The Mario series has branched out into a ton of different genres over the years, including the role-playing game genre. Which means it’s time to rank all 12 of the best Mario RPGs so far.
12. Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)
Kicking off the ranking of all of the Mario RPGs out there is Paper Mario: Sticker Star for the Nintendo 3DS. Just because it’s in last place doesn’t mean this was necessarily a bad game, but as you will begin to realize, this franchise is capable of so much more.
Set in the Paper Mario universe, you were treated to the same papercraft world of the N64 original, only this time with the added magic of Stickers. These served as power ups and items, and could be placed within the world to help you advance.
The major problem with the game was that there was a lot of backtracking and it was pretty difficult. There was no real direction, with the stickers ultimately serving as more of a gimmick than a proper feature. So although the action was fun while you were in it, the act of getting to those tasty bits was often a frustrating process, and the payoff was not nearly worth the amount of labor you had to put in.
11. Paper Mario: Color Splash (Wii U)
Much like the console it was housed on, Paper Mario: Color Splash is indicative of a franchise that found itself in a state of limbo. It had some great ideas, but was hamstrung by execution that left a lot to be desired.
The new gameplay element on display here was paint, which would influence battles as well as the game map itself. In a bold, possibly misguided move, the gradual decrease of color in your enemies acted as a visual indicator of their remaining health, while attacks were implemented through a card-based system.
The final result was a game that finds itself floating in an updraft of its own ambition; markedly better than Sticker Star, and yet never establishing a coherent identity of its own. In what has proven a consistent theme through the latter stages of Paper Mario history, bigger is not always better.
10. Super Paper Mario (Wii)
This entry in the Paper Mario series took a classic Mario approach. It played a lot more like a platformer than the previous entries in the series, while maintaining enough RPG elements to qualify it for this list. Adding to the new style was the ability to change dimensions, going from a 2D perspective to a 3D one on the fly in order to navigate the 32 levels.
The gameplay was solid, if not too much of a departure from the RPG fare fans of the series were expecting. Sharp visuals in 2D mode helped keep the signature paper aesthetic, although the switches to 3D were a bit lackluster. The shift to a more nostalgic Mario game helped keep this one interesting, and yet you were ultimately left asking yourself — was this really something the Paper Mario series ever needed?
9. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS)
Dream Team is the fourth game in the Mario & Luigi RPG series, and the first one to be made specifically for the 3DS. It carried over the same gameplay of previous entries, only this time it had more of a focus on Luigi within battle thanks to Dreamy Luigi and the Luiginoids. This allowed for huge attacks and some new mechanics such as steering a huge ball of Luigis towards enemies.
Dream Team is actually a lot of fun on the combat side. However, it suffers a problem akin to that of Final Fantasy XIII: the beginning is very slow. There are hours of tutorials, and when you tie that in with the fact that nothing else is as fun as the Dream World, it starts to weigh heavily upon the game.
A lot of nifty concepts keep it from landing in last place, but bad pacing and Dream Team not taking better advantage of the Dream World places this near the bottom of the barrel.
8. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS)
Since Mario & Luigi had become the de facto RPG franchise for the mustachioed marvel, it makes sense on paper (get it?) to introduce a crossover where they encountered their much thinner predecessor. Whether or not it reaches the heights either series is capable of, however, is another matter entirely.
Though this wasn’t the first game in the Mario & Luigi series to increase the number of playable characters by a long shot, it was perhaps the one where that additional fighter played such an integral role in how combat was handled. Occasionally, the trio will even have to pilot large papercraft mechs as a palate cleanser; your enjoyment of this really coming down to personal taste.
Tragically, to date this remains the last game in the Mario & Luigi series, with developers AlphaDream filing for bankruptcy in 2019. Aside from a stream of remakes, we’re yet to see the bros return to the fold.
7. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (DS)
You’ll pick up on the pattern that each Mario & Luigi game takes the base brotherly gameplay and throws in one major twist to separate it from the pack. For Partners in Time it was time travel, allowing players to play as the plumber duo as well as their baby counterparts at the same time.
This makes for some really interesting puzzles as each of the characters has their own skills and abilities. Moving all four through Mushroom Kingdom is fun and beautiful, and the quests are head-scratching, in a good way. The challenge was still there but it wasn’t as unnecessarily confusing as it was in games like Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
Perhaps Partners in Time’s most damning flaw, is that it didn’t surpass the first Mario & Luigi game in any meaningful way. While dubbing it a downgrade feels like a harsh criticism, it cannot be ignored that there was considerable room for improvement.
6. Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)
Without trying to sound too negative, Paper Mario: The Origami King might serve as an example of Nintendo’s inability to get out of its own way. While fans were thrilled to see the slim phenom make his long-awaited return, the final product was something that didn’t quite hit the mark.
With battles now taking place on a circular grid, Mario would have to strategize how best to implement his attack method in order to maximize damage. It was certainly unique, and the game maintained the series’ usual high standards of irreverent humor, but its insistence to innovate distanced it even further from the formula that had once worked so well.
The Origami King is undoubtedly an enjoyable game overall, and yet there’s a reason why the later entries in the Paper Mario franchise remain humbled by the first two — they set a standard that has yet to have been matched for almost twenty years.
5. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA)
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was the first RPG starring either of the plumbers on handheld. This Game Boy Advance title put players in control of both brothers simultaneously as they navigated the brand new Beanbean Kingdom in order to retrieve Princess Peach’s voice.
What results is not only a great Mario RPG, but a great RPG period. A battle system that keeps you involved, hilarious writing, and impressive sprites kept it light-hearted and fun, an ideal fit for the handheld console.
Mario’s dalliances in the genre would reinvent themselves frequently, often to their own detriment, and yet the introduction of this new franchise proved that a critical balance of solid mechanics and self-aware tone could result in something quite marvellous.
4. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS)
Bowser’s Inside Story took everything that made Superstar Saga great and added one very important, and extremely welcome, element: Bowser. You may be thinking to yourself “but Bowser is in a ton of Mario games”. And that is true, but this one allowed you to control him in an RPG setting with his own side story and and special skills.
Even better is the fact that the game takes place both in the Mushroom Kingdom and within Bowser’s body. Both worlds are fun and beautifully illustrated and it adds to the strategy and gameplay as Bowser inhales enemies for Mario and Luigi to dispatch. Using Bowser feels like a true addition and not just a re-skin of the brothers, adding to the prestige of the title.
Seriously, if you’ve never played a Mario RPG, this is a great place to jump in.
3. Paper Mario (N64)
This game was originally a direct sequel to Super Mario RPG, but ended up undergoing some serious changes. What resulted was a genius effort that showed that Nintendo knew how to teach an old dog new tricks. Paper Mario flattened the portly hero and created a story that has stood the test of time, as well as a system that leveraged familiar gameplay while introducing new ideas.
This involved battles that became a staple of the series, using enemies from previous games as allies, and the engrossing, affable personality made Paper Mario an instant classic. The N64 introduced a new age of 3D worlds, but it was the idea to flatten a famous mascot that ended up making one of the best titles on the console.
2. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GCN)
The Thousand-Year Door was the first sequel in this particular series and it was released on the following generation of consoles on the Nintendo GameCube. What this meant was some even prettier visuals that took advantage of the same “paper” character designs with gorgeous 3D backgrounds.
The Thousand-Year Door brought a deeper, more humorous story along with those prettier visuals, maintaining many of the gameplay elements of its predecessor. In this way, this game was more of an evolution than a revolution, but for perfecting an already potent formula, it stands tall as the peak of Paper Mario madness.
Really, the moment you take on Hooktail the dragon the first time, with battle paused as she tries to bribe you with an opportunity to smell her feet, you know that you’re in for quite the experience. Maybe just a quick sniff…
1. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
If you’ve never played Super Mario RPG, then you’ve done yourself a huge disservice. Before Square merged with Enix and began mixing Final Fantasy with Mickey Mouse, they put Mario and company through their paces. What could have been an unnatural and ill-fitting pairing ended up as one of the most solid RPGs on the Super Nintendo, and easily one of the top games ever made.
If you ever wondered why it’s so easy for Mario to hang out with Bowser at all of those sporting events, it all started with the fight to restore Star Road and take back Bowser’s Castle. An unlikely alliance leads to an adventure that takes Mario, Bowser, Peach, Mallow, and Geno through worlds like the Mushroom Kingdom, Yo’ster Isle, and Nimbus Land. On the way, you’ll fight tons of enemies in turn based RPG fashion, unlock more powerful gear and abilities, and help people as you try to restore the wish granting stars.
Super Mario RPG set the tone for all other RPGs in the universe, and further cemented that Mario is a star that can do just about anything. Too bad Luigi wasn’t invited along for this particular adventure.
And that does it for our ranking of the best Mario RPGs. Be sure to search for Twinfinite for more news and information on the Mario series, including a list of the weirdest Mario games, and the best Mario Bros games.
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