The best Mario games ever made
Ars Technica Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher has a rule: If you have a dumb, fun conversation in the Ars Slack that lasts for more than 10 minutes, it’s probably worth turning that conversation into some kind of article. And that’s how a weekday water-cooler-style discussion about Platonic idealism and Mario became what you’re reading now!
For people of a certain age—which, dear readers, most of us are—”video games” and “Nintendo” meant practically the same thing. (There are even a few of us who are older than a certain age, who came from the Great Long Long Ago time when “video games” meant “Atari,” and even those few acknowledge Nintendo’s culture-changing dominance in the mid-to-late 1980s.) So all of us have played at least a few different games featuring the world’s most famous plumber, Mario Mario. (Yeah, his last name is also Mario. Which means his brother’s name is Luigi Mario. Which means that calling Luigi “Green Mario” is actually correct! Vindication!)
A few Ars staffers volunteered to brave the inevitable slings and arrows of the comments section to put down their thoughts on a simple question: out of every video game in which Mario made an appearance, which one is your absolute top-shelf favorite, and why?
Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.
Nate Anderson: Super Mario Bros.
Only one Mario game has jumped onto—or occasionally over—the flagpole of my heart. That game, of course, is Super Mario Bros. for NES. Minus worlds, water worlds, warp zones, magic mushrooms, bullets with eyes, bonus rooms, that hidden 1-UP in World 1-1, glorious 8-bit music, the egg-throwing sky-turtle (!) Lakitu, mysterious green pipes—SMB has it all.
Yes, it helped that this was the first great game of my NES-era childhood, and that to get it, I had to cajole my parents into renting the cartridge from the local video store for the weekend. But SMB is no mere nostalgia play. Unlike many games of its era, it’s still great fun today, and its iconic levels should absolutely be a part of today’s Common Core school standards. —Nate Anderson, Deputy Editor
Play it on: Switch Online (NES) | Wii U Virtual Console | 3DS Virtual Console | Game & Watch
Eric Bangeman: Super Mario Odyssey
When Nintendo puts Mario in a sandbox, the results can be… uneven. Super Mario 64, for instance, is sheer genius, while Super Mario Sunshine lacks polish and revolves around an irritating gaming mechanic.
Luckily, Super Mario Odyssey, the flagship title for the Nintendo Switch, falls into the genius category.
Odyssey can be anything you want it to be. If you want to collect just enough Power Moons to beat the game, do so. I’m not a completionist, but I loved roaming around Odyssey, collecting as many Power Moons as I could find, and discovering the odd portal between worlds.
Odyssey is also easy on the eyes. The Switch may lack the pure computing horsepower of Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles, but Nintendo developers are capable of maximizing what they have to work with. I love the lushly detailed worlds throughout Odyssey, each of which has its own gameplay quirks.
If I had to boil Odyssey down to a single adjective, it would be “clever.” In the hands of a lesser 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 ability to toss Cappy and then use the airborne Bonneter to cross chasms, but I enjoyed watching my teenager take advantage of that mechanic. Young brains, young reflexes. Sigh.
Maybe the best part about Super Mario Odyssey is beating it—the first time. After an adrenaline-fueled run through the magma chambers under the surface of the Moon, I beat Bowser, rescued Peach, and found out that there was a multitude of new Power Moons scattered across every planet in the Odyssey cosmos. After spending many more hours hunting them down, I took a stab—actually many stabs—at the Darker Side of the Moon but could never defeat the fourth Broodal. Trying to run that gauntlet was out of the question.
Even though I stopped playing before I did All the Things, I came away satisfied. Nintendo knows what its fans want, and Odyssey delivers on every level.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make sure my Switch is fully charged… —Eric Bangeman, Managing Editor
Andrew Cunningham: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Nintendo’s 2D classics are easy 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 computing power that you can fire up Super Mario Bros. 3 on nearly any device that will connect to a screen.
Preservation for Nintendo’s later 3D classics has been spottier, partly because they need more powerful hardware to run well and because it can be difficult to truly replicate things like the Wii’s motion controls, the Wii U’s tablet, or the DS and 3DS’s touchscreen or stereoscopic 3D effects. These games do sometimes get repackaged and re-released for newer consoles, but they come with new-game price tags to match.
All of this is to say that there’s definitely an element of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” to my insistence that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is my favorite Mario game, because I haven’t actually played it in the better part of a decade. But clearly someone needs to stick up for it—its absence from Super Mario 3D All-Stars was a travesty nearly on par with the presence of Super Mario Sunshine. (This is a joke.)
Galaxy 2 began life as a bundle of ideas that didn’t make it into the original game, and the result is a brilliant collection of rapid-fire challenges that riff on the original Galaxy‘s mechanics in more varied and adventurous ways. (It’s a clear precursor to the Power-Moon-stuffed Super Mario Odyssey favored by Eric up above.) And once Galaxy 2‘s 120 stars have been collected, the game hits you with another 120 stars that will challenge any player’s precision platforming skills.
While games like the New Super Mario Bros. series or Super Mario 3D World have more fleshed-out multiplayer modes, Galaxy 2 also deserves recognition for its excellent two-player co-op mode, where another person can point their Wii Remote at the screen to stun enemies and collect items. Nintendo also played 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 controls are intuitive, and the second player can do a whole bunch of genuinely useful things that don’t get in the way of the first player.
Mario Galaxy 2 is a high watermark between the technical achievements of Mario 64 and the unadulterated joy of Mario Odyssey, and I would (and, sigh, probably will) pay good money to play a 1080p version on a modern console. —Andrew Cunningham, Senior Technology Reporter
Play it on: Wii U Virtual Console
Read More: The best Mario games ever made