It’s been over 40 years since Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto’s most iconic character, made his first appearance, starring in the original Donkey Kong arcade game. Since then, the Mushroom Kingdom resident has been the focus of countless video games, including some of the industry’s most revered titles.
Mario’s ever-expanding universe ranges from classic side-scrollers to rambunctious racing games. Celebrating this, we’ve rounded up the best titles across the franchise’s rich history. For our list, if the title has Mario in it, it’s fair game, and we’ve limited the spin-off selections to one game per series. Without further ado, let’s take a trip down memory lane as we maneuver chronologically through the Italian plumber’s best games.
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Kicking off the Super Mario series, Super Mario Bros. is a side-scrolling platformer whose gameplay has aged like fine wine — as its straightforward movement and intricate level design led the charge in revitalizing gaming. Since releasing, it has been ported, re-released, modified and remade countless times, a testament to its status as an all-time great.
Super Mario 64 (1996)
After just over a decade elapsed, the Super Mario series took things to the next level with Super Mario 64. The first entry to feature 3D gameplay, the game introduced a new dimension both literally and figuratively. It bestows a freedom upon the player that revolutionized the industry with a fluidity that game developers still chase to this day.
Mario Party 3 (2000)
When it comes to multiplayer games, the Mario Party series is aptly-named. Between thematic boards and competitive minigames, it’s packed with fun. The star that shines brighter than the rest? Mario Party 3. Serving as the culmination of the Nintendo 64’s Mario Party lineup, it brought chaos with boards like “Waluigi’s Island” while striking a great balance between fun and fairness with its minigames like “Ticktock Hop.”
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)
Following Super Mario 64, 3D gameplay made a return with the Nintendo GameCube’s launch of Super Mario Sunshine. A tropical adventure taking place at Isle Delfino, Mario is framed for vandalizing the island and is forced to clean it up with his F.L.U.D.D. device. Full voice acting is included with the title as this one-of-a-kind Mario adventure utilizes its mechanics with a unique flair that is instantly recognizable as you traverse its land.
Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)
Stepping outside of the box, the Paper Mario series presents role-playing game mechanics with special twists. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door immediately charms the player with its playful styling and flow while not compromising its storyline. Its character range – from General White to Rawk Hawk – offers a level of immersion that few games are able to replicate. Beyond this, replayability comes into the equation with elements like the badge system and side quests.
Super Mario Strikers (2005)
Super Mario Strikers was the last Mario game to release on the GameCube, and it was unquestionably a proper send-off. Sports titles have long dominated the video game market, but none quite do what Strikers was able to back in 2005. Combining the Mario franchise’s beloved characters with ruleless gameplay, a beautiful chaos results. Items fly across the screen as characters attack each other while captains launch “Super Strikes” that can rack up two points at a time, causing an endless stream of mayhem for all to enjoy.
Super Mario Maker (2015)
In 2015, Nintendo invited fans to create their own Super Mario levels with Super Mario Maker. Its accessible interface offers the opportunity to create anything from aesthetically pleasing adventures to devilish, brain-bending levels. It has since been elaborated on with the Switch’s Super Mario Maker 2, however, the ingenuity found in the first edition is to be commemorated.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)
Many racing games have tried to recreate the magic of the Mario Kart series since its debut in 1992, and none have succeeded. Even today, Nintendo continues to take things to the next level with each iteration. For the past six years, the Switch’s focus has remained on one title – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Bundling Mario Kart 8 and its Wii U DLC, its arrival was welcomed with open arms and has since seen the addition of what will be six waves of content through its Booster Course Pass. At this point, it is the ultimate Mario Kart experience and is backed by addicting online play options. The bar is higher than ever now and it’ll be difficult for Nintendo to outdo themselves whenever Mario Kart 9 comes around.
Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
The fastest-selling Super Mario game to date, Super Mario Odyssey brought a breath of fresh air to the series – and the Nintendo Switch itself – with its inventiveness. Another 3D platform game, Mario travels from world to world, throwing his cap to use as a platform, attack enemies and transform into all sorts of objects and characters with special abilities. Beyond its fantastic storyline, minigames such as “Luigi’s Balloon World” offer another layer of gameplay for fans to enjoy for hours on end. Universal praise has been attributed to the title with millions anxiously awaiting a possible sequel in the years to come.
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