Top 12 Hardest Mario Games Ever Made (Ranked)

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Nintendo’s acrobatic Italian plumber has become one of the most recognizable faces on earth. And some would say he represents gaming as a whole.

Occasionally joined by his brother Luigi, Mario shows up whenever needed to save the Mushroom Kingdom and rescue Princess Peach.

He’s also fond of sporting events, kart racing, dancing – and more.

Among Mario’s many games, some are known for their high difficulty levels. If you’re curious about which Mario games are the most demanding, you’ve come to the right corner of the web.

Here are our picks for the most challenging Mario games of all time.


12. Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Super Mario Odyssey HD Screenshot

Anyone who has played the full campaign of Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch has a right to be surprised at finding it here.

After all, none of it is “hard” by any stretch of the imagination.

On the other hand, you’ll need the Buddha’s commitment to get 100% completion. After all, there are a whopping 999 Moons to collect, spread across Odyssey’s several massive 3D scenarios.

At first, you’ll be pocketing them one after another like candy in Halloween, but as you approach the half-point line, you’ll notice them growing scarcer.

Eventually, you’ll have to resort to a guide if you’re not willing to spend the rest of your life ground-pounding random spots on the map.


11. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2001)

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door HD

While it started as a platformer series, Mario has made his way to countless genres.

RPGs have been a surprisingly good fit for the Italian Plumber, and Paper Mario: TTYD on the GameCube is a prime example.

Some of you might feel like this should be much higher in the ranking, while others might even consider it doesn’t belong on the list at all.

That’s because most of its perceived difficulty comes from the fact that Mario’s target audience isn’t necessarily RPG buffs. If you’re not used to the exploration, puzzles, and other genre staples, you’ll face a steeper learning curve.

Even if you know the genre well-enough, Paper Mario offers some serious challenge from time to time – especially when fighting bosses like the Shadow Queen or Bonetail at the bottom of the Pit of 100 Trials.


10. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)

Super Mario Galaxy 2 HD

While the original Super Mario Galaxy focuses on delighting users with its visuals, its successor on the Wii packs a more intense challenge.

Now that they knew people could handle the wonky planet-hopping and other unique mechanics, developers could build tighter platforming challenges and exciting puzzles.

Even the game’s base campaign presents more treacherous difficulty that the original.

But it’s the optional content that turns up the heat.

Among the most significant challenges this game will offer completionists is getting stars from Prankster Comets, which will begin orbiting planets after acquiring your first Comet Medal.

These comets will unlock unique, more demanding versions of the levels with special winning conditions. They also keep you from restarting at checkpoints, making the hunt for these stars a real steep climb.


9. Super Mario 64 (1996)

Super Mario 64 Screenshot

Whether it’s the 3DS re-release or the original N64 version, Super Mario 64 presents plenty of challenging situations for players to overcome.

That was doubly complicated for players back when it first came out, as it was Mario’s first 3D platforming adventure. A lot more exploration and lateral thinking were needed to make your way through the game.

Playing through the first couple of levels and getting some stars isn’t all that hard, but the more stars you need to collect to proceed, the harder it gets.

Eventually you’ll have to tackle the most problematic stars in dangerous levels like Jolly Roger’s Bay and Lethal Lava Land. Never mind all the ROM hacks out there.


8. Super Mario Sunshine (2002)

Super Mario Sunshine Screenshot

Super Mario 64’s successor on the GameCube did nothing to ease the difficulty.

Super Mario Sunshine is likely the hardest 3D Mario game ever made.

Not only does it have unique gameplay mechanics not found in any other game, but there’s also an apparent effort on the part of developers to be a little more relentless with each subsequent level.

I couldn’t beat it as a child. And even now I’m bound to get stuck at some of the most vicious obstacles – such as the Lily Pad Ride in Delfino Plaza.


7. Super Mario Land (1989)

Super Mario Land 1989 Screenshot

For the first game in Super Mario’s handheld history, the developers decided to step away from the beaten path and innovate.

Not only is the game set in the new kingdom of Sarasaland, but it introduces Daisy as the main damsel in distress.

It also features a couple of side-scrolling shooter levels, which is weird in a Mario game. Neat, but weird.

However, it’s the treacherous level design and interesting twists on Super Mario staples that make this game stand out.

It’s easily the hardest Mario handheld game (excluding re-releases of NES/SNES titles).


6. New Super Luigi U (2013)

New Super Luigi U Screenshot

Most people would think of New Super Luigi U as a fun little extra in New Super Mario Bros. U.

Delve into it, however, and you’ll find an entire second game hiding right under your nose.

It follows the same progression as the base game, but levels are considerably shorter and more treacherous than before – and they have a 100 second time limit.

As if that wasn’t enough, you’ll be going through them as Luigi. Who has his own odd maneuverability. He can jump higher, but he’s also more floaty and less precise.

It’s geared toward experts for sure. And anyone looking for a challenge will adore what New Super Luigi U has to offer.


5. Super Mario Bros 3 (1989)

Super Mario Bros 3 NES Gameplay

As it’s often the case, Mario games get harder the older they are.

Super Mario Bros. 3 for the Nintendo Entertainment System keeps the same tight platforming action that made the series famous in the first place.

It also introduced (at the time) new in-game techniques and power-ups that kept things fresh and forced you to adapt your skills.

You’ll have to navigate maze-like piping systems, dodge giant monsters, and avoid being eaten by the copious piranha plants if you’re to rescue Peach from Bowser and his Koopalings.

Sure, the game can also be cleared remarkably fast if you use Warp Whistles to skip most of it. But where’s the fun in that?


4. Super Mario Bros 2 (1988)

Super Mario Bros 2 Gameplay

The second Super Mario release for Western markets is famous for being a re-work of a previous Nintendo Entertainment System title: Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic.

That explains why it’s so unique among the Mario games, with physics that feel considerably different, and many new play styles that seem to come out of nowhere.

Regardless of its origins, it’s the difficulty that earns it a place as one of the hardest Mario games.

You’ll be shot, fall prey to booby traps, and be tricked into killing yourself countless times before clearing this for the first time.


3. Super Mario Bros (1985)

Super Mario Bros Original Game

The original Super Mario Bros. on the NES was revolutionary in many ways.

Fans loved it, and it influenced the industry so profoundly, we can confidently call it one of the founding stones of gaming.

As the oldest game in our list, it’s unsurprisingly unforgiving. As was the norm at the time.

You get a set number of lives to make your way through eight considerably complex worlds, including a couple of the most intense Mario levels in existence.

Extra lives are pretty scarce in this one. And you’ll need all the lives you can to clear the last couple of levels.

Just watch some YouTube playthroughs and learn from speedrunners to master this one.


2. Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels (1986)

Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels SNES Screenshot

The reason why Nintendo had to re-work Doki Doki Panic to serve as SMB’s second installment for Western markets was both surprising and simple: The Japanese Super Smash Bros. 2 was too hard for American audiences.

Honestly, it might be too hard for anyone short of a total Super Mario expert.

The treacherous difficulty and vicious level design found on this game was one of ROM hacker’s main inspirations to create their own insanely difficult hacked Super Mario levels. Which eventually became known as “Kaizo” levels.

While the original SMB2 only came out in Japan, The Lost Levels have been part of several compilations starting with Super Mario All-Stars.

If you’re one of the masters who’ve cleared this intense game, you’re allowed to brag.


1. Super Mario Maker 2 (2019)

Super Mario Maker 2 Kaizo Level Screenshot

Remember those “Kaizo” levels I was referencing above?

Well they’re the reason why Super Mario Maker 2 (just like its predecessor) is the single hardest Mario game ever.

This game gave users the tools they needed to create Super Mario levels with assets from several classic titles in the franchise, and even some newer ones like Super Mario 3D World.

That makes it possible for non-hackers to try their hand at level design. And the results have been incredible. Some are fun, some are creative, some are technically impressive.

And some are downright hellish in difficulty.

If you want a real challenge starring the Italian plumber, SMM2 will continue to deliver new ones right to your doorstep for years to come.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely playing games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.