Infendo’s Top 10 Mario Games

Top 10 Mario games

[In honor of the Super Mario Marathon, we re-publish our Top 10 Mario Games list!]

Now that we’ve had some time to digest his latest adventure, the Infendo offices have been buzzing with debate. It spilled over into last week’s edition of Infendo Radio and has since been the subject of countless e-mails from listeners, readers and tipsters all week long:

Which Mario games stand the test of time? Which are the cream?

We’ve set some parameters for debate, and the qualifying criteria for a “Mario game” were fairly rigid during the development of this list. We avoided including entries from the countless Mario spin-off franchises, such as Mario Kart and Mario Party, with one obvious and deserving exception. We are referring to proper Mario platformers.

After all, this is serious business. Place your bets, friends.

10. Super Mario RPG
mariorpg.jpgMario purists could justifiably scoff at our inclusion of Square’s 1996 SNES masterpiece, Super Mario RPG.

I certainly concede that Super Mario RPG is anything but a proper Mario game. Still, there is something to be said for unabashed merriment, and at its most basic purpose, any serious best-of list should pay reverence to relentless, unfaltering awesomeness.

And incidentally, Super Mario RPG is both relentlessly awesome and bursting with irresistible merriment. The spiritual predecessor of the Paper Mario series, Super Mario RPG successfully marked Mario’s first foray into the world of role-playing games. In addition to pushing the SNES to produce the most beautiful simulated 3D graphics this side of Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario RPG also proved the versatility of the character; whether platforming, kart racing or, as Square proved, teaming up with Bowser for turn-based battles, it seemed there was almost no genre in which Mario couldn’t excel.

9. Super Mario Land 2
marioland2.jpgGiven his absurd ability to drive console sales, Nintendo wanted to release a five-star Mario exclusive alongside the Game Boy in 1989. Enter the original Super Mario Land, which sold more than 18 million copies and stands as the third best-selling Mario game of all time.

And one of the worst. Don’t be fooled by nostalgia; the game is lousy.

Fortunately, Gunpei Yokoi’s Super Mario Land 2 was a monumental improvement over his original, perhaps most obviously in terms of its aesthetic refinement. Mario was plump and jovial, a monochromatic clone of his SNES model, and enemies were large and detailed, rendering the awkward animations and microscopic sprites of the original even less appealing. The sequel also gained enjoyability from the introduction of Wario, far more compelling a villain and more memorable a character than the original’s Tatanga, as time has proven. Super Mario Land 2 was everything a sequel to a sub-par game should be: good enough to render the first forgivable.

8. Super Mario Bros. 2
mario2.jpgThe original Super Mario Bros. had made Nintendo a household name across the globe. Even then, before “sequelitis” came to define the industry, Nintendo was eager to deliver more Mario to the masses.

Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan less than nine months after the original. However, the company feared the sequel was too similar to the original and difficult beyond necessity. Afraid it would harm Mario’s popularity among Western audiences, Nintendo reworked 1987’s Doki Doki Panic into the oddball adventure we’ve come to know as Super Mario Bros. 2.

Given its characters were merely masked with Mario sprites, the vegetable-tossing premise seems obtrusive within the context of the Mario canon. But it introduced several characters that have since become Mario staples, including Shy Guy and the egg-spitting Birdo, while the platform-heavy gameplay had enough in common with the original to make the sequel a convincing, competent Mario title. Ironically, it has since transcended its original form to become one of Mario’s most beloved and inexplicably addictive adventures.

7. New Super Mario Bros.
newmario.jpgThere is no better example of “right place, right time” than 2006’s DS masterpiece, New Super Mario Bros.

Long after Mario’s groundbreaking leap into three dimensions, it had been 15 excruciatingly long years since Nintendo released an original, side-scrolling 2D Mario platformer. As the 13 million who bought the game can attest, it was worth the wait.

The plot is all-too-familiar: Bowser kidnaps the Princess, chase ensues. The moves hadn’t changed, almost becoming second-nature for seasoned players: jump, run, jump, warp, flag pole. Even the faces are the same: Goomba, Koopa Troopa, Blooper, Luigi. But trendy obligatory demands for innovation aside, these familiarities are precisely what make New Super Mario Bros. so damn special. Though a throwback to simpler times, it also happens to be one of the most beautiful and polished DS games ever made. Inspiring to play and impossible to put down, it shines amidst hooker-beatings and sniper-deaths to prove that the best video games are still about fun.

6. Super Mario Sunshine
mariosunshine.jpgI have always worn my adoration for Super Mario Sunshine boldly on my sleeve. My very first article for Infendo, in fact, was a gushing love letter detailing why it is “the greatest Mario game you’ve ever hated.”

Sunshine will always hold a special place in my heart, and to be honest, it has less to do with nostalgia than with how truly spectacular it is.

Controlling Mario through Isle Delfino was a revelation, as Nintendo refined Mario’s controls to perfection in Sunshine. Refinements were also abound in the visual department; from sparkling beaches to grassy mountain villages, playing Sunshine was like watching art in motion, offering one of Mario’s most visually appealing landscapes.

In terms of platforming, few Mario games can rival the ease of control and perplexity of challenge prevalent in Sunshine. The FLUDD waterpack gave Mario more diverse and satisfying moves than ever before; from towering sections of Noki Bay and Bianco Hills to the challenge of the secret stages, each Isle Delfino locale was a joy to explore. Sorry haters; the problem was with you, not Sunshine.

5. Super Mario Bros.
mario1.jpgWhat can be said about a game with a theme song that has done more for gaming than most other games have done in their entirety?

I wouldn’t be writing about video games had I not received Super Mario Bros. for my fourth birthday. I’d also be willing to wager most of us wouldn’t even be playing games if not for Miyamoto’s original masterpiece.

As undemanding as the gameplay may seem, it is deceptively deep and grants players unique possibilities. The 32 levels and eight worlds of Super Mario Bros. also made the game uncharacteristically epic for its time; Mario’s journey through the Mushroom Kingdom spanned daylight and nightfall, grassy flats and subterranean caverns, enemy-filled oceans and mushroom-top heavens.

Super Mario Bros. is timeless. It survives not only because of nostalgia, but because of how immaculately well-designed it is. The level design is still consistently impressive; each flows perfectly into the next. The gameplay is as precise and responsive today as it was 20 years ago. The characters are still charming and lovable, and most impressively, have permeated our culture and given rise to one of its most beloved fictional worlds. After all…you’re here, right?

4. Super Mario 64
mario64.jpgYou know you’re playing something special when the very first scene becomes etched into your memory.

Perhaps even more iconic than the first screen in Super Mario Bros. and the epic camera pan of Kokiri Forest in Ocarina of Time is the opening scene of Super Mario 64, when Mario first appears in stunning 3D. We all remember, and we’ll never forget.

Because in gaming circles, images simply do not come any more memorable. The instantly impressive opening area of Super Mario 64 set the stage for what many gamers maintain is the greatest game of all time. Hell, simply exploring these initial Castle grounds was enough entertainment for some. My sister would climb trees, swim through the moat and launch Mario gleefully through the air for hours, it seemed, without so much as entering the castle.

Had she progressed enough to experience the complexities of masterfully designed levels like Tick Tock Clock, Whomp’s Fortress and Rainbow Ride, her head might’ve exploded.

3. Super Mario World
marioworld.jpgSome minor objections have been raised to my placement of Super Mario World above Super Mario 64. So before praising the SNES classic, brief justification is in order:

Super Mario World has even better level design, even better progression and is even more fun than the Nintendo 64 magnum opus. Don’t blame me; blame Yoshi.

This game has aged remarkably well, a statement which cannot be applied as confidently to Super Mario 64. The innovative level design prevalent throughout the game is as refreshing today as ever; from the simple Donut Plains through the perplexing Forest of Illusion and into Chocolate Island, each cleverly designed world is a treat to play through. Along with multiple objectives within levels, infallible stage design and progression, new power-ups and countless secret areas, Super Mario World gives Mario a cape. That seals the deal, for me.

2. Super Mario Galaxy
mariogalaxy.jpgIt hasn’t been out long, but 15 minutes with Super Mario Galaxy is enough to prove its classic merit.

Upon arriving in the Good Egg Galaxy, I knew I was playing something special. But once I hit the Honeyhive Galaxy, my giddy enthusiasm bubbled over into pure astonishment at first-sight of the Bee Suit. After twenty years of Mario games in which we thought we’d seen it all, Nintendo somehow found a way to surprise us, to reach that inner child who was just as thrilled to first discover the Raccoon Leaf, Feather Cape and Fire Flower all those dusty decades ago.

By the time I reached the final confrontation with Bowser, I had experienced more in a single Mario game than any prior could offer: an incredible musical score, masterful gameplay mechanics, fun level design and more imagination than any game I’d ever played, for starters. Not only is it the most goosebump-inducingly epic Mario game of all time, but Super Mario Galaxy is also the most beautiful Nintendo game ever. They cannot possibly outdo this one, can they?

1. Super Mario Bros. 3
mario3.jpgI’ve been watching the Rocky films epics a lot lately, and I’ve learned something very important.

Sometimes, it just comes down to heart; who has done it the best, and who wants it more? So sure, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago were younger, fresher, lethal and more toned. Big deal. Rocky had freakin’ heart.

This game is kinda like Rocky.

After all, Mario and Rocky are both Italian stallions. And in Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario pulled a Rocky; he just did it right. Prettier, faster and bigger challengers to the throne have come and gone, yet this game stands, battle hardened and proudly showing its scars, as the definitive Mario experience. The premise was familiar; eight worlds, countless levels, run and jump, save the Princess. But never before had it been as fully realized as it had with Super Mario Bros. 3. While other Mario games have edged by it in specific areas, none have been able to match its overall excellence and classic feel. When someone asks what Mario is all about, slap them and hand them a cartridge copy of Super Mario Bros. 3.

Agree? Disagree? Share your own list in the comments.