This one's also available on Switch if you've got one of those time-limited copies of Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Playing Super Mario 64 these days, it's remarkable that this was Nintendo's first foray into 3D platforming. It feels effortless, as if these mechanics were somehow self-evident or arrived upon naturally. It absolutely nailed the formula – so much so that it hasn't really changed much even today. We still control Mario in much the same way as we first did with that wonderfully odd-looking N64 controller.
The framework laid down in 64, with an anthropomorphised camera in the form of Lakitu offering control of the player's view in a 3D space, set the stage for 3D gaming as we know it, and it still stands up as a vibrant and fun experience today.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was the absolute pinnacle of 2D platforming on the NES, and many would also claim it's never been beaten on subsequent platforms. The overworld map, Super Leaf, Frog Suit, Hammer Suit, Tanooki Suit and sliding down slopes all first appeared in this entry, along with many other firsts. Released at the very height of Mario mania, it's one of the most influential Marios in the franchise and it's a testament to just how brilliant the series is when we believe there are five games better than this one featuring Nintendo's flagship character.
Fans of the Galaxy games often argue over which is the finer of the two. They're really wonderful companion pieces, but we're going with the first simply because Super Mario Galaxy 2 was an expansion on the concept the original nailed.
It expanded on the inventiveness and turned up the colour dial to eleventy-stupid. This was Nintendo tearing up the rule book and pasting it back together in fascinating, surprising ways, flexing its beefed up and confident creative muscles after the first game, with a huge variety of environments and obstacles, plus Yoshi and a host of new power-ups. It's an absolutely brilliant time.
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Put in as simple a manner as possible, Super Mario Maker 2 is likely to be the last 2D Mario game you’ll need. It’s the original game but with more of everything: enemies, themes, game styles, gizmos, power-ups, the Story Mode having an actual story, multiplayer... the list of additional gubbins is truly massive when you take a step back. The sheer joy and unbridled freedom on offer here takes the baton from the original before triple jumping away into the distance.
Free updates and tweaks to the formula mean the game has evolved since release much like the original did, with Ninji Speedruns and various new elements added to this expansive Mario toybox. For any fan of Mario who owns a Switch – heck, for any Switch owner full stop – buying this game is an absolute necessity.
Super Mario Galaxy took the plumber into the final frontier and has him bouncing between galaxies to collect Power Stars. These galaxies are made up of planets and structures that Mario can navigate between, and the gravitational force allows him to move on top of, below, and around the planetoids with a level of freedom which almost felt as refreshing as his first 3D escapade in Super Mario 64.
The big new feature in Galaxy was the Star Pointer. Using this you could pick up objects, shoot them at enemies, move obstacles, and interact with the environment. Mario could also pull off a Spin by shaking the Wii Remote, enabling him to stun enemies, shatter objects, and trigger various projectiles. Super Mario Galaxy is an infectiously fun trip through the cosmos which begged the question as to where the plumber could possibly journey to next. Play it on Switch, play it on Wii, play it on Wii U — just make sure you play it.
Super Mario World builds on and improves upon the already excellent formula Nintendo crafted with the three (technically four) games that came before it, using the power of the Super Nintendo for absolutely gorgeous 2D visuals. It also introduced flight with the Cape and an expanded overworld with secret exits meaning you could take different paths through the game.
Mario teamed up with Yoshi for the first time here, giving the plumber abilities to survive new scenarios and explore an even richer world than ever before. Super Mario World is pretty much as good as 2D Mario has ever got, and you owe it to yourself to experience the game any way that you can.
Super Mario Odyssey is the most inventive, expressive, creative, and diverse 3D Mario Nintendo has ever made. The enormous mix of ideas, art styles and game mechanics really shouldn't work together. On paper the surreal colour of the Luncheon Kingdom simply doesn't gel with the faux-realism of New Donk City or many of the other destinations the plumber ticks off on his trip around the world, but Nintendo somehow makes it work through the sheer quality of every single component.
With Cappy you can possess enemies and NPCs - some characters can't jump, others can attack and defeat enemies, some can fly or run really fast, while others do almost nothing at all. There's a joyful abandon to the game which carries through every kingdom you visit, with so many distractions and things to discover, yet it's never overwhelming - it's simply fun. Whether you're hunting Moons or trying on outfits, it all combines to create the best Super Mario game yet.
We don't envy the designers who have to come up with Mario's next game, but if Odyssey's anything to go by, anything is possible.
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.