Featuring on over dozen systems, Mario is the undeniable king of Nintendo mascots – an embodiment of joy and the Japanese giant’s ever-inventive approach to game design. Mario is an icon, with his titles being the gold standard in platforming since 1985. Always looking to reinvent itself, the Super Mario IP is one of gaming’s most lucrative, grossing an estimated $30.25 billion, second only to Pokémon.
With the recent launch of Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury exclusively on Nintendo Switch, we’re celebrating with in-depth look back at this essential gaming series.
So, strap in as we rank every generation of mainline Mario games, based on quality, content, and their overall impact, highlighting some of our favourites. Let’s-ago!
10: Mario on Nintendo DS
Although Nintendo launched the original DS with an enhanced version of ‘Super Mario 64’, Nintendo didn’t release an original Mario title on the hardware until 2006 – in conclusion, this era was seen as a missed opportunity by many fans as much more could have been done with the series on this power-selling handheld.
New Super Mario Bros. (2006)
Featuring 3D models against 2D backgrounds, New Super Mario Bros. consequently served as a reboot for the original Super Mario Bros games.
9: Mario on Nintendo 3DS
The DS successor had a terrible launch, forcing Nintendo to slash the price just to get it off the ground, yet it’s home to some great games. However, it only had two mainline Mario game releases, an odd move considering the handheld’s lifespan and enduring popularity.
A solid platformer that was also used to show off the Stereoscopic 3D of the Nintendo 3DS.
Tasked with collection one million coins, this sequel introduced fun new power-ups to help reach this lofty goal
8: Mario on Nintendo Wii U
It’s no secret that the Wii U is Nintendo’s biggest console failure, selling 13.56 million in its five-year lifespan. That said, it was still home to some truly great Mario games, some of which have thankfully been ported to the Nintendo Switch. On Wii U, the plumber had three mainline entries under his cap.
Bar adding a Luigi expansion; this was very much the same game in terms of presentation and gameplay as previous titles.
Building on the solid gameplay of 3D land, 3D world adds more playable characters and power-ups. Has now been re-released on Nintendo Switch with fresh content via the Bowser’s Fury expansion.
A dream come true for Mario fans, Mario Maker allowed players to build their very own courses based on Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. U.
7: Mario on Nintendo GameCube
Home to The Wind Waker, Super Smash Bros. Melee and more, the Nintendo GameCube is still a fan favourite today. With only one Mario platformer, it was a pretty dry era for the Nintendo icon though gave us one of the most inventive entries in the franchise.
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)
Sunshine had players washing paint away as a battle mechanic while adopting a more open approach to level design much like its Nintendo 64 predecessor. Camera issues aside, it was a brilliantly inventive 3D platformer, depending on who you ask. Super Mario Sunshine is undoubtedly one of the most divisive games to feature the Italian plumber.
6: Mario on Nintendo GameBoy
Every kid in the early 90s had a GameBoy. Owning one was a right of passage as a child, and rightly so with its a defining catalogue of handheld classics. Of course, Mario had a couple of games on the original system, which pushed boundaries and what Nintendo thought was possible on what can now be looked at as a primitive portable device.
Super Mario Land (1989)
Introducing Princess Daisy, Mario Land spiced up the original formula. Power-ups changed to hearts and Mario fired power balls instead of fireballs.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992)
Serving as an introduction for series villain Wario, in this entry players could both left and right across the screen instead of being constantly pushed forward. This instalment had more in common with console Mario games.
5: Mario on Nintendo 64
GoldenEye, Pokémon Stadium, Ocarina of Time and countless other quality titles made their debut on the Nintendo 64. It’s launch window however came up short for titles. There was one title however that sold the system on its own. At the time, it was a no brainer.
Super Mario 64 (1996)
The first true 3D Mario game. A stone cold classic and one that set the benchmark for the 3D platforming genre for many years. Super Mario 64 would spawn a legion of imitators though only a few would slip from under its vast shadow.
4: Mario on Nintendo Wii
Nintendo’s accessible console bridged age gaps and provided some great family fun. It was also home to all kinds of shovelware for that very same reason with everyone looking to cash in on its colossal install base. The Wii is also where we saw 3D Mario games evolve, games from this era still heralded more than a decade later.
Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
Using a new game engine based on gravity and physics, Galaxy bends player’s expectations of 3D platformers as Mario explore dozens of carefully crafted micro planets.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)
Featuring up to four-player co-op and new power-ups, this tight modernisation quickly became a multiplayer hit for Wii owners.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
Initially an expansion to the original, Galaxy 2 turned into a stand-alone title with sidekick Yoshi coming along for the ride.
3: Mario on SNES
Going against Sega MegaDrive’s aggressive marketing, SNES still won the early 90s console wars. There are a few notable games, but two Mario mainline games and one remastered collection in Super Mario All-Stars turned it into a fantastic system for its time.
Super Mario World (1990)
Known as Super Mario Bros. 4 in Japan, it featured individual world maps, a spin jump, and also saw the introduction of Yoshi. The green dinosaur had been planned for Mario since the original Super Mario Bros. by Miyamoto so was admittedly late to the party here.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (1993)
As part of the Super Mario All-Stars collection, The Lost Levels was a port of the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)
Yoshi’s Island featured baby Mario, Yoshi, puzzle elements and hand drawn visuals. The craft aesthetic would carry into future Yoshi games as standard, even today on Nintendo Switch.
2: Mario on NES
The system that started it all, NES was Nintendo’s gateway into pop culture in the mid-80s. Initially, a risky product sold with a robot toy to get onto store shelves, Nintendo ended up laughing all the way to the bank. It’s also where Mario transitioned from arcade cabinets to sitting rooms, becoming a household name overnight.
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Mario’s platforming debut that established the core pillars of the genre that still stand today.
Super Mario Bros 2 (Japan) (1986)
Viewed as an expansion for the original, Super Mario Bros. 2 features more challenging levels. It would later be released as ‘Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels outside of Japan.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (Super Mario USA in Japan) (1988)
The western Super Mario Bros. 2 was a conversion of ‘Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic’. Nintendo simply inserted the Mario cast, introducing multiple playable characters simultaneously.
Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)
The first overworld map in a Mario game where players could skip levels, or play out of order. Super Mario Bros. 3 touted new power-ups (including the fan favourite Tanooki Suit) that allowed flight and a return to a classic Mario aesthetic.
1: Mario on Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch finally blurred the line between handheld and console play. Learning from its past mistakes, Nintendo has had a solid line-up for the console year on year. Not only did a new 3D Mario title release on the system, but nearly every Mario title from NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii and Wii U now live on one console. While the NES and SNES eras trump the Switch era in terms of impact, it still deserves the top spot, giving players unprecedented access to the Super Mario library.
Similar to Mario 64 and Sunshine, Odyssey is a 3D open-world game. One hub world serves as a group of levels riddled with power moons. Mario uses his companion Cappy to take over various monsters and characters, adopting their physique and abilities to overcome various obstacles.
Mario Maker 2 delivered improved functionality and downloadable content drops for new items, themes, and enemies. With a more robust set of creation tools, you can scour the web for some truly brilliant (and often cruel) player-generated world and stages.
The future of the Super Mario series looks bright. Not only is Super Mario 3D World + Bowsers Fury is already a smash hit, there’s a theme park and an upcoming movie from Illumination Entertainment to look forward to. There has never been a better time to be a Super Mario fan.