Super Mario World provides the thrill of discovery like no other game can.
Cons: Resets lives each time you start up the game again
Super Mario World makes me feel like a kid again. There is something special about this game that takes me back to the days when I was still in grade school and the world seemed such a wondrous and magical place. Notably the other games from my childhood don't evoke such a feeling: I still have a blast with the Zeldas, the Metroids, and the Star Foxes of yore, but I rarely feel filled with wonder.
Despite the brilliant, carefully crafted, cohesive worlds that Zelda and Metroid present, somehow Super Mario World is the one that feels more massive, expansive, and endless. This is a game about as teeming with secrets as you can get. Secrets provide some of the best parts of games: Metroid gives you extra upgrades and alternate routes. Zelda gives you special items you wouldn't have otherwise obtained. The closest modern AAA equivalent to old-school games, Dark Souls provides you with a couple of secret areas.
Super Mario World does all of this. And not just once or twice, but the entire game. Hit a block, and you might get a rare and lucky item. Reach and open the right doors and you will find a different way to the end of the level. Or maybe you'll find an alternate exit that leads you to a different level. Perhaps even a secret level with its own secret exits. Super Mario World is not a giant or long game. On the contrary, 5 hours is about enough to finish it. But to merely finish the game would be missing the point. The game practically begs you to explore its entire world, and you are rewarded regularly if you do.
None of it is filler either. The classic Mario formula, already honed over a few great games at this point, works in full force as you'd expect. But the levels have been expanded dramatically in scope and variety. No longer content with the large assortment of challenges in previous games, Super Mario World changes things up with great regularity. Whereas challenges were largely coordination based in the past, now your brain is challenged as you attempt to figure the way out of a ghost house, or find the correct path through the forest of illusion. And that's, of course, in addition to the levels where you deftly climb moving platforms and jump over lava pits. It's all a blast and is great fun to come back to again and again.
Super Mario World is basically THE game to beat for secrets. It has so many of them of all shapes and sizes that you can replay it and discover new ones each time. That sense of discovery is paired with a refined and expanded core into a classic experience that everyone owes it to themselves to experience at some point. It's a game that can make an adult feel like a kid again, and that alone makes it absolutely worth experiencing.