The Renaissance Plumber: Remembering Mario’s Non-Platforming Games

Matthew Hadick
Games Super Mario
Games Super Mario

Mario isn’t your average plumber. In fact, beyond slipping through those enormous green pipes for transportation, I’m not even sure he knows very much about the trade. He seems to spend the majority of his time hopping around the Mushroom Kingdom like a mustachioed jackrabbit, finding strange power-ups and fraternizing with the world’s quirky inhabitants, all in an attempt to rescue his beloved Princess Peach from Bowser.

Beyond his main platforming gigs, the original Jumpman‘sresume is long, taking many unexpected twists and turns. He has appeared in upwards of 200 titles since his debut in 1981’s arcade classic Donkey Kong even more if you consider his cameos in games like Super Punch Out!!and if his recent activity is any indication, he’s not letting up any time soon. The recent release of Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, a mash-up of Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi,  has me thinking of all of the non-platforming games starring the portly acrobat. Nintendo hasn’t been shy about employing Mario’s familiar likeness in a wide variety of contexts. After all, the characters and environments of the Mushroom Kingdom are charming and recognizable, immediately imbuing even the most mundane activities with colorful whimsy.

Here’s a list of some of Mario’s most noteworthy non-platforming diversions.

Mario Kart Series

The Mario Kart series, which kicked off with the release of Super Mario Kart in 1992, has evolved into a classic series in its own right, with a whopping eight releases under its timing belt. Its genre-defining formula, which couples fast-paced kart racing with vehicular combat, has been copied countless times, but no imitator has been able to match the original’s charm. It’s hard to think of another game that rouses such intense feelings of both excited glee and agonizing frustration, usually within the span of a few pivotal seconds. There are few injustices in the gaming world as grave as getting hit with a Spiny Shell during the final leg of a race and being overtaken by your nemeses right before crossing the finish line. Of course, there are few pleasures as exhilarating as lining up the perfect shot and taking sweet revenge in the next race.

Mario Sports Series

Despite his husky physique, Mario has proven to be quite the sportsman. Starting with Golf, which released on the NES in 1985, Mario’s catalogue of sports games has ballooned into something massive and varied: he’s played soccer in Super Mario Strikers, rounded the bases in Mario Super Sluggers, and even competed in the Olympic Games against his 16-bit era rival, Sonic the Hedgehog, in the appropriately titled Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games.

The Mario Golf and Mario Tennis series, however, are the most substantial sports offerings, each with seven titles across Nintendo’s consoles.

The Mario Sports games tend towards the arcade-y side of things, but that doesn’t mean they are shallow affairs; despite being remarkably accessible, the games — especially the handful developed by Nintendo’s Camelot studio — reward mastery, serving as surprisingly robust analogues to the real-world sports they portray.

Super Smash Bros. Series

While Mario may not be the main focus of the Super Smash Bros. series, it’s hard to imagine a Nintendo character brawl-fest without Mario’s likeness adorning the cover. As you would expect, Mario has been on the roster since the original Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. In that time he has only seen a few minor changes to his move-set — notably, the introduction of both the F.L.U.D.D. and cape. To this day, Mario remains a viable brawler for competitive players, currently sitting pretty in the 10th tier — out of 53 — in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS.

Mario RPG Series

Starting with SquareSoft‘s critically acclaimed SNES masterpiece Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Mario has starred in a number of successful RPGs, proving he doesn’t need to rely on his extraordinary hops to save the day. Super Mario RPG delighted fans with its touching story, self-aware humor, and groundbreaking 3D visuals. It is touted as one of the best RPGs for the SNES, a distinction earned due in no small part to its charming portrayal of Bowser, who forgoes his characteristic animosity to fight alongside Mario.

The game’s follow up, Paper Mario, didn’t arrive until 2001, but was definitely worth the wait. With its distinctive art style, challenging environmental puzzles, and memorable characters, the game spawned three sequels and helped influence the development of a new Mario RPG outing: Mario & Luigi. This handheld-exclusive series, developed by AlphaDream, is characterized by its creative battle mechanics, which blend turn-based strategy with real time action.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong Series
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Before his days of rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser, Mario seemed more infatuated with Pauline, and his arch-nemesis was less of a reptile and more of an ape. Though not quite as popular as his rivalry with King Koopa, Mario and Donkey Kong have been going at it consistently since the jealous ape first stole his girlfriend and started tossing barrels with reckless abandon. The first two games — Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.are considered arcade classics. With their remake of Donkey Kong for the original Game Boy, Nintendo greatly expanded on the original’s timing-based platforming by incorporating hundreds of challenges that threw time-freezing puzzles and hard-to-reach collectibles into the mix.

In 2003, Nintendo released Mario vs. Donkey Kong for the Game Boy Advance, the first in a series of games that further build on the Gameboy game’s puzzle-based platforming. 2005’s Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem for the Nintendo DS, expanded on the concept even further, and tasked players with commanding an army of miniature mechanized Marios to solve puzzles and rescue Pauline.

Mario is Missing! and Mario’s Time Machine

A pair of educational Mario games for the NES that weren’t developed by Nintendo, both Mario is Missing! and Mario’s Time Machine were universally panned by critics for straying too far from the Super Mario formula. In Mario is Missing players take control of Luigi, whose brother has been kidnapped by Bowser. Players must travel to various locations across Earth and gather clues about Mario’s whereabouts by answering questions about world geography, blatantly aping the then-popular Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Mario’s Time Machine finds Mario in Bowser’s museum, traveling to different eras via a “Timulator” to collect artifacts and learn about history.

Mario Party series

Mario Party, introduced in 1997 for the Nintendo 64, popularized the party genre of games. Players choose their favorite characters from the Mushroom Kingdom and duke it out on the game board, which resembles that of a traditional board game. After progressing along the board by rolling dice, players engage in mini-games — a series of wickedly fun competitions that test players’ skills. After getting hit with a lawsuit claiming that many players were blistering their hands while twirling the joystick as quickly as possible, Nintendo released a glove to protect against further injury. While some deride the series for being shallow, the games continue to be popular, and developer Nd Cube has been careful to incorporate new features that keep each installment feeling relatively fresh.

Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix

With their first DDR game for a Nintendo platform, Konami went all-in with the release of Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, centering the entire experience around Mario. Featuring characters and music from the Mario franchise, the game even went as far as including a story mode in which the ever-spiteful and flatulent Wario releases the magical set of music keys — which, for some reason, grant wishes — from Truffle Tower, scattering them across the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s up to Mario to dance the night away until he gets them back. Hey, what did you expect in the story for a dance game?

Mario Paint

Mario Paint is definitely an anomaly, as evidenced by the fact that a SNES game was packaged with a mouse accessoryThe game provides players with a simple illustration program similar to Microsoft Paint or Kidpix. The game’s legacy has been preserved due to Mario Paint Composer, a very simple music editor that allows players to create music using iconic sounds from the Super Mario universe. There’s a very good chance your favorite song has been remade via the tool — just check YouTube. The game also has a rather unique legacy: early versions of the Homestar Runner web cartoon were created using Mario Paint.

Mario Puzzle Series
dr mario MNP

In the wake of Tetris breakout success in the late ’80s, a variety of developers capitalized on the puzzle game frenzy by releasing their own takes on the block stacking mechanic. Nintendo’s RD-1 gave the world Dr. Mario, one of the era’s most popular puzzlers, which imagined the portly plumber as some kind of virus-squashing immunologist, wildly tossing prescription drugs to rid the world of its nagging illnesses. The game has been reimagined a number of times and is available on the 3DS as a Virtual Console title.

Mario also lends his likeness to the Mario’s Picross games, a paint by numbers puzzler similar to Sudoku and Minesweeper where players use Mario’s pickaxe to uncover hidden artwork.
If you want to learn more about Mario’s exploits in the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond, visit the Super Mario Wiki, your go-to guide for everything related to the series. As always, remember to stay tuned to Fandom for more about Paper Jam and future Nintendo titles.

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Matthew Hadick
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