Nintendo has been fortunate enough to develop many totemic first-party franchises. Yet, the Super Mario games prove themselves to be the most versatile and popular among audiences.
The Super Mario series’ roots go back to traditional 2D sidescrolling adventures, but it’s one of the few platformers that continues to thrive in sprawling 3D environments. Of course, Nintendo still turns to more traditional 2D Super Mario titles, but some of the franchise’s most celebrated releases are Mario’s 3D escapades.
10 Super Mario Galaxy Properly Pushes The Platformer To A New Generation Of Possibilities (Score: 97)
Super Mario fans were still looking for catharsis after the Gamecube’s risky Super Mario Sunshine didn’t deliver what was expected. Still, these expectations were met and surpassed with the Wii’s iconic Super Mario Galaxy. The planet-hopping platformer title is full of endlessly creative worlds, some fresh power-ups that rejuvenate Mario’s arsenal of attacks, and elegant gameplay that gets the most out of the console’s Wii remote and nunchuck control style.
Galaxy is accessible to the casual Wii gamer, but it also contains difficult challenges for more seasoned players. Nevertheless, it’s everything fans wanted in a 3D Mario game, and more.
9 Super Mario Galaxy 2 Improves Upon Its Impressive Predecessor (Score: 97)
Nintendo took a lengthy break from conventional sequential follow-ups to its mainline Super Mario games, which led to a major surprise when Super Mario Galaxy 2 came out only a year after its predecessor. Some consider Super Mario Galaxy 2 to be glorified DLC that expands upon the original Wii game. Still, it’s hard to argue with the level of quality in this package.
The major addition this time around, Yoshi, is also sublime. Unfortunately, the sequel’s strange omission in the compilation title, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, has fans worried that the Wii game will slip through the cracks and get missed by modern gamers.
8 Super Mario Odyssey Is The Biggest And Most Creative Mario Adventure To Date (Score: 97)
One of the most exciting things about any new Nintendo console is that it means that a new Super Mario game is imminent. The Nintendo Switch’s Super Mario Odyssey feels like a love letter to the franchise’s 35 years in the industry. Mario has never had a larger world to explore, but the new Cappy mechanic allows him to walk a mile in the shoes of a Goomba, Bullet Bill, or even a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Super Mario Odyssey goes for broke with its staggering grand total of 880 Power Moons. There’s so much in Super Mario Odyssey that it’s easy to see why there hasn’t been a sequel.
7 Super Mario 64 Brings The Platformer Franchise Into 3D With Zero Compromise (Score: 94)
The Super Mario series has an impeccable run of 2D titles across the NES and Super Nintendo that would give any successor a tough act to follow, let alone one tackling a whole new dimension of exploration. Super Mario 64 is routinely praised as a landmark achievement in 3D platforming that helped show developers how the new gaming generation could properly take advantage of evolving technology.
Super Mario 64 is a satisfying evolution of what came before it. However, it’s also a polished package that’s still enjoyable to pick up and play even more than two decades later.
6 Paper Mario Embraces Unique Visual Aesthetics And Classic RPG Mechanics (Score: 93)
The Paper Mario series has gone on to span seven titles across multiple Nintendo consoles, but this odd stylized story started back on the Nintendo 64. Paper Mario falls into unusual territory since Mario himself adopts a two-dimensional appearance in this paper-based world. Yet, the player still has the freedom to explore all three dimensions.
Paper Mario technically qualifies as a 3D Mario outing, even if it’s not the first title that comes to mind. There have been diminishing returns for many Paper Mario games, but the N64 original is a creative and quirky spin on the RPG genre.
5 Super Mario 3D World Brings The Winning Formula To The Wii U With New Feline Features (Score: 93)
Super Mario 3D World builds upon the satisfying foundation of Super Mario 3D Land. Still, it is able to accomplish substantially more through the incorporation of four-person multiplayer and the strangely compelling Cat power-up, which the game makes a vital gameplay feature.
While initially released as one of the strongest games for the Wii U, Super Mario 3D World has since been upgraded and ported over to the more popular Switch (with the Bowser’s Fury sub-game also included) so that as many people as possible can experience this triumph in 3D platforming.
4 The Gamecube’s Super Mario Sunshine Is A Polarizing Dark Horse In The Series (Score: 92)
Nintendo takes some extremely bold swings with the direction of its Super Mario 64 follow-up, Super Mario Sunshine, a Gamecube platformer that primarily revolves around Mario’s new water-based jetpack and projectile, F.L.U.D.D. Mario must explore the tropical environments of Delfino Island while he rids the land of toxic graffiti.
There are some beautiful areas in Super Mario Sunshine, and a fun hub world, but the shift in gameplay is too jarring for some. It’s also a surprisingly difficult mainline Mario game, and it’s an especially challenging feat to collect all 120 Shine Sprites.
3 Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story Turns The Typical Antagonist Into A Wonderland (Score: 90)
Bowser’s Inside Story is technically the third entry in the Mario & Luigi series, but it’s recently been re-released on the Nintendo 3DS alongside the Bowser Jr.’s Journey sub-game. Bowser’s Inside Story takes the Fantastic Voyage approach for a ridiculous narrative that involves the titular heroes exploring the depths of Bowser’s belly. It’s an exceedingly fun adventure and one of the best applications of Bowser’s character across any Super Mario game.
Bowser’s Inside Story finds the sweet spot for the Mario & Luigi series, where the game is a worthy challenge without ever reaching diminishing returns over egregious grinding.
2 Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga Kicks Off The Silly Handheld RPG Series (Score: 90)
The handheld Mario & Luigi games have been a dedicated source of RPG entertainment for those who feel that the Paper Mario series has grown too simplistic. Superstar Saga is the first of the Mario & Luigi games for the Game Boy Advance, and it’s an excellent proof of concept for what these two platforming legends can do in a ridiculous RPG adventure.
Admittedly, Superstar Saga utilizes a top-down 2D aesthetic, but it’s hardly a sidescroller that limits the player to only two dimensions of movement. The success of Superstar Saga has only helped the Mario & Luigi franchise continue to grow.
1 Super Mario 3D Land Is A Huge Adventure That Reinvents 2D Genre Norms (Score: 90)
The Nintendo 3DS accomplished awe-inspiring things with its no-glasses 3D capabilities, and certain titles like Super Mario 3D Land proved the power of this technology. However, even without the 3D options turned on, Super Mario 3D Land is significant because it’s the first 3D handheld Mario title to be fully built from the ground up.
Super Mario 3D Land is clearly influenced by its 2D platforming roots, but so many levels lean into that nostalgia in order to subvert expectations and deliver something that feels genuinely fresh.