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Ranking the Mario Games – Part 2

It’s part two of The Nostalgia Spot’s look at Super Mario games.  In this section, a couple of under-appreciated titles and a few too recent to benefit from the effects of nostalgia, but I’ll try not to hold that against them.  Part one can be found here.

10.  Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA (1988, Nintendo Entertainment System)

Mario throws vegetables now.  Accept it!

Mario throws vegetables now. Accept it!

The American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has always been the black sheep of the Mario family.  It was pretty weird going from the original Super Mario Bros. to this game.  There were no fire flowers, no goombas, no koopas, no Bowser or green warp pipes.  In their place were shy guys, flying carpets, vases, an egg-shooting bird-dinosaur thing, and Wart. By now, most people know that Super Mario Bros. 2 was so odd compared to the first game because it actually wasn’t a Mario game.  Originally released as Doki Doki Panic in Japan, Nintendo re-skinned the characters and added a few Mario-type items to the game for the American audience after Nintendo of America rejected the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2.  What most people didn’t know at the time, and what many still don’t realize, is that this Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually the REAL Super Mario Bros. 2!  The game that would be released as Doki Doki Panic in Japan actually started off as Super Mario Bros. 2.  Mario’s daddy, Shigeru Miyamoto, wanted to really change things up for the sequel with more characters and an emphasis on vertically scrolling levels.  A prototype was developed by Kensuke Tanabe, but when the project became too ambitious Nintendo basically got cold feet so they put the brakes on it and went the safe route for the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2.  Not wanting to waste the foundation of the game, it was re-dressed for release as Doki Doki Panic.  By the time Nintendo of America was clamoring for a different sequel, Nintendo’s development techniques had improved enough to the point that it was comfortable going full speed ahead with this iteration of Super Mario Bros. 2.  It was so successful that it would be released in Japan later as Super Mario USA, and today it’s pretty much considered the preferred Super Mario Bros. 2 in all territories.  Even knowing that, it’s still a weird game and a lot of the sprites created for Doki Doki Panic were left in which is why there’s no familiar Mario enemies.  Instead of jumping on enemies to destroy them, Mario can stand on top of them and lift them up and hurl them as projectiles or do the same with vegetables.  The jumping and platforming is just as good as ever, and the soundtrack is beyond catchy.  The game looks nice, and the additions of Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool as playable characters added variety.  One thing Miyamoto really wanted to get into the game was simultaneous co-op, but that would end up needing another 20 years for refinement.  Super Mario Bros. 2 is often overshadowed by the game that followed it, but it was an improvement on the original, albeit unconventional.  It’s odd take on the Super Mario franchise is what makes it endearing decades later.

9.  Super Mario Sunshine (2002, Gamecube)

Being a plumber is a stinky job.

Being a plumber is a stinky job.

I must confess, part of my placing Super Mario Sunshine immediately after Super Mario Bros. 2 is because it just seems so appropriate.  The games are both great examples of their genre, but both find themselves some-what unloved among the other Mario titles.  Super Mario Sunshine was a late arrival on the Gamecube, late in the sense that it wasn’t there for the system’s launch.  Mario had been a fixture at every Nintendo system launch of any consequence before, so gamers kind of just assumed he’d always be there.  With the Gamecube, Luigi got to bat lead-off for a change with his first solo outing leaving Mario to arrive a year later.  Super Mario Sunshine is the sequel to Super Mario 64 and just the second 3D Mario title in the span of six years.  1996-2002 was kind of a dry spell for Mario, but Super Mario Sunshine is another superb outing for the venerable plumber.  Unfortunately, Nintendo saw fit to saddle Mario with FLUDD, a water-powered jetpack type of thing that dominates a lot of the gameplay.  FLUDD really wasn’t well-received by Mario fans (though reviewers seemed to enjoy it) even though it was a rather fine gameplay addition for the most part.  With such an established star as Mario though, fans are often resistant to change.  Super Mario Sunshine brought back a lot of the platforming elements of prior games with an emphasis on level exploration.  It was well conceived, and using FLUDD as a means of propelling Mario along works quite well.  It’s the more mundane actions that become tiresome, such as needing to spray the environment clean incessantly.  As the player, you’ll do a lot of just standing around spraying water.  There’s also the need to replenish the water supply that’s not much fun.  Yoshi did make his return in Sunshine, and Bowser Jr. his official debut.  Super Mario Sunshine is a game that’s likely better than most people remember, and is absolutely still worth checking out.

8.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009, Nintendo Wii)

New power-ups and co-op play; it's all you really need to know about New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

New power-ups and co-op play; it’s all you really need to know about New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

New Super Mario Bros. brought the plumbers back to 2D in a way that was commercially very successful, though creatively felt more like a straight nostalgia trip and little else.  Which was fine, but I’m not sure what people expected of the franchise going forward, or if it even would be a true franchise.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii arrived three years later and for a home console this time, the Nintendo Wii.  This is where the franchise really started to leave it’s mark, with more interesting power-ups and better level design.  For the first time a Mario game was also able to be played cooperatively with up to four players all at once.  This was something Nintendo wanted to do as early as Super Mario Bros. 2, but the technology just wasn’t there.  To be fair, it’s not New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s strongest point as only two players of equal skill will be able to find much enjoyment in co-op.  Otherwise, it feels more like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with one player controlling the action and the other frantically trying to keep up.  The level design for the Wii game is much better though, after being mostly forgettable on the DS.  The added power-ups of the propeller suit and ice flower/penguin suit also add to the experience.  The propeller suit especially is one of the more fun power-ups to come along in a Mario game.  With a flick of the wrist, the propeller on the player’s head spins sending Mario ever higher on the screen and allowing for a slow descent.  Yoshi, again, is back but is limited only to certain stages which is kind of disappointing.  The challenge is a bit better than the DS title, though it’s still a pretty easy game for Mario veterans.  The final showdown with Bowser is both memorable and, if you’re aiming to collect all of the star coins, pretty tricky as well.  The reintroduction of the Koopalings is also a welcome development after the many repetitive boss battles in the first game.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii is another fun 2D Mario game, though it falls short of being a truly remarkable.

7.  New Super Mario Bros. U (2012, Nintendo Wii U)

For the first time ever, Mario is in HD but the end result won't knock your socks off.

For the first time ever, Mario is in HD but the end result won’t knock your socks off.

It should be considered a good thing that the most recent entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise is the best.  Though that does kind of ignore the fact that the edition released just a few months prior to New Super Mario Bros. U is the worst in the series.  The console editions are the stronger games, and they’ve apparently had a little more love during their development cycles.  New Super Mario Bros. U also has the distinction of being the first original Mario title to debut alongside new hardware since Super Mario 64 back in 1996.  Unfortunately for the Wii U, while New Super Mario Bros. U is a good and enjoyable title it’s not the system-seller that Super Mario 64 was.  Sales of the Wii U have been putrid, to put it nicely, so a lot of people still haven’t played this one.  Admittedly, when I first played it last year I was feeling a little fatigue after just recently finishing New Super Mario Bros. 2 and it took me awhile to actually play through this one.  That’s not the game’s fault, though I suppose it is a short-coming for the title that, despite being in HD, it still looks and plays more or less the same as the previous games.  The game borrows conceptually from Super Mario World in how the map is laid out.  There are several hidden paths and special levels to uncover throughout the game and each world has its own distinguishing features.  They’re also controlled by one of the seven Koopalings once again, with the King of Koopas waiting at Peach’s castle for Mario to arrive and save his princess.  All of the power-ups from New Super Mario Bros. Wii return though in a diminished capacity.  The main new power-up is the flying squirrel suit, which makes too much sense for a Mario game.  With it, Mario can glide and he knifes through the air rather quickly, as opposed to the slow descent of the super cape or tanooki suit.  He gets a one-time hop in flight that does bring him to that slow descent we’re used to.  He also has the ability to cling to walls, though he can’t move along them (which is what the new cat suit will allow in the upcoming Super Mario 3D World).  I was a bit lukewarm on the suit initially, but after extended playing time I’ve actually come to enjoy it quite a bit.  It’s different, and probably Mario’s best flying suit since the cape.  The best thing I can say about New Super Mario Bros. U though is the difficulty.  It’s still exceptionally easy to rack up 99 lives, but the levels in this game will actually force gamers to use those lives.  The star coins are also better hidden, and like previous games extra levels are unlocked after defeating Bowser for the first time.  If the main game isn’t challenging enough, there are extra challenge levels that are designed to bring about controller-smashing frustration.  Lastly, the game also makes use of the Wii U gamepad by allowing it to function as a second screen, meaning you don’t even need your television on to play the game.  I’ve said a lot about a game that basically feels like more of the same, but New Super Mario Bros. U is the best side-scrolling Mario game since Super Mario World, so I suppose it deserves all of these words.

6.  Super Mario 3D Land (2011, Nintendo 3DS)

Many of the stages in 3D Land exist in a three-dimensional environment but force Mario to a 2D-like path.

Many of the stages in 3D Land exist in a three-dimensional environment but force Mario to a 2D-like path.

Over the years, Mario fans have become divided into two camps:  the ones that prefer the 2D side-scrolling games and those that prefer the 3D titles.  In truth, most fans like both but there are preferences.  In general, those that grew up with the 8-bit NES tend to prefer the games that remind them of the old titles, while those who first experienced Mario via the Nintendo 64 tend to favor the 3D games.  For the first time, Nintendo decided to try and please both with a single title:  Super Mario 3D Land.  This was not just Mario’s first 3D portable adventure, but also his first trek on Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld and Mario was expected to demonstrate the advantages of stereoscopic 3D gaming.  I don’t know if Mario was able to sell audiences on that feature, but people in general seemed to love the game and with good reason.  The style of the game is basically an open world concept for each stage, but with each level being a small level reminiscent of the old games.  Some of these levels force Mario into more of a 2D plane that may allow Mario to hop in and out of the foreground and background.  The use of stereoscopic 3D meant a few stages at a high camera angle and some platforms are nearly impossible to negotiate without the 3D effect enabled.  For power-ups, the tanooki suit was brought back but in a diminished capacity as Mario could only slow his descent, not fly (the stone form ability from Super Mario Bros. 3 is only available after beating the game once), which was a shame.  The boomerang bros. suit was the other hyped addition and it’s a good alternative to the traditional fire flower (and a nice homage to the hammer bros. suit from Super Mario Bros. 3).  The layout of the map is as linear as it gets, but completing the game once opens up what amounts to a second game.  The first set of stages are fairly painless for Mario veterans, but the bonus worlds are much tougher and contain a good amount of challenge.  Mostly, the game works as designed, though I could do without the 3D effects.  Mario controls well and the approach allows the developers to pick and choose from the best of Mario’s past and stuff it all into one game.  Hopefully Nintendo is able to build off of this game and it ends up being the first game in another successful Mario franchise, the Wii U is banking on it.


Ranking the Mario Games – Part 1

images-142Super Mario, the portly plumber with the black moustache, is not just the mascot for Nintendo but the ambassador for all video games.  Gamers are intimately familiar with Mario, his history, forays into pop culture, and of course his games.  He was the nameless Jump Man before he was Mario and though early titles like Mario Bros., which introduced brother Luigi, kept true to the plumber occupation it was Super Mario Bros. that helped launch the Nintendo Entertainment System into video game legendary status.  Since then, Mario, usually alongside Luigi, has appeared in a great many games in either a starring or supporting role.  He’s dabbled in just about every genre save first-person shooter (don’t take that as a suggestion, Nintendo) and has done so successfully, for the most part.  He’s been challenged along the way by other would-be mascots and felled them all.

Mario’s games are typically of a high quality, and while some are better than others, there really are no true lemons.  These next few posts are going to attempt to distinguish the best from the not best, but in truth, all of the games to follow are still a good time, even today.  This list only concerns itself with Mario’s starring platform adventures which began with Super Mario Bros. in 1985 and will continue this fall with Super Mario 3D World.  Excluded are two titles which borrowed the Mario name for marketing purposes, namely Super Mario Land 3:  Wario Land and Super Mario World 2:  Yoshi’s Island.  I think most would agree those two games are actually the first in new franchises for Wario and Yoshi, respectively.  This also excludes those educational Mario titles that popped up on the Super Nintendo, and the few games starring Luigi.  I considered excluding Mario’s 3D adventures and relegating them to a separate ranking but decided against it.  They’re still Mario titles, and whether the game is a side-scroller or in 3D, they actually manage to play very similarly.  Maybe it would just be easier to list the games about to be ranked, so here they are in chronological order of release:  Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2/The Lost Levels, Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario Land, Super Mario World, Super Mario Land 2, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, New Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario 3D Land, New Super Mario Bros. 2, New Super Mario Bros. U.  That’s 16 Mario titles in total, and if this thing drags on long enough, maybe I’ll do a 17th as a postscript for Super Mario 3D World, though the pile of dust that has collected on my Wii U suggests that won’t be happening.  On to the rankings!

16.  Super Mario Land (1989, Gameboy)

Different, but similar, Super Mario Land was a worthy first attempt at bringing Mario to the smallest of screens.

Different, but similar, Super Mario Land was a worthy first attempt at bringing Mario to the smallest of screens.

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to immediately pick on the Mario title with the least amount of technological backing, but I’ll reiterate what I said in the intro which is that all of these games are worth playing and remain so.  That said, Super Mario Land is basically a scaled-down version of the original Super Mario Bros. for the then recently released Nintendo Gameboy.  Nintendo should be commended for actually not just porting Super Mario Bros. and actually giving Super Mario Land its own distinguishing characteristics.  Set in Sarasaland, the game puts Mario in an Egyptian inspired setting with tried and true Mario gameplay.  There are some noted differences from the console games, in that Mario’s fireballs shoot at an angle and bounce off walls and hearts are used for extra lives while coins function as a currency.  There are also some scrolling levels where Mario pilots a spaceship or submarine which help break up the routine.  Otherwise, it was a pretty basic platforming-side-scroller.  The Gameboy’s display made it a little tough on the eyes, and Mario felt a little loose as a result.  Gamers who had this title in 1989 mostly seemed to enjoy it, even though they knew they were getting a somewhat lesser experience than what they had on their home consoles, but considering the Gameboy’s main competition was Tiger handheld games, they were pretty content to have Super Mario Land.

15.  Super Mario Bros. 2/The Lost Levels (Nintendo Entertainment System, 1986)

One of the defining characteristics of Super Mario Bros. 2 was the emphasis on making the Luigi experience different from the Mario one.

One of the defining characteristics of Super Mario Bros. 2 was the emphasis on making the Luigi experience different from the Mario one.

By now, anyone with an interest in video games is well aware of the story of the “original” Super Mario Bros. 2.  It was a Japan only release for a couple of reasons.  The main reason was the difficulty which Nintendo of America thought would prove too frustrating for US gamers.  Also, Nintendo of America wasn’t very impressed with the title simply because it was too similar to the original Super Mario Bros.  For that, we should be thankful as NOA was absolutely right with that stance.  Super Mario Bros. 2 would eventually be released as The Lost Levels in the US alongside the other NES Mario titles in the Super Mario All-Stars compilation released on the Super Nintendo.  The game basically plays like a set of add-on levels for the original title.  The original was such a massive success, that Nintendo of Japan felt it had to strike quick with a sequel.  When early attempts at a sequel proved too ambitious (more on that to follow), this game was created in its stead.  It’s basically just a harder version of the original, with the addition of poison mushrooms and Luigi being given his own characteristics (higher jumps but slippery feet) to make him play different from Mario for the first time.  Needless to say, when the game was eventually released in the US, few American gamers felt like they had really been missing out on anything.

14.  Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

The original, but not still the best, Super Mario Bros. set the standard for all Mario games to follow.  These types of lists are always a little tricky because one is forced to weigh present value against past value.  My take is always to just judge the games as they are.  Perhaps that gives the modern titles a huge advantage but a good game is a good game, regardless of era or graphical horse power.  Plus, games should be better today than they were 20 years ago as I’d like to think we’re always moving forward.  With that out of the way, it should be said that Super Mario Bros. still holds up today as a fun and challenging game, just one notably simplified.  It’s the classic “go right” game and the player is expected to run and bounce along to each stage’s flag pole in an attempt to rescue the princess.  The clock actually plays a role in this game, as opposed to the more recent games, and later levels force the player to hold the run button throughout.  The game’s challenge is mostly found in negotiating jumps and platforms that become smaller as the game goes along while dodging classic Mario enemies like koopa troopas and Lakitu.  It’s true that it may be hard to impress a young gamer today with the original Super Mario Bros., but it is a textbook take on the genre it launched even if its sequels have improved upon it immensely.

13.  Super Mario Land 2:  6 Golden Coins (Gameboy, 1992)

New bunny ears and a new villain are the defining characteristics of Super Mario Land 2.

New bunny ears and a new villain are the defining characteristics of Super Mario Land 2.

Super Mario Land 2 was a huge improvement over its predecessor.  It borrowed heavily from the the current console games in terms of defining Mario’s look and power-ups and pushed the Gameboy to produce one if its best looking and best playing titles.  This game also introduced Wario, who served as the primary antagonist for Mario for basically the only time before becoming a playable character in his own line of games.  Super Mario Land 2 held onto the first game’s quirks while giving Mario some new power-ups, most notably the bunny ears.  Mario being able to fly had been a big deal since Super Mario Bros. 3 so it’s no surprise he was able to do the same in this game.  Keeping things weird, as they were with a raccoon tail bestowing flying powers in SMB 3, the bunny ears let Mario fly by rapidly pressing the jump button.  Mario didn’t gradually descend, like he did with the cape and tail, so it gave Land 2 a unique feature.  The fireballs had their angled shot replaced with traditional fire power, and the game had a map layout like Super Mario World.  The worlds the map is segregated into can be played in any order, giving this game a less linear feel, and secrets abound which help the replay factor.  Which is a good thing, because the 32 levels will be breezed through by Mario veterans making Super Mario Land 2’s biggest weakness its short duration.  This is a fun game though, and it was the first Gameboy experience that came close to matching the console one where Mario titles are concerned.

12.  New Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo 3DS, 2012)

I did a big write-up on this one around the time it was released, so I won’t go into too much detail here.  Suffice to say, if anything my opinion of the game has lessened since.  It’s a fun experience, but in general it did little to nothing as far as advancing the series goes.  The focus on coin collection was a mistake as it didn’t add to the experience.  The much publicized street pass functionality and downloadable content was basically a dud, and the game’s difficulty was basically non-existant.  This is a by-the-numbers Mario game, and its sister-title New Super Mario Bros. U is the far superior game, and not just because it’s on the more powerful console and in HD.  I did enjoy the return of the super leaf power-up as well as the inclusion of the Koopa Kids and the game does not have a shortage of levels.

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

New Super Mario Bros. was a welcome return to the side-scrolling genre for Mario and Luigi.

New Super Mario Bros. was a welcome return to the side-scrolling genre for Mario and Luigi.

New Super Mario Bros. was a supremely refreshing title when it was first released in 2006.  A new side-scrolling Mario game had not been released since 1992’s Super Mario Land 2, unless you count the Wario and Yoshi games in between.  New Super Mario Bros. was a like a kid’s dream of what the original Super Mario Bros. could have been with mega mushroom power-ups and the mini mushroom, letting Mario shrink to a microscopic size.  Of the two, the mini mushroom was actually the better as controlling a lightning quick Mario was a lot of fun.  Not that it wasn’t fun to control the Godzilla-like Mega Mario, but it got old after a few experiences.  Mario also retained some of his 3D controls like the ability to double and triple jump.  Not very useful, but a lot of fun.  The game is also massive with 80 levels to explore, some of them only unlocked after finding the various star coins hidden in each stage.  Like its sequel, the game’s biggest drawback was its lack of challenge.  Notably trickier than the follow-up, but still lacking compared with the well-balanced Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario 64.  This is a good game though, and as you can probably guess from these rankings, I actually recommend it over New Super Mario Bros. 2 for its tighter gameplay and better level design, though the level design is actually a weakness for the game when compared to other Mario titles.  This one was a nice nostalgia trip in 2006, and even though the New Super Mario Bros. franchise has had a hard time living up to the classics, I still think we’re better off for having it.


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