For a blog that’s entirely about Nintendo, I’ve written shockingly few things about Mario.
I’ve written posts exclusively on Metroid, Splatoon, Smash Bros., about a million about The Legend of Zelda… but I’ve not yet written a post that’s exclusively about Nintendo’s flagship franchise, or its universe of characters and spin-offs, and I’m not entirely sure why.
I like Mario games fine, and the original Super Mario Bros. was the siren song that taunted me from afar before I could finally call the NES my own. I’ve written in this space more than once about how Super Mario Bros. 2 (U.S.) is probably my favorite game in the franchise, not to mention one of my favorite NES games of all-time. Things get a little bit cloudier after that. Super Mario Bros. 3 is an all-time great game, but I don’t have the same fond memories of it that I have of SMB 2… and honestly, I think SMB 2 might be a better-looking game; it certainly has a more consistent color palette. Same with Super Mario World and Mario 64: great games, but they both take a backseat in my memory to contemporaries of their respective eras. A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Super Mario Kart, and Final Fantasy 3 (yes, I’m using the SNES numbering) were my most-beloved games of the Super Nintendo era, and Ocarina of Time was my one true love on the Nintendo 64. Sure, I GOT all of the stars in Mario 64, but it felt more like a grind and less like an adventure.
It’s hard to keep up with all of Mario’s adventures. I’ve never even played Super Mario Sunshine, I didn’t touch New Super Mario Bros. until I got a 3DS (for A Link Between Worlds, of course), and the series’ Super Mario Land installments on the Game Boy are forgettable (and eventually started starring Wario, Mario Land 2‘s antagonist). There’s Mario Party, Mario and Luigi, Paper Mario, Mario Galaxy, Mario 3D… and coming soon, Super Mario Odyssey, a spiritual successor to Super Mario 64 as much as it seems to be anything else.
In the interest of giving Nintendo’s mascot some face time, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite games starring the mustachioed plumber. Be mindful: this is by no means a comprehensive list. I’ve played the snot out of the Legend of Zelda and Metroid series, but my history with Mario is a little more hit-and-miss. Here’s some of the hits, in absolutely no particular order:
- Super Mario Bros. 2 (U.S.) – Doki Doki Panic. That’s the name SMB2 had in Japan. It was a licensed game based on a game show or cartoon or something. I don’t know; I don’t feel like looking it up right now. I also preferred playing as Luigi over Mario. This might have been a bad place to start this list. I really liked throwing vegetables into the giant dream-frog’s mouth.
- Super Mario Bros. – It was unlike anything I’d ever seen on a home video game console, and it was an absolute industry changer. This is the last time the Mario game on any Nintendo console would be a better game than the Zelda game on the same console; that’s right, I’m going to call Super Mario Bros. a better game than either Zelda 1 or Zelda 2. Ditto in regards to the previous entry.
- Donkey Kong. Jr. – I know Mario was the bad guy. But there was something addictive about scurrying up and down vines to rescue the big ape from the evil Jumpman’s clutches. He might have graduated to the Mario moniker by then…
- Donkey Kong ’94 – The Game Boy sequel to Donkey Kong is easily one of the top 2 or 3 games on that system. This is where Mario first learned techniques that would carry him through the later years of his mainline franchise games: head stands, back flips, triple jumps, etc.
- New Super Mario Bros. 2 – The New Super Mario series gets a bad rap for being generic, but I really dig it. It polished up and standardized traditional Super Mario gameplay, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. NSMB2 is one of the ones that’s really frowned upon, but the return of the raccoon leaf and the emphasis on coin rushing won me over. Also: that golden fire flower is the best power-up in any Mario game ever. Full stop.
- Super Mario Kart – The first wasn’t the best, but it was my favorite. Mario Kart 8 is clearly the best. Still: look at that Mode 7!
- Super Mario 3D World – Bright, colorful, inventive, and featuring the playable cast of Super Mario Bros. 2 in a 2.5D game world based on traditional Super Mario mechanics. For awhile there I professed that this was the BEST of the 3D Mario games, but it isn’t. That honor goes to…
- Super Mario Galaxy – Yeah, this game is mind-bendingly fantastic. Three-hundred and sixty degree platforming through space that, somehow, isn’t hard to control. Proof that the Wii wasn’t ENTIRELY a repository of mini-games and shovelware. (See also: Mario Galaxy 2, Skyward Sword, Xenoblade Chronicles.)
- Paper Mario – I dismissed this franchise until weeks before I got rid of my Wii U. I didn’t get to finish this N64 titles before trading Wii U away for Switch, but now I’ve got my fingers crossed for an HD re-release of The Thousand Year Door.
- Super Mario Run – Legit might be my favorite 2D Mario game. Parkour Mario FTW!
- Luigi’s Mansion 2: Dark Moon – Well, Mario’s in the END of the game.
Now here’s a few Super Mario games I DON’T really care for!
- Super Mario ’64 – Revolutionary. Overrated. Almost unplayable in 2017.
- Super Mario Land 2 – Slow and boring. No feather in Mario’s cap. (That’s a pun because Mario wears a feather in his cap when he gets a fire flower because you couldn’t see him change colors on the Game Boy screen. Also: rabbit ears.)
- Super Mario Land – Well, it gets points for weirdness. In the Mario franchise, that’s saying something.
- Super Mario 3D Land – Its level design almost requires you to turn up the 3D slider on the 3DS, a feature that Nintendo started running away from a year after the 3DS first launched.
- Super Mario Sunshine – I’ve never actually played this for more than 10 minutes, so I really should have left it off this list.
- Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – That crying… it still wakes me up at night sometimes, drenched in a cold sweat.
- Mario Kart: Super Circuit – The one major misfire in the stellar Mario Kart brand.
- Super Mario Maker – It’s great. It really is. It’s easily the best game creation suite ever released for any platform. But it needs a better sharing system, a better method through which to find levels others have uploaded, and creators need to be given the ability to make their own full worlds. For me, playing individual levels got old, fast.
E3 2017 is just days away, and the one thing we know for sure is that Mario’s going to be front and center. This year is the coming-out party for his big holiday release, Super Mario Odyssey, just as last year’s E3 was all about Link, Zelda, and Breath of the Wild. SMO might not be the same seismic revolution Breath of the Wild was (it would be almost impossible) but here’s hoping it’s a hit, and not a miss.
I’m pretty confident… but then again, I was once pretty confident that I really liked Super Mario Land 2, and I ended up being pretty wrong about that.