The battle for greatest 2D Mario has always come down to World and 3. It’s a testament to 3 that an NES title could go toe-to-toe with the powerhouse SNES.
Super Mario World
World introduced saving and added a treasure trove of secret exits and levels. For sheer content alone it could easily be argued above 3. The cape and Yoshi were extremely inventive game changers that expanded Mario’s move-set in rewarding ways.
Choosing World or 3 comes down to the time frame. If a friend is ready for a one-off evening of nostalgia, I’d rather accept the challenge of conquering 3 in a few hours, rather than starting a Mario World save file that will soon be abandoned.
The N64/PS1 era were the awkward teenage years of gaming. The puberty of polygons arrived like pimples, and 3D arrived where there was no 3D before. But amidst the chaos of how to control the camera and where to put the jump button (never on the shoulder button Sony!), Nintendo nailed 3D platforming with their mascot and a funky controller.
64 is still enjoyable enough today but the slippery controls and repetitive level design (climb to the top of a hill five times!) show their age. It still feels good to rock a triple jump and dive though.
The Gamecube’s stab at the franchise boasted better than ever controls and polished levels but I feel it evolved Mario in the wrong direction. The levels got larger and more open, and the jetpack meant jumps had to be much longer to pose any kind of challenge. I greatly preferred the more linear approach of Galaxy and 3D World that blended the best of 2D/3D entries.
Boy is it a shame this was on the Wii, saddled with 480p and waggle controls. Nintendo reigned in wide-open spaces of Sunshine and focused on tight level design with laser-like precision. The gravity mechanics seem like an obvious evolution of platforming but it took Nintendo to take that giant leap. The stages are intuitively planned to guide the player through mostly abstract levels.
The incredible part is that after cramming this game with insane amounts of creativity, the team still had enough ideas for a sequel!
New Super Mario U
Dear lord did I hate New Super Mario Wii. The floaty controls ruined the entire experience.
The Wii U version gets much closer to the perfection of the 2D iterations and offers a nice blend of remixed content and new ideas. It can feel a bit shallow to play elements directly lifted from previous games, but there’s enough polish and fresh pieces to highly recommend this game.
If you’re looking for a modern Mario 3, this is the game for you.
Super Mario 3D World
3D World feels like a 2D Mario that’s been retro-fitted to 3D. The levels are linear and focused, but the player is given most of 3D Mario’s move-set. The added bonus is including up to 4-player simultaneous play! It’s actually more difficult to get through the more difficult platforming sections with other humans, but the frenzied chaos is its own kind of fun. The competitive aspect of a steal-able crown adds a charming motivation to bop your friend’s heads and steal coins.
I found the second playthrough more shallow than I expected, but for those that prefer 3D Mario and/or want to play with friends, this is still a great time.
Super Mario Odyssey
Mario’s next adventure looks like a great blend of the past while introducing exciting new mechanics. The 64 dive is back and his overall speed looks much faster than Galaxy. The New Donk City looks absolutely massive, but could function as the hub, although his flying hat-ship looks to fill that role.
Using his hat as a temporary platform is a much better solution than the Sunshine water pack for increased mobility. It extends his overall distance but still demands precise platforming (unless automatic), and maintains the quicker rhythm of jumping as opposed to a slower float.
Nintendo’s creativity and quality of Mario games has a nearly flawless record. Zelda: Breath of the Wild and games like Splatoon are proof that Nintendo is allowing their next generation enough input to push the envelope and provide more fantastic experiences moving forward. Odyssey looks to be a heck of a game.