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Super Mario Bros. games are some of the best Nintendo has to offer, and conversely they are some of the best games to come out in the 80s. Here’s a look at my top 5 favourite Super Mario Bros. games that were released over a period of more than 25 years.
5. Super Mario 3D Land
One of the latest games in the Super Mario Bros. series is Super Mario 3D Land. This is a truly wonderful mix of 3D and 2D game mechanics for Nintendo’s new technically inferior and gimmicky handheld, the 3DS. This title is a great deal of fun as Mario goes through a series of levels that are at once reminiscent of the classic Super Mario Bros. games, but also borrow a lot from 3D platforming Mario titles like Super Mario 64.
A lot of familiar elements make a return, like the Tanooki suit, unseen since the days of Super Mario Bros. 3. It was great to see this suit again as Mario’s tail mechanics make a comeback. Unfortunately, he doesn’t turn into a statue in this game!
The replay value of this game is wonderful. At first the game presents a decently lengthed and only moderately challenging playthrough of 8 worlds. Most gamers should have no real issue completing the main game. If they do, the game will make things easier for you by eventually giving you items like the Gold Tanooki suit to help you along the way if you die too many times. Once the main game is completed things take an interesting twist as a brand new set of 8 more challenging worlds are made available to the character, who can eventually also unlock Luigi for an extra bit of challenge. Getting through all 16 total worlds, collecting all hidden coins and completing all stages as Luigi is enough to keep the more hardcore gamers interested in this otherwise short title.
Super Mario 3D Land inspired PETA to make a Mario Kills Tanooki web game. They claim that Mario is wearing the flesh of a Japanese raccoon dog. This is absurd for many reasons, the least of which is that the Tanooki is actually a mythical creature that does not actually exist, and Mario does not actually wear this creature’s fur, but actually transforms into wearing the Tanooki suit by getting a leaf. The web game is not any good all things considered. Their other games New Super Chick Sisters and Pokemon Black and Blue are much more fun.
4. Super Mario Bros.
This is the game that started it all! Well, there was Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Wrecking Crew…
This is the first Mario game that didn’t suck! The original Super Mario Bros. is a fantastic groundbreaking game. While later instalments in the series were undoubtedly technically superior, this game did so many things that we’d never seen before. Not only did the characters and visuals that a massive part of gaming is based on start here, but the game mechanics are simply fantastic.
Mario and Luigi play their way through 8 worlds, each comprised of 4 stages, fighting turtles, chestnuts, beetles, fish and plants, smashing bricks, getting coins, having a great time. The plot is really nonsense. Why are these plumbers fighting all these weird creatures anyway? What exactly is the Mushroom Kingdom? This is a mythos that has been so fleshed out that the original concept almost doesn’t seem completely ridiculous, but it is!
The game has been rereleased more times than Star Wars, most noteably on the Gameboy Color as “Super Mario Bros. Deluxe”. This version added a ton of extra challenges to gives something new to gamers who’d played the game before. The 8 worlds of the original Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 (known in the west as the Lost Levels) were also included in this version.
When this was the only Mario game there was, this may very well have been the greatest game ever made. As far as I’m concerned it kept that title until Metroid was released the next year. The game was endlessly fun back in the day and still holds up as fans of the franchise can go back and see where it all started with this easy to pick up classic.
3. Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 brought Mario Bros. gameplay to a whole new level. Keeping in mind that Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t actually originally a Mario game, makes this the next installment in the series after the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 which had gameplay that was almost identical to the first game. Going from the comparatively simple Super Mario Bros. to this game is quite an improvement.
Here we have screens that can scroll right and left, as well as up and down, opening things up to all kinds of new hidden secrets. This game is full of surprises, including a bunch of warp whistles hidden throughout. The inclusion of an overworld map adds quite an element of variety as to how the game can be played, often allowing players to choose one route or another to get access to special items, and even some hidden things on the map!
Where, previously, each world was restricted to a mere 4 stages each, this game has a ton more stages per world which includes numbered levels, fortresses, airships and extra stages. Some individual stages themselves are so elaborate, such as Bowser’s Castle, which has all kinds of extra secret routes leading to things like a Bowser that doesn’t breathe fire.
Completing the game gives players an extra treat, a full complement of P-Wings, which let Mario fly for a whole level as much as he wants. This makes playing through the game a lot of fun, but this feature was unfortunately removed from many later versions of the game.
For an NES title Super Mario Bros. 3 has more in common with Super Mario World for the SNES than it’s predecessor, which is quite an impressive feat. It is in many ways one of the greatest titles on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
2. Super Mario World
The SNES lacked the sheer number of Super Mario Bros. titles that the NES did, but the one we got was quite a treat! Super Mario World is in many ways superior to any of the Mario titles that came before it. Playing off the successful gameplay of Super Mario Bros. 3, this game sought to improve on it with more levels, items, enemies and pretty much everything.
Simply from being on a newer system, the game is just capable of so much more. The graphics are a vast improvement and the game is able to have Mario’s controls be so much more versatile and allows so many more enemies and objects on the screen at the same time. While the NES was prone to slow down when more than a few enemies showed up, the SNES could have the screen flooded with enemies, coins, blocks and others things all flying around, moving, being destroyed, flipping over, doing whatever. The level of polish put into this game was incredible considering it was a launch title that is still one of, arguably, the greatest game for the system.
Gone is Mario’s Raccoon tail and in it’s place is a cape. While the new abilities this allows are welcome the appeal of the tail is missed and something we didn’t revisit again until very recently. An extra dimension to the game was added with Yoshi, the dim witted often annoying companion who is able to do all kinds of crazy things with Koopa shells. Yoshi went on to be the star of his own games, which were quite good in their own way.
Super Mario World is full of secrets, including two entire worlds full of extra levels. The Star World had five levels each with two exits and then the Special World had eight levels. Completing the Special World changes all the enemies into different looking ones. There are also minor differences to the gameplay such as the colours of Koopas being different in their alternate versions so that Yoshi’s special abilities when eating them will change.
Super Mario World is a ton of fun and the last legitimate 2D Mario title we got until we started getting retro style games with the New Super Mario Bros series. It is, in many ways, the pinnacle of the classic Super Mario Bros. series.
1. Super Mario Bros. 2
That’s the North American Super Mario Bros. 2, not the unreasonably difficult game we got as “Lost Levels”. I realize I will get some heat for this from purists as Super Mario Bros. 2 was originally not a Mario Bros. game at all. Do not mistake my love of this game for a lack of appreciation for actual Super Mario titles, I love all of the games I’ve mentioned in this list, but Super Mario Bros. 2 happens to be my favourite.
In Japan, Super Mario. Bros 2 was a direct sequel to Super Mario Bros. This is a game similar in gameplay but on a whole other level of difficulty. As the story goes the powers that be at Nintendo decided for our sake that white people would find the game too hard. You know what? That’s true. I can safely say this knowing that I was able to complete all of the levels of Super Mario Bros. 2 “The Lost Levels” but I still feel the difficulty level was absurd. It played too much off of limitations of the game mechanics to make the game near impossible and it ultimately makes it far more frustrating than fun. Beyond this the game just isn’t that innovative because it’s just more of the same, not what fans wanted in a sequel. But this isn’t about that game, this is about the OTHER Super Mario Bros. 2.
In Japan there was a game that had nothing to do with Mario called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, which roughly translates to “Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic”. This game did not feature Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad or any enemies or items from the Super Mario Bros. game. Still a considerable amount of work went into touching the game up to make it something that could be released in North America as Super Mario Bros. 2 starring Mario and his friends and all kinds of familiar things. The con was so convincing that as a child in this Internetless world, I had no idea that this was not originally part of the Super Mario Bros. series.
The gameplay is naturally quite different from any other Mario title. This is something the series has in common with the Zelda game series as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has drastically different gameplay than the original Zelda and all other games in the series to follow it. The main difference of course being that Zelda II was always meant to be a Zelda game, so the monsters and world reflect that.
The dream world of Doki Doki Panic doesn’t really look anything like what we’d seen of the Mushroom Kingdom, but it retroactively does now that later games have been influenced quite a bit by it. Many concepts that are a very real part of the Super Mario Bros. world originate from this game, most notably the character of Birdo, gaming’s first transgender character!
The Super Mario Bros. 2 instruction manual states quite clearly that Birdo thinks he is a girl and likes to be called Birdetta. Remember of course that this was the 80s, so while it would be more progressive to refer to Birdo as “her” because that is the gender of her choice, the instruction manual still uses “he”. I have gotten in many online arguments with people who believe Birdo was born female and wish to retcon her past as if it never happened. Indeed we should accept Birdo’s gender of choice if that is how she wishes to gender identify but there’s no need to lie about the past!
The gameplay of Super Mario Bros. 2 is naturally not like that of any other Mario title. Jumping on enemies doesn’t kill them at all. For the most part it does nothing and the player is able to pick them up. There aren’t any mushroom, but instead there is the occasional heart. Coins are rare and they don’t give 1ups after 100 but instead are currency for the slot machine. The differences go on and on. It really isn’t much of a Mario game but for whatever reason, most of which is probably nostalgia and some of which is surely my love of Peach, I just really dig this game. I know It’s heresy to say it, but Super Mario Bros. 2 is my favourite Super Mario Bros. game.
Be sure to check out my all Princess Peach rom hack of Super Mario Bros. 2 “Princess Peach Toadstool“.
I hope you all enjoyed my list. Surely everyone would have their own unique list of top 5 Super Mario Bros. games. Please feel free to share your own in the comments and tell me why I’m wrong!
Honourable Mention: Super Mario 64
I’d probably get some mail bombs if I didn’t mention this game. I couldn’t manage to squeak it into the top 5 but I do love this title and just wanted to acknowledge how it changed the game for 3D platformers. It set a bar that really hasn’t ever been properly matched since.