Mario’s a man of many hats, and while most of them help with making him Super, it’s when he’s not out platforming that he does some of his best work. No video game character can stand toe to toe with Mario when it comes to spinoffs in general, let alone ones that have become series in their own right. In honor of Mar10 Day, we’re looking at some of these to see how they’ve been received, where they’re going, and why they jump just as high as his more expected fare.
Mario Kart – First place by a mile
- Debut – Super Mario Kart – SNES – 1992
- Latest – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Switch – 2017
- Upcoming – Mario Kart Tour – Mobile – 2019
No doubt about it, Mario Kart is the top spinoff success story for our plumber. None of these come within a Green Shell’s toss of this pioneer of racing. It’d be the gold standard in Nintendo multiplayer if not for a different Smashing series that Mario’s in, but when that’s your competition, silver is still pretty dang good. Starting on the SNES and making an appearance on pretty much every system since, they actually outsell the mainline Mario games nearly every time, and several represent the best-selling game for their system.
Sales aren’t everything as far as this piece goes though, yet none can doubt the impact the series has had on the industry. Thanks to its Mario Kart, the N64 ended up home to more kart racers than any system needs. Mario Kart DS was a pioneer when it came to online connectivity on the DS. Mario Kart 8 marks a clear turning point in the Wii U’s life as a platform — and then they released it on Switch where it sold almost twice as many copies.
The fact 8 Deluxe is a port might mean there’s still room for a Switch-made Mario Kart in the future, but as-is, the series is on that highlight of a game’s victory lap. With the (recently delayed) mobile title Mario Kart Tour due later this year, it might be a year or two before we hear about another potential grand prix on console.
Dr. Mario – Nintendo’s most prescribed puzzle
- Debut – Dr. Mario – NES – 1990
- Latest – Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure – 3DS – 2015
- Upcoming – Dr. Mario World – Mobile – 2019
Full disclosure: Dr. Mario’s hardly my favorite of Nintendo’s puzzle titles. I’ll take Panel de Pon or Yoshi’s Cookie over pill popping any day, but I’ll still take what I can get when it comes to falling blocks. Or capsules in this case, as Dr. Mario’s virus busting has you tossing medicine into jars to eliminate obstructive (and rude) diseases. While its gameplay is addicting and hasn’t had to change much over the years to keep it that way, I’ve always found the music to be the main draw, courtesy of Hirokazu Tanaka.
While not nearly as prolific and indisputably iconic as Mario Kart, the Dr. Mario series was an early look at Mario’s versatility as a character. It’s ironic that his everyman quality would come hand-in-hand with an MD, but here we are with what’s probably his most recognizable look outside of the overalls. With a mobile version due this summer it’ll be interesting to see how the world swallows its megavitamins on the widest platform yet for the series, and what might be different about its treatment.
Mario Party – destroyer of palms and friendships
- Debut – Mario Party – Nintendo 64 – 1998
- Latest – Super Mario Party – Switch – 2018
- Upcoming – still recovering from latest get together
Board games with friends sounds like a perfect night of fun, but throw in some Stars, some minigames, and some random chance times and you’ve got a recipe for thrown controllers and betrayals that’ll sting for years to come. Yet this could be the Mario spinoff closest to my heart by a long shot for those exact reasons. One minute you could be burning a joystick pattern into your palm to rotate it fast enough, and the next you’d be teaming up with the person you just beat to try and steal the lead by a few coins only to use those same coins to steal first place from your former teammate. Every turn of a game had the potential to be different and chaotic, and by rolling with the dice you, too, could end up the Super Star of the party.
The series wasn’t all great though, with a downturn in quality hitting during the GameCube era followed by a change in developers during the Wii years that took some getting used to. It just goes to show that even a good spinoff can be burnt out if you’re not careful, leading to gimmicks like microphones and cars to try and keep the party going like it’s 1999. The latest, Super Mario Party, was a definite step in the right direction, and while it doesn’t take after the originals perfectly, it’s fun enough with its own merit to have the future of the franchise looking bright.
Paper Mario – a real page turner
- Debut – Paper Mario – Nintendo 64 – 2000
- Latest – Paper Mario: Color Splash – Wii U – 2016
- Upcoming – I’m just saying, Thousand Year Door turns 15 this year…
It wasn’t the first Mario RPG, and it hasn’t exactly been the smoothest series of games in terms of quality, but Paper Mario leans so well on its concept that I had to spotlight it. Conceived as a followup to the also beloved Super Mario RPG, it instead became its own entity entirely once it was given a paper cutout look instead. The first game in the series gave us one of the last great games for the N64, with a fun story and unique take on the Mushroom Kingdom that saw Mario taking up his hammer and partnering up with what would normally be his enemies to best a star powered Bowser.
It was a solid first effort, but it would take a second try to absolutely nail the concept. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for GameCube stands as one of the most enjoyable RPGs Nintendo has ever made. Doing everything its predecessor did but better, it told an even more engaging story and invested more thoroughly in the paper angle while also offering plenty of customization in combat via badges. That magic wouldn’t last though — while its Wii followup told a fine tale and had some unique ideas, it distanced itself from the RPG elements and showed a lack of understanding from Nintendo about what made these games so liked — this would only continue with its handheld debut.
The fate of Paper Mario is probably the most up-in-the-air of all these games. It crossed over with fellow RPG series Mario & Luigi in what might be its most forgettable entry and took a step in the right direction on the Wii U. If the series can get back to its roots for a new entry in the coming years, or even touch up Thousand Year Door for a more contemporary platform, it could be the best reminder that a Mario game can have a story and be all the better for it. As of right now though, the book might be shelved indefinitely.
Mario Golf – Talk about a hole in one
- Debut – Mario Golf – Nintendo 64 – 1999 (or Golf – NES – 1984)
- Latest – Mario Golf: World Tour – 3DS – 2014
- Upcoming – Might be a mulligan year, but we’re overdue
Mario has played many, many sports over the years, many of which are worth mentioning. But when it comes down to it, I’m running this show and I’m choosing to talk about Mario Golf. More than fellow long-timer Tennis, or the extreme soccer of Strikers, or that time everyone tried dodgeball; Golf has never let me down. Having roots as far back as the NES, it wasn’t until the N64 and Game Boy that we’d see what would officially be called Mario Golf. And they were kinda weird. Suddenly all these random characters like Plum and Kid were hitting the links with Mario, yet their tight gameplay and a more thoughtful pace (and surprising RPG elements on handheld versions) made for some great times both solo and with friends.
Future games would embrace the Mario aspects and cast more thoroughly, starting with the GameCube’s Toadstool Tour. Sadly, the series has gone pretty quiet compared to its racquet swinging counterpart. World Tour on the 3DS stands as my favorite in the series and one of my favorites on that system, but it’s been 16 years since we’ve swung our clubs on console. I’m holding out for some kind of Aces level revival for Mario Golf to get this one out of the bunker and sink for par on Switch.
These barely scratch the surface when it comes to Mario appearances and headlinings. Between all of these, he’s taught us how to type, traveled through time, run a wind up toy enterprise, been a pinball, and participated in the Olympics. There’s just no stopping Mario, and Nintendo knows it. Be on the lookout for what’s next for our favorite mustached mascot, and have yourself a happy Mar10 Day!
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