The Legacy of Mario

Nintendo has just celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this month

Where would video games be without Mario?

The Super Mario games made us rethink of what video games were capable of, as well as reinvigorated the West’s interest in the medium when the industry was on the verge of collapse.

Super Mario Bros., skyrocketed Nintendo’s popularity outside of Japan, and has become the biggest and most iconic video game character of all time. Recently, the franchise celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this month, and we at Continue-Play thought it’d be appropriate look back at all the Super Mario games that have been released over the years.

One thing before we start: the games listed here are specifically the core Mario platformer games that have been released over the past three decades. Mario has been in numerous other titles spanning different genres, and listing them all in a single article would be insane. We might look at the various spinoffs in future pieces, but for now we’re sticking with the main titles.

Super Mario Bros. (NES, 1985)

Where Super Mario all began.

He may have appeared in games before Super Mario Bros., but Mario’s first starring role set the plumber on the course we all know today.

We of course start with the game that started the whole franchise. 

While Mario’s first appearance was in the arcade game Donkey Kong (Mario was originally called “Jumpman”), Super Mario Bros. was the game that propelled Mario into gamers’ collective consciousness and paved the way for future Mario games to come – as well as setting the template for the entire platform genre as a whole.

Super Mario Bros. was first released on the Famicom on September 13, 1985. Since its release it’s sold over 40 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful video games of all time.

But the influence of Super Mario Bros. goes beyond how many copies of have been sold. At the time of its release, the video game industry was on the verge of death following the infamous industry crash of the early 1980s. Several game companies, including industry giant Atari, had either gone bankrupt or were on the brink of it thanks to years of publishers churning out subpar titles at high prices – a trend which came to a head with the release of E.T. – a game so bad that thousands of copies ended up being buried in the Nevada Desert.

The release of Super Mario Bros. not only made video games commercially viable again, but it cemented Nintendo’s place as the dominant company in the industry for many years to come.

Super Mario Bros. introduced the core concepts of the Platform genre that we all take for granted today. Jumping on enemies to defeat them, collecting coins to gain more lives, power-ups such as the Mushrooms and Fire Flowers, and hidden levels all made their debut in Nintendo’s classic.

Super Mario Bros. has been universally praised as one of the most important games ever made, and World 1-1 is one of the most recognized video game levels of all time. 30 years on, Super Mario Bros. is still just as enjoyable to play now as it was upon its debut. Superb level design, a tutorial so invisible you don’t even realize it’s there, and music that has become ingrained in public consciousness – it’s no wonder that Mario was once voted the most recognized character in the world.

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Famicom Disk System, 1986)

Was Super Mario Bros. 2 too challenging for us westerners?

The original sequel to Super Mario Bros. was deemed too difficult for Westerners upon its release. 

Super Mario Bros. 2, known as The Lost Levels in the West following its appearance in the SNES collection Super Mario All Stars, was only released in Japan due to the fact that Nintendo’s American division believed that the game was too difficult for players in North America.

The Lost Levels was nearly identical to the previous game in both gameplay and aesthetic. There were no new enemies, and the graphics and music were identical. But The Lost Levels stands out due to being absolutely bastard hard. Setbacks like counterproductive level warps, poison mushrooms, and mid-air wind were added to make the game much more of a challenge. There’s also no 2-player option; you choose between Mario and Luigi and stick with the character to the end of the game.

One thing worthy of note is that The Lost Levels was the first game to make Luigi handle differently from his brother. Luigi jumps higher than his brother, but this is mitigated by the fact that he skids along the ground – making it that much easier to find yourself running into a bottomless pit.

The Lost Levels shows just how fiendish Nintendo’s level designers can be when they put their mind to it. If you want a challenge, it’s certainly worth playing – just expect to find yourself swearing loudly after dying for the hundredth time on the same stage.

Super Mario Bros. 2 (US Version) (NES, 1988)

The US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is very different to its predecessor.

The US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 wasn’t even a Mario game to start with – Nintendo simply reskinned an obscure Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic.

Since Nintendo of America decided to not release Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels due to its difficulty, they instead opted to redevelop and rebrand an obscure Japanese game to market as a sequel instead: Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic.

Super Mario Bros. 2 takes place in the dream world of “Subcon”. The game’s main antagonist is Wart, a dinosaur-like villain much like Bowser, who has taken over the dream world. It’s up to Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool to save Subcon.

While the story is somewhat typical of most Super Mario games, the gameplay itself is a departure from its predecessor. Instead of jumping on enemies, you throw objects at them. You can also stand on enemies and ride them, and even pick them up and throw them, too.

Also, unlike the first game, there’s a health system instead of a one-hit-death mechanic.

Birdo also made her first appearance as an in-game boss, and has since made several cameos in spin-off Mario games including Mario TennisMario Kart: Double Dash!!, and several Mario Party games.

While not as well-received as the first Super Mario Bros., it still sold very well and was eventually released in Japan as well for the Famicom. Despite not having been designed as a Mario game originally, a number of elements from Super Mario Bros. 2 have been reused in subsequent games. Shy Guys and Birdo enemies have since become well-known members of Mario’s Rogues Gallery, while Super Mario Bros. 2 was the first game in the series to coat the surface of the level in grass, rather than having Mario walking on a rocky surface – a trend which continues to this day.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1988)

Mario returns to his platforming roots in the third installment.

Mario returns to his platforming roots in the third installment.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was a return to form for the Super Mario franchise. The gameplay returned to the original format of platforming with Mario jumping on enemies to defeat them.

However there were many features added to the game that are still staples in the franchise to this day. Most notably, an overworld was added to transition between levels – a system that arguably reached perfection with its implementation in Super Mario World on the SNES.

Super Mario Bros. 3 also introduced the iconic Super Leaf and Tanooki Suit power-ups. The Super Leaf power-up transforms you into a Raccoon Mario, giving you the ability to spin his tail around to attack enemies and glide. The Tanooki Suit takes it a step further and gives you the ability to fly. You can also turn into a statue with the suit, confusing enemies for a short period of time.

Other power-ups featured in Super Mario Bros. 3 include the Frog Suit, which allows you to swim underwater much faster; the P-Wing suit, which gives you the ability to fly indefinitely; and the Hammer Suit, which gives you the ability to throw hammers like the Hammer Bros. enemies.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was one of the best-selling titles on the NES, selling about 18 million copies worldwide, and is considered one of the greatest video games of all time due the vast improvements it made to the Mario formula. It also started the phenomenon of Mario Mania.

Super Mario Land (Game Boy, 1989)

Where's Mario?

Where’s Mario?

Super Mario Land was a launch title for Nintendo’s Game Boy. The game consisted of twelve levels, and its gameplay was similar to that of the original Super Mario Bros, eschewing the advances made in Super Mario Bros. 3.

Though similar to the original game, Super Mario Land did contain some inconsistencies from the series as a whole. For example, Koopas exploded upon defeating them, something which hasn’t been seen in any subsequent Super Mario games since.

While lauded by critics at the time, many complained that the smaller scale of the character was hard to see on the Game Boy’s screen at times, not helped by the monochrome graphics. There were also concerns about the game’s short length.

Regardless, Super Mario Land actually managed to outsell Super Mario Bros. 3 – ultimately selling well over 18 million copies worldwide, and starting a long trend of handheld Mario games that continues to this day.

Super Mario World (SNES, 1990)

Super Mario World breathed new life into the series.

Super Mario World breathed new life into the series.

Super Mario World was originally a pack-in launch title for the SNES, and much like Super Mario Bros. 3, is considered one of the best games ever made. Starting to notice a trend?

Much like the third installment of the series, Super Mario World introduced numerous additions to the formula. The biggest by far was the introduction of Yoshi, who remains one of Nintendo’s most loved characters to this day. Serving as Mario’s steed, Yoshi can swallow enemies as well as gain certain abilities depending on what type of enemy is consumed. Meanwhile, a floaty jump allowed Mario to reach parts of the level that otherwise remained blocked off – making the adorable dinosaur essential for locating the many secrets hidden throughout the game.

While the inclusion of Yoshi may seem like a minor gimmick, it fundamentally changed the Mario formula to its core. Riding on Yoshi changes how you defeat enemies and go about the level. Yoshi went on to take a starring role in Yoshi’s Island a few years later (also on this list), which spawned yet another spin-off series. But it wasn’t until 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube that he let the fat plumber on his back again – despite popping up as a hidden cameo in Super Mario 64.

Super Mario World outsold its predecessors (with the exception of the original), selling well over 20 million copies worldwide. You can check out our Defining Moments feature and more on Yoshi here, and if you have a Wii U, you’re able to pick it up via Nintendo’s Virtual Console service.

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

Super Mario Land 2 was an improvement over the first.

Super Mario Land 2 was an improvement over the first.

Serving as the sequel to Super Mario LandSuper Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins was the second Mario title to be made for the Game Boy.

The sequel brought over many of the innovations from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World including the overworld map, which was not featured in the original Super Mario Land, and a number of new suits for Mario.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Super Mario Land 2 is that it was the first Nintendo game to feature Wario, who serves as the main antagonist of the game. Like Yoshi before him, Wario would go on to be featured in his own spinoff series, the Wario Land games, as well as in numerous other Nintendo titles.

Super Mario Land 2 made vast improvementsin the graphics department compared to the original Super Mario Land. While its predecessor featured tiny sprites and a lack of detail in its environments, The 6 Golden Coins pushed the hardware to its limits with great animation and detailed sprite work.

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

The hand-drawn aesthetics of this title are the most unique in the series.

The hand-drawn aesthetics of this title are the most unique in the series.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was the second Super Mario title released for the SNES and served as a prequel to first Super Mario World.

Instead of controlling Mario directly, you played as Yoshi who would escort Baby Mario on his back to reach the end of each level. As before, Yoshi has the ability to ensnare enemies with his tongue and either spit out or swallow them. Swallowing enemies allows Yoshi to lay an egg (no, we’re not sure either), which could be aimed and thrown to attack enemies from far away or to knock down hard-to-reach items.

Yoshi’s Island‘s hand-drawn aesthetic was very different to any Super Mario game seen before, resembling a child’s coloring book that makes the game instantly recognizable. But the child-friendly visuals hid a game that was incredibly challenging – and contained some of the most well-hidden secrets in the series up to that point.

Yoshi’s Island received near universal acclaim for its design and gameplay. Subsequent Yoshi games have failed to engender the same amount of affection (the less said about Yoshi’s New Island on the 3DS the better), but the original remains a hugely enjoyable platforming adventure. It’s well worth hunting down the 2012 DS port of the game, if you’ve never played it before.

Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)

HERE WE GO!!!!

HERE WE GO!!!!

Perhaps one of the most revolutionary games of all time, Super Mario 64 was released as a launch title for the Nintendo 64 console and is one of the most significant titles in the series as it was not only the first Super Mario games to feature 3D gameplay, but also one of the first 3D adventure games ever to be released.

Like previous Mario games, your objective is to save Princess Peach from Bowser. In order to do this, you must collect “Power Stars” by completing various challenges in various stages. Collecting these stars unlocks new stages and eventually leads you to the final showdown against your foe. This formula would be repeated in almost every subsequent 3D Mario platformer.

While the core mechanics of jumping and platforming remained intact, the conversion to 3D introduced many different moves and elements that were not possible in previous  Mario games. The ability to perform different types of jumps, to punch and grab enemies, as well as more of an emphasis on exploration reinvented the genre and set the standards for future games based in 3D.

The game was met with critical acclaim at the time of its release. And while certain elements such as the archaic camera system haven’t aged too well, the game is still widely considered one of the most influential games ever made. If you want to read up more on how revolutionary this game was, you can check out our Defining Moments feature on it here.

Super Mario Sunshine (Gamecube, 2002)

Mario's got some cleaning to do.

Mario’s got some cleaning to do.

Super Mario Sunshine was the first Mario 3D platformer to be released in over six years after Super Mario 64.

Originally released for the Gamecube, Sunshine departed from the usual Mushroom Kingdom setting and was set in Delfino Island, and the main goal of the game is to clear your name as an imposter has polluted the island with slime and stolen its source of power called “Shine Sprites” (similar to 64’s Power Stars).

A new gameplay mechanic is introduced. Mario now carries around a robotic backpack named FLUDD, which uses a water hose to clean up the slime, defeat enemies, and helps Mario reach new places.

While the game sold over 5 million copies and received critical acclaim, some critics felt that the FLUDD mechanic was somewhat of a gimmick. Moreover, unlike most Super Mario games, Sunshine featured voice acting that was not well received by fans and critics.

New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS, 2006)

Mario can wreck things up with the Super Mushroom.

Mario can wreck things up with the Super Mushroom.

New Super Mario Bros. was the first original 2D side-scrolling platformer in the franchise since Super Mario Land 2. Originally released for the DS, the game’s plot and gameplay are similar to that of previous side-scrolling Mario games, though the graphics and character design were reminiscent of the 3D titles, despite the gameplay sticking resolutely to two dimensions.

New Super Mario Bros. wasn’t purely a nostalgic retread, however. New features included power-ups such as the Super Mushroom, which made Mario an unstoppable giant who crushes everything in his path. The game also featured eighty levels spread across eight different worlds, meaning there was a lot of content on offer.

New Super Mario Bros. was praised by critics and went on to become one of the best-selling games on the DS. Critics pointed at the overall low level of difficulty, and felt that the new features didn’t do enough to freshen up the traditional formula; but there was no denying that Nintendo had once again delivered an excellent platformer with some great level design.

Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)

With its own gravitational pull, you can navigate all over the planetoid without falling off.

With its own gravitational pull, you can navigate all over the planetoid without falling off.

Super Mario Galaxy was the first Mario game to be released for the Wii, and despite not selling in very high numbers, it now sits at the top of many “Best Video Games Ever” lists.

Galaxy takes you out of the mushroom kingdom and into outer space. However, much like Super Mario 64, you must once collect “Power Stars” spread throughout various stages scattered across the overworld.

The biggest shake-up of the platform genre in years, Galaxy disposed of the familiar 3D stages that had dominated ever since Super Mario 64. Most stages in Galaxy take place across a series of spherical planetoids, which you can move between by using “Sling Stars” to launch Mario across space. Nintendo’s level designers took full advantage of the new mechanics, constantly finding new ways to surprise and delight players.

As well as some of the best graphics seen on the Wii, Super Mario Galaxy was the first in the franchise to feature a fully orchestral score. Any doubts about whether it would lose some of its charm in the process were swiftly forgotten as soon as the game’s Overture blasted out the television for the first time. A full orchestra, it turns out, was the perfect companion for the more epic scope – so much so that it’s hard to imagine playing a Mario game in the future without one.

Galaxy pushed the Mario franchise in a new and exciting direction. In addition to the new way levels were designed, the sheer variety of challenges that are available to you is staggering. One level has you defeating a giant dinosaur-like piranha plant, while another has you racing along a floating river on the back of sting-ray. It really is as crazy and wonderful as it sounds.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii, 2009)

Working cooperatively to complete levels is a wise decision.

Working cooperatively to complete levels is a wise decision.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii continued the side-scrolling roots of the franchise. While similar in style, story, and gameplay as the previous New Super Mario Bros. title, the game is the first in the entire franchise to feature simultaneous multiplayer gameplay. Up to four players are able to play at once and complete stages cooperatively – or to hinder your teammates and cause them to fall to their death.

Each player has their own set of allotted lives. If you die, the others keep going, while you’re brought back to life in a bubble. You’ll follow players by floating along in the bubble until one of them pops it so you can resume traversing the level normally. However if all players die simultaneously, with no-one left to pop them out of their bubbles, you lose the level and need to restart.

Though not considered as revolutionary as some of its 3D counterparts, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was still highly praised for its inclusion of cooperative play. Though some thought the game was a bit on the easy side, and others found the co-op more annoying than fun, it became yet another huge success for Nintendo during a period when it seemed the publisher was almost unstoppable.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii, 2010)

Yoshi's appearance in Galaxy 2 adds a whole new dynamic to the gameplay.

Yoshi’s appearance in Galaxy 2 adds a whole new dynamic to the gameplay.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the direct sequel to the first Galaxy game, and is considered an improvement over the original.

Due to the time constraints as well as game balance issues, many game elements such as the inclusion of Yoshi had to be scrapped from the first game. However, with Galaxy 2, Nintendo was able to use many of these left-over elements and fine tune them.

While the basic mechanics are the same as its predecessor, Galaxy 2 didn’t feel like a rehash of ideas left on the cutting room floor. Amazingly, it managed to be even better than the first game. Most other developers come up with a handful of ideas and repeat them endlessly for the rest of their game.

In Mario Galaxy 2, new ideas are introduced and then discarded in the space of a single level, never to be seen again. Such is the size of the game, you constantly expect it to start repeating itself – but it never does. Every single level feels fresh and utterly unique, and some could even be expanded into a full game in their own right, such is the level of invention on display.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is also far more challenging than its predecessor. Especially towards the end, levels could become maddeningly difficult. But although it could get frustrating to watch Mario die for the umpteenth time as a platform disappeared from under his feet, or he ran into yet another shadow clone, it’s a testament to the game’s quality that you never feel as though it’s unfair – meaning that you’ll simply pick up the controller again anyway, ready for another go.

Super Mario 3D Land (3DS, 2011)

The Tanooki suit makes its triumphant return.

The Tanooki suit makes its triumphant return.

Super Mario 3D Land was the first Mario game released on the 3DS, and unlike previous handheld Mario titles, features both 2D and 3D gameplay.

3D Land sees the return of the Super Leaf power up, which at that point had not been in a Mario game since Super Mario Bros. 3. Additionally, the objective for each level is to reach the “Goal Pole” at the end of each stage, reminiscent of 2D side-scrolling Mario games. This contrasts with the objective of collecting Stars, which has been featured in just about every 3D Mario game up until that point.

While the game was critically acclaimed, some critics argued that the game was far too easy and that it lacked the inventiveness of previous installments.

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

Get them coins.

Get them coins.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 was released for the 3DS and served as a direct sequel to the first New Super Mario Bros. released in 2006.

While similar to its predecessor, NSMB 2 puts more of an emphasis coin-collecting. In fact there are various items in the game solely dedicated to producing large amounts of coins for you to collect. A new Coin Rush mode was also added, which requires you to collect as many coins as possible within a strict time limit.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 performed well commercially, though it proved divisive among critics. The emphasis on coin collecting felt a bit out of place for a Mario game, having more in common with his evil twin Wario; and once again the lower overall difficulty meant that it wasn’t long before you managed to see everything there was to offer. But it’s still an enjoyable game in its own right, and even a mediocre Mario game is still better than almost anything else on the market.

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

Once again, multiple players can play simultaneously.

Once again, multiple players can play simultaneously.

New Super Mario Bros. U was a launch title for the Wii U, and much like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it features co-op gameplay in which you and four other players can play at once.

What makes this installment unique was that while four other players used the Wii remotes to control their characters, the fifth is able to use the Wii U Gamepad to interact with the environment. For example, you can stun enemies or laying blocks down to help your fellow players cross gaps. It was also the first Mario game to be featured in HD.

New Super Mario Bros. U also featured the New Super Luigi U DLC shortly after release, which featured Luigi as the main playable character. With a higher jump, floatier controls, and lower surface traction than his brother, Luigi’s game was a more challenging alternative to the main game.

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013)

Four players race against the clock to get to the goal.

Four players race against the clock to get to the goal.

Super Mario 3D World was released on the Wii U, and is the sixth original 3D platformer of the Super Mario series.

Following in the footsteps of Super Mario 3D Land, the game features both 3D and 2D segments, with the objective being to reach the Goal Pole at the end of each stage.

3D World features a new power-up, the Super Bell – which gives you the Cat Suit. This suit allows you to run faster, perform special attacks, and climb up walls. You can also play cooperatively with four people simultaneously much like the New Super Mario Bros. series.

Super Mario 3D World is widely considered one of the first must-own titles on the Wii U, which continues to struggle commercially and looks set to be phased out with the release of Nintendo’s new NX system. It’s an excellent game, though it did leave some people asking when they were going to get Super Mario Galaxy 3. But while it’s more traditional in many ways than the Galaxy games, 3D World shares their sense of breathless invention, with concepts constantly introduced and discarded in the space of a single level.

“If you’re concerned that 3D World is merely 3D Land on a home system, put those fears to rest. Nintendo’s trademark playfulness is in full effect in this game,” Dale Morgan wrote in his Super Mario 3D World review, before awarding it 10/10.

“Each level has a personality all its own; in one level you might ride on the back of giant Yoshi, timing your jumps to keep him moving. In another, you’ll create a small army of clones and spit out fiery death to all who stand in your way – assuming you can get them all through the network of pipes that litter the course. The result is a game that makes Land on the 3DS feel more akin to a prototype, a mere taster of what was to come. If that was the starter, here we have the main course. God only knows what we can expect for dessert, but based on the evidence here it should be nothing less than glorious.”

Super Mario Maker (Wii U, 2015)

It's a Mario fanatic's dream.

It’s a Mario fanatic’s dream.

Finally we come to the most recent title in the Super Mario franchise.

Super Mario Maker was just recently released for the Wii U, and may just be the most unique game in the entire series – a level editor and 2D platformer in one glorious package. Using the Wii U gamepad, you can create your own levels with templates based on Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, then share them online with other players to beat.

And as you might expect, players have already managed to come up with some utterly devious creations. We’ve also seen some really creative (and a few sadistic) levels online, and there’s no doubt that players will continue to create ridiculous, innovative, and above all original level designs in Mario Maker. We’ll be showing off some of the best in the near future.

Oh and by the way, if you think you can just troll people by creating and uploading levels that are impossible to beat, you can’t. Nintendo forces you to beat the level you’ve created before you can upload it – so as difficult as a level may seem, you always know that there’s some way to defeat it.

With so many critically acclaimed games in the Super Mario franchise, it’s clear why Nintendo has been a mainstay in the video game industry. While the company has suffered from poor sales of the Wii U, as well as the recent tragic death of their CEO, Satoru Iwata, it’s clear that Nintendo will continue to innovate and strive for perfection. With rumors that another Galaxy game could be on the way for Nintendo’s upcoming NX console, we’re excited for what the plumber has in store for us.

Here’s to another glorious 30 years of Mario.

Hugh Thornhill

Hugh Thornhill

Contributor
Hugh somehow found his way to New York from Hawaii with no idea what to do with his life. His passion for video games led him to become a video game journalist. He hopes that people will give his writing a chance, and that they not make fun of how his name rhymes with everything; he's heard them all.
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