Super Mario Bros. celebrates its 30th anniversary next week. In three decades, Mario's groundbreaking trip through the Mushroom Kingdom has inspired nearly two dozen spinoffs and sequels. That's a lot of games!
And with that many Mario games around, it inevitably leads to endless debates over which one is best. So, we at USgamer decided to take a democratic approach and put it to a vote. Seven different USgamer contributors have weighed in to decide once and for all which Mario games are best, and which are worst, by putting the entire series to a vote.
And how did we go about making these decisions? We used a weighted voting system, where all 35 games were assigned a score based on each person's ranking. Each game's overall score was then tallied and ranked. As for which games were eligible, we included only Super Mario games and spinoffs — platformers beginning with Super Mario Bros. No sports games, no puzzlers, no RPGs, no racing games... and no pre-Super Mario games, e.g. Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong or Donkey Kong sequels, either (including DK94, Donkey Kong Country, and all those Mini games). And finally, ports and remakes were counted as the original game... so while we didn't include Super Mario Bros. DX on the list, it definitely factored into our opinions about Super Mario Bros. There have been so many Mario games we had to draw the line somewhere or else we'd never be done with this feature.
So how did the games stack up? Some of the results may surprise you! [Update Monday 9/7: Part two, with games 22-11, is up!]
The Bottom Tier
The lowest of the low... just kidding. With just a few exceptions, a poor Mario game is still a pretty great game. These unloved games range from genuinely terrible to genuinely good... and the Game Boy Color Wario Land games almost certainly only showed up in this portion because so few people have played them and couldn't vote on them. Don't worry, though — we'll be bringing back USgamer Club soon with a mandatory Wario Land II & III session in order to right this wrong!
39. Super Mario Bros. Special
[Sharp X1/NEC PC-8801, 1986]
Not to be chauvinistic, but it's probably telling that the lowest-ranking entry on our list is the one Super Mario game never to appear on a Nintendo platform. Hudson adapted Super Mario Bros. (under license!) for Japanese home computers, and the results are... kind of terrible, but in a fascinating way. Between the weird level remixes, the inclusion of enemies from the original Mario Bros., and the awkward flipscreen scrolling, this is one of those games you have to experience to believe it.
38. Yoshi Topsy Turvy
[Game Boy Advance, 2005]
As we'll see in the course of this list, great Yoshi's Island sequels have been few and far between over the years (we hear good things about Woolly World, though!). The worst follow-up by far was this Artoon-developed project that centered entirely around a special accelerometer feature. Points for innovation, but given that WarioWare Twisted! came along at around the same time and showed how truly great accelerometer-based play could be, this ugly, clumsy effort fell far short.
37. Wario: Master of Disguise
[Nintendo DS, 2007]
This absolute abomination of a game lacked refinement and completely failed to take advantage of its costume-centric premise. As a follow-up to the Wario Land games, it completely failed. Frankly, we'd rather watch the Dana Carvey movie "Master of Disguise," and that has a 1% "freshness" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
36. Wario World
The Wario games have always been a little off, but this one is the most bizarre of them all. A 3D platformer/brawler centered around acquiring wealth, Wario World unfortunately was put together by legendary developer Treasure during their awkward transition into 3D game design and as such feels half-baked — incomplete, even. A good idea that needed more time in the proverbial oven.
35. Yoshi Touch 'N Go
[Nintendo DS, 2005]
A charming and fun action game, Yoshi Touch 'N Go's failing comes not from poor design but rather from the fact that it feels more like a minigame concept that Nintendo decided to sell for full price. As a demonstration of the potential of touch screen-based play on the shiny new Nintendo DS, it was pretty cool; as a value proposition in a world where full-sized ports of Super Mario 64 and Ape Escape featured on portable systems, it failed to make a case for itself.
34. Wario Land: Shake It!
Drop-dead gorgeous graphics alone couldn't atone for the fact that this platformer felt completely recycled. It looked stunning, yes, but in action it proved to be a muted, less anarchic take on the superior Wario Land 4.
33. Wario Land
[Virtual Boy, 1995]
This platformer may well have been the single best game ever produced for the Virtual Boy system. But, unfortunately, that means you have to play it on Virtual Boy. Even if you can find a working system, you still have to deal with the literal headaches that come hand-in-hand with Nintendo's most disastrous console ever. If there were any justice in the world, Nintendo would remake this for 3DS and liberate it from the tyranny of an aging, uncomfortable machine.
32. Yoshi's Story
This gentle platformer offers an unique premise; it's hilariously simple and almost completely lacking in challenge, but your real goal is to approach each stage as if it were a puzzle of sorts, finding the optimal route to consume each Yoshi's favorite fruits. It's like a felt-board take on Mighty Bomb Jack, if that makes any sense. Unfortunately, coming directly on the heels of the superlative Yoshi's Island, most fans wanted something more than that.
31. Wario Land 3
[Game Boy Color, 2000]
What's this game doing down here so low in the rankings? Ah, right... no one's played it. Well, that too is a statement on the game itself — but those who have taken the time to explore the third Wario Land have found a sprawling, non-linear adventure that uses Wario's indestructibility to create elaborate puzzles and challenges unlike any other Mario-style game. Well, except the rest of the Wario Land series.
30. Super Mario Run
Super Mario Run marks Mario's first mobile game. There you go, investors. Nintendo finally put Mario on mobile. Are you happy?
Probably not. Super Mario Run failed to get people very excited, primarily because it opts for a "free to download" monetization system in lieu of the free to play system most mobile games use. Nintendo asks for $9.99 after you've tucked away a few levels, and players' answer to that request has been a resounding "Nope."
It's a shame, because Super Mario Run is a well-built mobile game. Its levels are cleverly built and fine-tuned to suit Mario's auto-run. The 3.0 update indicates Nintendo still plans to add content to the game; I suppose there's a chance they'll just overhaul its monetization system, and / or drop the price of entry. People clearly still love Mario. Just not enough to pay $9.99 in a market where "Free" is the norm.
29. Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels (JP)
[Famicom Disk System, 1986]
The original Super Mario Bros. 2 demonstrates the arcade mentality behind the Mario series of the era: Rather than existing as a fresh, new, inventive sequel, this is more of a remix designed for players who mastered the original Super Mario Bros. Forget the gentle learning curve of SMB's World 1-1; this drops you right into the deep end and only gets nastier from there. Unfortunately, it often forsakes Nintendo's own design principles, feeling less like classic Mario at times and more like the kind of troll stages you'll be experiencing in Super Mario Maker.
28. Wario Land II
[Game Boy/Color, 1998]
Like Wario Land III, this game would be a lot further up the list if more people had played it (unlike, say, Yoshi's Story or The Lost Levels, which everyone voted on). This was the game that truly established Wario as a unique character rather than just a chubbier, angrier Mario. By taking away his vulnerability to enemies and penalizing players with weird status effects instead of death, Wario Land II's designers created an entirely new form of platform game design. As its place in the rankings can attest, it's not the most popular of Mario spin-offs, but it might just be the most inventive.
27. Yoshi's Island DS
[Nintendo DS, 2006]
Unlike Yoshi's Story, Yoshi's Island DS took aim at being a true Yoshi sequel, with the same visual style and egg-chucking mechanics as the Super NES classic. But at least Yoshi's Story distinguished itself with entirely new gameplay concepts; Yoshi's Island DS just feels like a retread. The addition of different babies to tote around besides Mario bogged down the action with needless complexity, and the weird gap between the two DS screens could hide hazards at crucial moments. So it was basically the Super NES game, but less good.
26. Super Princess Peach
[Nintendo DS, 2006]
Almost a mighty blow for girl power... if not for the fact that it was built around the worst sexist stereotypes about women. Peach has got it! If by "it" you mean wild emotional swings. Still, despite its decidedly un-progressive nature, Super Princess Peach deserves credit for finally letting the damsel in distress take the leading role, and for featuring a wide array of imaginative puzzles in the Wario Land vein around the heroine's emotional distress.
Next page: The middle tier