The Best of 35 Years - Mario's Greatest Genre Adventures

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Two days ago on September 14th, the plumbing paragon of platforming Super Mario himself celebrated his 35th birthday. Leading up to the festivities, Nintendo shadow-dropped a "Direct" stream focusing exclusively on upcoming Mario games. In the Direct, Nintendo unveiled a port of Super Mario 3D World from the Wii-U, the augmented reality Super Mario Kart Live - Home and the much-anticipated Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a collection of Mario's greatest adventures in the third dimension, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. With the release of some great classics right around the corner, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to jump on a retrospective of the highlight's of Mario's career.

The Super Mario series has no end of fantastic titles to offer. Since 1985 saw the release of Super Mario Bros. on the Famicon, Miyamoto and his expert team of developers and designers would go on to release gold after gold. Maturally selecting just five great games to encapsulate the entirety of this beautiful, expansive franchise was difficult. Be assured that even if a game doesn't appear on this list, it doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. With no further hesitation, these are My Five Favorites of Mario's Adventures by genre!

Best 2D Platformer: New Super Mario Bros.
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The very first thing I want to say are that Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are classics of the franchise, paragons of the genre, and icons of gaming. There's nothing that can be said about these two games that hasn't already been said a million times, and there's certainly no arguing against their greatness. However, despite their unassailable quality, I do not consider these games the ideal Super Mario platforming experience. That distinction instead goes to Mario's return to form, the Nintendo DS title New Super Mario Bros.!

At its heart, New Super Mario Bros. seems as if it may as well just be a New Super Mario Bros., featuring all of the same core features as its predecessors (with some even being strangely missing, such as the Spin Jump) and the same basic experience of chasing Princess Peach, kidnapped by Bowser, across a variety of worlds themed after lush greenlands, sandy deserts, frozen tundra and smoldering volcanoes. What makes New Super Mario Bros. so stand-out is its level design. The best of Nintendo's ability to make games accessible to children and engaging for adults, New Super Mario Bros. features some of the most creative gameplay and platforming elements the series has ever seen, and the applications of these elements even more creative. And while the core game is perhaps much simpler than its predecessors, the greatest addition to the series is Star Coins, which offer a new incentive to hunt levels for secret holes and pipes; the hiding locations for Star Coins at their best are some of the most brilliant points of design in 2D Mario games period, and they highlight the some of Super Mario's most intelligent, most satisfying conveyance of challenges, puzzles and secrets seen to date.

New Super Mario Bros. is the start of a new era of 2D platformers, and to say it reinvented the genre -- and the series -- for the better is no exaggeration. Creative levels, clever puzzles, satisfying and expertly communicated secrets and a brand new collection system that underscores all the best parts of this new Super Mario game set a new, heightened standard of quality that even its successors strive to meet.

Best RPG: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
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Despite his history as the lord of jumping and platforming, Mario has seen many forays into the worlds of turn-based RPGs, and not a single one of them is to be missed! Every Mario RPG is notable for its exploration of the game's formerly underdeveloped setting, insanely clever and often gut-busting writing, genuinely engaging narratives and brilliant reconciliation between iconic Super Mario gameplay elements and traditional JRPG gameplay elements. The cream of the crop, however, is Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, the pair's first turn-based title on the Nintendo 3DS! In Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, the Bros. must travel into the Dream World to stop Bowser and his new ally, the Bat King Antasma, from stealing the magical wish-granting artifact, the Dream Stone. In the Dream World, Dreamy Luigi, Luigi's counterpart, uses his magical powers of duplication to assist Mario on his quest!

A brilliant addition to the series and a worthy follow-up to fan-favorite Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Dream Team is a fantastic step forward for the series. Whereas Bowser's Inside Story had Mario and Luigi assisting Bowser's journey from inside of his body, who would in turn inadvertently them on their quest from the outside, Dream Team extrapolates the concept to manipulating Luigi's dreams by messing with his face from the real world. Endlessly clever and creative, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is one of the greatest examples of how off-beat and charming the spin-off series of Super Mario can be, and easily the most satisfying and charismatic of the more story-driven offerings, experimenting with one of the strangest ideas the team had since platforming inside of Bowser's stomach...

Best 3D Platformer: Super Mario Galaxy
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Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii was an unexpected offering from our mustachioed hero, where Mario would no longer travel the lands of the Mushroom Kingdom but instead spread his search for Princess Peach to every galaxy in the conceivable universe! The folks at Nintendo once said "we don't like ever doing the same thing twice", and Super Mario Galaxy is the fruits of their search for a unique experience.

Super Mario Galaxy is a stage-based platformer where Galaxies act something like "Worlds", and individual Stars act as their own levels or courses. In these levels, Mario will find himself hopping through space, solving platforming challenges and puzzles involving the mind-bending changing of gravity. Jam-packed with gameplay that never gets stale, oozing with originality and controls that are satisfying, precise and flowy, Super Mario Galaxy is great. While the level design is of a philosophy closer to the 2D platformers, featuring smaller, more focused challenges, the level designs and variations thereof are so broad and individual and so expertly drafted they make the game class all its own in the world of not only 3D platforming but gaming on the whole.

Best Sports Game: Mario Kart 8
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Ignoring the discourse on whether driving even counts as a sport, Mario Kart 8 is easily and undeniably deserving of a spot on any list of the greatest Super Mario games. It is the ultimate culmination of generations worth of refinements and developments to the same basic formula, with some of the smoothest driving and most satisfying gameplay ever. Mario Kart 8 features adjustments to the item system, so that the game can be more strategic than Item Box chance, and there's not only some of the greatest original maps in the series but also some of the best renditions of classic, legacy courses. There isn't much to say about Mario Kart 8 other than that it's a great game that nobody should miss out on, even if it only means a little extra something to play with your friends or family.

Best Off-Beat Title: Super Mario Maker 2
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Super Mario Maker 2 is the thing childhood dreams are made of for quite literally any and every person on the planet who grew up playing Super Mario games. As the name suggests, Super Mario Maker 2 is an engine allowing players to create their own Super Mario levels. The game offers a variety of options, featuring nearly ever major gameplay element to feature in all of the series' most significant landmarks. Players can build the levels of their dreams based on the items and mechanics of the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U, or Super Mario 3D World, and your options further expand as every level theme conceivable is offered to you to make use of!

Miyamoto has instilled a great deal of creativity and love into every single Super Mario platformer to ever release, and with Super Mario Maker 2 you can try your hand at beating Miyamoto at his own game. If you've ever considered designing video games, Super Mario Maker 2 is the best play to get an early look at the process. If you've never wanted to touch game design, great! You can play a whole slew of brilliant, challenging, relaxing or even silly and funny levels made by people from all over the planet! Have kids? Get them creatively active by letting them mess around with the course builder! Super Mario Maker 2 quite literally has everything for anybody who so much has any reason to connect to Super Mario, and anyone who doesn't may still very well find something to enjoy here. Super Mario Maker 2 is a must-own for pretty much everyone to own a Nintendo Switch!


And there we have my personal top games by genre in the greater Super Mario franchise. The series has offered hundreds if not thousands of hours of memories for people of all ages, all across the world. For a series so magical, there's very little words can do to honor its accomplishments, but one can hope that with our love Super Mario had the best 35th birthday yet!
 
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