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

Why it’s the best Mario ever: After messing around with water guns and with this game appearing on a system that was already synonymous with waggle games aimed at grandma, Super Mario Galaxy had a lot to prove. Despite that, it masterfully moved Mario into a new era of gaming, with a slew of ingenious ideas that began with the concept of flying from planetoid to planetoid, and growing outward with fresh gameplay concepts popping up at every turn. Following years of pretenders, Galaxy was the game that finally innovated on Mario 64 in a meaningful and lasting way, becoming one of Mario's most enjoyable titles to date.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: The little planets are a cop-out really, covering for the fact that the Wii isn’t powerful enough to create truly huge stages that topped what was appearing in the games of Mario’s competitors. Instead Mario simply went from one small stage to another, as load times were masked by watching the red-capped one fly from asteroid to asteroid. And just think how much better this game would look in HD.

Personal take: Following a slight stumble with Sunshine. Mario finally gets a real handle on just what 3D platforming has become a decade later. It took advantage of waggle to its fullest, looked fantastic (especially considering the hardware), and at its core was timeless, engrossing gameplay. When most games were trying to be like films or crappy novels, SMG was proud to be an amazing game.

Why it’s the best Mario ever: After sales of New Super Mario Bros had proven the public wanted new 2D adventures, Nintendo took the logical step to make the first original 2D Mario for consoles since Yoshi’s Island (or Mario World depending on your definition). It was great to see a 2D Mario running on current-ish hardware with the same iconic controls we remembered. And New Super Mario Bros Wii had one of the best final Bowser fights in series history.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: First off, New Super Mario Bros Wii is a pretty stupid title. Second, its big gimmick of four players on screen at once was a chaotic mess, an experiment we regret taking a part in. The idea that any stage could be played with up to four people also made stage design lacking, with wide empty stages that weren’t as fun to play in single player. That same inviting nature of the multiplayer made it one of the easier games in Mario history too.

Personal take: NSMBW is a fine game to pick up and play with your grandma and five year-old niece during the holidays, but when compared to the rich experience of previous Marios, it comes up short. There are some memorable moments scattered about, but this one failed to reach the same heights Mario is used to, and that’ll be true no matter how many millions of copies it sells.

Why it’s the best Mario ever: One of the first direct Mario sequels on the same console in a very long time, Galaxy 2 took the perception of unoriginality laid upon it as a sequel as a challenge to be as original as possible. While it also begins with the space-faring concept of the first game, almost every level is a new surprise, with some of the deepest, most engrossing stages in series history. Plus it looked amazing, had an unforgettable soundtrack, and proved the Wii could still have unforgettable “real” games if given the chance.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: For all the bells and whistles, it’s still a sequel. Same engine, many of the same power-ups, same spacey concept. The stages might have been new, but none would have been out of place in the first Galaxy. It was far too straight of a sequel, something Mario usually sidesteps.

Personal take: Super Mario Galaxy 2 was the ultimate 3D Mario game. It took every single lesson the team at Nintendo had learned over the years and refined them until they shined like a diamond (or a star). It was pure gameplay bliss and SMG2 alone is reason enough to own a Wii. If someone you know doesn’t like it, they must be a sad person indeed.

Why it’s the best Mario ever: Taking what 3D Marios had perfected over the years and then marrying that to the more linear style of classic 2D Marios, 3D Land intends to be the best of both worlds and does a great job pulling it off. With the return of the iconic Tanooki suit making this unforgettable enough for Mario’s biggest fans, 3D Land doesn’t waste the opportunity of the new handheld’s abilities, as it has some of the best use of the 3DS’s 3D to date.

Why it’s the worst Mario ever: Up until the huge amount of post-game content, it’s just too easy. All eight normal worlds can be bested pretty quickly by anyone familiar with 3D Marios. And the use of a run button instead of true analogue movement that had been in 3D Marios since Mario 64 is a (somewhat brief) frustration to many that have been playing Mario games over the last 15 years.

Personal take: A fitting tribute to every previous game in the series, 3D Land straddles the line between 2D and 3D Marios perfectly almost all of the time. Though the stages may be compact, they still show the the level of quality you’ve come to expect from the franchise. Not as shackled by reverence as New Super Mario games, 3D Land makes some history of its own while still giving a friendly nod to everything that’s come before it.

Love our picks? Hate them? We want to know in the comments below!


  • cptnoremac - October 3, 2014 11:01 a.m.

    It does not beg the question. Look up what the phrase means.
  • 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...

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