Is there anything Mario can’t do?

Even before the worlds most famous plumber made the leap to 3D, Nintendo’s mascot was long established as an icon of the video game world. Yet where other franchises faltered in their leap to the third dimension, Mario set the standard by which everyone else was judged.

Naturally then ranking the 3D outings is a tough job. All of them are great experiences in their own right – some are better than others. Which 3D Mario outing did I feel captured the spirit of the plumber best of all?

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 the remake treatment.

The end result is an interesting package that both improves and diminishes the original.

The biggest of these changes comes in the form of who you play the game as. Rather than forcing you to experience the game as just Mario, now the player is afforded the option of three entirely new characters to switch between. Throwing in Yoshi, Wario and Luigi was a wise option, allowing each to bring their own special abilities to the table while also injecting fresh personality into the experience.

The game also came packing entire new levels and 30 more stars for the gamer to chase, giving plenty of new content to those who had experienced the original. Add in the fact that the game’s graphics saw a notable touch-up across the board, with more varied textures and smoother polygons making for a more visually pleasing experience (even if the DS’s low resolution diminishes the effect somewhat) and it’s clear Nintendo didn’t skimp on the effort here.

Yet despite this, the game is somewhat handicapped by the hardware. 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 offer a satisfying alternative. 

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 on the side but really, this isn’t the ideal way to experience this classic game.


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. 

Yet the reality is that this game arrived in the shadow of Mario 64. This was the sequel to a game many considered legendary and thus had almost impossibly big shoes to fill. What exciting direction would Nintendo take with their iconic franchise? What new experiences could they muster up?

FLUDD, that was Nintendo’s big answer.

The entire game is weighted on FLUDD. That yellow contraption dictates every aspect of this games design. From how platforming works through to how Mario interacts with the world. It’s a bold design choice and it’s one that split gamers right down the middle. I’ve never had an issue with FLUDD but if you don’t like it, you’re going to hate every minute of this game.

Perhaps not helping things is the setting of Sunshine. 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. It also doesn’t help that there are a lot fewer worlds in this game – effectively cutting the experience down from Mario 64. There are still 120 stars to collect but a good number of them are tied to the blue coins – a decision that always struck me as lazy.

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.


6. Super Mario 64

The game that changed it all for Nintendo has arguably 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, even if some of its mechanics have aged like bread in the sun.


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 – which 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). It makes moving through the levels feel more natural and grants a level of flexibility that wasn’t there in the previous handheld offering.

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. Mario 64 at least made most of these worlds interesting but here there’s a feeling that you’re playing through maps that aren’t intended for wider exploration.

On top of this, the game’s camera isn’t very forgiving. You’ll find yourself battling with it on more than one occasion, typically ending in the frustration of watching Mario falling into the great void below.

Ultimately 3D Land falls further down the list than it otherwise might purely because it’s not hugely memorable. Its sequel is much more exciting to play while the game lacks a true identity. If you’re on the 3DS, this is a very capable game to jump into.


4. Mario Galaxy 

The original Mario Galaxy is arguably the true successor to Mario 64 (Sorry Sunshine but FLUDD really was that divisive!).

A game that effortlessly combines gorgeous worlds with tight mechanics all while managing to introduce some of the most impressive gravity mechanics in any console game ever.

It could have been so easy for Nintendo to mess up the gravity mechanics. So many of the games bosses and platforming segments are tied to that mechanic. Yet it always works as well as you’d want it too. From the first time you leap around a world to the first time you shoot between planets. It’s a game that never stops working to impress you, something it delivers hard on.

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 in this original outing. This may go some way to explaining why Nintendo felt the need to revisit this game and its concepts in a dedicated sequel.

Galaxy was a hugely important game for the series, proving that Mario was still very much the king 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 from its predecessor- genuinely feeling like a top end Mario game.

The introduction of multiplayer adds heaps to games replayability and also creates a competitive spirit by challenging players to get the highest score within levels. It’s a small touch but it makes returning to levels and challenging yourself to do better all the more appealing.

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 and delivering a fun experience in the process.

While the game doesn’t have any truly memorable moments, the overall package works to deliver an excellent romp.

There’s a lot to like here and I hope that Nintendo brings it to Nintendo Switch at some stage. It really deserves to be experienced by a wider audience than Wii U afforded it.


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.

My only major gripes with the games come from the way it implements its Power Moons. There’s really very little incentive to collect them all outside of pride as the game doesn’t offer much beyond the story as a drive. It’s a weird situation as there are so many Power Moons laying around, but it doesn’t stop them feeling too convenient to grab in some situations.


1. Mario Galaxy 2

At this point, I should stress that Odyssey and Galaxy 2 sit within their own league of excellence. To me, 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? I’d argue that as a platformer, Galaxy’s more linear levels benefit the game overall. There’s more challenge to trying to get to the goal in Galaxy 2, compared to the fairly generous options afforded by Odyssey. This focus ultimately makes the challenges offered up more impressive and thus feel more like you’re growing along with the experience. 

While Odyssey focusses on quantity and pushing you through the story as quickly as possible, Galaxy 2 challenges and rewards in a more engaging manner. You feel like you’ve earned your star in Galaxy 2

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. It’s the perfect answer to the critiques of that original outing.

I could go on and on. Like saying how the addition of Yoshi is well implemented. How the return of various power-ups only adds to the game and makes it feel more exciting. On top of all this, the music is excellent. The soundtrack to Galaxy 2 is so memorable and catchy that all these years later, I find myself humming it without reason.

Galaxy 2 is a benchmark for gaming in general. A delightful, daring and inviting sequel which doesn’t compromise on challenge or quality.