Few series (if any) in gaming have maintained the same consistent level of excellence for as long as the Super Mario series has. Though Mario has appeared in dozens of spin-offs worth remembering, it's his core series that made him famous 26 years ago and that continues to refine the medium of gaming. Multiple titles from the series appear on "greatest games of all time" lists among other honors, so with a series so full of standout releases it begs the questions: Which one is the best? And which game is the worst?
We've done a couple of these before, analyzing the diverse Final Fantasy series and the superlative Legend of Zelda games, and this follows the same rules. We'll look at both sides of the argument, listing pros and cons for every mainline, non-remake, core Mario game in the series history. Then we'll lay out our ultimate opinion on each and every game in the franchise from NES all the way up to this year's 3DS title. Agree or disagree with our rulings? We'd love to know your feelings in the comments. Though we feel pretty secure in our choices here, we'd love this to start a conversation rolling.
Why it’s the best Mario ever: It started it
all and is the primordeal incarnation of the plumber's adventure. After
having addictive, arcadey, single screen fun in Donkey Kong and Mario Bros,
Super Mario Bros took the medium to new heights as an entire rich world was just
scrolling right in front of you. The physics and controls set the standard for
decades and it’s not hyperbole to say that this title influenced every game that game after it in some way. Everything about this game is burned into the minds of
a generation and for millions this one release still defines gaming.
Why it’s the worst Mario ever: It’s so
primitive. The physics may be superb, but why can the screen only move forward?
And why is the world so brown? Going back to this game after playing
Marios from even 1995 feels like you have one hand tied behind your back. Also,
this is such a clichéd choice for best game ever, we’ve ever so slightly turned
on the title just so we can move the conversation of gaming forward.
Personal take: For people of a certain age
group, this game is so monolithic that its basically above judgment. It's
the core at the center of what gaming is to so many and accordingly can’t be fairly critiqued. Every
Mario after this one builds on SMB’s primitive foundation, which makes every
game that follows both indebted to SMB and better than it by definition.
Why it’s the best Mario ever: Most Mario
games are too inviting. Games shouldn’t always be for everyone, they
should be made to test you, to punish you if need be to make you a better
gamer. After people had played Super Mario Bros to death, they needed a new
game to test their recently acquired skills. And Lost Levels/SMB2 in Japan is the Mario game that
will test your skill. Lost Levels remains the most hardcore of Mario games, and
if you don’t like it, that’s because you suck.
Why it’s the worst Mario ever: Not only is it
just pointlessly cruel and will be one of the most frustrating experiences of
your life, it’s simply not worth your time. In a very non-Nintendo decision, Lost
Levels is almost entirely made from reused assets from the first Super Mario.
The levels may be new (as well as insanely mean), but that doesn’t mean they
feel original. This was a retread and once you set aside the difficulty, kind
Personal take: Screw this game. Finishing
it’s a badge of honor and Mario super fans will play it for the sake of
completeness, but this is hardly worthy of being called a sequel. Its
derivativeness also makes it one of the lamest entries in the Mario pantheon.
We’re normally against Japanese games being skipped over for release in
America, but Nintendo’s US branch made the right choice by ignoring it on the
Why it’s the best Mario ever: Now this is how
you do a sequel! Throw out all the rules, make up totally new ones, just be
creative! Compared to the empty difficulty of Lost Levels, the USA’s Mario 2
has so many new ideas it hardly feels like Mario at all. But even with it being
so different from the first game, it still had Nintendo’s trademark level of
quality, with fun levels, dangerous new enemies, and colorful graphics that
kept us coming back.
Why it’s the worst Mario ever: Super Mario 2
it isn’t even a real Mario game. After cancelling Japan’s Mario 2, Nintendo
just reskinned a very non-Mario platformer for America. As fun as it may be, it
breaks many core rules of Mario, like how if you jump on someone you stand on their head instead of smashing them to death. Perhaps it’s based on a
technicality, but this title almost doesn’t deserve to be in this feature.
Personal take: Sorry nerds, we're not workimg in
technicalities here. This is the real Super Mario 2 in our minds, and even if
it was incredibly different at the time, more than a few of the ideas it
introduced became part of Mario’s style. Plus, it was made by Miyamoto’s
Mario team in Japan, so we still count it as a Mario title and a pretty great
one at that.
Why it’s the best Mario ever: After side
games and half steps, this was the true sequel to Super Mario Bros. It improved
every single aspect of the series and made everything feel fresh while keeping
the core of what defines Mario. All the suit-based power-ups are unforgettable,
while the introduction of the overworld, auto-scrolling stages, and the ability
to fly can’t be denied as major steps forward in gaming history. SMB might have
started it all, but this is the game that has defined Mario more than any other
in the years since.
Why it’s the worst Mario ever: Um, let’s see… the levels are pretty short and not as packed with secrets as the SNES
launch game that followed. Hmm… some of the final levels are too hard, and
there’s no save system, which is frustrating with a game as long as SMB3 (unless you use warp whistles). Also…
can we get back to you on this?
Personal take: Like more than a few on this
list, there’s a very strong argument to be made that this is the best in the
series. At the very least it’s the best 8-bit Mario. It may lack some of the
bells and whistles the dev team used in the next hardware generation, but
this game represents the best the NES could produce.