For thirty years now the Super Mario series has been one of the most prolific game franchises in history. There have been games that have defined, redefined and reinvented the platforming genre in both the second and third dimension. Sure some of the games do feel a bit samey, but even those still provide a good time. So why a Top 17 instead of a top 10? Because there are seventeen games in the Super Mario series. The 18th entry, Super Mario Maker just released so I'm not taking it into account but since it lets you make your own stages, its sure to be a fan favorite. Like so many of you, I grew up with and continue to love this series so here's my placement of the first 17 Super Mario Bros. games.
17. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels - FDS, 1986
What is known as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan is often seen as an expansion pack. Some even consider it a ROM hack and neither one of those labels are too far off. To the casual onlooker this may seem like the original Super Mario Bros., but in actuality, this is one fiendish platformer that takes the difficulty of the first game's later stages and cranks it up to eleven for the entire game. Poison Mushrooms, much more aggressive Hammer Bros, overpopulated enemy placement, Warp Zones that can send the player backwards, and a plethora of bottomless pits make Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels's stage design some of the most frustrating in the whole series. Make no mistake, from the moment you press start, Lost Levels is out to screw you over and it is completely unapologetic for its actions. There are fans that love the game for its insane difficulty, but for that very reason, Lost Levels is the only game in the Super Mario series that I hate. The game wouldn't reach American and European shores until the SNES compilation release Super Mario All-Stars, in which changes were made to tone down the game's absurd Nintendo Hard difficulty. And even with those alterations, the game is still freaking brutal.
16. Super Mario Sunshine - GCN, 2002
Five long years had passed since Super Mario 64 and many were eagerly anticipating Mario's 3D adventure on the GameCube, hoping the title would surpass his previous romp. Super Mario Sunshine, while not a bad game was a very polarizing one. It introduced FLUDD, a water, jetpack device that was heavily implemented into the gameplay for platforming and cleaning up messes. FLUDD was a large part of the game but there were an abundance of sections where Mario would have to make due without him in ridiculously hard platforming sections. As bad as Super Mario 64's camera was, Sunshine's is down right atrocious and is one of the biggest obstacles in the game that you have to deal with. The other one? Glitches. Sunshine is filled with glitches that can sometimes cause Mario to fall right through the level and die. It doesn't happen too often but when it does, it can be very infuriating. But it isn't all storm clouds over the sunny, sandy beach. Isle Deflino hosts some of the series best tropical locals and when the game isn't trying to make you crush your GameCube controller it can be quite fun.
15. New Super Mario Bros. 2 - 3DS, 2012
Money. Lots of filthy, stinking money. Rescuing Peach? Yeah, I guess that's sorta important. Getting more gold than Scrooge McDuck, however, is a much bigger priority. Coins have always been there as collectibles in the Super Mario games, but in New Super Mario Bros. 2, they are all over the place. Every single stage is loaded with coins and ways to line your pockets. There's even a Gold Fire Flower power up that lets Mario toss a golden fire ball and be it bricks or enemies, they become instant currency. Coin Rush is an entire mode dedicated to seeing how many coins you can collect while racing against the clock. The high score aspect of the game is nice, it can get quite addicting and some of those DLC courses are murder, but all this doesn't keep New Super Mario Bros. 2 from being the weakest of the New Super Mario Bros. games.
14. Super Mario 3D Land - 3DS, 2011
What if Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros. 3 had a baby but without Galaxy's spherical gameplay elements? The child born of such a union would be Super Mario 3D Land. The game's levels are shorter like that of Super Mario Bros. 3, but most of the game's 3D gameplay comes from that of the Super Mario Galaxy games. Levels aren't quite as open as Mario's usual 3D outings but 3D Land still gives you plenty of room to stretch your legs. The Super Leaf makes a long overdue return and since tiny platforms run rampant in this game, you'll truly come to reply on it for precise landings. The game reaches padding territory with the S levels serving more as remixed stages of the normal worlds but 3D Land gets more right than it does wrong and the final show down with Bowser is certainly one to remember.
13. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins - GB, 1992
Mario's second GB adventure gave the pot bellied plumber a rival in the form of Wario, a bigger, bad version of our red and blue hero. While Mario was away rescuing Daisy in Super Mario Land, Wario took over Mario's castle (when did he get one of those?), which forces him to hunt down the six golden coins just so he can gain entry to his home and defeat the home stealer. Super Mario Land 2 was in a lot of ways a step up above the first game. The six zones made the game longer than the original and Mario sported a look that was closer to that of Super Mario Bros. 3. Gameplay mechanics from Super Mario World were even included like the spin jump. Control wise, it's a step up from the first game but it feels a bit floaty. Collect a Carrot to turn into Bunny Mario and use the ears to give Mario more hang time than most air based power ups allow. Coins are plentiful and there are a copious amount of mini games you can play to rack up lives. Super Mario Land 2 is a pretty easy game. Right up until you get to Wario's (Mario's) Castle. Talk about a surprise difficulty spike.
12. Super Mario Land - GB, 1989
Its visual style may be similar to that of the original Super Mario Bros., but Super Mario Land still feels like its own game. This was the first Super Mario game not to be designed by Shigeru Miyamoto. The design was handled by famed developer Gunpei Yokoi and like Subcon, Sarasaland is quite different from the Mushroom Kingdom. No Hammer Bros. to be found here but there are plenty of spiders, Moai heads and sphinxes to contend with. The Fire Flower operates differently, allowing for only one projectile on the screen but its a bouncy ball that ricochets off solid objects and can even collect coins for you. There's even a couple of shoot 'em up stages. At a mere 12 levels, Super Mario Land is short but its a pretty sweet ride while it lasts. Both of Mario's Game Boy titles are so good it was hard to decide which one I like more but the first game won out.
11. New Super Mario Bros. U - Wii U, 2012
1996. That's how long it had been since a Nintendo console launched with a new Super Mario game along side it. New Super Mario Bros. U plays a lot like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and while it may feel like the New formula is getting stale, it shows that it can still pump out some ambitious 2D levels with U boasting arguably the best levels of the New series. The Game Pad lets the user aid other players in multiplayer by creating platforms. Of course if one so desires, they can also use these created platforms to screw up the other players. As if multiplayer Super Mario games couldn't get anymore frantic. In addition to the main mode, challenge mode offers some nice variety with numerous task for the player to handle, offering some good replay value. for As the first HD Super Mario game, Mario and company really looked good but in 2013, they looked and played better. Sooo much better.
10. New Super Mario Bros. Wii - Wii, 2009
The first New Super Mario Bros. breathed new life into the series while being a wonderful throwback to Mario's 2D roots. How could Nintendo top one of the top selling DS games with a console version? By adding multiplayer support of course! And I'm not talking about a mere two player affair. New Super Mario Bros. Wii allows you and three other friends to travel through eight different worlds to save Peach. Well, that's how its supposed to go but if you've got some vindictive buddies sitting next to you, they may be more of a threat than anything Bowser can throw at you. Even when you don't mean to foul things up for each other, it doesn't take much to get in the way and screw up a jump or steal someone's power up. Four player support is a first for the Super Mario series and even when and your friends end up dying left and right, there's a lot of laughs to be had. If you don't have any friends or just one available, New Super Mario Bros. Wii works great a solo or two player game.
09. Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Wii, 2010
The original Super Mario Galaxy was a pretty beefy game. Even so, a lot from that game was scrapped and any left over ideas from that title were to be used in a modified version of the game. In the end, so much more content was added on that Super Mario Galaxy More ended up become Super Mario Galaxy 2. Gone is the hub world from the past 3D Mario games in favor of a more straightforward world map more akin to that of Super Mario Bros. 3, making for quick and easy level entry. Unlike the first game where the really hard stuff didn't come unless you were out to collect all the stars, Super Mario Galaxy 2 hits you in the face with the cruelness pretty early on. The Perfect Run is the stuff of nightmares to be sure, but even if you aren't out to collect over 100 stars, Super Mario Galaxy 2 can and will still induce rage. Yoshi makes a glorious return, Cloud Mario is a slick new power up and that planet based gameplay still rocks. There a plenty of fans that claim this is better than Super Mario Galaxy. I respectfully disagree.
08. New Super Mario Bros. - DS, 2006
After Mario redefined 3D platforming with Super Mario 64, it seemed as if Nintendo had left the plumber's 2D days behind. The last 2D game in the series that wasn't an enhanced port was Super Mario Land 2 on the Game Boy. Nearly 13 years would pass before Mario and his little brother would once again run and jump in two dimensions. New Super Mario Bros. was a wonderful return to the series 2D origins without going too far back. Backwards scrolling was kept in, the Fire Flower was (for better or worse) the OP power up, many of Mario's various jumps were implemented and the level design payed plenty of homage to Mario's side scrolling adventures. New Super Mario Bros. was old-school platforming with a modern flair and while many would agree that console New Super Mario Bros. games to come in the wake of this one are superior titles, I find myself coming back to this one more than it's prettier big brothers.
07. Super Mario Bros. 2 - NES, 1988
America and Europe's version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is a completely different beast when compared to its predecessor. A whole new batch of enemies, said enemies can be picked up and thrown at other enemies, and a healthy does of vertical scrolling mixed with side scrolling. Yes, the land of Subcon vastly contrasts that of the Mushroom Kingdom, but let's be honest; much of the stuff found in Peach's home turf can hardly be considered normal. It was a wonderful breath of fresh air, one that allowed us not only to play as Mario and Luigi, but as Toad and Peach, all with their own unique play styles. If you favored speed over all else, Toad was your fungi. Luigi gave you mad air time, Peach's float was great for clearing gaps and Mario was perfectly balanced. For the longest time, it was thought that Super Mario Bros. 2 was not originally a Mario game, but it started out life as a prototype sequel to the first Super Mario Bros., that was later made into Doki Doki Panic and then returned to a Mario game to be sold outside of Japan in the place of Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. Sure, Super Mario Bros. 2 plays nothing like the original, but this is the kind of different I can get behind and the game went on to have a bigger impact on the Super Mario series than Lost Levels ever did.
06. Super Mario Bros. - NES, 1985
The importance of Super Mario Bros. cannot be underestimated. It helped sell tons of NES units. While it was not Mario's first game (that honor goes to Donkey Kong), it did make Mario and Nintendo household names. It also revived the North American video game market from its two year slump after the crash of 1983 killed consumer faith in such a form of entertainment. This game introduced me as well as many others to the world of Mario, video game music and the genre of platformers. It may seem stiff today when compared to other platformers and yes, many of the sequels that have since followed are by and large better games, but Super Mario Bros. still holds up remarkably well. Grabbing Fire Flowers, stomping Goombas, nailing those precise jumps feel just as great now as they did thirty years ago.
05. Super Mario World - SNES, 1991
When SEGA was all up in Nintendo's grill with Sonic the Hedgehog and blast processing (read: marketing mumbo jumbo) Nintendo was there at the ready with Super Mario World, a 16-bit Mario evolution and what throngs of fans consider to be the very best 2D Mario game, if not the best Mario game. Which is sure to make its placement at number five have a lot of those fans scratching their heads at best and branding the pitch forks at worse. The power up selection is is more on par with that of the original Super Mario Bros. with the Cape Feather and Yoshi being the only new additions but the flight and glide capabilities the former grants you is so powerful it may very well be the best flight based power up Mario has ever had. Yoshi not only grants Mario an extra hit and a sacrificial extra jump for you selfish, heartless players out there, but the dino eats nearly every enemy in the game and can be brought into almost any stage. Putting the "World" in the name to good use, all seven of the game's world's are connected. Including Star World and the sanity crushing Special World there are a total of 96 level exits for players to uncover, making Super Mario World one of the largest, most secret filled games of the franchise. This is a wonderful Mario game and many platfomers that release today don't even come close to matching it but I just don't think its the peak of Mario's run and jump career. Sorry, guys and gals.
04. Super Mario 64 - N64, 1996
Launching right along side Nintendo's 64 bit machine, Super Mario 64 turned plenty of heads and for good reason. It was the series' first fully 3D Mario game and was unlike any Super Mario that came before it. Nintendo put that extra dimension to good use, placing a greater emphasis on exploration. No longer was the goal simply getting through a level. Peach's castle served as the game's hub world and it was filled with paintings that lead to other worlds for you to travel, 15 expansive courses to be precise. With 6 Power Stars per course, you had to visit each one multiple times and complete certain objects. These could range from beating a boss, racing an over-sized penguin or a matter of finding where the star is and grabbing it. Super Mario 64's exploration and puzzle elements stem from the game being developed alongside The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This has greatly helped distinguish 3D Super Mario games from 2D Super Mario games. The final battle with Bowser is still one of Mario's greatest clashes with the Koopa king.
03. Super Mario Galaxy - Wii, 2007
Mario in spaaaaaaaace! OK Super Mario Land 2 did that first, but Super Mario Galaxy does it on a much bigger and grander scale. Mario's many acrobatic moves from previous games have been fined tuned to perfection. The long jump returns and you'll be waggling the Wii Remote to make use of Mario's spin attack because its so dang useful for disposing of enemies and keeping Mario in the air just a tad longer. The big change from Mario's previous 3D adventures are the dozens of mini planets Mario can transverse. Each of these planets have their own independent field of gravity so you can quite literally explore every inch of some planets in a very short amount of time. The same spacious exploration used in Mario 64 and Sunshine are present in Super Mario Galaxy but the improved controls make for a superior experience. While the name of the game may be space, there are still plenty of familiar locals to ground pound to as well as new ones. Gusty Garden takes you through a beautiful, breezy flower garden where friendly caterpillars help you reach your next destination, Battle Rock Galaxy is full of persistent bullet bills and not shortage of canon fire and Space Junk Galaxy is a quiet, soothing place where you'll probably take a minute to gaze at the stars because Super Mario Galaxy is one gorgeous-looking game. This is all caped off by a phenomenal orchestrated soundtrack full of both classic and brand new themes that won't leave your head anytime soon. All that and Rosalina, too!
02. Super Mario 3D World - Wii U, 2013
If you've read this far, you've probably already guessed what my number one choice is. Still, I'm a firm believer in letting new talent shine and some of Mario's most recent exploits have been good enough to run with his earlier escapades. Super Mario 3D World's initial trailer did nothing to set the gaming world ablaze but by the time trailer two rolled around, everyone was foaming at the mouth to get down with the plumber. We never knew we wanted Mario in a Cat Suit until we saw him in one. The game expands upon the foundation that Super Mario 3D Land set tenfold. 3D World features some of the most diverse, imaginative level design ever seen. One stages pits you against an armada of tanks from Bowser's fleet, another has you racing across a Mario Kart built level, complete with boost pads and another has you navigating an ancient Japanese castle. The levels come and go like the wind with few stages giving you a sense of deja vu. Mario brought back the motley crew from Super Mario Bros. 2 and they all play as they did in that game. Even Rosalina joins the party as an unlockable character! As is the case with both New Super Mario Bros. console games, multiplayer is fun but very chaotic and while it should be experienced with friends at least once, Super Mario 3D World's levels play just fine if you're all by your lonesome. The main adventure is quite lengthy and is sure to satisfy even the most ravenous of Mario fans, but there's a wealth of bonus content for you to explore after the credits roll, including one unbelievably hard final level that will test the platforming abilities of even the most exceptionally adept Super Mario player.
01. Super Mario Bros. 3 - NES, 1990
For me, no other Super Mario entry, 2D or 3D, has surpassed Super Mario Bros. 3. The game features shorter stages but there are far more levels to go around. In fact, Super Mario Bros. 3 is such a massive game that each world was given its own map allowing you to bypass certain stages when you come to a fork in the road. Each world also gets much larger than the last. World 1, Grass Land can be seen on the entire screen while Worlds 2 and onward span multiple screens and house more stages. Worlds in Super Mario Bros. 3 are very much theme based giving all eight worlds their own feel. World 2 is full of sand, World 3 has H2O for days, World 6 provides more slip sliding than all of Super Mario Bros. 2 ice worlds and World 8 can be best described as hell on Earth. Mario's arsenal of crazy power ups have also been increased. The Fire Flower, Super Mushroom and Star are here but along with them are the Super Leaf, Frog Suit, Tanooki Suit and Hammer Suit. The spacey inventory system ensures you'll always have a power up ready so getting to play around with each one is never a problem. Mario's controls have been greatly improved here from the first Super Mario Bros. and as a result, stomping foes and landing those tight jumps is much more satisfying. I know there are tons of fans that prefer Super Mario World as the pinnacle of 2D Mario platforming, but I gotta give the nod to Super Mario Bros. 3. The game is a platforming masterpiece.