Great Spins: Four Spin-Offs That Got Bigger Than Their Source Material

Sometimes a side game can kick off its own blockbuster franchise.

By Sam Stewart. Posted 08/09/2014 15:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

New Super Mario Bros. Artwork

As you already know from reading all of our articles this week, spin-offs are great. They are an opportunity for a developer to cut loose and try something all new with an already popular franchise. Spin-offs allow characters that were once tied down to a specific genre to try out a new one, such as racing or fighting games. But what happens when fans decide they like the character’s new occupation just a little (or a lot!) more? The following is a short list of spin-offs that have overshadowed their source material in terms of popularity, some of them even becoming the biggest selling series of all time.

1.) New Super Mario Bros.

New Super Mario Bros U screenshot 3

The New Super Mario Bros. franchise is sort of a mix between a spin-off and a reboot. In 2006 Nintendo decided to take Mario back to his roots, splitting off from the modern 3D Mario games to make a “New” Mario that played similarly to the NES and SNES titles. It had an overworld with straightforward level progression, side-scrolling gameplay, and classic power-ups all presented in a modern artstyle on the sleek DS handheld. It all came together to make a great game. Perhaps it was nostalgia, or maybe people just wanted more side-scrolling platformers, but somehow New Super Mario Bros. went on to sell over 30 million copies to date. For reference, that is more than Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy combined. The sequel, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, added co-op play for up to four players, taking the series to new heights (and selling 28 million more units).

2.) Paper Mario / Mario & Luigi

The Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series are both popular RPG spin-offs of the Mario series, and while they haven’t managed to surpass the core Mario games in popularity they have managed to beat out the game that started it all: Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars. While I am sad that a proper sequel to Super Mario RPG will likely never happen, it does help that it spawned two more Mario RPG series which have both found success in their own ways. Paper Mario had accessibility on its side thanks to a simpler battle system and a beautiful paper art style (that, in my opinion, was truly perfected in Sticker Star). On the other hand you have Mario & Luigi, a more difficult RPG packed full of timing-based attacks and dodges that really test your pattern recognition and reaction time. Both have been big hits in terms of sales, with Super Paper Mario on Wii moving 2 million units, and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story selling a whopping 4 million!

3.) Super Smash Bros.

Fighting games are one of the most popular spin-off genres, and with a stable of characters as big as Nintendo’s, making a game where they can all duke it out was a no-brainer. So Super Smash Bros. was born, a unique 2D fighter where you defeated opponents not by draining their health, but by knocking them off the screen. Smash Bros. was a game that fans of all things Nintendo could appreciate and it quickly soared to the heights of popularity, quickly becoming greater than the sum of its parts. With only three titles released since its debut on Nintendo 64, the series has already sold more than 20 million copies, nearly half of those being the Wii entry Super Smash Bros. Brawl. On top of that, Super Smash Bros. Melee (the GameCube title from 2001) is still extremely popular on the professional gaming circuit. It was even featured at MLG Anaheim earlier this year, the game’s first appearance at an MLG event in almost 10 years!

4.) Mario Kart

You didn’t think I was gonna forget Mario Kart, did you? Kart racing is quite possibly the most popular spin-off genre in the world of video gaming. Diddy Kong Racing, Little Big Planet Karting, Crash Team Racing, Angry Birds GO!— the list goes on and on. But there is no kart racing series more prolific than Mario Kart, which has been a hit ever since the release of its first title, Super Mario Kart on SNES. Just like any kart racer, Mario Kart was simple and fun, but with potential for deep and competitive gameplay. The characters and items were all pulled directly from the main Mario games, as were the beautifully designed courses.  Even with only one release per console, Mario Kart has managed to become bigger than almost every other Nintendo series, with about 100 million units sold across eight entries, 35 million of those being Mario Kart Wii alone. Mario Kart 8 sold 2.82 million units in its first month on the market, quickly becoming Wii U’s fastest selling game.

That concludes my list of super popular spin-off series. Did I mention your favorite popular Nintendo spin-off, or did I miss an important one? Let me know in the comments below! Also, feel free to share some ideas for spin-off games you would like to see. I for one would love a big Nintendo universe RPG that lets me recruit and battle with a team of my favorite Nintendo characters.

2 Responses to “Great Spins: Four Spin-Offs That Got Bigger Than Their Source Material”

  • 267 points
    decoupage says...

    From what I understand, Nintendo creates games, and then figures out what existing characters (franchise) would fit best into them. So a Kart racing game gets the Mario universe, a safari game gets Pokemon, and a Yarn styled platform gets Yoshi or Kirby.

    This marketing is genius if not overused (cough tons of Mario Sports games on the GC/Wii cough), and allows the company to market a multitude of genres as one (Nintendo/Mario). I’m currently playing through the outstanding GBA turned WiiU Virtual Console release of Mario Tennis Power Tour, and I realize that if it was called Nintendo’s Tennis RPG (or some other name) I likely wouldn’t have bought it unless I read a random review.

  • 1549 points
    penduin says...

    I don’t really think of the Prime sub-series as a Metroid spin-off, but it has to count if New Super Mario does. :^) After all, the main series are numbered 1-4 (during the opening sequences anyway) and we now have the Prime trilogy stuffed between 1 and 2, and Other M stuffed between 3 and 4. The Prime trilogy even has Hunters stuffed in between Prime and Echoes.

    I will be thrilled at the prospect of any announced Metroid, but one in the style of Prime would probably make me the most giddy. Scratch that – I’ll be most excited if Retro is involved, regardless the style. :^)

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