Since 1986, Mario has been jumping around on our televisions screens, and his appeal if nothing else has grown stronger than ever. The platformers with which the franchise made its name are legendary and considered by many to be the best games of all time. At some points in his history however, Mario got bored of rescuing Princess Peach and decided to do something different with his time. The result was a impressive collection of spin off games, covering sports, education and more. These titles sometimes get unfairly forgotten given the prestige of the platformers, so this list is intended to give some exposure and display my personal favourite Mario spin-offs. The general rule of thumb for the list was this; in order to feature, you must be able to play as Mario at some point. This means games from the likes of the Donkey Kong, Yoshi and Wario series’ will not get a word on this list; I would recommend looking into those titles however.
10 – Mario Paint (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1992)
You might just look at the title of the game here and pass it off as a fad. If you do however, you are a fool; this title for the SNES is one of the most innovative games I have ever come across. At the heart of it, it is essentially MS Paint on a console, using the SNES Mouse (which was bundled in with the game) to paint pictures. However, you can then save and load these paintings at any time, and then even animate them. The game also features a colouring book with a few images to practise on, a fly swatting minigame, a fantastic title screen where pressing the letters causes something different to happen, and best of all: it features the Mario Paint Composer, a device that let you create song tracks using Mario sound effects. It has inspired some fantastic compositions that have gone onto Youtube, and to be honest the game deserves a spot on the list purely for this feature alone.
9 – Mario And Luigi: Superstar Saga (Game Boy Advance, 2003)
The first entry into the handheld Mario RPG series, Superstar Saga sees you take control of Mario and Luigi in theBeanbeanKingdom, chasing down Cackletta who has stolen Princess Peach’s voice. I never did get round to completing this, but the button timed combat system, the use of skills in and out of battle, some well written dialogue and the chance to have Luigi as the main guy impressed me on my playthrough. It also features a version of the Mario Bros. arcade game as a side distraction.
8 – Mario Kart Wii (Nintendo Wii, 2008)
The most recent entry into the Mario Kart series, and a damn fine addition at that: 27 million copies shifted proves to it success methinks. Featuring 32 courses (a mixture of new and old tracks, all upgraded visually), loads of characters and plenty of unlockables, this game continues the excellent trend of Mario Kart racing games. The Wii Mote adds a different dimension to turning and control, the racing is frantic and it’s perfect for group or family orientated gaming. I would say however that the weapons are cheaper than ever, especially if you are stuck at the back (I’m looking at you, Bullet Bill and Blue Shell).
7 – Dr Mario (Game Boy, 1990)
Designed by Gunpei Yokoi as a next step from the legendary Tetris, this game saw Mario give up the plumbing job to fight germs. Like Tetris, your objective is to place falling objects (in this case pills) in a certain place in order to remove the germs, surrounding them with four blocks of the same colour. You could select which level you wanted to start at, the game speed, and the music to play in the background. Originally on the Game Boy, this game has been reinvented several times; a testament to the classic gameplay which still works today.
6 – Mario Golf (Nintendo 64, 2000)
I will make it clear now: I absolutely hate golf. It does not interest me in the slightest and being forced to watch it is torture for me. However, I love Mario Golf. I’m not sure why, but it hits all the enjoyment buttons for me: a wide range of courses that gradually increase in difficulty, the characters from the Mario franchise all present and accounted for, a great camera system, simple controls and flashy presentation. If real golf was more like this, I would pay much more attention.
5 – Super Mario Kart (Super Nintedo Entertainment System, 1992)
Crash Team Racing, Jak X, Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing: meet the granddaddy of the kart racing genre. Before SMK, no-one had even considered putting a mascot like Mario in a racing game. And yet when Nintendo did it, they automatically set the template for all future kart racers: a good roster of characters with different abilities (for example, Toad has great acceleration but low strength next to Bowser), sharp and precise handling, powerups and great course design (aided by the SNES Mode 7 graphics). Then add on a time trial mode and some highly addicting multiplayer race and battle modes, and you have a game which has received critical acclaim ever since. It should also be noted that this game inspired pretty much every other spin off game in the Mario franchise, itself being the first spin off title.
4 – Mario Tennis (Nintendo 64, 2000)
For me, Mario Tennis 64 is the pinnacle of the sports games that Mario has appeared in. Like with Mario Golf, it manages to make tennis a whole lot of fun. There’s a set of cup competitions to get through (either singles or doubles), loads of characters with different styles to play with, and a wide selection of shots that you can play within the wonderful game engine from lobs to ace smashes. The four player multiplayer was also fantastic fun, and a great way to settle arguments with friends. People may hate this game however for giving the world Waluigi, commonly regarded as one of the worst characters ever made. I don’t mind, he’s a great technical tennis player.
3 – Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64, 1997)
Super Mario Kart invented the genre, so why does Mario Kart 64 get the higher spot in the list? The single player mode may not have been as inspiring as the SMK, but everywhere else there were improvements: it took the series to 3D, allowing for changes to the tracks, such as hills, walls and bridges, to be included (Mode 7 would not allow this on the SNES: its why everything is flat), and it gave the Nintendo 64 its first popular four player game, meaning that more mates could get in on the action which was a good thing. Mario Kart 64 also included more powerups and the drifting system, by where drifting around would give players a speed boost. Overall it was a worthy sequel, and well worth a spot on this list.
2 – Super Smash Brothers (Nintendo 64, 1999)
This is the most contentious choice on my list. Yes, I know its not a Mario game in the strict sense that all of the phrase, but you can play as Mario, and I do not believe this game would have sold half as well if it didn’t have the Mario branding attached to it. So it is eligible for this list; and what a game. Like the kart racing idea, people were unsure about what would happen if Nintendo mascots were thrown into a fighting game; the result is one of the most fun and engaging fighters of all time. Single player involved you taking one character through a series of stages, and multiplayer involves four people kicking the crap out of each other. Excellent movesets for characters, stages based on Nintendo games, fluid gameplay and great presentation all ensured that this was a must buy for the N64. It is not the best game in the Super Smash Brother series (take your pick between Melee and Brawl…I love them both), but it set the trend and deserves credit for that.
And who doesn’t love the FALCON PUNCH!!!!!!
1 – Super Mario RPG (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1996)
A running theme through this list has been the lack of faith in putting Mario into new situations. Putting him into a RPG with turn based combat sounded ludicrous…until people realised that Squaresoft (of Final Fantasy fame) were making it. This game is a wonderful example of what happened when Squaresoft and Nintendo mixed; you have the world of Mario and the themes (such as the pipes, Goombas and so on), and the tried and tested gameplay of Final Fantasy: it couldn’t go wrong. There’s a great story in Super Mario RPG (featuring the first time that Bowser became an ally to Mario) filled with references and humour, a balance of platforming on the field screens and superb turn based combat (with timed button presses for extra damage), great visuals and an excellent soundtrack. It’s all you could ever want from a Mario game, and dare I say it it’s better than some of the platformers in my opinion. A classic that deserves more attention.