The Super Mario platforming series has been one of the most successful franchises in gaming history, both critically and commercially. Although the platforming hero has ventured out into many genres — most notably sports and kart racing — it’s the Super Mario platforming series that Nintendo’s mascot is best known for.
There are many reasons why the platforming series is so beloved: its emphasis on putting fun above all else, the numerous innovations that it’s brought to the gaming industry, and the consistently excellent level design that raises the bar for the platforming genre with each new release. Another great aspect of the series that often gets overlooked is the games’ cover art, which set the stage for the hours of fun that await the player.
5 Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3‘s cover art is one of the series’ rare cases of minimalism. The cover shows Mario in the game’s new Tanooki Suit that lets him soar through the air, which was a great addition to the excellent gameplay that offered a welcome change of pace. Mario’s flying pose has become an iconic image, and is often replicated in both official and unofficial merchandise. The pose is partnered with the captivating words “The biggest, most exciting Mario Bros. adventure yet!” — a bold statement that raised hype and expectations.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was first released on the Famicom in Japan in 1988 before arriving in North America in 1989 on the PlayChoice-10 arcade machine, and eventually releasing on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. Although the original Super Mario Bros. holds a special place in many people’s hearts, Super Mario Bros. 3 is widely regarded as the Super Mario series’ first masterpiece. The game didn’t make any sweeping changes to the series (barring the aforementioned Tanooki Suit) but it fine-tuned the NES trilogy’s side-scrolling gameplay and level design to the point of near-perfection.
4 New Super Mario Bros. U
It’s no secret that the Super Mario series prioritizes fun. Even with the modern trend of long-running franchises incorporating open-worlds and fleshed-out, emotionally charged stories, the Super Mario franchise has stayed true to its roots. It consistently delivers entertaining platforming gameplay with wholesome characters and eye-catching visuals that are oozing with color. These series traditions are a significant reason why New Super Mario Bros. U‘s cover makes this list.
New Super Mario Bros. U‘s art is bursting with life and color, with Mario and Luigi engaging in over-the-top cartoony battles with their iconic cast of enemies. The cover is on the opposite end of the spectrum to the aforementioned minimalist Super Mario Bros. 3, though both are great in their own ways.
New Super Mario Bros. U was first released exclusively on the Wii U in 2012 before, like many Wii U exclusives, eventually making its way to the Nintendo Switch a few years later.
3 Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker 2, like its predecessor, differentiates itself from the other games in the Super Mario franchise by letting players take the role of developer and create their own Super Mario platforming stages. The game expands on the original Super Mario Maker by giving players far more options, with the most notable inclusions being from the 2.5D platformer Super Mario 3D World. Players don’t only get to play their own stages; they also get to try out thousands of other stages made by players around the world, essentially giving them an endless amount of content.
The game’s cover art perfectly displays what’s in store. Mario and Luigi appear in hardhats to set the stage for a different pair of Mario and Luigi to enjoy, with a plethora of enemy types and obstacles being put in their way.
2 Super Mario Galaxy
In 2007, Mario embarked on one of his most innovative adventures yet. Not only was the game the first in the main series Super Mario games to utilize the Nintendo Wii’s motion controls, but it also saw the platforming hero fly into outer space and traverse stages across the galaxy. The game is widely regarded as one of Mario’s best 3D platformers, with a short but sweet story, memorable hub area, and overall stellar presentation being particular highlights.
The cover art sees Mario flying through the air in a way that is very reminiscent of his Super Mario Bros. 3 pose. The stars and planets give players a hint as to what’s in store, and tantalize those unaware of the game to check out the back of the box to see what sort of gameplay mechanics a Mario platformer in space has.
1 Super Mario Odyssey
It’s easy to forget now just how much pressure Super Mario Odyssey was under to succeed when it was released in 2017. The Nintendo Switch had been out for a few months, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild had surpassed even some of the highest expectations, so a disappointing Super Mario release would have been undoubtedly harmed the console’s sales.
Thankfully, Super Mario Odyssey didn’t disappoint, delighting critics who showered the game with 9s and 10s, earning it a whopping 97 Metascore, which is partnered by an 8.9 user score. It was the new innovative gameplay mechanics that helped it succeed. Super Mario Odyssey implemented a capture mechanic that lets players take control of a huge range of characters and items, offering a huge range of gameplay mechanics for players to enjoy.
The capture mechanic is at the heart of the game’s front cover, showing players what they can expect to enjoy when they dive into the gameplay. It also showcases a range of snapshots from Odyssey‘s visually impressive levels that are still a joy to explore today.