The best Mario games ever

Enlarge / Mario loves us. We love Mario.

BEHROUZ MEHRI / Getty Images

Ars Technica Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher has one rule: if you have a silly, funny conversation on Ars Slack that lasts longer than 10 minutes, it’s probably worth turning that conversation into some kind of article. And so a weekday water cooler style discussion of Platonic idealism and Mario became what you’re reading now!

To people of a certain age – which, dear readers, most of us are – “video games” and “Nintendo” mean practically the same thing. (There are even some of us older than a certain age, from the Great, Long, Long Period when “video games” meant “Atari,” and even those few recognize Nintendo’s culture-changing mid-to-late dominance 1980s.) So we’ve all played at least a few different games with the world’s most famous plumber, Mario Mario. (Yes, his last name is also Mario. Which means that his brother’s name is Luigi Mario. Which means that it is correct to call Luigi “Green Mario”! Justification!)

A couple of Ars staff volunteered to defy the inevitable snares and arrows of the comment section to jot down their thoughts on one simple question: Of every video game Mario has appeared in, which one is your all-time top shelf favorite and why ? ?

Ars Technica may receive compensation for sales from links in this post through affiliate programs.

Nate Anderson: Super Mario Bros.

Only one Mario game has jumped on the flagpole of my heart or over and over again. This game is of course Super Mario Bros. for NES. Minus worlds, water worlds, warp zones, magic mushrooms, balls with eyes, bonus rooms, the hidden 1-UP in world 1-1, wonderful 8-bit music, the egg-throwing sky turtle (!) Lakitu, mysterious green pipes – SMB has it all.

It is an I!  80s Mario!Enlarge / It is an I! 80s Mario!


Yes it helped that this was the first great game of my NES-era childhood and that I had to persuade my parents to rent the tape at the local video store for the weekend to get it. But SMB is not just a nostalgic game. Unlike many games of its time, it’s still great fun today, and its iconic levels should definitely be part of today’s Common Core school standards. —Nate Anderson, associate editor

Play it on: Switch Online (NES) | Virtual Wii U console | 3DS Virtual Console | Play & Watch

Eric Bangeman: Super Mario Odyssey

When Nintendo puts Mario in a sandbox, the results can be … uneven. Super Mario 64, for example, is pure genius, while Super Mario Sunshine lacks polish and revolves around irritating game mechanics.

Fortunately, Super Mario Odyssey, the flagship title for the Nintendo Switch, falls into the genius category.

Odyssey can be anything you want. If you want to collect just enough Power Moons to beat the game, do this. I’m not a Completor, but I loved roaming Odyssey, collecting as many Power Moons as I could find, and discovering the strange portals between the worlds.

Don't worry Mario, you'll get the hang of it.Enlarge / Don’t worry Mario, you’ll get the hang of it.


Odyssey is also good for the eyes. The Switch may lack the processing power of the consoles from Sony and Microsoft, but Nintendo developers are able to maximize what they have to work with. I love the lavishly detailed worlds in Odyssey, each of which has its own gameplay quirks.

If I had to reduce Odyssey to a single adjective, it would be “clever”. In the hands of a smaller development studio, Mario’s sentient hat partner Cappy could have been a cheap gimmick. Instead, it’s an integral (and fun) part of gameplay. I was able to get through the game without mastering the skill of throwing capy and then using the bonneter in the air to cross chasms, but I enjoyed seeing my teen take advantage of those mechanics. Young brains, young reflexes. Sigh.

Perhaps the best thing about Super Mario Odyssey is beating it – the first time. After an adrenaline-charged run through the magma chambers beneath the surface of the moon, I defeated Bowser, rescued Peach and found out that a multitude of new power moons were scattered on every planet of the Odyssey cosmos. After many more hours chasing them, I took one stab – lots of stitches, actually – on the darker side of the moon, but could never defeat the fourth Broodal. Trying to run this gauntlet was out of the question.

Even though I stopped playing before I did All the Things, I was happy. Nintendo knows what its fans want, and Odyssey delivers on every level.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to make sure my Switch is fully charged … —Eric Bangeman, Managing Editor

Play it on: Switches (Physical | Digital)

Andrew Cunningham: Super Mario Galaxy 2

Nintendo’s 2D classics are simple to play in the sense that they are easy to find and acquire. NES and SNES games are always the first to be repackaged and redistributed on new Nintendo consoles, and emulating these systems requires so little processing power that you can launch Super Mario Bros. 3 on almost any device that supports a Screen is connected.

The preservation of Nintendo’s later 3D classics was more punctual, partly because they need more powerful hardware to run well and because things like the motion controls on the Wii, the tablet on the Wii U, or the touchscreen on the DS can be difficult and 3DS or stereoscopic 3D really replicate effects. These games are sometimes repackaged and re-released for newer consoles, but they come with corresponding price tags for new games.



All of this means there is definitely an element of “absence makes the heart beat” to my insistence that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is my favorite Mario game because I haven’t played it in nearly a decade. But obviously someone has to stand up for it – his absence from Super Mario 3D All-Stars was a travesty that almost matched the presence of Super Mario Sunshine. (That’s a joke.)

Galaxy 2 started out as a bunch of ideas that didn’t make it into the original game, and the result is a brilliant collection of rapid-fire challenges that take up the mechanics of the original Galaxy in a more varied and adventurous way. (It’s a clear precursor to the Power-Moon-filled Super Mario Odyssey, favored by Eric above.) And once the 120 stars are collected from Galaxy 2, the game will beat you with another 120 stars challenging every player’s precision platform skills .

While games like the New Super Mario Bros. franchise or Super Mario 3D World have more sophisticated multiplayer modes, Galaxy 2 also deserves credit for its excellent two-player co-op mode, in which someone else uses their Wii Remote Can set up screen to stun enemies and collect items. Nintendo also toyed with this idea in the original Galaxy and Odyssey, but the iteration in Galaxy 2 is great for younger gamers or non-gamers who want to get in on the fun. The Wii Remote is intuitive and there are a number of really useful things the second player can do that the first player can’t do.

Mario Galaxy 2 is a high watermark between the tech advancements of Mario 64 and the unadulterated delight of Mario Odyssey, and I would (and, sigh, probably) pay good money to play a 1080p version on a modern console. —Andrew Cunningham, Senior Technology Reporter

Play it on: Wii U Virtual Console

Comments are closed.