The Middle Tier
These are all great games. You can play any one of them and have loads of fun. They didn't make the top ranks simply because as good as they are, Nintendo's best Mario games are even better.
25. Wario Land 4
[Game Boy Advance, 2001]
Although Wario Land 4 dialed back the most unique mechanics of Wario Land II and III by making its antihero vulnerable to enemies again, it made up for the change with an unusual level structure that saw Wario venturing into each stage to activate a bomb, then escaping as quickly as possible before it detonated — sometimes by finding a totally separate path than he had taken on the way in. With its trippy visuals and audio, Wario Land 4 was a real showcase for the capabilities of the GBA... and proof positive that the Wario series could be super strange no matter what mechanics it adopted.
24. Yoshi's Woolly World (+ Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World)
[2015, Wii U / Nintendo 3DS]
Yoshi's Woolly World doesn't touch the excellence of the original Yoshi's Island, but it comes much closer than every other Yoshi-centric platformer from Nintendo. The game doesn't just ride on its sweater-soft graphics, either (though Woolly World is certainly one of the most visually-charming games Nintendo's ever made); I had a genuinely good time going through each level, uncovering secrets, and observing each clever visual gag.
Poochy & Yoshi's Woolly World takes Yoshi's yarny adventure to the 3DS (with a few extras), and it's a very decent transition. Unsurprisingly, the game's unique, vivid graphics are best experienced on a New Nintendo 2DS or 3DS.
23. New Super Mario Bros.
[Nintendo DS, 2006]
A return to the series' roots, New Super Mario Bros. saw Nintendo creating a brand new 2D adventure for Mario for the first time in 15 years... and you could tell they were a bit rusty. New Super Mario Bros. played it safe, with fairly straightforward levels and fewer power-ups than any game since Super Mario Bros. 2. Yet while it may have seemed rote for hardcore Mario devotees, but for the rest of the world it was either a reminder to how great the old ideas could be, or an introduction to a classic genre. It certainly paved the way for bigger and better sequels along with the revival of old-school 2D games as a mainstream concept, and that makes it pretty OK in our book.
[Wii U, 2013]
The idea of Luigi as something more than just a palette swap of Mario goes all the way back to 1986's Super Mario Bros. 2, where he acquired a wobbly high-jump that opened some new play paths while creating entirely new challenges. That spirit definitely informed New Super Luigi Bros. U, which saw the green dude revisiting Mario's debut Wii U title via remixed levels, altered physics, and a strict 100-second time limit for every stage. Though barely qualified to be its own game, New Super Luigi Bros. U offered a fresh and exciting take on the previous year's hit.
New Yoshi's Island took quite a drubbing in the press for being a warmed-over take on the Super NES classic, but that was kind of the point: As a portable game with a simple visual style, it was meant less as a sequel than as a introduction to the Yoshi's Island concept for kids who hadn't even been born when the original debuted. Taken in that light, it's a smartly designed game full of thoughtful secrets and a pleasant difficulty level.
20. Super Mario Land
[Game Boy, 1989]
Mario's first-ever outing on a portable console looks pretty primitive now, it's true, but at the time this was state of the art. There had never been a true Super Mario-calibre portable action game back in 1989, yet here was an attempt to create precisely that. And Super Mario Land's creators weren't content to simply recycle concepts from the NES; they took the hero to an all-new kingdom filled with never-before-seen enemies. There were even a few shoot-em-up stages just to mix things up. A real landmark for portable gaming.
19. Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3
[Game Boy, 1994]
It says "Mario" on the box, but it's all a lie! This game stars the villain of Super Mario Land 2 in his own standalone adventure. This is by far the most traditional of Wario's games, carrying over the hat-based power-up system of the previous game, but the new anti-hero's brute force approach and ability to lift and toss stunned enemies (similar to America's Super Mario Bros. 2!) still made for a decidedly different experience than the earlier Mario Land games — the inflection point from which Wario's weird star vehicles emerged.
While somewhat underwhelming compared to its console-based counterparts, the second numbered New Super Mario Bros. game added an interesting meta-game over top of its classic portable action. Now the goal wasn't simply to beat the game, but to make Mario extraordinarily rich. While that may seem more a Wario-centric play concept, it also encouraged players to approach the game differently, taking more risks for coins and exploring all the challenge stages that most people would probably ignore.
[Wii U, 2014]
Sure, it's only barely a platformer, but Treasure Tracker emerged from the bonus stages in Super Mario 3D World — and while Captain Toad jumps like white men (i.e., he can't), he still has to contend with differences in height. The result is an absolutely charming little game filled with clever puzzles and surprises galore — a Mario odyssey for all ages and interests.
16. Super Mario Sunshine
Mario's most benighted 3D adventure had its share of problems, sure; the action revolved a little too heavily around a decidedly un-Mario-like water-blasting backpack, and the coin-gathering missions took all the wrong lessons from N64-era collectahons. Nevertheless! Super Mario Sunshine was the last "sandbox" 3D entry in the series, an open, leisurely journey along sun-soaked beaches, and it remains perhaps Mario's most unconventional outing.
15. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
[Game Boy, 1992]
After the tiny, conservative Super Mario Land, Nintendo R&D1 decided to take a more dramatic approach with the sequel. They scaled up the size of Mario and his foes, introduced a new power-up system, and created a new foil (Wario) to justify a wild journey through the weirdest set of stage themes ever to grace a Mario platformer.
This game's title led many to assume it was just a port of New Super Mario Bros. for DS, but nothing could be further from the truth. (Sadly, Nintendo didn't learn their lesson when it came time to name the 3DS and Wii U.) An entirely new set of challenges, this Wii platformer benefitted both from the larger canvas afforded by a proper console and from the inclusion of chaotic four-person multiplayer.
[Wii U, 2012]
Similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, many people took the title of this game as a sign that Nintendo had simply converting an existing game to a different console. Nothing could be further from the truth. Featuring the best visuals and most creative designs and challenges of the New Super Mario line, Mario's HD debut stands as the high point of his modern 2D adventures — less ambitious than the Galaxy games and less groundbreaking than his 8- and 16-bit adventures, perhaps, but a top-tier platformer by any definition of the word.
Next page: The greatest Mario games of all time. Of all time!