7. Super Mario 64 (N64)

The 3D platformer that defined what that label meant, it's remarkable just how much Shigeru Miyamoto and his team got right with its first foray. It feels effortless, as if these mechanics were somehow self-evident or arrived at through natural evolution. Nintendo absolutely nailed the formula from the very beginning – so much so that the basic 3D template hasn't really changed much, even today. We still control Mario much as we first did with that wonderfully odd-looking N64 controller.

Super Mario 64 is available on Switch if you nabbed a time-limited copy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars or as part of a Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack subscription, and we could go on endlessly about its genre-birthing mechanics, how it set the stage for 3D gaming as we know it, and blather on about the infinity of tiny details that make this a joy to fire up all these years later.

But you know all that. Do yourself a favour and blast through a couple of dozen stars next time you're pondering what to play. It still feels almost as good as it did the very first time.

6. Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch)

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is, quite simply, the best 2D Mario game since Super Mario World. This is the slickest, sharpest, and smartest that two-dimensional Mario has felt since 1991 and in its Wonder Flowers, badges, and online aspects, it serves up an endlessly inventive and impressive platforming adventure that will utterly hook you. From its myriad animation details to its infectious anything-could-happen spirit, it's got charm up the wazoo. A refinement of a well-established formula, it doesn't totally upend the 2D tea table, but with local co-op and online fun adding to the replayability factor, this feels like 2D Mario with its mojo back. It's one of the very best platformers we've played.

5. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

There's an argument to be made that Mario 64 never got a 'true' sequel until this game: Sunshine's FLUDD muddied the waters with its feature set; the Galaxy games cleverly eschewed large open playgrounds for impeccably crafted planetoids designed around specific gameplay elements; 3D Land and 3D World were deliberately constrained with linear design to attract players of 2D Mario into the third dimension.

Super Mario Odyssey was a return for the 'sandbox' style players had been pining for since 1996, and it delivered everything you could want and more. Cappy's capture abilities keep things fresh in a game which blends all sorts of ideas and art styles into an improbably coherent, compelling whole. It really shouldn't work, but New Donk City's human inhabitants are able to co-exist with the anthropomorphic cutlery of the Luncheon Kingdom and the big-eyed cute characters of the Mushroom Kingdom clan thanks solely to the developers' impeccable execution. The mechanical mastery on display here is breathtaking, with so many distractions to discover, and there's a joyful abandon which carries through every kingdom you visit. We don't envy the designers who have to come up with Mario's next game, but if Mario Odyssey is anything to go by, absolutely anything is possible.

An utterly remarkable entry in this most celebrated of series, then, and an essential purchase whether you like Mario or not.

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

With Super Mario Galaxy 2 Nintendo gave us that rarest of treats — a direct sequel to one of its finest games. While anyone who played and fell in love with Super Mario Galaxy would have been overjoyed to hear there was more on the way, the expectations couldn't have been higher. Somehow, Galaxy 2 expanded on the first game's inventiveness, turning up the colour dial to eleventy-stupid. This was EAD Tokyo tearing up the text and pasting it back together in fascinating, surprising ways, flexing its beefed-up and confidently creative muscles with a huge variety of environments and obstacles, plus Yoshi and a host of new power-ups. It's an absolutely brilliant time. It may be missing from Switch's 3D All-Stars collection, but this game is truly worth hunting down a Wii for if you missed it.

To argue over which Galaxy is better is pointless, really — they're both wonderful and utterly essential, so if you never got around to playing the sequel, carve out some time as soon as possible.

3. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

Where Sunshine faltered, Super Mario Galaxy truly did shine. Taking Mario into space gave Nintendo the opportunity to play with gravity and give him a whole new (final) frontier of planetoid playgrounds to blast between, setting the stage for endlessly creative snippets of platforming perfection.

All that aside, there's also Rosalina and the Lumas' story to enjoy if you go looking for it; an affecting and underrated aspect of an utterly sublime game. It's available to play on Switch, and you really should — Super Mario Galaxy is an infectiously fun trip through the cosmos which begged the question: Where could the plumber possibly go next?

2. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

As toweringly important as the original Super Mario Bros. was, Super Mario Bros. 3 was a colossal leap forward in practically every way. It refined the basics, switched up the visuals, and added more mechanical variety and one-and-done elements than any video game to that point — so many that even today there are certain suits, stages, and secrets that many fans never found.

So many ‘old’ games are best approached with historical context in mind, or come with caveats when playing them years after release, but SMB3 needs none. It's just as boundingly inventive and fresh as the day it was released, and easily one of the very finest video games ever made. Play it, now.

1. Super Mario World (SNES)

There is endless debate about whether Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World is the better game. For our money, they are two sides of the same coin — two faces of a monumental peak in the video game landscape. This remains an incredible achievement of invention and sheer entertainment that the 2D platforming genre has struggled to match ever since. Introducing Yoshi and an expanded overworld with multiple paths, Mario World overflows with secrets and secret exits that were perfect for fuelling playground gossip and elevating it to the upper-est echelons of platform video games, 2D or otherwise.

Decades on, it still doesn't get much better than this. All games have flaws, but if there exists an exception to that rule, Super Mario World is it.

Where does your favourite Mario sit in the list? Do you prefer the 2D or 3D flavour? Let us know your feelings on this subject in the comments section below. And remember, this list can change! Registered Nintendo Life readers can rate any game on the list and potentially affect the ranking in real time.