The release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars had us debating at Nintendo Life Towers which of the Mario adventures in the third dimension is the absolute best. Team Nintendo Life has its own ideas about the best Super Mario games (including the 2D entries), but we recently asked for your opinions regarding the 3D entries specifically.
Well, with eight 3D games to rank (including the remake Super Mario 64 DS), Nintendo Life readers have produced the ranking below and, although there wasn't a turkey on the shortlist to begin with, we have to say you've done a fine job.
Our thanks to everyone who voted. Remember: the order below is updated in real time according the each game's corresponding User Rating on this here website. It's entirely possible to influence the ranking below, even after publication. If you haven't rated your favourites yet, simply click on the game you wish to rate and assign a score on the Game Page. With Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 absolutely neck and neck, every rating counts!
So, enough prevarication! It is time to find out the best 3D Mario games, ranked from best to 'worst' (a relative term, folks!) by you lovely people...
If you've never played Super Mario 64, you'll probably want to begin as nature intended with the home console version due to its vastly superior control system. This remake controls too awkwardly on original DS hardware to compare favourably to the N64 launch title. Still, Super Mario 64 DS takes a stone cold classic and augments it with new characters, mini-games and tweaks that make a playthrough more than worthwhile if you've played the original to death.
The DS might offer sub-optimal controls, but we'd argue that the analogue nub of that system's successor transforms the way this game plays, placing it much closer to the feel of the N64 classic. If you're going to play Super Mario 64 DS (and how else are you going to play as Luigi in an official release of Mario 64?), we'd highly recommend playing on the biggest 3DS or 2DS you can find. It's an intriguing twist on a genre-defining classic.
Billed as a stepping stone between the 2D and 3D games, Super Mario 3D Land scaled down the grand playgrounds of the mainline titles into smaller courses that worked better on a handheld screen. Beyond a handful of obvious and gimmicky perspective puzzles, this platformer showcased the console’s stereoscopic 3D by subtly signalling distance and perspective to the player – you weren’t relying on Mario’s shadow quite so much (a fact we more fully appreciated when we first played this game’s ‘big brother’, the excellent Super Mario 3D World on Wii U).
It was games like this and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds which really showed off the 3DS' namesake feature and how it could enhance the gameplay experience without poking your eye out. Comfortably contained and wonderfully tailored to the hardware, this should really be in your collection already.
Mario's run of hit after hit after hit is rather incredible when you think about it. The expectations each new mainline entry creates are astronomically high and we're continually gobsmacked that, more often than not, those expectations are surpassed.
Available to play on Switch if you have a copy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Super Mario Sunshine is a great game with some undeniably unpolished elements when compared to the rest of the plumber's stellar oeuvre. No, as a direct sequel to Super Mario 64, it is not the genre defining classic everyone was hoping for, but with the passing of time we can look back and appreciate the many things that Sunshine does superbly. The joyful, bouncing Isle Delfino theme alone makes it worth revisiting, and if you've skipped this entry in Mario's back catalogue, don't let its reputation put you off. The Sunshine Defence Force may be overcompensating a tad — it's certainly got its flaws — but at the very least, it's still very good in our eyes.
The 3D platformer that defined what that label meant, it's remarkable just how much Shigeru Miyamoto and his team got right with the first swing of the bat.
It's available on Switch if you nabbed a time-limited copy of Super Mario 3D All-Stars or as part of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription from October, and we could go on endlessly about its genre-birthing mechanics and the infinity of tiny details that make Super Mario 64 a joy to fire up all these years later.
But you know about 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.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury takes everything that made the cat-filled Wii U original special and throws in various small gameplay tweaks to make it even more enjoyable. As the only four-player 3D Mario game, it fuses the freedom of the third dimension with the spirit of the tighter, more constrained (yet no less imaginative) courses from his 2D games to wonderful effect. Super Mario 3D World is a colourful and unintimidating introduction to a larger Super Mario world, and a joy for veterans of the Z-axis to boot.
The original game is sublime in its own right, but the additional open-world-y Bowser's Fury mode packaged with the Switch version makes this an essential purchase even if you 100%-ed the game on Wii U. The only real mark against the awkwardly acronym-ed SM3DW+BF is patchy online multiplayer implementation, but this Switch release is otherwise up there with the very best of the plumber's ouevre. Dog lovers should probably steer clear; everyone else, jump to it.
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 on the sequel couldn't have been higher. Somehow it manages to take the baton from its predecessor and perform even more incredible feats, with the designers revelling at the possibilities of Mario's cosmic playground. 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.
Where Sunshine faltered, Super Mario Galaxy truly did shine. Taking Mario into space gave Nintendo the opportunity to play with gravity and give the plumber a whole new 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 and a truly worthy successor to Mario 64 that's also available on Switch via the time-limited release, Super Mario 3D All-Stars.
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 worlds 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 of Mario adventure players had been pining for since 1996, and it delivers everything you could want and more. Cappy's capture abilities keep things fresh in an game which blends all sorts of mechanics and art styles into an improbably coherent, compelling whole. It really shouldn't work, but the mastery of its execution makes the realistic human-style inhabitants of New Donk City, the anthropomorphic cutlery of Luncheon Kingdom, and the big-eyed cute characters of Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom clan feel like they belong side-by-side in the same game.
Mario Odyssey is an utterly remarkable entry in this most celebrated of series and should be considered an essential purchase whether you like Mario or not.
Surprised by the result? Feel free to let us know your thoughts on the ranking above and share a comment about your personal favourite below. Wa-hoo!