5. Super Mario 3D Land
Mario's first foray on the 3DS essentially plays like a greatest hits album of Mario history. It has the style and charm of the Galaxy games, the bright colors and level tropes from Mario 64, the structure of the New Super series, and a heaping helping of Mario 3 references. Especially the Tanooki suit. Raccoon tails for everyone!
3D Land is much like the New Super games in that most of its elements are drawn from previous Mario games. Unlike the New Super series, however, 3D Land excels at taking these familiar ideas and presenting them in a new way. The levels play more like quick obstacle courses than full blown worlds to explore, but they are still great fun to speed through. It lack an identity of its own, but 3D Land is probably the best example of pure, straight forward Mario goodness. Anyone who liked any other Mario game will find plenty to enjoy in this land.
4. Super Mario Bros.
The original that started it all! Super Mario Bros. is a classic no matter how you look at it. And while I certainly spend my fair share of time playing the NES version, the SNES All-Stars version is the one that cements this game's place on my list. The underlying game is essentially unchanged, but the graphics and music have been given a Mario World styled makeover that really enhances the overall experience.
But in any form, Super Mario Bros. is still just as fun today as it ever was. It wrote the book on Mario games and platformers in general. Later Mario games have expanded and played with the formula, but the original still holds up as one of the finest examples of why Mario is the big name star he is today.
3. Super Mario World
Most people claim that Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best 2D Mario game out there. But I'd argue that Super Mario World is the one to hold that distinction. The levels are huge, the secrets are plentiful, and the music is some of the best in the entire series. Super Mario World does everything that Mario 3 did, but it does it bigger and better and with much more charm and style.
In addition, World introduces two of my favorite elements in the series: Yoshi and the Cape Feather. Yoshi's awesomeness should be self evident. He's so awesome he even stole Mario's spotlight for the sequel. As for the Cape Feather, it's one of the best power ups in any Mario game. It looks way cooler than the raccoon tail and it requires a bit more skill and cleverness to use than just mashing the jump button. Now that Nintendo has done the tail thing to death in that last few games, I'm hoping that comeback for the Cape Feather is in the works!
2. Super Mario Galaxy
Mario's first full blown Wii adventure is also one of his best. The original Galaxy is an absolute joy to play. The levels are large and numerous, with lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. The orchestral music is phenomenal and provides the game with an epic scope than not even the sequel could match. Galaxy also boasts some of the finest visuals on the Wii. Even over five years later, Super Mario Galaxy remains just as impressive and enjoyable as when it was first released.
Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel are often cited as the two best games in the entire Wii library, and that's definitely true. The second game is often said to be the better of the two, but I'd argue that the original is the superior game. Galaxy 2 did expand the amount of variety seen in the levels, but it stripped out most of the openness and atmosphere that the original Galaxy had, making it almost feel more like a prototype to 3D Land than a sequel to Galaxy. It feels sterile compared to the original, which is why Super Mario Galaxy remains the better of the two.
1. Super Mario 64
The landmark N64 launch title has been my favorite Super Mario game for years, and though the original Galaxy gave it a run for its money, Super Mario 64 still comes out on top. As I did not have an N64 as a kid, playing Super Mario 64 was always a rare treat. Nothing could beat running around that castle, exploring for secrets, and enjoying the incredible music. Super Mario 64 is the reason I'm such a big fan of the Mario series today.
These days I've played through Mario 64 numerous times and most of the nostalgic charm has worn off. But it doesn't change the fact that the game is still just as fun to explore as ever before. More than any other platformer I've played, Super Mario 64 rewards the player for just goofing off. It presents big open playgrounds to explore and lets you loose to do whatever you please. You never know what you might find in Super Mario 64, such as secret stars, warp points, and even a hidden aquarium area. No other Mario game has presented a world that is so much fun to simply play around in and explore. And that's why it's still my favorite!