Why every Mario game is the best AND worst in the series

Why it’s the best Mario ever: First off the soundtrack is one of the best (and most offbeat) in Mario history, and it’s a nice break from the classic style tunes. Mario Land also proved you could shrink down Mario and steal all his color and he’s still awesome. It began an unforgettable legacy of portable Mario adventures.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: Perhaps not the worst, but it’s certainly the strangest mainstream Mario ever. It sounds weird, it looks weird, it turns its back on many franchise traditions, and it even ditches platforming to become a shoot ‘em up for a few stages. SML is also the most primitive Mario ever, making Super Mario Bros look like a SNES game by comparison. And you can’t save.

Personal take: A classic game that made the Game Boy’s launch unforgettable, time hasn’t been too kind to this one. A good distraction for the nostalgic or the curious, but every portable Mario that followed it has more replay value.

Why it’s the best Mario ever: For years the Mario creative team had all these ideas that were held back by the NES’s tech, but that ended when Nintendo launched the Super NES with Super Mario World. It was exploding with new concepts that would've been impossible on the NES amd had gorgeously vibrant graphics that made Mario’s world look better than ever. Its gameplay represented the culmination of years of experimentation and solidified what exactly makes a 2D Mario game perfect.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: Hmm, we did just use the word “perfect” didn’t we? Well, while the graphics were good, since it was a launch game they don't look half as good as some later titles. And Mario’s cape mechanic might have played better than a raccoon tail, but it doesn't look as cute. Lastly, don’t forget that Mario was super slow compared to Sonic. (That last one was a joke. Anyone that thinks any Sonic game is better than Mario World needs to seek help.)

Personal take: Again a totally viable candidate as best Mario. The biggest knock is that the graphics don’t look as timeless when compared to another SNES game on this list. Also Yoshi, while cool, didn’t reach his full potential till that same game. But if you’re looking for a better traditional 2D Mario, you’d be hard pressed to find one.

Why it’s the best Mario ever: After taking a left turn creatively with the first Mario Land, the portable Mario team stuck closer to the character's roots for his sequel. Though the world was smaller, this one had an overworld, more traditional power-ups and enemy design, and a save function which made it a better portable experience. SML2 also forever changed the gaming world by introducing us to Wario.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: Though it tries its best to be like a standard Mario, something just doesn’t feel right. The jumping is just ever so slightly off. The stage design is great, but just a little bit lacking. And there’s still occasional flurries of weirdness left over from the first SML.

Personal take: Of the two true Marios on Game Boy, this was the best, thanks to being a much fuller experience. That doesn’t make it the best Mario game by a long shot, but its quirkiness is something we’ll always remember, and we’ll always come back for the rabbit ears.

Why it’s the best Mario ever: Just as 2D sidescrollers were starting to get out of style with kids turning to polygons and third dimensions, the Super Mario team made their ultimate statement in 2D game design. The levels were more inventive than ever, Yoshi became a huge star in his own right and got many of the move that define him (flutter-jump, butt stomp). The crayon-colored visuals are timeless and platformer stage design arguably has yet to surpass this one.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: It’s not really a Mario game. You may explore Mario’s world and fight Mario’s enemies, but you play as Yoshi the entire time. Mario’s only there to annoy you with incessant crying (save for the rare times he's made playable after grabbing a star). When we play a Mario game we expect to be Mario. YI also marked the moment when the series crossed a line with cutesiness, as the series has yet to be as adorable since.

Personal take: This one pushes us toward wistfulness, as after YI the main series left 2D for the fancy world of 3D, making Yoshi’s Island an unforgettable farewell to the two dimensions that Mario defined. This is one of our top games of all time, and one any fan of the medium should try. Some heartless players may dislike the hyper-cuteness of YI or may miss playing as Mario, but to us this experiment paid off fantastically.

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  • Dmancapri - January 19, 2012 6:14 p.m.

  • eric-johns - January 14, 2012 10:50 a.m.

    The Paper Mario series is not mentioned; also, the Mario & Luigi saga was not mentioned either.
  • jewfromdahood - January 12, 2012 9:12 a.m.

    Am I the only one that realized they forgot a couple? Paper Mario hello! And you call yourselves gamers. How can you forget a single Mario game!
  • sleepyMexican45 - January 3, 2012 5 p.m.

    Great article Henry!
  • chuckles454 - December 31, 2011 1:58 p.m.

    Even though I know it isn't a "true" Mario game, Paper Mario has to be my favorite Mario game and possibly my favorite game of all time. While I'm not the hugest platformer fan, There just hasn't been a Mario game that works for me quite like the original Paper Mario. It's a timeless game if I've ever seen one.
  • Squirrel - December 31, 2011 12:36 a.m.

    Well for a gamer who started with Super Mario Bros here how it goes: Best 3D Mario: Super Mario Galaxy 2/ runner up SM Galaxy 1 Best 2D Mario: Super Mario Bros 3/ runner up SMW2 Yoshi's Island Best Mario RPG: Super Paper Mario/ runner up Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga
  • jenovalife1 - December 30, 2011 6:58 p.m.

    why is everything so brown?
  • GameManiac - December 30, 2011 9:45 a.m.

    I actually have the soundtracks for the two SMG games. You have every reason th say that the soundtrack is unforgettable.
  • AuthorityFigure - December 30, 2011 1:13 a.m.

    All of the negative comments spoke to me throughout the article EXCEPT for those in the 'Galaxy games. To me, they are incredible and I suspect untouchable.
  • shawksta - December 31, 2011 10 p.m.

    Unsuprisingly, they are, Both games literally took a Step up in terms of Platforming and set new standards, Galaxy 2 was "HOLY SHIT", nobody expected Nintendo would actually make a sequel that even MORE new standards.
  • officialjchamp - December 29, 2011 10:45 p.m.

    "Remember when the PS2 was brand new? That was a nice feeling". I know exactly what you mean.
  • ryleigh-kieldsen - December 29, 2011 5:01 p.m.

    What about Super Mario 64 DS!?!?
  • Lupus753 - December 30, 2011 11:35 p.m.

    No remakes allowed.
  • XanderGC - December 29, 2011 4:49 p.m.

    Nice article and an interesting take on the usual best/worst idea. For my money I would play Super Mario World over and over again over any of the other titles. I really enjoyed Sunshine and Yoshi's Island but Galaxy just struck me as Nintendo's attempt to prove that they were still out there for the hardcore crowd and even worse was the fact that they re-released the game as a sequel now with 30% more Yoshi!* I've lost faith in Nintendo over the last few years and I don't know what they can do to win me back.
  • DecoyOctorok - December 30, 2011 4:03 a.m.

    Please just play them. Your comment makes me lose faith in gamers.
  • shawksta - December 31, 2011 9:55 p.m.

    I agree with DecoyOctorok, Play them. That is REALLY stupid to say you "Lost faith in Nintendo" because of 2 of the best Platforming games ever, and calling Galaxy 2 a "Sequel with 30% yoshi" without playing it is just weak, there's a REASON why it got 10's
  • Crimmy - December 29, 2011 3:12 p.m.

    How has Justin not raged on the Sonic comment yet? Also I think Sonic games are good in their own right (excluding the newer ones that nobody likes).
  • zimmer-remmiz - January 1, 2012 2:10 p.m.

    Well the newest Sonic games actually kick loads of ass, i.e. Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations...
  • Person5 - December 29, 2011 11:02 a.m.

    while all of these have valid arguments I am just wondering why the paper marios or Mario RPG don't count, I get you aren't doing any core games, but just because they aren't platformers doesn't make them any less core, well at least in my mind

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