What's the best Mario game ever? Where do you even begin to rank them? Let's face it, any of the games in the top 10 could justifiably take the top spot. All of them could easily be somebody's 'best game of all time', and there'll always be someone who believes the series peaked with The Lost Levels. That's an opinion you're entitled to, even if it raises a few eyebrows.
Ranking all these classics is an inexact science, but we here at Nintendo Life have debated, made our individual cases about this or that entry and come up with a definitive compromise which we're all happy with. Yes, of course, there are personal favourites that some of us would like to see bumped up higher, but democracy has given us a handsome list regardless.
This is for the mainline Super Mario platformers only (both 2D and 3D) so you won't see any spin-offs or sports titles. We've also excluded Yoshi's Island, despite it's official title, for the same reason Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 doesn't feature either. Both games are spin-offs that, titles aside, are distinctly lacking in the Super Mario department.
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The Lost Levels is a bit of a novelty for us westerners. The sequel to Super Mario Bros., it was released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan, but Nintendo of America deemed it too difficult for western players, and to an extent, you can see where they were coming from. It's a sequel in the truest sense of the word - difficulty-wise, it picks up where World 8-4 left off in the original game.
It wasn't until Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES that we got to experience this game, where it picked up its 'Lost Levels' moniker. It's not bad by any means, but it's the sort of thing that would be a New Game+ mode in a modern game. It lacks the balance of challenge and reward you might associate with Mario platformers - it's unforgiving from the off, so only seasoned Mario veterans need apply. It's available on Switch for anyone with a Nintendo Switch Online subscription, so feel free to test your mettle with it.
Next up is Super Mario Run, which served as Nintendo's first foray into mobile gaming (unless you count the ill-fated Miitomo). It's a solid effort with clever compromises to allow for the one-touch control scheme. Mario runs automatically and vaults over enemies and small obstacles, and you pull off tricks by tapping at the right moment, jumping high or low depending on how long you hold your finger on the screen.
Nintendo updated the original game with Remix mode providing addictive bitesize levels of platforming when you've only got your phone to hand. In the Mario canon it might be an also-ran, but it's a polished little experience that's pleasantly free of the microtransactions you find in Nintendo's more recent mobile offerings.
Super Mario Land was impressive when it was first released for the Game Boy. The sequel might have made this original seem inadequate by comparison, but it's still a very fun Super Mario experience, albeit a short one. Just about the time things are really getting good, the credits roll, but if you haven't played Super Mario Land before, you owe it to yourself to give it a try - it's still worth playing through at least once, if only to see where Mario's portable adventures began. Cracking music, too.
Super Mario Bros. 2, or Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic to those in Japan (or Super Mario USA when its plumberised form made its way back east), was the follow up to the original Bros. that we got in the west, a famously reskinned version of a Japan-only title with different mechanics to the original Mario game. It introduced the abilities to lift and throw objects and a screen that scrolled left and right and up and down. Yes, the verticality of levels was a profound change from the first game.
Super Mario Bros. 2 remains very well regarded in the west and many of the elements it introduced have become mainstays of the series, even if the game's mechanics remain something of an anomaly in the 2D branch.
A rare numbered Mario sequel, this is one from a series which continues to divide gamers to this day. New Super Mario Bros. 2 doubled down on – of all things – coin collection to create a strangely compulsive platformer in the familiar mould. Although hardly revolutionary, the 3D was a nice touch and if you can embrace the banality of its obsession with gold, it’s a very solid, very enjoyable 2D Mario.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is an impressive package, offering the best of modern-era 2D Mario, madcap multiplayer and glimpses of the outrageous invention that was to come in Super Mario Odyssey. Combining the New Super Luigi U DLC content, plus various extra bells and whistles, this Deluxe Switch port of the Wii U original offers the tantalising chance to replay a top-drawer Mario game on a handheld. Gameplay aside, ageing visuals and the irritation of being kicked back to the world map after every death stand out as things that could have been improved, but this is still a fine 2D Mario game.
The original Super Mario Land was a solid start for the series on Nintendo's Game Boy system, but nothing could prepare gamers for what the developers were able to do with this sequel. They managed to improve every aspect of the game and even made the adventure a much longer and more rewarding experience this time around. The difficulty is perhaps a bit on the easy side, but it's still one of the best Game Boy titles ever released and a testament to just how capable a game system the Game Boy truly was, and still is for that matter. A handheld marvel.