Ranking the mainline 3D Super Mario games

Super Mario has had his fair share of adventures. From defeating Bowser for the first time in Super Mario Bros. to taking the form of a T-Rex in Super Mario Odyssey, the iconic character boasts a catalog of games with an abundance of worlds to explore. Though the 2D games have been stellar, 3D titles kicked off by Super Mario 64 have given players the grandest experiences. This begs the question: How do they stack up against one another?

7. Super Mario 3D Land

Though Super Mario 3D Land controls well, its fluidity and visual appeal are bogged down by 3DS hardware.

The game acted as an interesting new venture for the franchise, as the blend of 2D and 3D gameplay inherently changed the experience. While it’s a linear experience, Super Mario 3D Land gives the player freedom within levels. It’s just not enough, though.

The game should’ve introduced elements to complement the new gameplay switch, but they were nowhere to be found. The ability to utilize the Tanooki suit remains an exceptionally charming addition to the series, but there just weren’t enough new features to hold my interest.

6.  Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2 was all too similar to its predecessor, but didn’t justify itself as a bigger or better adventure. Level design was a highlight of the first, pushing the Super Mario series to new limits. Galaxy 2 felt like a rinse and repeat of the first with new elements added, but none of that changed the game in a substantial way. And when a level was designed to feel like classic Super Mario, it sometimes ended up bogged down by subpar motion controls.

Purple Coins on Rainbow Road should be fun, but Galaxy 2’s motion controls, combined with the level’s criteria, make for a pretty bad experience. There are 110 total coins, and the player must snag 100 of them. Given the wonky controls and difficulty, Galaxy 2 has some of the worst levels I’ve played in a 3D Mario title.

5. Super Mario 3D World

Super Mario 3D World was a fun little game on Wii U, but ultimately left me underwhelmed with its overall scope. Its art style, simple story, and level design were great, but it took no risks. For a Mario game to stand out, it needs to pair incredible design with new gameplay elements. If you look at the success of each title, it largely boils down to what it brings to the franchise. Super Mario 64 was the plumber’s first venture into a 3D environment, which translated to critical appraise and over ten million units sold. Super Mario 3D World, on the other hand, felt like an add-on to Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS, when it really should’ve moved the franchise forward.

Difficulty is a huge issue with 3D World. If a player dies even a few times, the game grants you an optional suit that provides temporary invincibility. Now, the player doesn’t have to take it, but the fact that it’s included goes to show the level of difficulty targeted by the developers. The best Mario games have always been difficult, but 3D World just doesn’t boast adequate challenge.

4. Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy certainly made a splash when it launched back in 2007, and for good reason. The game isn’t perfect by any means, but it presented the first technical leap for the Super Mario series since the early 2000s. Its level design was impeccable and helped shape the industry once again.

Super Mario Galaxy pushed the limits of the 3D platformer in a way that feels natural. Though I’m no fan of the camera, its otherwise stellar design feels like a proper yet unorthodox jump from Sunshine. Even the game’s narrative is solid, something I don’t expect from the series.

New gameplay elements like gravity changes fundamentally impact the way Galaxy is played, due to the newfound suspense put on the player because of things like the Launch Star. These aspects help shape the game as a whole, allowing it to stand on its own as an incredibly unique title.

3. Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario Sunshine is an absolute delight. A refreshing chapter in the Super Mario series, Sunshine did so much right; from an enthralling story to introducing a stacked cast of recurring Super Mario characters, the title is a truly underrated gem on the GameCube.

I really dig the aesthetic of Sunshine. The island setting was a perfect way to distinguish it from its predecessor, Super Mario 64. The idea of putting Mario, Peach, and their friends on an island getaway is such a weird storytelling decision I applaud. The chaos begins automatically, establishing an interest right off the bat. While I adore its story, gameplay is where Sunshine, dare I say it, shines.

F.L.U.D.D. is incredibly charming and acts as arguably Mario’s most important gadget of all time. The devs’ decision to use F.L.U.D.D. as not only Mario’s main weapon, but also his partner throughout the game, is a decision I completely support.

F.L.U.D.D. brought such a unique new gameplay element to the Mario franchise. Though it didn’t stick, its prominence in Sunshine is something that keeps the game unique.

2. Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 is the most important game in the series. It completely changed the way people saw video games. These weren’t linear experiences any more. What Super Mario 64 showed is that games can give players the freedom they truly desire, in a way that feels fluid and, most importantly, fun.

Speaking of freedom, the way it’s established is in the player’s ability to choose their next level. There’s a caveat, however. By unlocking levels with stars, players have a sense of what levels may be too challenging, and on the flip side, those that follow the developers’ intended route.

Exploration is encouraged in 64. From secrets around Peach’s Castle to nooks in the most unexpected of places in each level, the game truly wants the player to dive in and see everything firsthand. Bosses are an absolute blast in 64, with so many memorable moments coming from battles with them. Bowser is my favorite of the bunch. Your clash with him in the sky was a perfect conclusion to the epic adventure that was Super Mario 64.

1. Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey felt like a late sequel to Super Mario 64. The game takes everything presented in 64 and fine-tunes it with a modern approach to game development. It’s the first truly HD experience on a Nintendo platform, and this jump to modern visuals seems to carry over to its storytelling, level design, and control scheme.

Odyssey, simply put, feels like the ultimate Super Mario game. It takes virtually every element of past installments and adds an incredibly diverse lineup of new gameplay mechanics, power-ups, and characters.

The ability to capture characters is a logical step forward for the Jumpman. I wouldn’t have thought of it, but it feels so natural. This is how the Mario brand thrives. Each new AAA title brings with it a wave of new unexpected features and quirks that feel as if they’ve been a staple of the series for years.

The game’s variety in levels is absolutely incredible, pleasing every type of Mario fan. Whether you enjoy smaller, quiet levels or vastly detailed and challenging experiences, Super Mario Odyssey does it well.

How would you rank the mainline 3D Super Mario games? Chime in below–let us know!

Aric Sweeny
Former Editor-in-Chief, now staff writer here at NE. I'm an English student in California. Let's talk Pokémon.