The best Mario games ever made

Mario loves us.  We love Mario.
Enlarge / Mario loves us. We love Mario.

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Ars Technica editor-in-chief Ken Fisher has a rule: If you have a silly, funny conversation in Ars Slack that lasts more than 10 minutes, it’s probably worth making that conversation into some kind of article. And so became an everyday discussion in water-cooled style about Platonic idealism and Mario, what are you 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, which came from the great time long ago, where “video games” meant “Atari”, and even the few recognize Nintendo’s culture-changing dominance in the mid to late 1980s.) So we’ve all played in at least a few different games with the world’s most famous plumber, Mario Mario. (Yes, his last name is also Mario. Which means his brother’s name is Luigi Mario. Which means it’s actually correct to call Luigi “Green Mario”! Justification!)

A couple of Ars employees volunteered to brave the inevitable slings and arrows in the comments section to ask their thoughts on a simple question: out of every video game where Mario appeared, which is your absolute top-shelf favorite, and why?

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Nate Anderson: Super Mario Bros.

Only one Mario game has jumped on – or occasionally over – my heart’s flagpole. That game is, of course Super Mario Bros. to NES. Minus worlds, water worlds, warp zones, magic mushrooms, balls with eyes, bonus space, the hidden 1-UP in World 1-1, glorious 8-bit music, the egg-throwing sky turtle (!) Lakitu, mysterious green pipe-SMB have it all.

It's a-me!  80s Mario!
Enlarge / It’s a-me! 80s Mario!


Yes, it helped that this was the first major game of my NES era childhood, and to get it, I had to persuade my parents to rent the cartridge from the local video store this weekend. But SMB is not just nostalgia games. Unlike many games of its era, it’s still fun today, and its iconic levels should definitely be 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 | 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 an annoying game mechanic.

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

The 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 finisher, but I loved roaming around The Odyssey, collect as many Power Moons as I could find, and discover the unequal portal between worlds.

Don't worry, Mario, you're in control.
Enlarge / Don’t worry, Mario, you’re in control.


The Odyssey is also easy on the eyes. The switch may lack the sheer computing power of Sony and Microsoft consoles, but Nintendo developers are able to maximize what they need to work on. I love the lushly detailed worlds everywhere The Odyssey, who each have their own gameplay quirks.

If I had to cook The Odyssey down to a single adjective it would be “wise”. 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 the gameplay. I was able to get through the game without mastering the ability to throw Cappy and then use the airborne Bonneter to cross gorges, but I enjoyed watching my teen utilize this mechanic. Young brains, young reflexes. Suk.

Maybe the best part is knowing Super Mario Odyssey beats it – first time. After an adrenaline-fueled run through the magma chambers beneath the Moon’s surface, I hit Bowser, rescued Peach, and found that there were a host of new Power Moons scattered across each planet in The Odyssey cosmos. After spending many more hours chasing them, I took a stab – actually many stabs – on the dark side of the Moon, but could never defeat the fourth Broodal. It was out of the question to try to run that cloak.

Even though I stopped playing before I did All the Things, I came away satisfied. Nintendo knows what its fans want, and The Odyssey delivers at all levels.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ll make sure my switch is fully charged … —Eric Bangeman, Editor-in-Chief

Play it on: Switch (Physical | Digital)

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 turn on Super Mario Bros. 3 on almost any device that wants to connect to a monitor.

Preservation for Nintendo’s later 3D classics has been more mocking, partly because they need more powerful hardware to run well, and because it can be hard to really replicate things like Wii’s motion controls, Wii U’s tablet or DS and 3DS’s touchscreen or stereoscopic 3D effects. These games are sometimes repackaged and re-released for newer consoles, but they come with price tags for new games that match.



All this is to say that there is definitely an element of “absence makes the heart grow” after my insistence that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is my favorite Mario games because I have not actually played it in the best part of a decade. But of course someone must hold on to it – its absence from Super Mario 3D All-Stars was a parody almost on par with the presence of Super Mario Sunshine. (It’s a joke.)

Galaxy 2 began life as a bundle of ideas that did not come into the original game, and the result is an ingenious collection of fast-paced challenges that riff on the original Galaxy‘s mechanics in more varied and adventurous ways. (It’s a clear precursor to Power-Moon-filled ones Super Mario Odyssey favored by Eric 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 playing like New Super Mario Bros. series or Super Mario 3D World has more detailed 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 The Odyssey, but the iteration in Galaxy 2 is great for younger players or non-players who want to take part in the fun. The Wii remotes are intuitive and the second player can do a whole lot of really useful things that do not get in the way of the first player.

Mario Galaxy 2 is a high watermark between the technical results 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

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