No matter how many times Mario’s adventures are hashed and rehashed, games that prominently feature that famous plumber, his princess, and that evil dinosaur we call Bowser, remain fresh, fun, and playable dozens of times over. Mario games are level-driven games — you’ve got to make your way through stages or levels in a series of worlds in order to reach the final battle with Bowser. And only a few games, like Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG, have deviated from the platformer tradition started by Super Mario Bros. Despite that fact the games usually contain worlds of similar themes, each is unique in presentation and design. Even so, I will never cheer upon traversing a snowy/icy world because Mario is already slippery enough, no matter how many penguin suits he owns. I will never get excited for those pre-Bowser, fire worlds, as I will never have enough patience with lava and fireballs. So when it comes to my favorite Mario levels, there will be nary an ice storm or fire waterfall in site. But there will be something “big.” Curious? Read on!
Big Island (Level 4): Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
You’re going to find a recurring theme in my list — I like oversized Mario things. I really can’t explain why, but I’m almost certain that the seed for this quirk was planted upon first playing around in Big Island in Super Mario Bros. 3. So like the moniker says, everything on Big Island, is …well big. The koopas, the goombas, the piranha plants, heck, even the clouds and backdrops are larger than life. I simply find it highly enjoyable to be a little Mario running around a land of giants, and being able to squash those giants as easily as anything!
Video by YouTube user MegamanNG
Yoshi’s Island (Level 1): Super Mario World (SNES)
Last week I wrote a post for UWG on the importance of any given game’s first mission or level or quest, and in it I mentioned how most Mario games have great lead-in levels. Yoshi’s Island in Super Mario World is a perfect example of this. Not only does this level contain a plethora of Yoshies (my favorite Mario character), but it’s a fun place to be generally. The individual worlds aren’t extremely difficult to traverse and there’s plenty to stomp on and collect. Plus, it introduces some of the best Mario musical theme renditions available.
Video by YouTube user bpblu
Tiny-Huge Island (Level 13): Super Mario 64 (N64)
Following in my preference for all-large-things-Mario is Tiny-Huge Island from Super Mario 64. But as much fun as it is to take on gargantuan enemies, this level is especially wonderful because it can be played in two different ways, with or without the giants. And it’s not just a matter of choosing to play one way or the other, you must play the level both ways, often switching between the tiny and huge, in order to get all the stars. Tiny-Huge Island occurs somewhat late in the game, and after repeatedly going through static level after static level, the notion of working through a level that changes, if only through the size of the enemies, is refreshing and welcome.
Video by YouTube user Nintendo64Movies
The “Invincible” Tubba Blubba (Level 3): Paper Mario (N64)
I hold the two Paper Mario games I’ve played in pretty high regard as I enjoy not only the turn-based style of combat and the games’ stories, but I simply adore the graphics. It looks like the characters were all colored in and cut out of a coloring book — so cute! The “Invincible” Tubba Blubba level sticks out in my mind because it contains friendly boos. Little, ghostly boos have been haunting and taunting Mario for years, but in Paper Mario, Mario has to help save their town from the clutches of the ghost-eating Tubba Blubba. One ghost even helps you along the way! I love the role reversal, as it was something so in contrast to the traditional enemies in Mario games.
Video by YouTube user luigifan64d
Soda Jungle (Level 5): New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
Did you think I wasn’t going to end with yet another ode to the oversized?? I recently completed New Super Mario Bros. U and I think it’s the best interpretation going of Mario’s original Princess-saving story. The Soda Jungle is a perilous place with acidic seas and other things to avoid, but it’s also got one level with huge enemies and one level with an enormous wiggler that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s also a level with lots of variety, spanning from above ground to underground challenges. But by and large, that introduction to Giant Brick Blocks, Grand Goombas, and Gargantuan Koopa Troopas really made my day; and I love going back to that level simply because it brings me joy to do so.
Video by YouTube user At the Buzzer