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Mario's Ten Greatest Platforming Games

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Posted by: Robert Workman

If there’s any character that’s been pivotal to the history of Nintendo, it has to be Mario.  After all, he’s basically the company’s mascot, enthralling millions of gamers, young and old, to try out his latest adventures.  His legacy has been running 30 years now, and it continues to captivate with the recently released Super Mario 3D Land for Nintendo 3DS.

With that, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to select the plumber’s greatest platformer outings.  No, you won’t mind Mario Kart or any of his sports stuff here, just the adventures where he’s gone head-to-head against Bowser and other unspeakably evil (yet still slightly adorable) enemies.  There are some controversial choices, to be sure (we didn’t include Super Mario Sunshine – it just missed the cut), but there’s no question whichever one of these you decide to play, you’re bound to have an outstanding time.  Let’s slide jump into the list…

10. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992, Game Boy)

When the Game Boy came out, Nintendo released a pretty good Mario game with Super Mario Land, even though the graphics were a little pint sized at the time.  Nintendo alleviated this with the sequel, 6 Golden Coins, incorporating graphics that were better suited for Mario’s style, as well as better looking levels and a quest that takes several hours to complete.  This one just recently came out for the Nintendo 3DS on the eShop service, and it’s a steal for four bucks.

9. New Super Mario Bros. (2006, Nintendo DS)

When Mario made the transition to 3D games, many folks were wondering if he would ever return to 2D land.  Well, Nintendo answered the call in 2006 with New Super Mario Bros., a game that combined the best of both worlds – classic platforming with exquisite new-style graphics.  The game turned out to be a colossal hit, and Nintendo since followed it up with a Wii version, with an emphasis on co-op gameplay.  It worked out rather well – even without the gigantic Mario stomping through everything.  (Must be the helicopter helmets.)

8. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010, Wii)

The original Super Mario Galaxy managed to transition the plumber back into the spotlight after the release of the enjoyable yet somewhat distracting Super Mario Sunshine on GameCube.  But it’s the sequel that really took off, complete with the addition of Yoshi, some great new suits (including Ghost and Cloud Mario), challenging level design and quite simply some of the best graphics to ever be produced on the Wii.  Have you discovered everything in this universe yet?  We’re guessing no.  At least, not ABSOLUTELY everything…

7. Super Mario World (1990, SNES)

At one point, Sega was considered the dominant force in 16-bit gaming.  However, that changed almost immediately when Nintendo released its SNES gaming system, as it included one hell of a pack-in – Super Mario World.  Packed with a huge assortment of levels and some great new abilities (including the introduction of his dino pal Yoshi and a superhero cape that helped him fly), it’s a game that’s still quite playable today.  You can check it out on the Virtual Console service for Wii for a paltry $8.  Surely, you can afford that, right?

6. Donkey Kong (1981, arcade)

Every hero got his start somewhere, and for Mario, it was the original Donkey Kong, where he was first introduced as “Jumpman”.  In the game, he has to climb ladders, dodge obstacles and smash things with a hammer while taking on the vicious Donkey Kong, who has snatched his girlfriend.  The game not only introduced a great hero on Mario, but it also featured the debut of Kong, star of numerous platforming titles.  In addition, the game also made a name for a young programming wiz named Shigeru Miyamoto – and the rest is history.

5. Super Mario 3D Land (2011, 3DS)

The Nintendo 3DS hasn’t exactly gotten the warmest of reception this year, but all that is likely to change with the long-awaited arrival of a Mario adventure – and a superb one at that.  Mario 3D Land comes packed with beautiful 2D/3D levels with plenty of old-school platforming antics, along with a bounty of hidden secrets to discover, the return of the Tanooki suit, and graphics that literally pop right out of the screen.  This is one of the best handheld games you’ll get your hands on this year.  (Check out our review if you don’t believe us.)

4. Super Mario Bros. (1985, NES)

Mario may have made his debut in Donkey Kong, but his career as world-saver didn’t really take off until 1985, when Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. for both the Nintendo Entertainment System and arcades (as a “Vs.” title).  What followed is gaming infamy, chock full of secret rooms, cool power-ups (gotta love the Fire Flower), interesting 1-up tricks (surely you’ve mastered that turtle shell thing) and the introduction of the infamous phrase “Our princess is in another castle!”  Surely this is the stuff of legend.

3. Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 (1995, SNES)

Yoshi’s Island is a curious entry in our top ten list, because you don’t actually control Mario at all.  Instead, you control Yoshi as he carries a baby Mario on his back, guiding him to safety while collecting coins and swallowing enemies to turn into eggs.  But despite the drastic change in character, Yoshi’s Island turned out to be a superb sequel, with innovative level design, sharp gameplay and plenty of hidden secrets to keep players coming back for more.  Hopefully, Nintendo will speed the Virtual Console release of this game right along…

2. Super Mario 64 (1996, Nintendo 64)

Any franchise eventually has to move forward in progress, and in 1996, Nintendo took that bold step forward, bringing Super Mario to the 3D front for its Nintendo 64 console.  What followed was an earth-shaking game that showed how 3D platforming is done.  Featuring terrifically designed worlds, unmatched (even to this day) gameplay and plenty of hidden secrets (Yoshi!), it’s the kind of launch title that you wish would come with every system.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988, NES)

If we’re going to talk one key moment in Mario’s career, a moment where the plumber really came alive like never before in gaming, then it has to be Super Mario Bros. 3, where he first dons the raccoon tail and takes flight.  This is just the beginning of what is easily Mario’s greatest adventure, jam packed with fun boss encounters, useful items (gotta love them Warp Whistles), beautiful (for 1988 standards) graphics and Miyamoto-driven gameplay that’s still quite playable by today’s terms.  This is as good as Mario can get…now if we could just get a 3D enhanced version for the 3DS…

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