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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!

Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.