When Nintendo first introduced Mario in 1981's Donkey Kong, they didn’t just create what would eventually become the company mascot—they created a mascot for the entire gaming industry.
The soft-spoken Italian plumber is one of the most immediately recognizable characters on the planet and has been a mainstay of gaming culture for more than 40 years.
When it comes to the official Super Mario franchise games, Nintendo has done a bang-up job in making sure that every single title starring Mario is a unique, polished, and fun experience. But even so, mistakes can be made. Not every game is perfect, and some are downright better.
Here are our picks for the absolute best games in the Super Mario franchise! We'll only be focusing on the entries in the main series, not spin-offs or crossovers. (Sorry, Smash Bros and Mario Kart fans!)
6. Super Mario 64 (N64)
Super Mario 64 doesn't actually hold up that well if you go back and compare it to modern titles in the franchise. However, it was Mario's first foray into 3D environments—and the impact is still felt today.
This was the game that blew people's minds when it was first released. On the world's first true 64-bit gaming system, Super Mario 64 gave players the opportunity to wander Peach's Castle (which served as the game's overworld) and explore a world unlike any before it.
By jumping into paintings and falling through portals, Mario could go just about anywhere and discover anything. Its camera controls and 3D player navigation were revolutionary for the time and influenced how all future third-person 3D games were designed and presented.
For its legacy alone, Super Mario 64 will always deserve a spot amongst the best games in the franchise. Gaming wouldn't be the same without it.
5. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
Two of the biggest names in gaming joined forces in 1996 to release a new kind of Mario game with JRPG mechanics. Developed by Square and published by Nintendo, Super Mario RPG took us in a whole new direction.
While the graphics have aged terribly, the gameplay mechanics and the expansive story of Super Mario RPG remain solid even after all this time. It combined an isometric 2.5D world with turn-based RPG combat, complete with levels, abilities, items, equipment, and more.
Narratively, it was the first game to bring Mario, Peach, and Bowser together in an effort to fight off a common enemy: an extra-dimensional warlord named Smithy. The experience was mind-blowing.
It's an absolute shame that Nintendo hasn't produced more Mario-themed JRPGs. The mildly successful Paper Mario series had potential but has since moved away from RPG elements, leaving a void that can still be filled.
4. Super Mario Bros 3 (NES)
Super Mario Bros 3 may not have introduced the concept of an overworld to gaming, but it refined it to such a tight degree and gave us an overworld design that we hadn't seen before.
Players could choose from many paths in their mission to rescue Princess Peach, including the shortcuts offered by the Warp Whistle, which opened up several creative speedrun strategies.
In Super Mario Bros 3, Mario could fly through the sky, slide down slopes, and put on a frog suit for the first time, all to the tune of some of the most iconic music in gaming history.
Many fans believe that 2D platformers peaked with Super Mario Bros 3, and it's tough to find fault in their position. Every element of this game holds up to this day, evidenced by how many still play it.
3. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
While not every game developer made good use of the Nintendo Wii's motion controls, Super Mario Galaxy acted as a showcase for all the different ways one could exploit the console's gimmick.
As the name entailed, Super Mario Galaxy sent Mario off into the stars and gave him more freedom to explore than ever before. It was a big, open universe—literally—with stunning appeal.
But the aspect that set it apart from other games of its era was how creative it got with its level design, particularly with Mario jumping between gravitational fields and bouncing off planets.
Super Mario Galaxy was a remarkable title that still holds up just as well on modern consoles as it did at release.
2. Super Mario World (SNES)
The Super Nintendo was the gaming giant's opportunity to prove that the success of their previous console wasn't just a fluke.
Of the many elements that came together and spelled victory for the Super Nintendo, the most winning move was bundling the system with Super Mario World at launch.
This game took many of the mechanics that were introduced in Super Mario Bros 3 and wrapped them in a 16-bit package. Some of the best art and music of the franchise came from this game, not to mention the replayability that came from its non-linear path to Bowser's Castle.
But most of all, Super Mario World introduced us to the iconic and cute Yoshi, who would be Mario's faithful companion in the decades that followed. Super Mario World was a huge step forward for the franchise.
1. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Gaming is an artform that's constantly evolving, advancing, improving. The technology that goes into video games hasn't hit an actual wall yet, which is why the latest and greatest is always enticing.
Yet with Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo proved that video games still have much room for innovation and improvement beyond graphics. They completely revamped the gameplay by having Mario now possess the bodies of his most iconic enemies, including Koopas and Goombas.
The wide span of levels to explore, each with its own feel and multiple objectives to complete, make this one of the most ambitious platforming games of all time.
New Donk City is the best celebration of Mario's history we've ever seen, plus it gave us the incredibly catchy "Jump Up, Super Star!" theme song. For that reason, Super Mario Odyssey is our all-time favorite Mario game.