10. Dr. Mario
Mario is a man who has worn many hats (sometimes in the literal sense), and one of his most famous personas is as that of Dr. Mario, resident physician and menace to all things virus. Entering the medical profession typically requires years of study and dedication, but in the case of our boy Mario, all it takes is a stethoscope and an unlimited supply of pills. He’s a bit of a quack, but he’s all right.
The game itself is a fun little puzzler where you’re tasked with matching colored pills with one of three variations of critters on-screen. Connecting three or more will eliminate them from the field – represented by a hilarious struggling animation by the corresponding virus in the corner – and the task, quite obviously, is to destroy all of the nasties to clear the stage. It’s pretty straightforward, but in the same vein as Tetris, things can grow frantic as the speed increases and your mistakes begin to pile up.
There have been a few different entries in the series, but the most famous version is the NES original. Dr. Mario 64 allowed multiplayer for up to four aspiring clinicians, and with that in mind, the formula would likely translate well to the Switch with its simple controls and concept. What better way to kill time than by curing sickness itself?
9. Mario Paint
Though this series only ever saw one release in the west due to the inability of the 64DD attachment to leave Japan, that single entry still holds a special place in the hearts of many. It’s definitely a better coloring game than Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up, but alas, it lacks the sheer thrill of seeing Luigi live out his dream of someday being a store clerk.
It’s fairly self-explanatory, but your goal in Mario Paint is to scrawl as much nonsense upon the canvas as your little heart could possibly desire. There are a range of different tools at your disposal, and a selection of templates to start you off with if you’re feeling creatively bankrupt. There is no end-game, no final judgment made upon your skills as an artist unless you mandate your own house rules wherein your disapproving parents fling pottery at you if your efforts fail to impress them. Just a suggestion.
There’s also a music maker, and even a rudimentary animation feature that allows you to drag an object haphazardly across the screen like a drunkard trying to find the toilet. If it’s all a bit to calm for you, you can challenge the lord of the flies to a showdown to the death in the flyswatting mini-game. It’s actually pretty intense, and you may soon find yourself fleeing back to the safety of illustration if you’re not prepared.
8. Mario Golf
If Vegas oddsmakers were analyzing a sporting tournament that was literally named after one of the competitors, they would surely be inclined to believe that this whole thing is rigged. Despite this however, the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom occasionally hit the links and try to nail a birdie or two. Unsurprisingly, Mario is legend around the putting greens, and everyone aspires to be like him. Sounds like Super Mario Nepotism to us.
The mechanics of this golfing series are simple and intuitive, allowing novice golfers to get into the swing of things, while also having enough on offer to satisfy those after more control. The promotional website for the GameCube version, Toadstool Tour, had an excellent series of gameplay videos accompanied by fictional commentator Sandy Green. In one of them, he coins the phrase ‘Wario must be a bus driver… ’cause he is taking those kids to school!’, an absolutely excellent quip that we heartily suggest you pull out at your next gaming session. Surely someone will be impressed, though it might just be yourself.
With a wide smattering of courses to choose from, there’s a range of golfing experiences for your enjoyment. Some of them hearken to more realistic, subdued landscapes, while others have familiar Mario enemies flitting about. The challenge is to resist the urge to smack them directly in the face with your golf ball, and just taking one look at that Wiggler’s smug grin makes it a daunting task indeed.
7. Mario + Rabbids
Have you ever looked at your favorite mascot and thought to yourself, ‘he would be much better if he had a gun’? …No? Well, the people at Ubisoft sure did, and thankfully it ended up a lot better than the travesty that was Shadow the Hedgehog and his damn FOURTH Chaos Emerald.
The unlikely pairing of the Mario universe with the fun-loving Rabbids works like a charm, and the X-COM style gameplay creates an experience unlike any other for either franchise. At its surface, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle appears to be a cuddly clone of the strategy series, complete with bright colors and the fabulous Rabbid Peach. Once you progress further however, you will discover that this game has the blackened heart of a beast.
Put simply, it’s unforgiving in its latter stages, and it will chew you up and spit you out. This unexpected level of difficulty really encapsulates just how wonderfully out of left field Mario + Rabbids is; expectations were not terribly high upon its initial reveal, but if you just give it a shot, you will be more than glad you did. You may even be keen enough to obtain the Collector’s Edition with the Rabbid Mario statue – good luck finding an appropriate place to display that bad boy.
6. Mario Strikers
With all of his varied interests, it was only a matter of time before our fella in red tried his hand at the beautiful game, and in true Mario fashion, he has managed to do it in a way that is so chaotically ugly, you’ll find yourself delighted by the savagery. ‘Bravo!’, you’ll cry, as small children and friendly animals are thrown into the electric fence.
Truly, Mario Strikers features some of the more brutal violence in the franchise, and it is absolutely side-splitting to experience. Soccer balls set aflame, explosions sending players sprawling, and cheap shots resulting in power ups for the opposition. Both the team captains and their band of minions feature unique abilities and techniques, making team building a fun experience. In the Wii version, a well-timed Mega Strike can yield up to six goals at the one time, tipping the balance in one fell swoop.
Needless to say, there is no diving. Anyone caught faking an injury will likely receive a red shell to the face, a suitable punishment that should be considered for the next World Cup.
5. Mario Tennis
Yet another sporting venture laced with that familiar Nintendo sheen, the tennis series of games can vary in tonality from decidedly unique to completely bonkers, depending on the options you select. The genesis of the game is based on three different styles of impact (top spin, slice or smash), and the variations and nuances sorted into that. It’s actually a really solid tennis sim based solely on that, and for this reason, some may prefer the more subdued edition on the Nintendo 64 to its sequels.
Once Mario Power Tennis rolled around on the GameCube, all subtlety was thrown out the window, giving players access to wacky power shots. Mario clobbered the ball with his hammer, Luigi retrieved lost volleys with his trusty Poltergust, and Waluigi… well… he chose to swim swim!
The original entry, Mario’s Tennis on the Virtual Boy, was one of the better games in the scant console’s library, though playing it for more than a few minutes would have you seeing red long after you had stopped playing. Consult a doctor before, after and during long gameplay sessions. We hear Dr. Mario is usually accepting new patients.
4. Mario Party
Like an eccentric billionaire with too much cash to throw around, Mario loves himself a good party. Why, he enjoys partying so much, he’ll even invite people he purportedly hates like Donkey Kong and Wario. Possibly because he’s overly polite. Possibly because his mother made him do it. Possibly because Wario makes the best canapes. Nobody knows for sure.
Once a yearly event, Mario Party has slowed a little, but is still one of the more prevalent series in the catalog, coming in at a whopping sixteen titles so far. The madcap hijinks of these games finds players rolling the dice and moving like the pieces of a board game, trying to collect stars in order to settle some kind of petty difference the characters happen to be having at that time. Interspersed between rounds are mini-games, and this of course is the heart and soul of the Mario Party franchise, offering all kinds of memorable (and sometimes devastatingly frustrating) moments.
The series came to infamy due to a mechanic present only in the first game, where some mini-games required players to spin the control stick as quickly as they could. Clearly, the intention was for us to move our thumb in a fast, circular motion, however children around the globe figured the better option was to plant the stick directly into the palm of their hand, sometimes even leading to minor injuries. Some would blame the child for not thinking that through. Most, however, blamed Nintendo – because that’s just what we do as a society.
3. Mario RPG
Unlike the other competitors on this list, this is represented only by a single entry (Mario Artist was a thing, dammit, and don’t you forget it). That entry happens to be one of the most cherished offshoots in Mario history, both a highlight of the 16-bit RPG era, and one of the Super Nintendo’s finest gems.
We are of course referring to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, a game with a title so superfluously lengthy, it’s almost comical. In this Square co-developed adventure, Mario unites with a band of comrades, even working in cahoots with Bowser in order to topple an even more sinister foe that looks to remove the world of its wishes. Bowser doesn’t join the party until much later, but the spoiler period has probably well expired on this one by now.
Introducing combat mechanics that would later be seen in both Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, Super Mario RPG’s calling card was its system of ‘timed hits’. By pressing the attack button at the correct time, you could increase your damage output or block your noggin from incoming blows. It made players active participants in battle, as opposed to casual observers, and familiarizing yourself with every enemy’s animation became a necessity. Alas, we never did see a sequel to this most stupendous quest, though the spirit lives on in the subsequent series it helped inspire.
2. Paper Mario
A series that comes in two parts, and that is significant for a reason.
At its base level, Paper Mario offers an experience where Mario and his friends appear as paper facsimiles on a 3D plain. In its more recent years, this has been in the form of experimental action-adventure titles. Originally however, Paper Mario was a turn-based RPG, and it is due to that period that this entry ranks so highly. Remove them from the equation, and this would probably be sandwiched approximately between Mario Paint and Dr. Mario – these two games are just that good.
We refer specifically to the N64’s Paper Mario, and its GameCube sequel, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, a pair of games with a level of charm and style that is rare to see. Battles find Mario paired with an ally that he can swap in and out of combat, and these range from a friendly Goomba or Koopa Troopa to a baby Yoshi and even a voluptuous cloud diva. All of these characters are incredibly lovable, and you may even find yourself tempted to replay entire segments just to hear what each partner has to say. It’s unfortunate that Nintendo have strayed from this path, because either of these two games could be a definite contender for Mario’s top 10 finest forays.
1. Mario Kart
Sometimes the best surprises are the ones that never end up happening, because good gracious, we all saw this coming, but we still looked forward to it, didn’t we? Since its inception on the Super Nintendo, the Mario Kart series has become its own entity separate from the overarching Mario umbrella, and there is an expectation that each Nintendo console will have a new entry.
The standard has been set pretty high, but they keep finding ways to deliver. The courses and driving were likely at their tightest in Super Mario Kart and Super Circuit, while the multiplayer of Mario Kart 64 is the stuff of legend. Double Dash’s two-racer mechanic was unexpected, but yielded some frenetically grand results. Newer entries have their own unique gimmicks, and online competition has become standard. The series lives off a healthy recipe of skill, luck and power ups to help balance and shake up gameplay, and we keep coming back to it all these years later, ready to rev up for some karting action.
Everyone has a favorite, and it’s hard to really narrow down which one is the best. For what it’s worth, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch offers the most robust and complete experience, with a generous cast and a huge collection of tracks. Plus, it brought back our dude Dry Bones, and that’s definitely something worth celebrating.