The Super Mario franchise has grown and evolved so much over the last thirty plus years and has produced hundreds of games and developed millions of gamers' interest in the hobby. Mario himself as a character has seen numerous revisions and art styles that have altered the look and feel of the character.
He's now one of the most recognizable cartoon faces in pop culture and, in many ways, is the face of the entire Nintendo brand. With so many versions of him in existence, it feels only right to compare and contrast the best and worst designs of the world's most famous plumber.
10 Donkey Kong Arcade
If you ever had the chance to play games at an arcade, or if your parents made you experience the classics, then you'd be familiar with Mario's original debut in the arcade version of Donkey Kong. The plumber at the time was still focused on saving the princess, but his outfit was the opposite of what his iconic design became. In his original appearance, Mario sported a blue undershirt and bright red overalls, which he ended up switching for a red undershirt and blue overalls in almost every game after the original Super Mario Bros.
9 Super Mario Bros. 2
By just looking at the box art for Super Mario Bros. 2 you'd assume Mario still hasn't changed into blue overalls, but like many parts of this game, the box art was unauthentic. The history behind the sequel is storied and pretty well-known these days and if you're familiar you'd know the fact it even managed to release is some feat. The art style they ran with for Super Mario Bros. 2 is unique, but not in a great way, and thankfully fans haven't been treated to anything in the same style since its release.
8 Super Mario Sunshine
At first glance, it may seem as though Mario's design in Super Mario Sunshine is pretty standard, but for the entire game, he has a new device that is associated with his adventure in the game. The device in question is abbreviated as F.L.U.D.D. which is short for Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dousing Device and is the metal backpack Mario uses. It extends over his head and almost doubles his shadow and overall height profile. Fans may be divided on where Super Mario Sunshine ranks among 3D Super Mario titles, but no one's complaining about the design.
7 Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 not only brought with it the introduction of the Tanooki Suit, but a brand new art style. Unlike its predecessor, it seemed like Nintendo committed to delivering a welcoming art style that felt familiar, but at the same time spark renewed interest.
Not only did they smooth out the corners in background and item design, Mario himself became much more proportional and fleshed out. It's almost always not anyone's favorite version of Mario, but it isn't anyone's least favorite as well.
6 New Super Mario Bros.
Let's now talk about the most divisive design for Mario and the franchise in general. The style of New Super Mario Bros. isn't terrible and the reason for fans' disdain of it isn't entirely focused on the art direction. The problem people have with the pseudo-3D smooth art style is that Nintendo has stuck to it for so long. Fans feel this is the longest 2D Super Mario games have gone without introducing a new art style that changes the feel of the game, something that's been happening ever since the first couple of entries.
5 Super Mario Bros.
For an entire generation of gamers, the 8-bit version of Mario is what they picture him as in their head. Due to the limited resources on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Mario isn't sporting his typical red shirt with blue overalls. Many people forget that despite this game being the groundwork for what would become one of the world's most iconic characters, it is the most different he's looked in a mainline entry. It may be a simple design comprised of squares, but at the end of the day, we wouldn't have modern Mario with this version of him.
4 Super Mario 64
Now, one could argue that the love for Mario's design in Super Mario 64 is purely rooted in nostalgia. They aren't exactly wrong, but this design marked a tremendous evolution for the world's favorite plumber. It was Mario's first step into the world of 3D animation and despite how sharp his polygons are, his design just works.
It still keeps the magic and proportions people associate with him, but Nintendo managed to nail it despite their inexperience in this perspective and animation.
3 Paper Mario
There's a misconception that designs need to be complicated or detailed to be good. Mario as a character is a prime example of this not being true and the best example within his brand is his design in the Paper Mario series. As a 2-dimensional character in a 3-dimensional space, his design in Paper Mario focuses on clean lines and simple colors. It makes Mario appear much younger, but keeps his mustache so he still comes across as a man. They were also able to get rid of his legs and attach his feet directly to his belly.
2 Super Mario Odyssey
Mario's design in Super Mario Odyssey is the latest design, with the biggest noticeable change coming with the change in the appearance of Mario's hat. Super Mario Odyssey released in 2017, months after the release of the Nintendo Switch. The change in design is thanks to a character named Cappy who happens to be a spiritual top hat possessing Mario's hat in an attempt to help him save his love. Mario's high-resolution 3-dimensional model is stellar and the added eyes on his hat bring the ageless design new life.
1 Super Mario World
Almost all gamers who consider them fans of the Super Mario series would tell you that Super Mario World isn't only the best game in the franchise, but it is the best art style as well. It has a certain simplistic depth about itself that doesn't take away from the intended simplicity of Super Mario's game design, but also doesn't feel stale and afraid of risk-taking. For the first time, Mario's design felt natural and human-like instead of coming across with incorrect proportions.
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