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.