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Actually correct rankings of the core Super Mario games

Polygon, we love you, but you’re wrong about Mario.


Super Mario Bros. and all of the core series that have spilled out from it are wonderful. We don’t dislike any of the adventures of the little (?) Italian (?) plumber (?), but there are definitely games we love more than others. With Super Mario Odyssey released and the entirety of SB Nation MLB’s team playing it and loving it, we thought it was a good time to rank the 18 core games ourselves.

And also because our sister site Polygon recently did that and we are still mad about it days later and feel the need to right the great injustice that has been done to us. Love you, Polygon! Maybe we can settle this over Mario Kart someday.

Rather than try to get myself, Grant Brisbee, and Whitney McIntosh to agree on one singular ranking that would likely result in us never speaking to each other again, we have three separate but equally correct lists for you. The important thing here is that we’re all more correct than Polygon, who we are definitely not starting a feud with just to increase traffic across the network.

Whitney McIntosh’s actually correct Super Mario game ranking

18. New Super Mario Bros. DS
17. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
16. Super Mario Bros. 2
15. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
14. Super Mario Land
13. New Super Mario Bros. 2
12. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
11. Super Mario Bros.
10. New Super Mario Bros. Wii U
9. Super Mario Sunshine
8. Super Mario Galaxy
7. Super Mario 3D Land
6. Super Mario 3D World
5. Super Mario Odyssey
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
3. Super Mario 64
2. Super Mario World
1. Super Mario Bros. 3

The most important thing you should know about these rankings is that, as much as possible, I battled my emotional attachment to the games in pursuit of an accurate, realistic ranking of Mario games.

With Super Mario 64, though, I threw that restraint out the window. It was the game that made me truly addicted with each subsequent game in the series, and spurred me to go back and play ones that I had skipped over before that. Has it been surpassed in various categories by games that have come after it? Sure. Was it the peak of Nintendo’s Mario output before that point and paved the way for much of what was built down the line? Unquestionably the case.

So it’s third for me, but that’s only buoyed by my addiction very slightly. Super Mario Bros. 3 is the pinnacle, as many people can agree, and while I haven’t spent as much time as I’d like with Odyssey just yet, it’s already in my top five thanks to the level of detail put into the game and how easy it is to enjoy the depth of the world while also having a great-ass time.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give a shoutout to Super Mario Land which doesn’t always get its due credit because of the tangential connection it has to the rest of the core games and the jump in quality to 6 Golden Coins. My 8-9-10 choices could also reasonably be swapped into any order for those three slots, but they had to go somewhere and there’s only so much time in my day to argue with myself about this.

The important thing is that New Super Mario Bros. DS is last. And it should always be last.

Marc Normandin’s actually correct Super Mario game ranking

18. New Super Mario Bros. DS
17. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
16. Super Mario Land
15. Super Mario Bros. 2
14. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
13. Super Mario Bros.
12. New Super Mario Bros. 2
11. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
10. Super Mario 64
9. Super Mario Sunshine
8. Super Mario World
7. Super Mario 3D Land
6. New Super Mario Bros. Wii U
5. Super Mario Galaxy
4. Super Mario Bros. 3
3. Super Mario Odyssey
2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
1. Super Mario 3D World

Important first note: Super Mario Bros. 3 would be ranked higher if there were more levels with Kuribo’s Shoe.

Super Mario 64 is great! It also has not aged particularly well, however, and Mario is an area where Nintendo has continued to push forward and improve across the board — this isn’t Star Fox, y’all. That’s why Mario 64 sits in the middle now: it’s so much clearly better than everything but the absolute classics that preceded it, but it lags behind much of the new that it helped build the foundation for. That’s much less depressing than “is still the best 20-plus years later.”

New Super Mario Bros. DS ranks last because it’s one of the only soulless Mario games that exists within the core series. Much better games sprung from it, including the overlooked sequel that focused heavily on Mario collecting coins and the greatest-hits-and-more feel of New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, but the initial entry was just sort of a reminder that Nintendo could still make sidescrolling Mario games even in a modern gaming world.

Super Mario 3D World comes out on top for me as it’s the perfect distillation of everything incredible about 2D Mario and 3D Mario and, unlike with the New Super Mario Bros. series, still feels like a brand new experience and innovation. If Super Mario Odyssey — which honestly has the potential to be at the top of this list someday, but I’ve got many more hours and years to sink into it before I can say that — is perfection built upon the foundation of Super Mario 64, then Super Mario 3D World is that for Super Mario World — it invites exploration, there are countless secrets, and you can spend dozens and dozens and DOZENS of hours in the game without solving all of its mysteries.

Plus, it has multiplayer as good as that of New Super Mario. Bros’ series, but without the downside of the game being lessened when you play solo. It’s engrossing either way, fun for completely different reasons played alone or with friends/frenemies, and, for me, is everything right and good about Mario in its superior form.

It’s overlooked in part because it’s on Nintendo’s worst-selling console of all-time, and that’s no small thing. If you’ve got a Wii U, though, and haven’t played it, do so. If you have a Switch, then hope that Nintendo will release an updated version for that like they did with Mario Kart 8.

Speaking of the Wii U, Super Mario Maker is better than a number of the games on this list, but I’ll let you figure out which ones.

Grant Brisbee’s actually correct Super Mario game ranking

18. Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
17. Super Mario Land
16. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
15. Super Mario Bros. 2
14. New Super Mario Bros. DS
13. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
12. New Super Mario Bros. 2
11. Super Mario 3D World
10 .New Super Mario Bros. Wii U
9. Super Mario 3D Land
8. Super Mario Galaxy
7. Super Mario Galaxy 2
6. Super Mario Bros.
5. Super Mario Sunshine
4. Super Mario Odyssey
3. Super Mario Bros. 3
2. Super Mario World
1. Super Mario 64

Quick explanations :

Lost Levels was too damned hard, and the payoff for mastering whatever it took to reach the next level wasn’t enough. I got frustrated quickly when it came to the States, and it felt like a slog to beat it with save states on an emulator, just to be a completionist.

Game Boy games were pretty bad, everyone. Better than previous portable options. Still nothing that I want to play today.

Super Mario Bros. 2 was fun, and I loved the ability to choose between a floaty Peach and a springy Luigi (like anyone played as Toad or Mario). But even before I knew it wasn’t developed as a Mario game, it didn’t feel like a Mario game. Give me Koopas or give me death. Or, at least, another game.

All of the New Super Mario Bros. built on the mechanics of what came before them, and they were all very fun, but I don’t remember picking my jaw off the floor for any of them. I had to Google a bunch of them to see which ones were which, actually.

The Galaxy games were incredibly fun, and I loved the wackiness of exploring the 3D space in a circular way. Super creative and highly recommended.

Imagine growing up on Adventure and Pitfall and then playing the first Super Mario Bros. for the first time. Well, guess what, I’m an old and that was me. The secrets in that game, man. Warps and hidden 1UPs were fresh and amazing, and you had to find this crap out on your own or through a pre-internet whisper network. Or Nintendo Power.

Sunshine was a blast and highly underrated, even if the cannon did piss me off occasionally.

Odyssey might be the best game I’ve ever played, unless it’s not even the best Switch game to come out this year, but I’ll need to finish it before putting it first.

Super Mario Bros. 3 stretched the limits of what was possible on the NES, and it’s one of the rare games from that system that still feels fresh to a kid today. There’s still nothing like getting a Tanooki suit.

I actually played Super Mario World for a focus group before it came out, and we were told to play it and Sonic the Hedgehog and give them our thoughts. All of us spent way more time with Sonic and complained that Super Mario World was too complicated and esoteric. I still feel bad about that, and I wonder if I contributed to someone in Japan freaking out about how the game was going to be received. It’s such a clean, crisp game that’s filled with all of the Easter eggs of SMB 3, but deeper. Even though the game was harder, it was more forgiving because of the ability to save, and it was richly rewarding.

But nothing in my life will top what it was like to play Mario 64 for the first time. I get the complaint that it doesn’t hold up, but I’ve played it within the last year, and I don’t agree with those complaints at all. The wonder of that game and the different environments were special, but for my money, I loved the variety. Here, get this penguin baby back to its mother. Not that one, you idiot. Here, shoot out of a cannon and break away a wall. Race this thing. Fly around and get that thing. Collect those things. The best part might have been trying to figure out the cryptic names of each star.

Mario 64 took the simple “reach the flagpole” idea from the first games and blew it up. Complete your tasks in order, or don’t! Spend a few hours in this world, then move to the next, and come back at your leisure.

The rabbit still pisses me off, and that’s a good thing.

While Odyssey is an incredible experience, I’m not sure if it would be the same if I didn’t already have my long jumpin’ and triple jumpin’ down. That’s why the only correct ranking has Super Mario 64 at the top, and I yield to the floor.