Mario’s True Calling

Robin explores the argument over which Mario series is best.

By Robin Wilde. Posted 02/21/2014 09:00 4 Comments     ShareThis

Over the course of his thirty-plus year career, Mario has managed to avoid doing much plumbing. He’s known as a golfer, racing driver, doctor, and hero of the land– but which of these callings has been the most enjoyable will always remain a source of contentious debate.

For instance, the Super Mario Kart series has been going on for two decades and has sold strongly since its conception. Though it’s since dropped the “Super” prefix, it remains a fan favourite and its roster of characters and range of items have ensured that everyone from the most casual to the most devoted of Mario fans still regularly picks them up. The games have the added advantage of being excellent in multiplayer, whether at a rather raucous party or, more recently, online. While they’re fairly easy and have their share of broken elements (the blue shells remaining a thorn in many sides) they remain popular and high quality.

Or maybe the originals are the best. The games that launched the Mario series to the heights of popularity– specifically Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World. While their gameplay might be quite primitive by modern standards, their commitment to excellent platformer design and knock-on effect on game design for decades is undeniable. The appeal of the 2D platformers was that they balanced simple mechanics with challenges that were difficult, but not insurmountable. It gave players enough free rein to keep going, but didn’t give everything away at once.

Instead, you may find your favourite Mario games among the 3D offerings. While they might not have the retro cachet of the NES and SNES titles, they’ve introduced innovative mechanics like the hubs of Peach’s Castle and Delfino Plaza, FLUDD, and the wonderful gravity puzzles of the Galaxy games. Moreover, they’ve driven sales of Nintendo consoles even in the uncertain days of the Nintendo 64 and GameCube. While neither of those machines sold tremendously well, it may well have been Mario’s early polygonal outings which kept their heads above water.

The first venture into the unfamiliar territory of a story based Mario game came courtesy of Squaresoft in the mid-nineties, with the release of Super Mario RPG for SNES. Even if European gamers had to wait a decade and a half to play it, it ushered in the reputation, well-deserved, that the Mario RPGs have for an accessible but biting humour. Spiritually, Super Mario RPG found its sequel in 2000’s Paper Mario. Deliberately lacking in the graphical department, the Paper Mario series ended up carving out a niche of its own and the four games remain fan favourites. They combine the trademark humour with excellent world building, a wide variety of sidequests, and characters, and plots that invariably boil down to much more than “save the Princess.” Though sales of those games were never stellar, they balanced gameplay, plot, and presentation in a perfect fashion. They showed that RPGs could break the mold of serious questing, poked fun and well-worn gaming tropes, and gave personality to Mario that he lacked for over a decade.

The Mario Party series has been running for years, and has been the bane of many of those who’ve gone into it wanting a collection of minigames to play through lightly of an evening with friends. When said friends leaving with Wii Remote wounds and a profound hatred for slow dice-rolling mechanics, it becomes plain that the series is not without issues. Mario Party’s problem is that the format doesn’t leave enough room for sequels, but that Nintendo bloody-mindedly insists on putting them out anyway, and there’s only so many times you’ll pay for pretty much the same thing.

The final series, four games released over the course of a decade and largely forgotten except by long-time Nintendo fans, is Mario & Luigi. The RPG direction taken here retained the humour and irreverent nature of Paper Mario, but featured rather more puzzle solving elements. It also gave us the neighbouring nation of the Beanbean Kingdom, ruled by strange green people with their own monarchy and diplomatic relations with the Mushroom Kingdom. The Mario & Luigi series may be relatively unknown, but it built on the personalities of many characters, particularly Bowser and Luigi, by giving them voices or gameplay segments of their own. One particularly memorable sequence involves helping a trembling Luigi traverse a dungeon and temporarily being fooled into thinking he’s Mario, so that for once in his life he’ll act brave.

Awarding the accolade for the greatest of Mario’s sub-series will always be a difficult task, and not just because the variety of series means that direct comparison struggles. It is a result of the mostly high-quality amongst the games and that they all try to achieve different things. That said, it would be difficult to deny that the Paper Mario games (and their spiritual prequel Super Mario RPG) have provided the most consistent quality, depth and individuality. They are an example of what Nintendo can do well when it tries its best, and should be applauded.

What about you? Which Mario series do you think is best? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

4 Responses to “Mario’s True Calling”

  • 222 points
    PanurgeJr says...

    My favorite series is Mario Kart, but I think the best are the 3D platformers. I think it was only by starting as a platformer character that Mario was able to branch out so easily. I can’t imagine that Super Zelda Kart would have worked, and a Zelda platformer could only work as a tongue-in-cheek mashup with the Mario universe, and not on its own as a serious concept. Thus I give the nod to the genre without which none of the others would have come to be. (And yes, I know that strictly speaking my argument should prioritize the 2D games, but I think the 3D games are better, and the general concept still applies.)

  • 1291 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    I guess I’m a purist, because the 2D Mario’s are hands down my favorite. Other than those, though, I really, really like the Mario & Luigi games, even more than the Paper Mario series. They’re just so well done every time. The graphics, the writing (my god, the writing), and the play control. Perfection.

  • 6 points
    ExtremeFeminist74 says...

    I grew up with the NES when I was a small kid. My dad had bought me a bundle with the Super Mario Bros. + Duck Hunt game and the Zapper gun. I really liked the original Mario game, but it wasn’t my favorite. While I only had the privilege of playing few games on the system as my parents never wanted me to grow addicted to video games, the game I remember best from my NES days is not Mario, but Kirby’s Adventure.

    Later as I became a teen and had spare money after a few summer jobs, I bought a GameCube. (Yes, I skipped entire console generations as my family wasn’t very wealthy, skipping from the NES straight to the GameCube.) The only reason I bought the GameCube was because of Super Mario Sunshine. I played the demo at an electronics store which had the GameCube on display and I loved the 3D design and FLUDD. Today it’s still one of my more memorable gaming moments in my life and I’m just turning 22 this year.

    Still, Super Mario Sunshine wasn’t my favorite game. I had only limited money at the time, but I bought Mario Kart: Double Dash for my GameCube as well. Now playing that game with my sisters was fun. I still remember the rainbow road stage! Sadly, my GameCube eventually died and I never got to play other Mario games until this day, as I bought a Wii U.

    Having mostly played every other Nintendo game out there on my Wii U (e.g. Pikmin 3, Wii Party U, Nintendo Land, etc.), the Mario game I’m waiting for most is Mario Kart 8. I haven’t yet bought Super Mario 3D World and likely won’t buy it unless I find it on the cheap. It just doesn’t reinforce those great memories that I have of playing Super Mario Sunshine. I don’t know what the Galaxy games are like as I never played them, but I’m planning on giving them a shot later as I have a Wii U that can play them.

    So yes, if I have to choose one Mario series that I like the most, it’d be Mario Kart. I remember playing Double Dash endlessly with my sisters and we had super fun together. I’m looking forward to Mario Kart 8. No other Mario game has me this excited. In fact, not even other kart racers have me this excited. I tried F1: Race Stars on a friends’ PS3 last year and I just wasn’t feeling it. I also didn’t like Sonic Racing Transformed, even though I’m a huge Sonic fan (perhaps more so than a Mario fan).

    Definitely Mario Kart. :)

  • 745 points
    OG75 says...

    “Which Mario series do you think is best?”

    For me personally, it’s the original 2D games.

    However, Kart, 3D, Paper, and “Mario & Lugigi” are all so close.

    They are all brilliant series. I have great memories of all of them. In the end, I chose 2D because of two reasons:

    1. Nostalgia is a powerful force.
    2. The original 2D games are like “comfort food” to me: I just keep coming back to them.

    While I’m not a fan of the Party series, it’s hard to go wrong with Mario.

    However, as much as I wish I could, I just can’t get into the “new” 2D games. Sure I buy, play, and beat them all, but there’s something missing that I just can’t put my finger on. (dancing Koopas make my son laugh, but they just creep me out! :)

    To ExtremeFeminist74, I can’t recommend enough that you jump into the Galaxy Games and 3D World. While it may not reinforce those great memories of yours playing Sunshine, I’m confident you’ll make great new memories with these excellent games. :)

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