Over the past 36 years, Super Mario has been one of the most prolific franchises in the gaming industry, as well as the poster child for Nintendo. The mustachioed hero has come a long way since 1981’s Donkey Kong, and Super Mario continues to make leaps and bounds with every new installment in the franchise. Mario games may have started as 2D platformers, but the 3D Mario games are some of the franchise’s best.
1985’s revolutionary 2D platformer Super Mario Bros. set the stage for the next 35 years of Mario games, and just 11 years later, Mario once again changed gaming forever. In 1996, Super Mario 64 was released alongside the Nintendo 64 and was the first-ever 3D platformer to give players control over both the character and the camera independent of one another. Most 3D games today are influenced by this advancement in gaming, especially the 3D Super Mario games.
Including Super Mario 64, there have been six console games in the 3D Mario franchise. These titles are diverse and have followed Mario on vacation, all over the globe, and across the stars. Mario has stared in so many amazing games over the years, and each one put its own unique spin on the series. While nearly every 3D Super Mario game is a masterpiece of its own generation, here’s every 3D Super Mario game ranked from worst to best.
2010’s Super Mario Galaxy 2 is at the bottom of the list because it didn’t innovate much compared to other 3D Mario games, as it’s the direct sequel to 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy. Of the two Mario Galaxy games, the first shines brighter because of the impact it had on the franchise. It tried new physics and pushed boundaries, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 felt more or less like a copy and paste of the original. Yes, it did add Yoshi, Yoshi’s unique power-ups, and new power-ups for Mario, and it reimagined some iconic worlds from previous Mario games. But it will always be second fiddle to Super Mario Galaxy. That’s not to say the sequel isn’t a fantastic experience in itself; it just felt like a continuation of something grander.
Super Mario Sunshine is a nice change of pace for Mario, as players finally see the hero attempt to take a break from saving the princess. However, on arrival, Mario is thrown in jail for a crime he’s been framed for. Super Mario Sunshine does a lot of things right, but its major gameplay mechanic, F.L.U.D.D., is too gimmicky. Instead of utilizing Mario’s own mobility, parts of the game are locked behind different F.L.U.D.D. nozzles, and some of the worst 3D Mario levels can be found in Super Mario Sunshine. Additionally, the game offers particularly jarring levels where F.L.U.D.D. is taken away, forcing players to adapt to Mario’s less-than-fluid controls. Nonetheless, Super Mario Sunshine offers an incredible, upbeat soundtrack, a unique storyline, and some well-designed levels.
It’s important to give credit where credit is due, and Super Mario 64 deserves a lot of praise. It revolutionized video games, presenting ideas that were previously unexplored. That being said, playing modern, more refined Super Mario games reveals a lot of the flaws in Super Mario 64. Its limited camera controls are a little wonky, and Mario doesn’t have all the moves he does in later games. It is still a masterpiece of a game and arguably the greatest on the Nintendo 64, but newer 3D Mario games greatly improve upon what Mario 64 started.
While two games are bundled for this experience, Bowser’s Fury is really the main course. Super Mario 3D World is a delightful adventure with an amazing soundtrack and fun levels, but it doesn’t offer the feeling of a true 3D Mario game. Bowser’s Fury, on the other hand, is one of the best Mario experiences to date. The only reason it isn’t in the number-one or two spot is because of its length. It is about the size of what most would expect from a DLC, as it only lasts a handful of hours. Regardless, Bowser’s Fury is extremely polished, its soundtrack rivals that of Super Mario Galaxy, and it offers the largest open space in a Mario game so far. If the next major 3D Mario project expands on Bowser’s Fury‘s ideas, it will undoubtedly become number one.
In 2007, Super Mario Galaxy was released for the Nintendo Wii. A lot of the gameplay relies on the Wii Remote’s motion controls and pointer, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky. Super Mario Galaxy mixed spherical worlds with large, open areas, and it all works together in harmony. Mario’s expanded moveset makes traversing levels feel more fluid than ever, and pairing long jumps and backflips with the game’s beautifully orchestrated soundtrack makes for some of the most memorable 3D Mario moments. Super Mario Galaxy explores the loneliness of space, but there’s beauty to be found in every corner of every galaxy.
It wasn’t until the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars that it became apparent just how good Super Mario Odyssey is. Mario is given the perfect moveset, made up of both the best movements from previous titles and brand-new mechanics. Power-ups were replaced by Cappy’s ability to take control of enemies, and not a single Fire Flower or Power Mushroom is missed. Each kingdom is beautifully designed, and the innovation to allow players to freely collect Power Moons made for a far better experience than entering and exiting levels with each Star. Just when players think the game is over, it keeps giving them something new to do, and the insane number of Power Moons adds an unmatched level of replayability for a Super Mario game. Every time “Jump Up, Super Star!” plays, the beautiful memories of Super Mario Odyssey come rushing back, making players want to run around shirtless on the shores of Seaside Kingdom.