Top tip: Don’t compare your work-based achievements to Mario. Plumbing is already a pretty well-paid career, but in the 35 years he’s been at work, Mario has managed to amass quite the collection of unusual side jobs to moonlight in. With more than 15 to his name, we’re only now starting to understand how someone who spends all day in dungarees can afford a personal race course and tennis arena.
His core achievements of saving the princess, kingdom, and galaxy unsurprisingly steal the limelight. But as Nintendo celebrates three and a half decades of their mascot, we reckon it’s about time someone took Mario to task for all the other side rackets he’s attempted to run over the years. As such, we’ve decided to look over and definitively rank every single Mario spin-off series in the hope that, in future, Mario can keep his dungarees
Every Mario spin-off game and series, ranked
Before we dive right into the list, it’s important to note that we won’t be covering any games which put someone else in the starring role. That means no Warioware, no Luigi’s mansion, and certainly no Captain Toad Treasure Tracker (because let’s be honest, otherwise he’d be top of the list). Starting from the heady heights of success, it’s time to grab your Mario-licensed snowboard – it’s definitely been a thing, we checked – and join us as we career downwards towards the weirdest and worst Mario spin-off series. Let's-a-go!
1. Mario Kart
The pièce de résistance. The absolute pinnacle of Mario’s sideline careers. The Mario Kart series contains almost no duds, and the most recent core game of Mario Kart 8 is the best the series has ever been. The only concerning blip on the radar? Mobile spin-off Mario Kart Tour and its off-putting mix of microtransactions and subscription fees. Don’t let this be the start of your downfall, Mario Kart.
2. Mario Tennis
Mario has tried his hand at almost every major sport on the planet at this point, but only in tennis did he find real renown. Starting from simple roots appearing in the Famicom/NES’s Tennis, Mario went on to establish his own league and has even progressed to facing real-world multi-Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal. The quality of Mario Tennis titles has dipped a touch over the years, but with corkers like Mario Power Tennis and the surprisingly competitive Mario Tennis Aces included, this plumber’s racket-wielding efforts are well-worth recognition.
3. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
Clearly created during Mario’s egotistical heights, Mario vs. Donkey Kong tells the story of our plumber’s dark days as a toy manufacturer. Despite having many world-famous friends, Mario nacisstically only created toys of himself, much to the chagrin of his old rival/friend DK. An unusual mix of lemmings-like puzzle and platforming creation, the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong proved to be an unexpected delight in Mario’s mobile outings, earning them a high place on this list.
4. Mario Strikers
The only other sports title to approach Mario Tennis’ throne. The original Super Mario Strikers wasn’t much to write home about, but the followup title on Wii, Mario Strikers: Charged, perfected the formula. With just the right mix of ridiculous, game-altering powers and actual, skill-based play, it was not only a great party game, but a solid sports one as well. Only in the Mushroom Kingdom rendition of the beautiful game can you hear Wario yell “butt smash!” fifty times per match, or witness Diddy Kong red card a player, teleporting them off the pitch for a round. That’s really not how Red Cards work, Diddy, but given most humans can't figure out all the rules to soccer, we’ll let it slide.
Mario Strikers: Charged also gets credit for being the only title to add a little edge to the typically lighthearted cast. The start of every match saw team captains airdrop into the arena, posing stylishly or, in Wario’s case, threatening to take a knife to their opponent’s throats. The game also featured fantasticly stylized scratchy artwork and an excellent soundtrack. Seriously, just listen to Luigi’s theme music.
5. Mario Party
The redeemed disgrace. What began as a joyous knockabout on the N64 swiftly devolved into desperate cash grabs and gimmicks as, after four core games, it was clear the well of minigames was running dry. Titles 5-10 marked a haphazard collapse in quality, with the series even abandoning the idea of a board altogether at one point.
Rising from the wreckage, the Switch’s Super Mario party marked a shocking improvement to Mario’s soirée. Genuinely fun, though sadly lacking in content, Super Mario Party only needed a bit of post-launch love from Nintendo to return the series to greatness. We’re still waiting, Nintendo.
6. Mario Paint
Bob Ross gets all the credit when it comes to soothing painting sessions, but there are those out there who’d claim Mario is the real master. Mario Paint might not seem like much these days, but back in 1992 it was a phenomenally creative use of a games console. As well as static artwork, players could create animated images and, perhaps more impressively, the music to play alongside them. The modern days of photoshop and free editing software have made Mario Paint a relic of the past, but it’s one fondly remembered by any who played it.
7. Mario’s Picross
And it’s here that we begin to enter the forgotten realm of Mario releases. Mario Picross is but the recognizable tip of a vast iceberg of lesser-known Mario titles that’ll begin to crop up more and more as we fall further into this list. Released in 1995 and revived on the Nintendo 3DS, Mario’s Picross is an impressively zen affair that sees you gently filling in a puzzle grid to create a simple image. While nothing truly special, Mario Picross includes plenty of puzzles, making it a pleasurable way to while away a few hours during a train or plane journey.
8. Mini Mario & Friends Amiibo Challenge
The WiiU didn’t do a lot of things right, but as time has proven, the introduction of Amiibo was one of its lasting successes. To promote their purchase, Nintendo released this surprisingly enjoyable free puzzle game to the eShop. A spin-off to the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong games, Mini Mario & Friends Amiibo Challenge let you tap Mario amiibos to spawn miniature toy versions to direct in-game. It was short, simple stuff, but appreciated as a free bit of fun for any amiibo owners.
9. Paper Mario
We almost didn't include Paper Mario because they're involved enough solo stories to stake a claim in the plumber's core collection. However, according to online checks, paper does, in fact, count as a separate profession, regardless of whether or not you yourself are the paper, so here we are. How to possibly rank Paper Mario? It's a series that's delivered some of the best games in the entire Mario portfolio, yet also dropped drastically from grace to mire itself iin bizarre and displeasing one-off mechanics. Half the games are RPGs, while the others are action-adventures. To that end, even though The Thousand Year Door is an all-time classic and The Origami King looks to be shaping up rather nicely, here Paper Mario sits, right in the middle of our spin-off list. That way no one can get angry, right?
10. Dr. Mario
Now listen, it takes a long time to qualify as a doctor in most countries. Yes, Mario could have conceivably attended night school while also saving the Mushroom Kingdom and winning Tennis championships, but given the pills he throws in Super Smash Bros. tend to hurt rather than heal, we’re pretty sure he faked his qualifications.
Throwing on a lab coat and a stethoscope does not make you a qualified medical professional, Mario. The only time we’ve seen Dr. Mario since his early appearances is in a microtransaction heavy mobile release. If that’s not the sign of a shady fraud on the run from the law, we don’t know what is.
11. Every other Mario sports game
Including: Mario Hoops 3-on-3, Mario Super Sluggers, Mario Golf and Mario Sports Mix (a.k.a. the point at which they gave up).
There really is no sports enterprise that Mario won’t try to slap his brand on. Soccer and Tennis may have achieved glory, but they did so on the overwhelmingly mediocre foundations of several other failed sports ventures. After stumbling with both baseball and basketball, Nintendo eventually threw in the towel and had developer Square Enix throw all their unused sports ideas into one underwhelming package.
With two titles under its belt, we were tempted to give Mario Golf its own category. But then we remembered how dull golf is. Even chucking Bowser, DK and a few mushroom-packed courses into the mix couldn’t liven things up enough to make us take an extra look.
12. Mario & Sonic at The Olympic Games
Are they Mario spin-off games or Sonic spin-off games? Whichever side you support, there's no denying that seeing Mario and Sonic competing under a shared banner for the first time was a special sight indeed. It's a shame, then, that the games in question offer little more than wii-remote waggling and button mashing madness. Still, given there are now six of them out in the wild, it's only safe to assume that people are actually buying, playing and enjoying them, so they can't all be that bad, surely?
13. The Game & Watch era
Including: Mario's Cement Factory, Mario the Juggler, Mario's Bombs Away.
When most people think of Mario, his bushy moustache and cheery smile will usually spring to mind. Over the last few decades, Nintendo’s prime plumber has carefully cultivated a pristine image of cheer and joy suitable for all ages. It wasn’t always this way. Back in the early Game & Watch years, Mario was far less sure of his job security, leading to him trying several other, often less savory lines of work.
In addition to Mario’s Cement Factory and Mario the Juggler – never, ever ask Mario about his circus years – the usually chirpy plumber spent a shadowed period of his past fighting in a terrible war over oil. Mario’s Bombs Away saw our hero delivering deadly payloads between enemy lines. Dressed in army green, the plumber we know is almost unrecognisable aside from his trademark facial hair. His customary smile replaced by a grimace of fear, Mario of the Bomb’s Away era is a starkly different man to the one we know today, and a person we’re sure he’d rather forget.
14. Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix
Mario doesn’t twerk once. A wasted opportunity.
15. Mario Pinball Land
We’re not convinced Mario actually understands the concept of pinball. Rather than setting up his own house of machines, this Game Boy Advance title sees Mario take the place of the ball itself. Being battered around a course by giant paddles doesn’t sound like much fun, but at least poor Mario could take solace in the face that those controlling the paddles weren’t having much fun either.
16. Mario’s Game Gallery
Mario was clearly in a tough place in 1995. Desperate to raise money for his big 3D debut in the following year, he sold his face to anything and everything that would take him. Thus spawned the seedy days of Mario’s Game Gallery, which saw Mario play host to a variety of casino games.
Apparently more than a little upset with the role, Mario actually made for a pretty ruthless opponent in games of Backgammon, Yahtzee, Go Fish, Checkers and Dominoes. The only saving grace for Mario’s Game Gallery is the delightful delivery of Charles Martinet in one of his earliest roles as the iconic red and blue man.
17. Mario Teaches Typing (and other educational games)
What is this? Mario can barely utter a word beyond “It’s-a-me!” or “Okey Dokey!” and we’re not sure we’ve ever seen him use a computer. Is it wise to let him teach our children? We think not. Doubly so after seeing how utterly terrifying the Mario In Real Life head from Mario Teaches Typing 2 is. The tech was impressive for its time. Impressive that is, for the sheer number of sleepless nights it induced in children worldwide. Now you, too, can share in our childhood nightmares.
18. Hotel Mario
Delve deep into the forbidden archives of Mario’s past and you might hear whispers of Hotel Mario. Born in the disastrous CD-i era of Nintendo partnership, Hotel Mario saw the Mushroom Kingdom conquered once more by Bowser and his minions, only this time their maniacal plan was to, uh, build a bunch of hotels and hide Peach in one of them?
With terrible controls and horrific voice acting, things don’t really improve much upon that opening. That said, you do get to hear such iconic Mario lines as “you know what they say, all toasters toast toast!” Yeah, we can see why you don’t want people remembering this one, Mario.
And there you have it! Every single Mario spin-off game and series, ranked. We’ve no doubt that the internet will find no qualms with each game’s position on this list, so feel free to share your wholehearted agreement in the comments down below.