past.

Super Mario Land
Gameboy
Like Mario 64, the Gameboy’s Super Mario Land rather passed this Nintendo fan by. Memories of the title are dominated by blurry movement and tiny, monochrome representations of Koopa Troopas and the like. An ambitious attempt by the Big N to get their flagship franchise onto the hugely-popular handheld platform, then, but our favourite plumber was ultimately better served by the suite of Mario remakes that later graced the Gameboy Advance under the guise of Super Mario Advance.

Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japanese Version)
NES
As direct a sequel as they come, the punishingly-difficult, Japan-only Super Mario Bros. 2 was every bit as good as the Super original, but offered little in the way of technical innovation or development. The title remains well worth downloading via the Wii’s Virtual Console, where is aptly entitled Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
SNES
To some extent a Mario game in name only, the true star of this belated follow-up to Super Mario World on the SNES is Yoshi. The somewhat incongruous art style distances the title further still from the Mario series proper, but this was certainly one of the better releases during the Super Nintendo’s dying days.

The Worst

Super Mario Sunshine
Gamecube
While the Gamecube era arguably represents the nadir in Nintendo’s quarter century as purveyor of quality home entertainment – in terms of sales, at least – there were certainly gems to be uncovered in the little purple box’s software catalogue. This Zelda fan, for one, savoured the beautiful cell-shading and stylised art direction of Wind Waker, while the Metroid franchise underwent a bold, but hugely successful, revamp and Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 – originally a Gamecube exclusive before the inevitable PS2 and Wii releases – remains that series’ high water mark.

One franchise, however, suffered a horrible fate on the flagging system: put simply, Super Mario Sunshine was a failure. Abandoning the player in a charmless, garishly-hued open world, and armed with an unwieldy water jet pack, the seemingly directionless level design laid bare the frustrating difficulty spikes and pointlessness of the running around. The disappointment of Sunshine is what hurts the most.

Super Mario Bros. 2 (Western Version)
NES
It’s widely known that the game released in Europe and the US as Super Mario Bros. 2 was in fact a hastily re-branded version of Doki Doki Panic: a game with considerably less pedigree than one might have expected. It’s also widely known that the Western Super Mario Bros. 2 was not very good. Dispensing almost entirely with the power-up and enemy-besting conventions established by its predecessor, the game has little to recommend it, save perhaps the bizarre egg-spitting Birdo and the improved graphical presentation.


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