Mario is more popular than ever these days, and that’s not just hyperbole. Mario merchandise is everywhere you look. Mario Lego sets are so successful that they’re in the middle of a sixth wave of buildable toys. Super Nintendo World theme parks are exploding out across the world to much acclaim. And the forthcoming Super Mario Bros. Movie is set for a huge opening on April 5, 2023.
But how to pick the right Mario game for your kid? Because it’s been 40 years since the first Mario game hit in 1983, that Nintendo aisle at Target is pretty intimidating, so where do you start? Do you have a kid who loves stories in the game? Kids who love competition? Puzzles? What about kids who love playing together as a team? Here are the best Mario games for every type of kid.
For Kids Who Like Competitive Play: Mario Party Superstars (2021)
This is the proving ground for Mario competition! Up to four people can partake in this competitive Mario board game. You have 15 rounds to purchase the most stars on the board, using coins you win in mini-games between each turn. But look out for the obstacles and general backstabbery that the other players will throw in your path!
This game is diabolical. You can be on top of the world one minute and then down in the dumps the next. And all because your child paid a Boo to steal your stuff. The mini-games are bite-sized and lots of fun, and winning one feels amazing regardless of your skill level. But be careful. Cute as it is, you can really wreck another person’s progress and it’s hard for a kid to not take that setback personally. Even if it happens on top of a giant cake.
Other competitive Mario games:
- Super Mario Strikers
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Warning: Mario is in this, but it’s not at all a Mario game.)
Get it Mario Party Superstars on Switch here.
For Kids Who Love Puzzles: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Nintendo Switch bestseller Super Mario Odyssey takes the top spot when it comes to puzzles. It’s just a hugely creative wonder of an adventure. Utilizing his new friend Cappy, Mario gets to travel to a variety of new worlds and transform into weird and hilarious creatures. (Of course that T. rex has a mustache and Mario hat! How else would you tell that it’s Mario?) Halfway through, Mario takes a break to take part in a musical number. There’s a land made entirely out of lunch. You somehow have to take down a skyscraper-sized dragon. Can you stop that dramatic wedding on the moon?! The whole thing is just an absolute delight.
The worlds in this game contain hundreds of puzzles and you solve many of them by just exploring and experimenting in the open, imaginative environments. Odyssey also finally does away with the concept of “lives,” merely docking you some coins if you happen to get dropped by a monster. Essentially, Mario can’t ever get offed in this game. Just like real life.
If you’re already a bit of a Mario connoisseur and want a rich experience off the beaten path, I highly recommend Luigi’s Mansion 3. In this one, Luigi, Mario, Peach, and some Toads take a much-needed vacation to a fancy hotel. But uh-oh! Luigi’s old nemesis King Boo has returned to make their stay a living nightmare. Can Luigi use a weird vacuum to suck up all the ghosts? You know it!
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is hilarious and it’s really fun to see ghosts taunt the hapless green Mario brother in every possible way. (They really like surprising Luigi on the toilet. I mean, who wouldn’t?) It’s also really fun to watch someone play it. Maybe there’s a key hiding in that grand piano? Blow it open! Can your slimy green clone Gooigi fit through the security grating and ransack that jewelry shop? Yes, and it turns out you really need the money! Is there actually an entire pirate shipwreck in this hotel and are we anywhere even remotely near reality? I’m not going to tell you!
Other engrossing Mario games filled with puzzles:
- Super Mario 3D All-Stars (Which includes Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy)
- Super Mario Bros. 3
- Super Mario World
- Paper Mario: Origami King
Get Super Mario Odyssey on Switch here.
For Kids Who Want Cooperative Play: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)
In their spare time, all of the various characters (even Birdo. Remember Birdo?) from across the spectrum of Mario games come together to race each other in go-karts and motorcycles. The race tracks vroom through every Mario game environment imaginable (except Paper Mario for some reason. Consider this a request, Nintendo!), but only the most seasoned racers make it to Rainbow Road.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is such a complete and glitteringly gorgeous racing game that nearly 10 years after the game came out Nintendo is still adding new tracks and importing tracks from the older Mario Kart games in order to make it the ultimate pinnacle of the Mario Kart series. All of the tracks are brilliant just to look at. Nailing other racers with red shells is deeply satisfying. And you can adjust difficulty settings to match your kiddo’s level.
And, being a racing game, four people can play at once.
Other good Mario games of cooperation:
- Super Mario Maker 2
- New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
Get it on Switch here.
For Kids Who Love The Story: Super Mario 3D World (2013)
Super Mario 3D World is the best purchase for the little one who saw The Super Mario Bros. Movie and now wants more of that. In this game, Mario (And Luigi! And Toad! And Peach! And a mystery character!) run around isometric side-scrolling levels looking for green stars and the ending flagpole. A lot of elements from the movie are present in this game — including those alluring transparent warp pipes — and the worlds are just as colorful and active as what they saw in the film.
There are a good number of anti-frustration features in Super Mario 3D World for smaller gamers, as well. The control scheme is simple. The game saves after you finish each short level. And if you really can’t seem to tackle a level, the game lets you have a power-up that makes you completely invincible.
There are around 100 levels to explore and conquer in Super Mario 3D World, but if you somehow get through all of that, the Nintendo Switch version contains a bonus game called Bowser’s Fury. No spoilers, but it’s extremely cool. Also, Mario is a cat in this one!
Other Mario games heavier on the story that evoke the movie:
- New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
- Super Mario Galaxy
- Super Mario 64
- Super Mario Odyssey
Get it Super Mario 3D World on Switch here.
For Kids Who Want Donkey Kong
If your kid is into Donkey Kong, here’s something you should know: Donkey and the Kong family have not been well represented in the last 10 years’ worth of games. Your best bet is booting up the Super Nintendo app within Nintendo Switch Online and playing the 1994 classic Donkey Kong Country. If you really pore through all three of those, then Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze awaits. But that’s really all that’s available from the last 30 years.
Where To Buy Mario Games
All the games listed here were either made for the Nintendo Switch or have been adapted to that platform. You can buy all the games in the Switch store here.
Confused as to how to get going with a Switch account? We did a deep dive on this when GoldenEye hit Switch in January 2023. Check out all the details here.