Making his debut in the arcade game, Donkey Kong, where he was simply known as “Jumpman”, Mario has spent the last 32 years appearing in over 200 games. There is good reason as to why he is the mascot of Nintendo. His titles have sold over 210 million units, making him the most profitable video game character ever. With all of these Mario titles floating about, it seemed appropriate to narrow it down to the cream of the crop. Here, I submit what I believe to be the 20 best Mario games. To be clear, I did not include series such as: Mario Party, Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, etc. Only games that feature Mario as the central character were taken into consideration.
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20. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
The middle child in the Mario & Luigi saga, Partners in Time made its way to the Nintendo DS back in 2005 (still relatively new for a Mario game). Sad to say, it ranks the lowest out of the three. I guess that’s the curse of being the middle child. It is by no means bad. In fact, it’s fantastic as far Mario games go and RPGs for that matter. Mario has never failed to deliver a good RPG (well maybe Sticker Star…ehh). Along with its brethren, it focuses on a turn-based battle system using timing accuracy. What makes PiT so cool, is the fact that you can control Mario & Luigi, both old and young, as two separate pairs, placing one pair on the top screen and one on the bottom. It was a great way to utilize the dual-screen capabilities of the DS.
19. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Marking the first appearance of Wario, 6 Gold Coins bounced into the scene in 1992 on the original Game Boy, and can now be found on the 3DS’s Virtual Console. It contains a lot of the same elements as its predecessors. 6 Golden Coins has a different use of coins, though. Whereas, coins were used to gain lives in previous Mario games, in 6 Golden Coins, they were used to play mini-games that would award you with extra lives and power-ups. It also contains the Carrot power-up, turning Mario into Bunny Mario. This is unique to the game, but is similar to the infamous Super Leaf in Super Mario Bros. 3.
In my opinion, it’s Wario and his devious plan that made 6 Golden Coins so great. Instead of the villain kidnapping the Princess and Mario having to save her, Wario steals Mario’s castle and brainwashes the world into thinking he is their master and Mario is a the enemy. Now, that’s what I call a villain.
18. Dr. Mario
Dr. Mario may not be as “Mario” as the others on this list, but it is still Mario. Though, it doesn’t receive as high criticism as regular Mario games, it’s made several “Best Nintendo Games of All Time” lists. In Dr. Mario, Mario takes on the role of, you guessed it, a doctor as he is needed to eliminate deadly viruses. This is done so by playing a Tetris-esque puzzle game. The difference is that you have to match four capsules of the same color in a row. I’ve spent countless hours playing this game, as I am a fan of puzzle games, and actually prefer it to Tetris. Also, who doesn’t love the theme song (dada-DADA-DADA-DADA). It is another Mario classic that can be found on the 3DS Virtual Console. I suggest you buy it….Now.
17. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
New Super Mario Bros. was a great return to the 2D (technically 3D) side-scrolling platforming genre for the Mario franchise. It was the first of the like since Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. New Super Mario Bros Wii. took that concept, added multi-player, the return of Koopalings and much improved graphics to create a stellar entry to the Mario franchise. Playing this game with three of your buddies can be as fun as it is hectic. It’s the first in the series to feature simultaneous multiplayer gameplay since its arcade days. Therefore, many gamers of my generation and later aren’t accustomed to it. I think it was a good move by Nintendo, though. It adds a fresh dynamic to an already enjoyable game. It follows the typical structure of Mario classic games, bringing on some nostalgia, with a twist that keeps Mario relevant in a new generation.
16. Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 2 quite possibly has the most interesting back-story of any in its franchise. The game went through several changes before even being called a Mario game. It started as a vertically scrolling, co-op game, but was scrapped for being too technical for the means provided by the NES. This game was then remade into the Japan release, Dream Factory: Heart Pounding Panic. After Nintendo of America deemed the official Japanese sequel (named Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels outside of Japan) to Super Mario Bros. too hard, they worked together to revise Dream Factory into the Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released internationally.
Super Mario Bros. is certainly a change of pace for the series. Many new elements were included, such as being able to choose between four characters with varying stats, enemies being killed by throwing vegetables and other enemies at them and most notably, levels with a vertically scrolling screen. It may be the black sheep of the NES era Mario titles, but it is most definitely a must have, must play Mario game. Perhaps, you can still find its re-release, Super Mario Advanced.
15. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
The youngest of Mario & Luigi saga is perhaps the strangest. Fawful, an antagonist exclusive to the Mario & Luigi saga, is tricking toads into eating a mushroom known as the Blorb Mushroom. This is causing them to grow tremendously and roll around uncontrollably. Bowser is tricked by Fawful into eating a Vacuum Shroom, forcing him to unwittingly inhale Mario, Luigi, Peach and Starlow. With the world in disarray, Fawful takes the oppurnity to control Peach’s Castle. One factor that makes this game great, along with many games to pull it off, is the switch between multiple characters. In microscopic form, Mario and Luigi explore the innards of their frequent foe, as Bowser goes on a quest to confront Fawful and reclaim his castle.
Bowser’s Inside Story maintains the same battle system as its predecessors, which is okay in my book. I’ve always enjoyed the system, never finding a need for change. In fact, I think it’s when they deviate too far from the path, such as in Sticker Star, is when they start to falter. Bowser makes a comeback as a full-on playable character in an RPG. Thank heavens! The ability for Bowser to inhale certain enemies, passing the buck to Mario and Luigi, is a nice touch. I’d say Bowser being a playable character is half the reason that this entry ranks higher than Partners in Time, for me. If you have a DS of any kind, I highly suggest picking this one up.
14. Super Mario 3D Land
The game that helped push many people into buying a 3DS deserves a spot on this list as much as the rest of them. Super Mario 3D combines elements from 2D and 3DMario, and does so in a wonderfully balanced fashion. It reigns supreme as the highest-selling game for the 3DS. It’s possible that sales were boosted so much on account of Tanooki Mario. Seeing the little tail on the logo made a huge splash when revealed.
The health system, dash button and goal pole are all elements of classic Mario games that are used in 3D Land, such as are many of the traditional items and power-ups. The player is able to reserve a power-up, activating it by tapping it on the touch screen. It also has the free-roam feel of games like Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy. The difference is that you more guided on a linear path to the goal. This was a concern of Nintendo, as they did not want players to feel lost in the level. Personally, I’ve never considered that an issue, but it’s nice for gamers that aren’t as accustomed the open world feel.
13. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Much like its predecessor, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, is a critically-praised RPG, combining great gameplay and whimsical storytelling. It was nice seeing the concept of Paper Mario being render in the higher resolution of the Gamecube. The Gamecube wasn’t very well received, but this game was one of the ones that made it worth owning. It’s fortunate that it can still be played on the Wii, which you much more likely to see in a common household. The only complaint holding The Thousand Year Door back, is that it doesn’t try to deviate from the original. I don’t feel change is needed. In my opinion, the series later entries fall a little too far off the tree, as I’ve now stated three times. Who knows, maybe with the next Paper Mario, Nintendo will listen to the fans and take a leaf out of the early games’ book.
12. Super Mario Land
Super Mario Land came along as a launch title for the original Game Boy in 1989. It brought players the rich experience of being able take Mario out with you, and more than likely, play under your desk at school. It carried the initial sales of the Game Boy and has sold over 18 million copies, making it the seventh highest-selling game in the franchise. Despite it being a breakthrough for Mario and its commercial success, its lack of critical success drags it down a bit. Some critics complained of the controls being imprecise. It’s a fair argument, but once you got the handle for it, it was hard to put down.
Super Mario Land deviates a bit from its NES brethren. It follows the usual kidnap and rescue formula, but with a unique villain…an alien. Tatanga appears, hypnotizes the town and captures Princess Daisy, leaving Mario to do what he does best. Tatanga made a second appearance in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins as nothing more than a henchmen. He has yet to appear again. [EDIT]Super Mario Land has yet to be remade or ported, but can be found in Nintendo’s eShop.
11. Super Mario Sunshine
As the successor of Super Mario 64 and the second Mario game to be a 3D platformer, Super Mario Sunshine was born in 2002 on the Gamecube. Bringing along with it, the debuts of Bowser Jr. and Petey Piranha, who have each appeared in many subsequent titles. It also introduced Shine Sprites, replacing the Power Stars in Super Mario 64. I’ve always found Sunshine to be a unique entry in the mass catalog of Mario games. It features the FLUDD (Flash Liquid Ultra Dousing Device), something that adds a very different feel to the series. It’s a multipurpose water pack can be used for hovering, speedy travel, breaking down doors and attacking enemies. The only other object like it would be the Poltergust 3000 from Luigi’s Mansion.
I feel that Sunshine gets outshone by its surrounding brothers, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, both of which received higher critical-praise and attention from the fan-base. I suppose it’s that middle-child syndrome again. Perhaps it just doesn’t stack up against them. I know I enjoyed it, and have craved riding the FLUDD for quite some time. I’m sure many others would agree to that and put Super Mario Sunshine in the “greats” column.
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