Mario has been in a ton of games, but some stand out above the rest.
In yesterday’s post about ’80s fads I liked, I alluded to my 20-year love affair with Mario. And that son-of-a-bitch has been in a LOT of games. So it took a whole mess of research to narrow it down to just his 11 best games.
For the sake of the list, I’m only including games where he’s the title character (so nothing like Donkey Kong, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out or Smash Bros.)
And off it goes…
1 | Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
I picked this as the best-ever Mario game for one main reason: It completely changed people’s expectations for what an adventure video game could be. The non-linear map that let you take your own path to the finish… the ability to fly… entire themed worlds (including the brilliant and ahead-of-its-time “Big” world where all the enemies were gigantic)… the ability to be a frog or Hammer Brother — this stuff completely changed video games.
I remember the first time that I played the game. I got through World 1 relatively easily and when I beat the boss at the end, I thought to myself, “Did I just beat the game?” And then World 2 showed up… and I realized I was dealing with a video game unlike any one ever before.
2 | Super Mario World (SNES)
I never owned a Super Nintendo. At that point in my life, I went for a Genesis. Which was a controversial call at the time. But I’m going to stick with it.I still found a way to play a lot of Super Mario World at friends’ houses (and later on, on emulators and Game Boy Advance)… and I absolutely love it.
My favorite part of World is the introduction of multiple exits… meaning there were two different definitions of beating the game. You could go straight through, beat Bowser and win… or you could get all 96 exits and make Bowser kinda an afterthought.That easy way/hard way concept has continued through all the Mario adventure games after. And I love it.
3 | Mario Kart 64 (N64)
A lot of people like the original Mario Kart for SNES, but I feel like the Kart games really hit perfection for the Nintendo 64. The tracks were fancier, the handling was sweeter, the action was more intense, the weapons were better, the shortcuts were better… everything just came together to make 16 excellent tracks and the best game in the Mario Kart series.
The game continues to persist in my life — whenever my friend Bruce is in town, we play Mario Kart 64… and gamble $25 a race. We play 16 to 32 races. (And while this seems like a lot of money at stake, we’re so evenly matched that the debt, when it’s all said and done, is rarely over $50).
4 | Super Mario Bros. (NES)
This is the game that singlehandedly ushered in the video game era, so it deserves a lot of praise. Other Mario games were more complicated, deeper and fancier, but this game is a true icon.
I still break it out and play it sometimes. I still get frustrated trying to get past that last Hammer Brother in 8-4. I still remember the patterns you need to run to get through 4-4 and 7-4. I still know how to warp, go to the Minus worlds and get a ton of lives by jumping on a turtle on the stairs. And I’m still entertained by the game, almost a quarter of a century after it came out.
5 | Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
This game was a strange departure from the first Super Mario… it was kind of the Back to the Future Part III of the NES Mario series. But, even with a different kind of game action, the role playing aspect and the unfamiliar enemies, the game was still incredibly entertaining.
I have strong memories of lusting after it as a young kid, getting incredibly frustrated when it was constantly sold out everywhere, then finally getting it when a toy store had one copy stashed in the back… and loving it.
6 | Dr. Mario (NES)
If Tetris didn’t exist, this might be even higher. Because Dr. Mario, while great, isn’t Tetris great. Fortunately, the two-player mode in Dr. Mario is so entertaining… with the ability to dump heartbreaking colored pieces into your opponent’s tank… that it still holds up today. And I mean that literally… I still play Dr. Mario with my friends, making it one of the only old school NES games that gets that distinction. (Ice Hockey, Baseball Stars and Tecmo Bowl are the others.)
7 | Super Mario 64 (N64)
This is one of the most groundbreaking games of all time… taking Mario and turning him loose on a 3-D world changed video games forever. It’s a very entertaining, very long game with great worlds, a great story progression and a lot of challenges… I’m not ranking it as high as some of the other Mario adventures, though, because of three things.
One, the flight control with the red cap is frustratingly erratic. Two, it becomes frustrating to replay the game sometimes because of the 100-coin gathering missions, which are time consuming without being rewarding. And three, at this point, the Nintendo people were still working out the kinks with letting the player control the camera, and the limitations there end up being extremely irritating.
8 | New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
This one slipped under the radar of a lot of people of my generation, but it’s great. It was a brilliant extension of the Mario universe… it took all that people loved about the 2-D, side-scrolling games and added elements (like multiple exits, two ways to win, new powers, wall jumps, ground pounding jumps) from the 3-D games. It also added elements like the mushroom that makes Mario gigantic or the one that makes him tiny that both fit in seamlessly. It took me a long time to beat the game, but that’s only because playing Nintendo DS is my secret shame… I feel I’m too old to play it on airplanes or in other public places, so it happens in my bedroom, with the door closed, late at night. That’s right: Somehow, New Super Mario Bros. is to me what masturbation is to a curious adolescent boy.
9 | Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GC)
The decision to take Mario into other sports worlds turned out fantastically across the board, because the Mario sports games almost always stick to two principles: Shockingly solid and realistic sports action mixed with the fun elements of Mario characters, settings and secrets.None of them does this as well as Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. The golf action is really phenomenal — it’s easy enough that you can be competent the first time you play (unlike, say, a Tiger Woods EA game), but complex enough that, as you get better, you can start incorporating things like spin and striking the ball in different spots.
The courses are complex and fun, with just a few Mario secrets thrown in (like pipes that warp your ball). The challenge of beating different Mario characters to unlock things keeps you hooked on the game indefinitely.So, from where I’m standing, Mario is a better golfer than baseball, basketball or soccer player. (Is he the most successful chubby athlete ever? Quite possibly. No offense, Babe Ruth, Charles Barkley, David Wells, Butterbean or King Kong Bundy.)
10 | Super Mario Sunshine (GC)
The game is fun and I’ve enjoyed playing it, but there are three main reasons why it’s below almost all of the other major Mario titles. One: The water pack thing is far, far too gimmicky. For the only Mario adventure on Gamecube, it’s disappointing that they relied so heavily on a gimmick that deviated so far from the series standards. Two: Collecting all of the blue coins becomes a huge exercise in tedium, especially the second time you play. And three: That’s got to be the lamest title ever.
11 | Mario Teaches Typing (PC)
Because who do you want to get your typing advice from: a multi-sport athlete-slash-dinosaur taming hero like Mario or some random lady named Mavis Beacon?