The rotund plumber Mario has represented Nintendo in some of the best platforming and adventure games of all time. Mario was even the star player in Nintendo’s transition from two dimensions into three; therefore, it’s no surprise that Nintendo has often found a way to place Mario in games that are out of his perceived comfort zone. The following are the 10 best titles that Mario has appeared in without having to rescue a princess or platform through clever level design. The criteria is that Mario himself must star in the title, making Luigi, Yoshi or Captain Toad spin-offs ineligible for this list.
10. Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix
This 2005 GameCube exclusive is one of Mario’s most forgotten titles but one of the very best. Developed by Konami in partnership with Nintendo, this game offers an updated take on the DDR formula with a Nintendo-themed presentation. Featuring a classic Mario story and remixed Nintendo themes, DDR Mario Mix is a great dance title to own. Featuring extra mini-games and dance-offs with opponents, it is also a great party game. One draw that could be appealing or distracting depending on the player’s interest is that the title is certainly geared more toward kids, as the difficulty level is relatively low and the presentation is youth-friendly. As a party game for kids (or adults) though, DDR Mario Mix is unique and incredible fun.
9. Super Mario Strikers
Another 2005 GameCube title, Super Mario Strikers received an updated 2007 Wii sequel and was quietly a very enjoyable series. Nintendo games are generally simple to pick up and play, yet secretly deep. However, that is not the case with Super Mario Strikers, which is all action, all the time. This is arcade goodness at its finest without much strategy involved. The hectic play is refreshing, as the 4-player multiplayer mayhem is addictive and never gets old. Sometimes the simplest games are the best ones and Strikers is such an easy title to pick up and play that it has managed to successfully age quite gracefully. The downside is that the single player offering is much less satisfying than the multiplayer. Although Strikers received a sequel on Wii, this is one Nintendo series that absolutely needs a reboot on the upcoming NX console with a full-fledged online arena mode. Online play could catapult this cult classic into a very popular mainstream title.
8. Mario Paint
In 1992, Nintendo released one of the most adored titles of the generation in Mario Paint. Offering many tools now considered basic functions of a personal computer, Mario Paint was well ahead of its time. Aside from being a basic drawing program, Mario Paint also offered custom stamp design, a music generator, and an addictive fly-swatting mini-game. The music generator in particular has legendary status, as the classic Nintendo sounds are available to be placed alongside general instrumental sounds to create very unique Nintendo-themed soundtracks. The music maker is so enjoyable that it is still used today, with plenty of YouTube videos now showing their work in the music maker. Mario Paint, arriving bundled with a SNES mouse peripheral, was one of the most ingenious spin-off ideas that Nintendo ever had.
7. Dr. Mario
Arriving two months apart on the NES and the original Game Boy in 1990, Dr. Mario took advantage of the popular puzzle genre and offered a fresh take. Comparable to Tetris, Dr Mario sees players manipulating colored capsules that drop on screen and aligning them with matching virus colors. Unlike Tetris, Dr. Mario has a goal and a level structure, as gamers are required to eliminate the pre-populated viruses on screen in order to move on to the next stage. This goal gives Dr. Mario a more traditional sense of accomplishment compared to Tetris, which tasked gamers with simply besting a personal score. Every gamer has likely played a variation of Dr. Mario at some point, as the puzzle genre has indeed been overdone but those that grew up with this Game Boy classic surely recall just how addictive it was. Containing the standout Mario music and presentation expected from titles bearing Mario’s name, Dr. Mario still stands out among a market flooded with puzzle games as one of the very best.
6. Mario Tennis (Series)
The Mario Tennis series began on the Nintendo 64 and has appeared on nearly every Nintendo console ever since. Offering surprisingly-deep portable experiences and crazy multiplayer enjoyment on consoles, Mario Tennis is now a Nintendo staple. Unfortunately, the series has lost a small amount of allure with the poor showing of the latest title for the Wii U called Ultra Smash. A stripped-down, bare-bones version of what makes Mario Tennis great, Ultra Smash was a definite disappointment. However, the series as a whole remains outstanding and proves that Mario can appear in nearly anything and is able to fit right in. Taking tennis — not often thought of as the most exciting form of video game entertainment — and turning it into a frantic and thrilling experience is a testament to Nintendo’s knack for innovative gameplay design. Mario Tennis is frenetic, wild fun.
5. Mario Party (Series)
There are few games that involve more luck than Mario Party, but the niche it has created is large and unique. Simulating the feel of a board game, Mario Party places characters on a virtual board as they traverse by rolling virtual dice. Along the way, players engage in thoughtful mini-games spanning a wide variety of genres. The mini-games are the draw themselves, as the majority of them are very well-done and test reflexes, memory, and general gaming ability. The end result of the actual game is often luck-driven, as it does mimic the reality of a board game, but despite many elements being out of the player’s control, gamers will continue returning to Mario Party. As addictive as they come, Mario Party has an unexplainable charm to go along with the strong gameplay offered in its mini-games. The only drawback is the social requirement of Mario Party: this is a game to play with friends, as having a solo party is never fun. With four players in tow though, this is a classic Mario series that can provide hours of entertainment.
4. Mario Golf (Series)
Another series that began on the N64, Mario Golf is an interesting case. The console titles offer unique multiplayer enjoyment that rivals the success of any Nintendo game. Conversely, the portable titles offer a very different experience, with deep single-player campaigns containing light RPG elements. In fact, the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance iterations are so deep they arguably deserve to be considered a genre of their own: Sports-RPG. These portable titles are among the best ever created and gamers owe it to themselves to experience them. The multiplayer mayhem of the console editions must not be understated though, as Mario Golf is a tremendous party game for all ages. The most impressive feat the game accomplishes is taking the relatively slow game of golf and turning it into an exciting, fast-paced experience. In fact, Mario Golf has taught the basics of golf to many children who grew up with the titles. A majority of the intended audience had never played a physical round of golf prior to experiencing Mario Golf, making it a true testament to the quality of the gameplay. Leave it to Nintendo to take an activity that is of little interest to its target demographic and turn it into a beloved series.
3. Mario RPG (Series)
Mario has proven with the exemplary Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars that he is more than capable of dabbling in role-playing games. While Super Mario RPG for the SNES represents the peak of the series (most likely due to Squaresoft’s involvement), the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series are no slouches and are each excellent in their own right. One element they all share is a fantastic sense of humor, as the games offer deep RPG elements but never take themselves too seriously. Indeed, Mario’s foray into the genre has been tremendously successful, with nary a dud among the many released titles. Super Paper Mario is particularly interesting with its blend of 2D platforming and 3D RPG story. While largely forgotten, it is an underrated gem in the Mario RPG library and showcases how seamlessly Mario can make the transition between genres.
2. Mario Kart (Series)
Credited with inventing the kart-racing subgenre of racing games, Mario Kart prides itself on offering a stark contrast to realistic racing simulations, with more arcade-like gameplay and a focus on fun rather than realism. Mario Kart was also the first non-platforming venture to feature multiple characters from the Mario universe. This would set the stage for various sports games, a fighting game, and board games to feature the Mario Bros. cast. As influential to Nintendo as it was to the rest of the world, Mario Kart is a series that keeps fans interested to this day. With unique racetracks and addictive physics, many gamers will never play a realistic racing sim but still adore Mario Kart. Mario Kart essentially features two games in one package, as the battle mode is as different from the core racing modes as can be. In battle, players attempt to pop the balloons of other karts by shooting projectiles, providing competitive gameplay in a zany setting while driving on go-karts.
1. Super Smash Bros. (Series)
Super Smash Bros. was a revelation the moment it arrived on the N64. Providing seemingly simple fighting gameplay, gamers quickly learned how deep the mechanics were and how balanced the gameplay was and the series now stands as one of the best the fighting genre has to offer. The original also provided chaotic four player multiplayer that Nintendo is known for, which was a breath of fresh air for classic 1-vs-1 fighting games of the era. Now one of the most competitive series of all-time, Super Smash Bros. has tournaments with some of the largest cash prizes in video games. It can also often be found played in dormitories and being played by children, perfectly encapsulating the broad reach of Nintendo products. Super Smash Bros. can be enjoyed casually or competitively, by adults or by youth, and even under tournament settings. It’s remarkable how wide-reaching this game is. Anyone can pick-up-and play Super Smash Bros. for the first time and have a great experience, never needing to see how deep and intricate the mechanics are. Super Smash Bros. is the greatest Mario spin-off ever created and its appeal has possibly even surpassed the base Mario platforming series.