Discover more from The Shortcut
Best Mario games of all time: from Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Odyssey
We've rounded up the best Mario games to triple jump through
Mario – he sure does get around. The portly plumber and his chums have been jumping, fireballing and karting across our screens for decades, taking us on countless power-upped journeys through the Mushroom Kingdom and the many worlds beyond. Mario games have become a staple, and there are now so many that choosing which one is the best is by no means easy.
Some of the best Nintendo Switch games feature the mustachioed plumber, and the best Mario games for Nintendo Switch are a varied lot spanning all manner of genres. But that’s just the current generation. Add in all the great Mario games that appeared across the NES, SNES, GameCube, Wii, Game Boy and more, and you’ve got quite the list of awesome adventures.
After much umming and ahhing, we’ve nailed down the best Super Mario games of all-time. Some are old, some are new. All are excellent. Even if the long lines of Super Nintendo World won’t put you in the mushroom-chomping mood, these games sure will.
Super Mario Odyssey 🎓
Of course, we had to include Mario’s most recent outing. Odyssey boldly pushes forward everything that’s made the series great, culminating in what is arguably the best 3D Mario game ever. Its open worlds are dazzlingly colorful and stuffed with secrets, and the platforming is so point perfect that it’s become the standard by which others are measured. Cappy – Mario’s magical hat that can be thrown on objects and enemies to temporarily take on their powers – only completes the recipe. Mario’s abilities and acrobatics have never been more impressive, making its over 800 Moons so much fun to find.
Super Mario Bros. 3 🦝
What would Mario be without Super Mario Bros. 3? Many of the series’ greatest, most defining ideas stem from this 2D adventure. Levels took on a verticality previously absent from platformers, and power-ups like the Tanooki Suit gave you the freedom to explore them or comb them for the many secrets they held in far-away corners. A world map was introduced for the first time, and the idea of mini-bosses has since become a series staple. If you have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, you can check it out right now through the NES emulator. Take it for a spin, and see for yourself how it still holds up.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 🌓
Sending Mario to space may have been one of Nintendo’s most inspired ideas. While the first Super Mario Galaxy surprised us with effortlessly exciting gravity segments and back-to-back planet-hopping, the sequel only went further with its zany levels and barrage of new, but never overwhelming, ideas. Yoshi, of course, makes an appearance in this one, and the motion controls of the Wii Remote never handled better. Mario’s adventures have rarely soared higher than this.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury 😸
Super Mario 3D World already grabbed our attention when it introduced Cat Mario on the Wii U back in 2013, but its 2021 Nintendo Switch port really made a name for itself with its self-contained expansion: Bowser’s Fury. A mini adventure, it distills the platforming of Mario Odyssey into a tight open world and has something of the creative level design of Super Mario Galaxy. Throw in the cinematic giant Bowser showdowns, and this add-on might be the best encapsulation of what makes the Italian plumber so great.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door 📜
You’d be forgiven for thinking a Mario RPG sounds like a terrible idea, but you’d do well to check your expectations at the door and embrace just how wacky the concept can become. Turn-based fights are made more engaging than the average JRPG of the era with timed attacks and abilities that call on you to wiggle about the joysticks (rather than simply select them from a menu). The hand-drawn illustrations never grow old and the story is delightfully funny in places. It’s too bad it’s only available on GameCube. Hopefully, Nintendo will announce a remaster one of these days.
Super Mario Sunshine 🌴
An often-forgotten Mario caper, Super Mario Sunshine had the misfortune of releasing after Super Mario 64 and before Super Mario Galaxy. Sandwiched between those two ambitious titles, Sunshine is left looking rather safe. But a return to the tropical shores of Isle Delfino shows it’s more experimental than many have given it credit for. Mario’s water-flinging FLUDD backpack doubles as a hose and jet pack, allowing for some nifty acrobatic segments that weren’t matched until Odyssey arrived years later. And the environment – a paradise resort – has a breezy charm not seen in other Mario games. An outlier, for sure, but in no way a bad one.
Mario Kart 8 🏎
Mario’s karting spin-offs have been introducing families to the world of the Mushroom Kingdom (and the wider world of gaming) for years. While Mario Kart Wii cemented itself in living rooms across the globe, follow-up Mario Kart 8 only took it further. With more power-ups than ever before and a greater selection of characters and karts, an emphasis on well-timed drifting added an element of precision to the chaotic karting.
Of course, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch is the best version of the game and only gets better if you have access to the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pass that adds a selection of fan-favorite tracks from past games, as well as a handful of new courses and characters.
Super Mario 64 🏰
Mario’s first 3D outing instantly carved out a space in gaming history for itself when it appeared in 1996. While other developers struggled to bring their beloved 2D series into the world of three dimensions, Nintendo had a slam dunk. Mario moved and jumped like never before, but with the same precision the series had become famous for. The open levels encouraged and allowed for more playfulness and exploration than past games, while the central hub opens up into a frankly staggering variety of worlds given the game’s age. Has it been surpassed by more recent 3D Mario games? Yes. Does it still stand out as an impressive jump into 3D? Absolutely.
The Shortcut is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.