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Best Mario games to make you ground-pounding, block-smashing happy

Super Mario Odyssey
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Comfortably the biggest video game star of all time, ranking the best Mario games is pretty tricky. After all, there’s no other virtual character quite like Mario Mario – to give him his full moniker. Nintendo’s most successful creation, the portly platforming hero is up there with Mickey Mouse as one of the most easily identifiable icons there’s ever been.

Over the course of nearly 40 years, Mario has continually kept up with the times by being one of the most fluid, constantly evolving video game characters there’s ever been. From the genre-defining 2D brilliance of Super Mario World, to the far more recent excellence of the breathlessly inventive Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo’s mustachioed man has barely put a foot wrong since his debut in 1985. Let’s celebrate 37 years of Mario magnificence by ranking the best Mario games ever.

15. Super Mario Run

Mario on the loading screen for Super Mario Run

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: iOS, Android 

The Mario game that proved Nintendo is nowhere near as old-fashioned as you might think. Longtime series fans will almost certainly disapprove of the Canabalt-aping action, yet Super Mario Run still contains the zesty spirit of Mario’s more traditional adventures. The running part may be taken care of for you, but sharp reflexes are still required to make the plumber jump to collect coins and dodge to avoid classic enemies. If nothing else, the fact a form of Super Mario can be played on your phone feels like a huge deal worth celebrating. 

14. Super Mario Maker 2

Mario and Luigi in the boxart for Super Mario Maker 2

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: Switch 

It may not be a conventional Mario adventure, but this brilliant sequel takes three decades of iconic platforming history and places it directly under your creative control. A community of fan-created levels prove the lifeblood of the closest thing Mario will ever get to LittleBigPlanet. Nintendo also serves up a refreshingly inventive campaign that acts as both a rewarding, bespoke slice of single-player 2D Mario action, and an ideal tutorial for the game’s intuitive level-creating tools. 

13. New Super Mario Bros.

Mario running in the DS title New Super Mario Bros.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: Nintendo DS

Before the DS got that third dimension, Nintendo put the tried and true Mario formula to work on its handheld. Featuring beautiful graphics and gameplay that mixed elements of SNES-era Mario with the butt stomp and triple jump of Super Mario 64, gamers got one of the best plumber platformers of the modern era.

It also had fun with Mario's size, taking the mega mushroom from Mario Party 4 and letting Mario grow to Godzilla-sized proportions. Additionally, challenge mode gave the game big time replay value, and the kind of pick-up-and-play appeal that makes this handheld Mario a must have for any fan.

12. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

Mario tackling a Piranha Plant in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: Game Boy, 3DS Virtual Console 

The first Super Mario Land is a fine game, but it's also weird. Really weird. All the sound effects are strange, it has horizontal-scrolling shooter levels, and strange power-ups and enemies. It probably won’t surprise you that it was developed by Gunpei Yokoi's R&D1 instead of Miyamoto's EAD team, but when Yokoi's crew worked on the sequel subtitled 6 Golden Coins, they decided to take some cues from games like Mario 3, and created a game that was more familiar, yet still had a unique feel.

With its cartoony look and detailed sprites reminiscent of Mario World, a plethora of different theme worlds, and original, but understandable power-ups, Super Mario Land 2 gave Mario fans what they wanted and did so brilliantly. (We'd love to see Rabbit Mario make a comeback.) Super Mario Land 2 brought lovable deviant Wario into all our lives, as the jerky doppelganger steals Mario's castle (Mario owns a castle?), and the mustachioed one has to beat some tough monsters to collect the six Golden Coins and defeat the chunky never-do-well. It wasn't the easiest game ever, but Mario Land 2 is still one of the best platformers in portable gaming history.

11. Super Mario Bros.

Mario moving through a colourful level in Super Mario Bros.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: NES

The one that started it all. Released in 1985 for the NES and the Japanese Famicom, it essentially invented the platformer, and defined Mario's basic way of interacting with the world: jumping. Jumping on enemies, jumping over pits and jumping to hit ? Blocks and break bricks. It's no wonder Nintendo almost called him Jumpman, but we're glad they took another whack at naming their soon-to-be mascot. We really dodged a Bullet Bill there!

Despite its blocky 8-bit-ness, the original Super Mario Bros. still holds up today. Responsive controls, accurate platforming and enough secrets to warrant scrounging around those decades-old levels. These days, the question is: can you finish the game without jumping down a warp pipe?

10. Super Mario Sunshine

Mario attacking a Piranha Plant in Super Mario Sunshine

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: GameCube, Switch 

Sandwiched between Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, Sunshine was always going to come off as the slightly poor cousin to the two real greats of the plumber’s 3D renaissance. A bizarre yet charming spin on what Mario achieved on the N64, this GameCube great takes the icon on a lovely, eco-conscious holiday. 

Tasked with clearing Isle Defino of pollution, Mario’s main weapon against enemies isn’t his butt stomp, but the inventive F.L.U.D.D. The Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device is basically a water-spurting jet pack; one that propels Mario to ever loftier heights. Yes, the sun-dappled island is a little samey, but this is one of the plumber’s most underrated gems. 

9. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Mario riding Yoshi in Super Mario 2: Yoshi's Island

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: SNES, GBA

Alright, so it doesn’t feature the iconic adult soup strainer version of Mario we all adore, but this classic SNES platformer still gives the plumber a valued role. Riding his beloved pet dinosaur for the best part of 10 hours, Yoshi’s Island sees Baby Mario play a key part in his pal’s best game. 

A thoroughly inventive platformer that creates pressure thanks to a canny timer system – get hit and Baby Mario starts to float off into the sky – Super Mario World 2 swaps precision jumps for accurate egg throws. Thanks to a wonderfully child-like art style that looks like it’s just been drawn by the world’s biggest Mario fan in crayon, Yoshi’s Island is an unconventional Mario great. 

8. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: Switch 

A bumper Mario package that combines an awesome Wii U adventure with a sandbox spin-off that sees our hero take a few cues from Breath of the Wild. Considering how poorly the Switch’s predecessor sold, it’s great to see the lively co-op action of Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury get a second chance on Nintendo’s handheld hybrid. 

In Bowser’s Fury, the Big N also proves it can still keep Mario fresher and more malleable than almost any other character in video game history. Essentially an open-world take on the series, this brief but brilliant aside sees Mario battling a Godzilla-sized Bowser across a vibrant tropical sandbox. 

7. Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy Lumas

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: Wii, Switch 

Super Mario Galaxy captured the whimsy, grand scale, and magnificence that fans had been craving, evoking the same magic of classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario 64 with its constellation of themed planets and challenging, cosmic Stars to collect. The imaginative planets often felt like self-contained levels, and playing them in sequence made every stage feel like an adventure in its own right. With cleverly designed boss fights, delightful new suit power-ups (finally, we could be a Boo), and some of the best level variety since Super Mario Bros 3, Galaxy was one space odyssey that did not disappoint.

The release of 2020’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars ensures Galaxy can still be appreciated by modern audiences, too. The space-exploring action looks incredible on that pin-sharp little screen, and thanks to Nintendo’s timeless level design, the core gameplay is as monstrously moreish as ever. 

6. Super Mario 3D Land

Best 3DS games - Super Mario 3D Land

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: 3DS 

After Mario basically invented 3D platformers on consoles (and then revolutionised the genre a couple times), it was fitting that the series’ next step would be to change 3D adventures on handhelds. Featuring the reappearance of the fan favourite Tanooki suit, 3D Land brought the series back to basics, taking many cues from Super Mario 3 and reimagining them in a 3D world.

Meant to be a melding of 2D Mario standards with 3D gameplay, each colorful stage was a tightly packed journey of fun discovery. 3D Land was one of the more visually impressive 3DS games and used the system’s stereoscopic 3D in increasingly inventive ways. Created to be more inviting to casual players turned off by other 3D Mario games, 3D Land succeeded without sacrificing the killer gameplay.

All these years later, it’s clear this stellar Mario adventure was one of all too few games to really take advantage of the 3DS dimension-distorting tech. Using that gem of a 3D screen in ever inventive ways, the death of the technology means we’ll probably never see this particular brand of pioneering Mario again. 

5. Super Mario World

Mario and crew against a forest background in Super Mario World

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: SNES, GBA

After seemingly perfecting the Mario formula with Super Mario Bros 3, you'd think Nintendo would rest on its laurels. Instead, it almost immediately got to work on trying to top the genre-defining, multimillion seller and get that successor ready for the launch of the company’s second home console. And, as hard as it is to believe, the Big N created a game that topped its predecessor in almost every way.

Building on the rock-solid foundation of Mario 3, Super Mario World's energetic graphics immediately grabbed your attention with colors far more vibrant than anything seen on the Genesis, let alone the NES. The classic Mario gameplay was there, and it was augmented by new tricks and abilities, not the least of which included your new dinosaur pal Yoshi. Hard to imagine now that one of the system’s all-time classics wouldn't just be a launch game, but was also packed in with the console. Yup, that’s just how crazy the 16-bit era was.

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2

Mario riding Yoshi in Super Mario Galaxy 2

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: Wii

Super Mario Galaxy 2 took everything that had been produced since Super Mario 64, boiled it down to its most fun expression, then added a mountain of new ideas to that. 

The diversity of Galaxy 2 is stunning, each star a fresh challenge. Sometimes you're hanging off a bird, others you're creating clouds in the sky, or you're exploring with your old friend Yoshi. Many times the game utilised the Wii Remote in ways that other companies would have built a whole game around, but Nintendo was happy to use it sparingly and move on to the next creative stage. Ignoring all the other great games on the system, Super Mario Galaxy 2 made the Wii a must-own console for all serious gamers, proving that a stunning amount of ingenuity can triumph over any technological shortcomings.

3. Super Mario Bros. 3

Mario as a Tanooki in Super Mario Bros. 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: NES, GBA

After creating a too derivative sequel (Lost Levels) and a strange non-Mario that became a Mario (Super Mario Bros 2), the dev team returned to the core concepts of Mario to redefine the series like never before, including new wrinkles like a world map and mid-bosses. Mario's skills expanded considerably via Frog, Hammer and most importantly Raccoon power-ups. The distinct tail and ears gave the plumber the power to fly and that changed how the stages were designed from the ground up. It added a verticality to the ingenious levels that deepened the franchise in a profound way.

Leaving aside how Super Mario Bros. 3 was a pioneer for the medium, the reason it’s one of the top Mario games on this list is because it strikes the best balance between new ideas and the simple fun of being Mario. Every Mario game that followed it builds on its straightforward approach to fun, some in more meaningful ways than others, but none are as pure an expression of gameplay as SMB3. Super Mario Bros 3 is proud to let you control a little man on your TV and does it better than anyone else. Isn't that just super?

2. Super Mario 64 

Mario in the castle in Super Mario 64

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: N64, Wii U Virtual Console, Switch 

Mario’s 3D debut isn’t just one of the best games ever made, it’s arguably the most influential title of all time. While it didn’t quite create the concept of 3D gameplay, Mario 64 nailed it with an outrageous swagger right out of the gate. The fact a platformer from 1996 still handles better than the majority of PS5 and Xbox Series X games is frankly absurd.

Is that camera a little shonky? Sure. Yet such is the constant grace of Mario’s movement, his N64 bow has barely aged a day in terms of raw gameplay appeal. Play Mario 64 on Switch courtesy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and you’ll be treated to the sort of rampant creativity that would go on to define Mario Odyssey 21 years after this classic’s initial release. Over the course of 120 exhilarating, Goomba-stomping, Bowser-swirling Power Star quests, the game barely once regurgitates an idea. Until the day video games somehow find a way to tap into the fourth dimension, Mario 64 will continue to go down as the most influential 3D video game there’s ever been. 

1. Super Mario Odyssey

Mario wearing a white top hat in Super Mario Odyssey

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Available on: Switch

The best Switch game if you're looking for a Mario title,  Odyssey is simply the best Super Mario game ever released. 30 years on from his first adventure, the plumber is still somehow capable of surprising gamers at every turn in Super Mario Odyssey. Whether possessing a T-Rex thanks to some magical headwear, or revisiting a certain iconic castle from Mario 64, this warmly nostalgic adventure proves to be thrillingly imaginative. 

So much of the joy you can eke out of Odyssey comes from Cappy – a living, breathing hat who makes the plumber’s platforming tricks more madcap than ever. Who says you can't teach an old Nintendo mascot new tricks? Yes he can still ground-pound, stomp Goombas, and dodge Bullet Bills, but you can now also become Goombas, Bullet Bills, and a whole load of other critters.

Not only is this one of the most technically accomplished Mario games ever made, it’s also an adventure that conjures up more amazing ideas than a dozen lesser titles combined. It reinvents what you consider to be a Super Mario game, easing in new players to its colourful realms but also appeasing fans of old with a whole load of nostalgia too.

Paid maker of words, goes by many names: Meiksy… Macklespammer… Big Hungry Joe. Obsessive fan of Metal Gear Solid, Nathan Drake's digital pecks and Dino Crisis 2. Loves Jurassic Park so much, may burst at any moment.