Super Mario Bros, one of the most iconic franchises in gaming history and one arguably responsible for resurrecting the North American video game industry after the infamous Video Game Market Crash of 1983. There are 10 games across the arcade games, Gameboy, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) included on this list. These were some of the highest selling games on their respective platforms, a must have for gamers at the time, and in this review we’ll be discussing, reviewing and ranking each one.
These titles are all playable via the Nintendo Switch Online service. While some are being played on other hardware, some are included with free libraries of NES and SNES games. These games are going to be ranked by the playability of the game at it’s time of release and by modern standards, as well as where I feel the game stands compared to others in the series. To be included on this list, the game must involve platforming as a main part of gameplay as well as star Mario as a central character.
#10 Super Mario Bros 2: The Lost Levels (Japan only release)
It feels strange ranking a main series game so low on the list, especially the SEQUEL to the first Super Mario Bros game. However, those who have played the game might see why this game is ranked so low. This game’s difficulty sometimes even feels almost unfair. The game was released on the floppy disk based expansion of the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES). This expansion was called the Famicom disk system and allowed users to have games written onto floppy disks at a much cheaper price than the typical game cartridge. Super Mario Bros 2 was only exclusively released on the Famicom disk system and only in Japan. Seeing as the first Super Mario Bros game was released to massive success in Japan, Nintendo felt most people buying the sequel had already become proficient at playing and completing the previous game. This prompted Nintendo to up the difficulty on the next game so much so that the original game cover included a “for super players” stamp on the front of it. The game does not do much to update the graphics from the previous installment looking almost exactly the same. The game is almost unfair and takes everything you’d expect from the first Super Mario Bros game and throws it out the window. The game makes you take leaps of faith where you aren't sure if you’ll land safely, enemies are given much more difficult attack patterns, and there are even levels where you need to find hidden secrets in order to complete them or else you’ll simply be stuck in the same level. There are even deceiving items like the poisonous mushroom which is similar to the original power up mushroom, except contact with it kills you immediately. Even worse is that with a sequel to such a popular game, many would buy it, including new players. The game’s increased difficulty surely must have been an unpleasant surprise for new players who might have had little experience with the previous game or were not expecting the extreme difficulty increase.
#9 Mario Bros. (arcade and NES release)
Mario Bros is an arcade platformer starring the 2 brothers Mario and Luigi, coming before Super Mario Bros. Rather than playing through the long levels in the mushroom kingdom as you would in later Mario games, you play in small levels contained in the sewers. Here you must clear out enemies not by jumping on them, you knock them over by flipping them on their backs by hitting the platforms they walk on above you.
You then run into them clearing off the screen. While the original Super Mario Bros has smooth controls, allowing for switching directions while jumping midair, Mario Bros has rather slippery gameplay controls. When moving it’s hard to jump onto the platforms because it feels as though you need to previously determine the direction in which you’ll jump as it seems almost impossible to switch directions mid jump. The game in general is a fun multiplayer game however in single player mode the experience is quite different with the game’s controls not aging as well today.
#8 Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong is arguably the game that helped Nintendo make it big in the North American video game market. It is also the first game that starred Mario as a main character. You play as Mario trying to rescue his girlfriend, Pauline, who has been kidnapped by the evil gorilla Donkey Kong. you jump up the many levels of a construction site and even a pie factory dodging, barrels, fireballs and more obstacles.
It was quite simple in story and gameplay as most arcade games of the time were. The game has tight controls and gameplay and the difficulty is as expected from an arcade game, easy to learn, yet hard to master. Both the NES and arcade games are both great versions of the game. However the NES version is missing a level present in the arcade release of the game, the pie factory. While a fun challenge the game only has 4 levels and after a while the game begins to feel quite stale. I still recommend this game as it presents a fun experience on both the Arcade and NES versions but compared to most other games it still feels like quite a small game.
#7 Super Mario Land
This was the game that marked Mario’s arrival to Nintendo's first portable game system, the Gameboy. It was one of the titles available at launch and was also the first game to be made without Mario creator, Shigeru Miyamoto. The game differs from the console Mario games as rather than making your way through the mushroom kingdom to save Princess Peach kidnapped by Bowser, you travel through Sarasa land to save Princess Daisy, who has been kidnapped by the evil alien, Tatanga. You play through 4 worlds with 3 levels each so 12 levels total. The game features new enemies, power ups, and even new types of levels, with side scrolling shooter levels and boss fights.
In general the game is a fun pocket sized Mario adventure that is shorter than most of the other games due to the limitations of the Gameboy. Speaking of the limitations of the Gameboy, this game really shows it’s launch title quality. The game feels and looks quite primitive compared to the later Mario games on the gameboy. This is one of the first games gameboy developed, and while the developers had a fair enough knowledge of the gameboy to create a great game, they didn’t yet have the experience needed to know how to use it to its full potential just yet. This is a fun and enjoyable game but in terms of graphics and gameplay it hasn't aged as well.
#6 Super Mario Land 2 6 Golden Coins
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins is the 2nd Mario Land game on the Gameboy. It takes a new turn with the game’s story as you play as Mario not saving a princess, but traveling across 6 worlds to collect 6 golden coins to unlock and save your castle which has been taken over by Mario’s newest nemesis introduced in this game, Wario.
The game more closely resembles a traditional Mario game with what looks like a graphical style more closely resembling a traditional home console Mario adventure shrunk down to the Gameboy.
It also features similar power ups to the console games with power ups allowing Mario to fly or throw fireballs. Moves from home console games are also implemented with Mario’s spin jump attack also available to use. It also feels more advanced with features new to gameboy Mario installments like world maps for level selection and saves so that players can continue their adventure where they left off. This definitely feels like a major step up for the Gameboy Mario games and is definitely worth checking out today.
#5 Super Mario Bros
Super Mario Bros. is an iconic 1985 hit game that skyrocketed Nintendo into the undisputed king of the game industry throughout the 80s and early 90s and revitalized the gaming industry. The game arguably perfected platforming games and set the gold standard for gameplay and controls for future platformer games to come. You journey through the mushroom kingdom to save Princess Peach from the evil tyrant Bowser for the very first time.
It created a usual story which most Mario games would follow. It was simple and fun and began a franchise which would go on to bring Nintendo even more amazing games for future platforms. It pushed the limits of what was possible with the storage space of the NES games at the time. Even with all the other games continuing to improve upon what Nintendo started here, this game still holds up today as a true pioneer in the gaming industry.
#4 Super Mario Bros 2 (US release)
With a hit like Super Mario Bros. on their hands, it was only a matter of time before Nintendo gave it’s fans a new Mario experience. However Nintendo chose not to release the Mario sequel that’d been released in Japan. This decision was made after feedback from a US employee, Howard Phillips, that’d tested the game. He told Nintendo of America president, Minoru Arakawa, that the game was too difficult. Arakawa expressed the concern to his father in law, president of Nintendo of Japan Hiroshi Yamauchi. Nintendo of Japan took the decision to redesign an older Japan exclusive game as a Mario sequel for the North American market. The game selected for redesigning was Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. The game had been worked on by many of the Mario design team members and was built very similarly to most Mario games with the developers even approaching the creation of it as such. This is evident throughout the game as even though it’s a redesigned version of another game. It is very similar to the Mario games in terms of gameplay and design, with references to Mario even scattered throughout, but with some interesting twists to keep the game unique.
Rather than stomping on enemies you can jump on top of them, pick them up and throw them. There are also vegetables planted in the ground which your character can pick up and throw at enemies.
Rather than fight Bowser once again, Mario faces off against Wart, who has cast a spell over the dream world in which Mario explores in this installment. There are also different enemies introduced in the game which would later become staples of the Mario franchise as they debuted in what would soon be transformed into the 2nd Super Mario Bros. game in the North American market. The game also introduced a new character select feature where players could choose 1 of 4 characters (Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad). Overall the game is a very different experience from your average Mario game formula and it makes for an exciting sequel to one of the best games of all time.
#3 Super Mario World 2 Yoshi’s Island
Once again another amazing Mario title from Nintendo, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island presents amazing gameplay and also displays revolutionary semi 3 dimensional graphics using the Nintendo’s Super FX graphics chip inside the game’s cartridge. Rather than play as Mario you play as a Yoshi Dinosaur taking a baby Mario to reunite with his brother Luigi who’s been kidnapped. This game also takes a turn away from the usual stomping on enemy gameplay and introduces gameplay where Yoshi eats his enemies and turns them into eggs which he throws at other enemies which would be a returning part of the gameplay for later platformers starring the Yoshi creatures.
The game is quite different from Mario games making the Super Mario World 2 title seem a bit misleading as you don't even play as the iconic plumber himself. However this does not take away from the game as it’s still an enjoyable game with new surprises and unique new gameplay for the Mario series at the time.
#2 Super Mario Bros 3
Super Mario Bros 3 is the final main series Mario game released on the NES in 1988. It was also one of the most highly anticipated games of it’s time as it was released a year and a half in Japan before being released in the US. It was teased in magazines and news media. Even a sneak peak of gameplay footage was featured in a major Hollywood film, The Wizard, which centered around the adventure of a group of children trying to make it to a video game tournament in California, which is where the game is featured.
It was an expensive and difficult project as the research and development 4 team (the team behind the first 2 mario games) wanted to make it the ultimate Mario game. The game included many firsts for the Mario series such as mini bosses between worlds, selecting power ups to use before entering levels, and world maps to select levels making it more immersive than previous titles in the series.
It also brought in new moves like allowing Mario to slide down hills and pick up and kick items. The team also wanted to make it approachable to players of all skill levels so although the game provided a decent challenge the game gave plenty of power ups so players would be well stocked and prepared for harder levels. These features would become staples of the games to come. The game has also received a major graphical upgrade compared to the previous games in the series thanks to the MMC (Memory Management Controller) chip that allowed for more advanced graphics. The game in fact was given an entirely new look compared to the first 2 installments. The game was truly a grand finale for the Mario series games on the NES. It was the largest Mario adventure on the NES and is not just an essential Mario experience but an essential video game as the game was and still is considered one of the greatest games on one of the greatest consoles of all time.
#1 Super Mario World
Super Mario World was one of three launch titles to release alongside the SNES and in fact shipped with the console itself. The game was able to complete the purpose of what a launch title should do, which is display the technological abilities of a new console. It used some of the new Super Nintendo’s 16 bit graphics power. The game took everything the previous games did well and improved upon it in every way possible. The game adds in new features like riding a yoshi dinosaur which eats enemies and can also spit them out and use them as projectiles, as well as a feather power up granting you a cape that allows you to have temporary gliding and flight.
You’re presented with a platforming game so extensive that it starts to feel like an adventure game, with its secrets, hidden special levels, and bonus games. Not only that but the added secrets and longer levels make the game a fun challenge but also offers replay value as you can return to the game to beat it entirely finding secrets you didn’t find the first time.
The game is overall the best of these classic main series games and a point that shows how far the series and franchise had progressed over time.
Overall the series is a revolutionary franchise that has arguably helped shape many important aspects of the gaming industry and who’s main character has become a beloved iconic figure. The series continues to this day with new main games, spin-offs and even an animated movie adaptation possibly coming in 2022. The franchise holds many new surprises but with all the new twists and turns, it’s important to acknowledge where it all began. The fact that these games are held in such high regard today by video game historians and reviewers, proves that some of these games remain timeless experiences that can be enjoyed by generations young and old alike.