Ranking 3D Mario Platformers: Which One is the Best?

Mario was a household name long before he transitioned to 3D in 1996 and yet, that move still redefined gaming.

Since that time, 3D Mario games have been staples on each of Nintendo’s consoles largely because they take the red and blue plumber into new worlds (and galaxies). Each one has a special place in our hearts so naturally, we have to rank them.

For the purpose of this list, we are including Super Mario 3D Land, Super Mario 3D World, and Bowser’s Fury. While 3D Land and 3D World may seem more linear, they still play a key role in the 3D development of the genre. Bowser’s Fury may be a small game, but it does draw comparisons with other 3D titles in the franchise.

Additionally, this list will focus on the 3D platformers so the Paper Mario games, Super Mario RPG, Luigi’s Mansion, and other similar titles will not make the list. I am also excluding any remakes of the original titles so Super Mario 64 DS is not considered.

Without further adieu, let’s rank the games:

8.) Super Mario 3D Land

Image Credit: Nintendo (via Let’s Talk About)

Let me start by saying I don’t think there is a bad 3D Mario game. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Super Mario 3D Land, but it was largely forgettable. Once I was done, I didn’t really want to go back to it.

The innovative approach, however, was a blast to play as it took the reach-the-goal design and put it in a 3D space. As fun as this concept was, I didn’t find myself really wanting to return. That has always been a strength of 3D Mario games, one that Super Mario 3D Land lacked.

All in all, this was a lot of fun to play and does rank in the upper echelon of Mario games, but just not up there with the 3D games.

7.) Super Mario Galaxy

Image Credit: Nintendo

Probably the first big shocker of this list.

I have absolutely no qualms with Super Mario Galaxy. I acknowledge that it changed what a 3D platformer could do and had a narrative that is often lacking from a Mario game. I even had a lot of fun playing it.

What makes this game harder for me is there is a lack of replayability for me. I don’t think I can really point to any particular reason why other than I’ve enjoyed other 3D Mario games more. I’ve played enough of it to say I don’t have much of a desire to return. Mario games should make me want to come back to their world and Galaxy hasn’t.

I do plan to replay the game soon since it’s been a while since I played it so my thoughts might change. As it sits right now, Super Mario Galaxy is a lot of fun that I was ok experiencing it once, for now.

6.) Super Mario 3D World

Image Credit: Nintendo (via Amazon)

Super Mario 3D World was a pleasant surprise. I enjoyed my time with 3D Land so I was expecting much of the same from this title. The final product blew me away.

I thoroughly enjoyed the collecting and further innovation this title brought. The introduction of the cat suit was a lot of fun and further helped this game stand apart from its predecessor. It took everything 3D Land did well and built on it. I played this game on the Wii U and could not put it down.

What I do ding this game a bit on is the linear nature of it. My preference has always been for Mario games to have a more open world rather than a reach-the-goal objective. Still, this was an absolute blast to play.

5.) Bowser’s Fury

Image Credit: Nintendo (via GameSpot)

Full disclosure: I have not played Bowser’s Fury. I did watch enough of a walkthrough to get a good sense of this game and that is what I’m basing this ranking on.

What I’ve seen looks like a blast.

It takes the best parts of 3D World and combines it with Super Mario Odyssey‘s openness. It’s what I wanted from 3D World. The objective is a bit refreshing as you work with Bowser Jr. to save an enraged Bowser. Furthermore, that enraged Bowser makes himself known throughout your collection of Cat Shines.

I look forward to the time when I do play this game and hope Nintendo uses it as a future format. It’s fairly short so I would love to see more 3D Mario games like this one.

4.) Super Mario 64

Image Credit: Nintendo (via Eurogamer)

Ah, the OG. Super Mario 64 is one of the titles that made me fall in love with video games. It’s also one of my earlier memories of gaming.

I remember spending hours within the castle collecting stars. Each level was memorable and the lack of mainline characters furthered the mystery of the world. I’m too young to remember 2D Mario games so this was my introduction into the Mushroom Kingdom.

Super Mario 64 redefined the platforming genre and helped for a seamless transition into the 3D world. What makes this game so great is it mostly plays just as well today as it did in the ’90s. I say mostly because the graphics have aged like milk and the camera can get tough sometimes.

Still, it’s impressive that this game had a semi-free camera that often moved with the player. This game deserves all the accolades it’s earned and then some.

3.) Super Mario Galaxy 2

Image Credit: Nintendo

I know, I know, you might be saying that I was too harsh on Super Mario Galaxy so how could I rank its sequel so high. It’s a fair question.

I loved this game so much when I played it on the Wii U. I found the sequel to improve on everything Galaxy did well and add to it. On top of the more memorable gameplay, I found this game to look gorgeous. I loved that I traveled to each corner of the universe on the Starship Mario instead of launching out of the observatory. Each new section had a beautiful backdrop. The addition of Yoshi took this game to the next level.

What also makes my journey with this game unique is that it was my primary Galaxy game. I played the first game shortly after it released but it never stuck. I came to this game several years after its release and played more of it than its predecessor. I returned to the first game but it didn’t capture the magic the sequel had. That may be because Galaxy 2 was my primary game between the two so the first one felt like a step back.

All that said, Galaxy 2 has a big place in my heart thanks to its wonderful gameplay and environment.

2.) Super Mario Sunshine

Image Credit: Nintendo (via Switcher)

If you didn’t step off on the last ranking, then maybe here is where you get off. Bear with me though.

Super Mario Sunshine is flawed. There’s a lot wrong with it and many, fairly, look down on it after the groundbreaking outing with Super Mario 64. I acknowledge and agree with many of the criticisms of this game. All that said, Nintendo really captured something special with this game.

It was new and innovative though not in a direction Mario would continue on in future installments. It took Mario to a new setting that was connected on a singular island. Using F.L.U.D.D. was, to me, fun and made for a lot of creative platforming that was outside of the norms.

On a personal note, this game also helped me through a life-changing move across state lines. The familiarity of this game made it easier to transition to a new school and town as a kid. I always look fondly on this game and while it might not be the top game for some, it is near the top in my heart.

1.) Super Mario Odyssey

Image Credit: Nintendo

This is Mario’s most-recent large-scale outing and boy, does it deliver.

Many 3D Mario games were trending more linear in their objectives with 3D World essentially recreating Mario’s 2D outings but in a 3D environment. Super Mario Odyssey returned the plumber to his 3D origins, ramping up the scale in the process.

The game dropped players in several large worlds with minimal linearity. Once the main objectives were complete, each world opened up further and allowed players a chance to fully explore each one. Super Mario Odyssey felt like a callback to all previous 3D games with its own added bells and whistles.

What also makes this game even more enjoyable is how much there is to do. There are 880 moons available to collect, but you could bring that number to 999 is you purchase repeat ones at the various stores. This ensure there is so much to do long after the main objective is complete.

Super Mario Odyssey stands as the Magnum Opus for Nintendo’s Mario division and that is why it takes our top spot.

But what do you think? Did we get the rankings right? What are your personal rankings? Let us know in the comments below or head over to our Discord channel to join the conversation.

Featured Image: Screen Rant

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