A bevy of classic Mario games triple jump onto the Switch today with the release of Super Mario 3D All Stars, a collection of two of the best Mario games ever made—Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy—and the polarizing cult fave Super Mario Sunshine. That means the first 3D Mario game, the weirdest 3D Mario game, and the best 3D Mario game are all now playable on the Switch. Mario’s name has been used in so many different games and genres that it can get a little confusing trying to plot out the different Mario subfranchises, but the 3D platformers represent a relatively straightforward and clear cut lineage. These have been what most consider the main line of Mario games since 1996, and with the new collection fresh on everybody’s Switches, this is as good a time as any to rank ‘em all. So let’s dive on in to the clear blue waters of 3D Mario platformers.
Original Platform: 3DS
Release Year: 2011
Quizzically, the Super Mario games that actually have 3D in their name—Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World—don’t partake in the new freedoms afforded by the 3D platformer as much as the other five games on this list. The levels are generally more linear than the open-world areas you’ll find in games like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Sunshine. Consider it as almost a bridge between the traditional side-scrolling Mario games and the fully-fleshed out, 3D open world games in the vein of Super Mario 64. 3D Land was the first of these two, and remains a fun, well-designed, and impressive game. It’s just not quite as good as the rest of the list.
Original Platform: Wii U
Release Year: 2013
The cat suit might be the most visible addition to Super Mario 3D World, but it’s not the only twist on an old idea. Super Mario 3D World doles out inventive new wrinkles throughout the course of the game, regularly surprising you with familiar but subtly changed mechanics. It isn’t content to aimlessly rehash Mario’s past—it approaches that history with reverence but also inspiration, spinning new threads out of old cloth
Original Platform: GameCube
Release Year: 2002
The weirdest mainline Mario game since the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Sunshine has long suffered from an unnecessarily bad reputation. Is it unusually hard for a Mario game? Yeah. Are the setting, secondary characters, and core mechanics all unique for a Mario game, almost distractingly so? Yep. What’s wrong with that, though? When an idea’s been around as long as Super Mario has, it should be trying to explore new territory with each iteration. Sunshine has two great strengths going for it: it’s not afraid to throw new stuff against the Super Mario wall and see what sticks, and it still packs that patented Mario punch of pure joy.
Original Platform: Wii
Release Year: 2010
Like the first one, Super Mario Galaxy 2 packed all of the charm and childlike wonder expected from a Mario game into an innovative and fitfully challenging platformer, with novel gravity effects and spherical levels creating the most fleshed out Mario universe yet. And the visuals were unusually gorgeous for the Wii, with vibrant colors and lush extraterrestrial landscapes that were stunning even if they were only in 480P.
Original Platform: Nintendo 64
Release Year: 1996
It’s not an understatement to say that Super Mario 64 is one of the most important videogames of all time. In the annals of Mario, it’s at worst second in that regard, right after the original Super Mario Bros., and is potentially tied with it. Both games held titanic influence over their respective genres, with Super Mario 64 in particular also representing a huge technological advancement for videogames. It’s still as fantastic today as it was 24 years ago, and remains a must play for anybody interested in the history of the medium, but it comes in at number three on this list because importance alone doesn’t make it a more impressive or enjoyable game than two that have come since.
Original Platform: Switch
Release Year: 2017
Bicker about what makes up a “core” Mario game all you want. All I know is that Super Mario Odyssey is one of the two or three best games to ever have that lovable little guy’s name in the title. It is every bit as powerful as Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Bros. 3, the previous high-water marks for Nintendo’s mascot, and for the platformer genre in general. Odyssey is an overwhelming cornucopia of pure joy, full of the kind of freedom typically found in open world games but with a constant chain of clear objectives and attainable goals pulling you ever deeper into its roster of candy-colored kingdoms. It’s a perfect bookmark to Nintendo’s other major Switch game of 2017, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: both recraft a classic cornerstone of the entire medium into an effortlessly enjoyable and crucially contemporary masterpiece that unites all eras of gaming history.
Original Platform: Wii
Release Year: 2007
Odyssey is amazing, but the original Super Mario Galaxy remains the apex of Mario in the third dimension. With its brilliant visuals and powerful orchestral score, this is one of the most gorgeous games ever made. It takes the core concepts of 3D Mario—the way it presents these three-dimensional spaces, and the way Mario moves through them—and unlocks them from both traditional physics and strict notions of horizontal and vertical. It introduced the best new Mario power-ups in years, with the Bee and Boo suits. It also seamlessly incorporates the Wii’s unique motion sensing control scheme, finding uses for it that don’t feel forced or tacked on. Super Mario Galaxy represents both Super Mario and the very notion of the platformer at its absolute best.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.