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The 3D Super Mario games ranked, from worst to best

Super Mario Odyssey is the seventh 3D Mario game, but where does it rank against classics like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy?



Super Mario Odyssey - art

Super Mario Odyssey is the seventh 3D Mario game, but where does it rank against classics like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy?

With Super Mario Odyssey receiving acclaim from all directions – and with 40 hours of our own spent with the game – the time has come to see where the Italian plumber’s latest adventure sits within the pantheon of 3D Mario titles.

Here is our official ranking, ordered from worst to best.

7. Super Mario Sunshine

This is a rare pleasure, a ranked list of video games in-which there are no absolute stinkers. That said, it will be no surprise to see the name Super Mario Sunshine as its first entry.

Despite its flaws, Super Mario Sunshine is only found wanting because of the high quality of the titles that surround it. The game’s problems are well documented: the camera can be nightmare, some of its character design leaves a lot to be desired, and the fiddly blue coin quests overstay their welcome. Plus there’s those notorious – and horribly compressed – cut scenes.

But, think back to the wonderful, secret-filled playground that is Delfino Isle. Remember the swoony music and balmy holiday tone. And consider the flawed but fun FLUDD mechanics, which have subsequently influenced Splatoon, the Zelda series, and Super Mario Odyssey itself. Sunshine is certainly the weakest 3D Mario game, but it’s still full to bursting with new ideas and concepts. And, of course, it has that darned adorable rideable Yoshi.

6. Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land

Although positioned in the lower reaches of this list, Super Mario 3D Land can comfortably lay claim to being the best ever handheld Mario game. Along with Mario Kart 7 it also helped revive the fortunes of the stumbling Nintendo 3DS, proving that the new device was capable of delivering immersive and fresh experiences.

On release, 3D World felt like a slimline version of Super Mario Galaxy, but in retrospect it’s clear that the game is the first of a third tier of 3D Mario games. In contrast to the open sandboxes of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, and kaleidoscopic planet-hopping of the Galaxy series, the game takes a more controlled approach. With a wealth of levels to explore, and plenty of secrets to discover, 3D Land’s bite-sized structure is closest to Super Mario Bros 3. The result is a joyous game that is likely to remain the series’ best portable-only excursion.

5. Super Mario Galaxy

One of Super Mario Galaxy’s greatest achievements is how effortlessly it surpasses the constraints under which it was created. Developed for Nintendo’s breakout – but low-powered – Wii console, the game had to both improve on its flawed predecessor, and make complex three-dimensional gaming accessible to the console’s casual audience. It also had to do it using an idiosyncratic control scheme that swapped sticks and buttons for motion and pointer controls.

Super Mario Galaxy achieves all of these things with ease. The game’s emphasis on spherical worlds removes the reliance on user-controlled cameras, and keeps the moustachioed plumber centre-stage at all times. The sandbox structure of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine is replaced by a series of increasingly elaborate, but carefully constructed, miniature worlds to negotiate, each with its own twist.

An abundance of gameplay ideas indicate a refreshed enthusiasm from Nintendo, with Yoshiaki Koizumi’s team flexing their creative muscles with new power-ups, enemies, and gravity bending platforming. Combined with a sumptuous visuals and a triumphant, orchestral score, Super Mario Galaxy is a giddying adventure from start to finish.

4. Super Mario 3D World

Ranking Super Mario 3D World above Super Mario Galaxy may prove contentious. The game is not be as reckless or inventive as Mario’s Wii adventure, but as a masterclass in the art of straightforward 3D platforming, it’s peerless. 3D World is a more measured outing, but this allows for for every block, platform, and jump to be scientifically crafted and polished.

The game is equally enjoyable whether its played solo, or in multiplayer with up to three friends. And Cat Mario is an elegant – and often hilarious – way for younger or less skilled players to keep pace. Super Mario 3D World also looks glorious, with a chunky, toys-to-life consistency that is lacking from the next game in this list. And let’s not forget that one of its cuter achievements would be spun off into its own game in the shape of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

3. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey is the toughest game to position on this list. It’s amazing; that’s a given. The review scores are deserved, and the game caps – pardon the pun – a wonderful year for Nintendo.

The game’s biggest achievement is not in its level design, or its new cap-based transformations  – although they are all quite wonderful – but in its structure. Never has a game been quite so expert at filling its worlds with things to do and attracting your attention, and never has a game been quite so generous in rewarding your experimentation, exploration, and curiosity.

Super Mario Odyssey strikes out in a expansive – and often overwhelming – new direction for the series, but it also doffs its cap to the games that came before it. On at least two occasions, a nod to the past brought a tear to my eye. At all other times I was grinning from ear to ear.

2. Super Mario 64

If you wanted to put Super Mario 64 at the top of this list, it would be hard to argue. Much of what we take for granted in the series – and 3D game design in general – was debuted here. Although the age of the Nintendo 64 hardware makes the game a little harder to enjoy today, its ideas still feel fresh, playful and creative.

Having refined the art of 2D platforming with Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island, we might have expected Super Mario 64 to be a cautious first step into three dimensions. But no, its a supremely confident long jump, followed by a ground pound to mark the game’s place in history.

1. Super Mario Galaxy 2

On paper Super Mario Galaxy 2 has the easiest brief of all the games on this list: make more of the same. Using the core concepts introduced Super Mario Galaxy, Koizumi and his team expand upon that template, and then some.

Gameplay mechanics and ideas that could form the foundation of whole games are introduced, chewed up, and disposed of with abandon. The variety is astonishing. Each course is a memorable test of mental mettle and physical athleticism. Each power-up a delight. Each boss an thrilling, high-paced puzzle to solve.

Galaxy 2 – particularly in its post-credits end game – is also one of the most demanding, and fulfilling, platformers Nintendo has ever created. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is where Nintendo’s talents in design, artistic expression, and desire to entertain all come together. It’s Mario’s best ever game.

Disagree with my absolutely perfect ranking? Tell me how wrong I am in the comments below.

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Thumbsticks editor, and connoisseur of Belgian buns. Currently playing: Ape Out, Skyrim (again), and Yoshi's Crafted World.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. rp

    8th November 2017 at 11:55 am

    what is the point of these totally subjective lists? I would tend to disagree with a great deal of this, but I don’t see the point in drawing up and publishing rankings that are totally down to personal preference

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