Nintendo’s Mario certainly has come a long way in the last three decades. Dominating the 2D realms of gaming, the series has spun off successfully to achieve plaudits in three dimensions. There’s no question that the series has left a huge impression on the industry – but which of these 3D games do we think are the best of all?
We decided to rank the Mario 3D games from Best to least-best. We use that phrasing because really, there are no “bad” 3D Mario games (Although one does push that boat hard).
Which 3D Mario game do you think is the best?
8. Super Mario 64 DS
With Nintendo keen to show off the hardware of its shiny new DS console, the decision was made to give Mario 64 a shine up and set it as a launch title. The end result is an interesting package that both improves and diminishes the original.
Additions have been made across the board. Now there are four characters you can play as, replacing the cap mechanic from the original. Not only this, the game has new levels and more stars for the gamer to chase. The graphics have been spruced up (Although the DS’s low resolution ultimately ruins this effect) while the additions across the board ultimately work to the games benefit.
Yet without a dedicated analog stick, Mario 64 DS ultimately ends up feeling like a worse experience. The D-pad is a poor substitute and makes some of the games more precise moments monumentally more frustrating. Nintendo did allow gamers to make use of the touchscreen as a quasi-analog stick but this ultimately doesn’t scratch that itch. I’d actually argue that the touch controls (in particular if you’re forced to use the build in pen) highlight how much Mario 64 was built on that fluid movement.
It’s a real shame as it handicaps the core game, limiting its potential. The game does earn points for its incredibly fun selection of mini-games.
7. Super Mario Sunshine
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Mario Sunshine. It’s a solid outing and in any other franchise, might even be a standout player. The reality is that this game arrived in the shadow of Mario 64 and, while it delivers a fun experience, it’s one that’s peppered with some incredibly frustrating decisions.
The decision to introduce FLUDD as a core mechanic didn’t actually bother me all that much back in the day – although it did upset some series. Graphically the game is gorgeous and does more than enough to stand ahead of many games at the time, managing to bring the tropical paradise to life.
Isle Defino itself lacks the variety of Super Mario 64’s worlds, with most taking place in similar looking tropical locales. The world looks incredibly pretty but does become very samey after a while. The only major deviation from this are the levels intentionally separated – where the game mixes things up. It’s a nice change of pace but ultimately doesn’t do enough to mask the problems. The game also seemingly lacks a good quantity of levels – seeing the total count drop significantly from its predecessor.
All in all, Sunshine is a very solid outing. It holds a very dear place in my gaming history – yet I can confess it certainly isn’t the best way to experience Mario in 3D. It really does struggle when compared to more well-rounded Mario outings.
6. Super Mario 64
The game that changed it all for Nintendo arguably has aged the least well of all the titles on this list. That’s not surprising, given both its age and the hardware it was running on. But look beyond the aging graphics and the core gameplay is as solid as ever.
The levels remain inventive and fun to explore – with clearly defined goals helping to guide the gamer to the next Power Star. Thanks to an incredibly generous selection of moves and jumps, Mario is able to traverse the world with a swagger and ease.
The game falls down in some regards though, largely thanks to aging mechanics and some awkward positioning of mechanics (The rubber band races are less than ideal). Mario 64 remains fun to pick up and play to this day. Gorgeously entertaining and still able to make me smile all these years later.
5. Super Mario Land 3D
Mario 3D Land was an interesting experiment. As the 3DS was finally finding its feet, Nintendo decided to give gamers a full 3D outing – it works pretty well given the constraints placed upon it.
The game looks the part and the core mechanics are insanely strong, thanks to the 3DS’s analog nub. No longer is Mario confined by the D-Pad (As the DS version of Mario 64 was forced to endure). The game is entertaining, feeling every inch the Mario game.
I guess what bothers me most about 3D land is the lack of cohesion. The game ultimately ends up feeling like a series of challenge maps rather than a series of worlds that interlock. On top of this, the game’s camera suffered from a lack of second analog stick and while the solution to this is workable, it does make the game feel harder at points than it has any right to be.
Ultimately 3D Land falls further down the list than it otherwise might purely because other games offer a more rounded package. If you’re on the 3DS, this is a very able and delightful game to jump into.
4. Mario Galaxy
The original Mario Galaxy is arguably the true successor to Mario 64. A game that effortlessly combines gorgous worlds with tight mechanics, managing to create an irresistible game in the process.
The worlds, the music and the execution just elevate the entire game beyond what had come before. Galaxy feels more akin to an experience than most games. The first time you leap around a world. The first time you shoot between planets. It’s a game that never stops working to impress you, and delivers hard on its key moments.
Yet the game doesn’t tap that ambition fully. Worlds are on the small side and while the shift to space allows the game to get inventive I can’t help but feel more could have been done with the concept.
Galaxy was a hugely important game for the series, proving that Mario was still very much the kind of 3D platformers. It showcased the Wii could deliver the best of gaming and Galaxy easily sits among the systems best outings.
3. Super Mario World 3D
The Wii U sequel to the 3DS outing is a huge step up in quality – genuinely feeling like a top end Mario game. The introduction of multiplayer adds heaps to games replayability, while the competitiveness brought in by this new mechanic adds to the enjoyment of the game.
It follows the same template as its predecessor, except it works harder to bring the entire experience together. Here the time limits are generous, affording you experimentation and the chance to explore the linear levels a bit more. The attention to detail really brings out the best of this games worlds, surpassing expectations for Nintendo’s Wii U.
While the game doesn’t have any truly memorable moments, the overall package works to deliver an excellent romp – n particular if you can rope friends into the equation. Honestly, I hope this ends up on the Nintendo Switch at some stage.
2. Super Mario Odyssey
The most recent 3D Mario outing is a tour-de-force that shatters expectations. It’s a gorgeously beautiful title that envelops you in the experience, giving you a brilliant experience in a portable form.
The worlds within are wonderful to explore. From deserts to cities, there are very few low points when it comes to the core design of these worlds. Even in New Donk City, a concept that shouldn’t work in a Mario game – it’s brilliantly executed. Everything ties into the central Cappy mechanics – which are beautifully integrated into the core experience. It says something when a concept as out there as an all possessing cap feels like a natural extension of the series ideas.
On top of this, the game handles like a dream, allowing you to bounce between 2D throwback levels and 3D excitement. There’s not a moment in this game wasted through the main story, with a generous amount of post-game content to keep long-time fans beaming from ear to ear.
This being said, I’ve seen some falling over themselves to hand Odyssey the title of “greatest game ever” which is pretty high claims for a game that ultimately runs out of ideas once the main story is over. The sheer number of Power Moons raises questions over their implementation, ultimately making me not enjoy that aspect of the game.
1. Mario Galaxy 2
At this point, I should stress that Odyssey and Galaxy 2 sit within their own league of excellence. To my eyes, these are the pinnacle of 3D platforming and while Odyssey is an excellent extension of the franchise – my personal preference remains Galaxy 2.
Why is that? The main story feels more fleshed out in Galaxy 2. Unlike Odyssey, which pushes you through its central story quite relentlessly – Galaxy 2 feels more varied in the route to the finale. You have options in the worlds you explore and which stars you want to get. There’s challenge to be had in exploring the worlds and you never feel disappointed.
Not only this, there’s a better selection of worlds on offer. Galaxy 1 suffered from some wildly varying quality but Galaxy 2 homes in on the aspects that make Mario games exciting. While Odyssey focusses on quantity, Galaxy challenges and rewards in a more engaging manner I find.
Really, I could go on and on. The addition of Yoshi is well implemented. The return of various power-ups only adds to the game. The music is excellent. Galaxy 2 is a benchmark for gaming in general, a delightful, daring and inviting sequel which deserves to be experienced.