There may be no way to write a list like this without contention because we are all creatures built from experiences; we are all of different ages and backgrounds, and we like things for different reasons. Therefore, it goes without saying that this is one gamer/writer’s list of preferences, but it is built out of love and adoration for a character that has done more to impact the gaming industry than arguably any other.
To qualify for this list, the game has to have Mario in its title. That’s all. Therefore, Mario Kart games are accepted, as are Mario Party games (though you won’t actually find them here because I’ve never played them – what are friends, anyway?). This list toes the line between variety and innovation and beloved classics/staples of the series. Enjoy!
10 Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
The most bizarre crossover game in recent years, especially for Nintendo’s standards, also proved to be a delightfully clever and surprisingly deep, well-polished, fun, and engaging video game. While the Rabbids themselves may be one of the less kind things to come out of the Rayman universe, they, in turn, created Rabbid Peach, who may or may not be a key factor in determining a place on this list. More than that, we have an RTS game with real feel, excellent animation, some great comedic moments, and really clever, engaging gameplay. The game’s biggest downside is its awful difficult curve, which is not a curve at all and makes for some frustrating moments.
9 Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
The first real shift in aesthetics and tone for the Mario series saw a pastel-colored hand-drawn world full of real charm and character. Yoshi’s Island was the first Nintendo game to show the world that the developers were capable of fantastic innovations when it comes to the integration of world design and mechanics.
Many subsequent Yoshi and Donkey Kong games followed suit, creating a flush, seamless gameplay experience where the world and the character’s role in it feel like a single experience, rather than that world behaving as a backdrop. This was also the first game to feature Mario as something other than the titular protagonist.
8 Super Mario Maker
While the Wii U might have been a commercial catastrophe, it did have a handful of excellent games in its roster. The peak of which were non-first party action game Bayonetta 2, and first party original Super Mario Maker, the game that put players in the shoes of not Mario himself, but his creators.
At last, budding game developers and long-time 2D Mario fanatics alike could while away hours upon hours building and crafting their own stages for the mustachioed plumber to run and jump his way across. The game’s interface and the tools it provided the player were astonishing and led to a real community of invested and innovative creators building something very special.
7 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
The most recent entry in the Mario Kart franchise is also arguably also the best. With Mario Kart 8, Nintendo took each little detail that made previous Mario Kart games unique and added them to this game. They didn’t do this in a slap-dash manner, either, but rather built from the ground up a dynamic, balanced, varied, and exciting racing experience. Every track is someone’s favorite, as is every racer. The game has a ludicrous amount of replayability and endless multiplayer fun. It is undoubtedly more of the same winning Mario Kart formula, but it’s also the best the series has ever been.
6 Super Mario RPG
The first Mario-centric Nintendo RPG is still one of its best, despite being over twenty years old. While the Mario & Luigi games are beautiful, well-told, creative games, Super Mario RPG is where it all started, and is a game that floored fans upon release, and continues to stand the test of time to this day. While its isometric camera and slightly unnerving character design might seem dated, it’s a testament to the game’s mechanics, plotting, setting, and story that it holds up despite these shortcomings, which have only come around as a result of aging. The combat in this game is fantastic, balanced, accessible, and so damn engaging, guaranteeing consistent fun from beginning to end.
5 Super Mario 64
The first 3D Mario game was also one of the first 3D platformers, period. What could have been a colossal misstep for the famously 2D plumber ended up being one of, if not the most beloved games in the series.
The move from side-scrolling progression to open-level collect-a-thon gameplay was nothing less than revolutionary, and the entire game still holds up today. Seriously, go back and play this game; the level design, tight controls, style, music, and aesthetic are as beautiful and engaging as they ever were. This game stands the test of time and paved the way for all future Super Mario games.
4 Super Mario Bros 3
The game that is to 2D what Mario 64 is to 3D, Super Mario Bros 3 is the pinnacle of 2D Mario platforming to this day. With the introduction of the Tanuki suit and its glide ability, as well as the finest level design ever seen in a 2D platformer, this game is unparalleled 2D Mario goodness. Beloved by gamers of the '80s to this day (film critic MovieBob even wrote an entire book explaining why this is the best video game of all time), the impact that this game had cannot be overstated. Proof that Mario could keep upping the ante and blowing gamers away over and over again, building on a formula that started with Donkey Kong, was evolved by Super Mario Bros and was here in this game perfected.
3 Paper Mario 2: The Thousand-Year Door
The GameCube was a cult classic kind of console, with a stellar games library that is still talked about to this day (especially Resi 4 and SSB: Melee) and while Super Mario Sunshine may not measure up to its predecessor or its successors, the Mario game that really defined the GameCube generation was a delightful 2D RPG filled with origami jokes.
Paper Mario 2 is, to this day, the finest first-party RPG that Nintendo has put out, with a motley cast of characters, more personality, and attention given to its villains than any Mario game before. It's an epic quest with real substance that remains one of the finest games to feature Mario in its title.
2 Super Mario Galaxy
As the hype train for Super Mario Odyssey built up speed, fans were reminded of the disappointment that was Super Mario 3D World, and as a result, couldn’t wait to get their hands on the upcoming Odyssey. It seemed like Galaxy had been all but forgotten, and that was sad to see. Super Mario Galaxy, at least until 2017, and in this writer’s humble opinion, stood as the greatest achievement in the entire Super Mario franchise; a culmination of everything that had been building for decades.
The game innovated with its clever gravity-based gameplay, had a phenomenal art style that mixed the bleakness of space with the vibrant color of its individual worlds, and gave us a genuinely heartwarming sub-story to piece together as we moved forward. A release of this perfect game on Switch cannot come soon enough. I, for one, will love this game until my dying breath.
1 Super Mario Odyssey
All kings must eventually be dethroned, however, and Galaxy’s crown was knocked clean off by Super Mario Odyssey, the latest and greatest game in the whole Super Mario franchise.
Taking the collect-a-thon gameplay style, which began with 64, and innovating it just enough to push it in a whole new direction. Reducing the number of levels and increasing their size, blurring the lines between level-based and open-world gameplay—solidified by the fact that reaching the ‘end’ of a level does not signify the ‘end’ of the level—created an entirely new feel and style for Mario players to enjoy.
And, honestly, with the care and love that was put into New Donk City, its events, and its exploration potential, most fans would probably have been happy enough if that level had been the entire game. That’s how good Super Mario Odyssey is.