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We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle on the GamesBeat Decides podcast the last couple of weeks, and that led hosts Jeffrey Grubb and Mike Minotti into a conversation about the best Mario spinoffs. For this list, we only considered games starring Mario, so no Yoshi’s Cookies or Wario Land 4. We also didn’t include Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros., which have established themselves as their own franchises.
Naturally, that discussion ended with us putting everything in a list, and you can find the official rankings below or watch the full segment above.
5. Mario Tennis (Game Boy Color)
The Game Boy Color is one of Nintendo’s best systems even if you don’t consider it as part of the original Game Boy line. If you need evidence of that, consider that two GBC games are on this list, starting with Mario Tennis. In 2001, near the end of the Game Boy Color’s lifecycle, Nintendo and developer Camelot launched a tennis-themed Mario spinoff that wasn’t just another sports game. Instead, it features a full story campaign that plays like an RPG. It’s engrossing, and it doesn’t hurt that the tennis gameplay is great.
4. Donkey Kong ’94
We weren’t sure if this was breaking our own rules about not including spinoffs to other characters, but I’d argue that Donkey Kong ’94 for the original Game Boy is still a Mario game. You play as the carpenter as he attempts to rescue his girlfriend, Pauline, from Nintendo’s great ape. As the name suggests, you start with the original four arcade levels, but the game quickly turns into one of the all-time great puzzle-platformers after those early stages.
3. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
Nintendo has had as many misses with its Mario RPGs as its had hits at this point, but Superstar Saga definitely belongs in the latter category. This Game Boy Advance release kicked off the Mario & Luigi franchise from developer AlphaDream. It also established the hilarious writing, lovable characters, and puzzle solving that the series is still known for. While some people love Bower’s Inside Story more, I don’t think any Mario & Luigi game matches Superstar Saga.
2. Mario Golf (Game Boy Color)
Two years before Mario Tennis hit the Game Boy Color, Camelot introduced the sports RPG concept with Mario Golf. This game lets you enjoy the solid Camelot golfing mechanics, which live on today in Everybody’s Golf that just debuted on PlayStation 4. But it also had that excellent RPG-style campaign that gives more meaning to every swing, your character’s progression, and your progression as a player.
1. Super Mario RPG
Two decades ago, Square Enix and Nintendo were still best buds. The Final Fantasy games were only on Nintendo consoles, and the publishers had such a close relationship that Square Enix ended up making Mario’s first role-playing game for the Super Nintendo. The result of that holy union resulted in something special.
Super Mario RPG is fun and adventurous. You get to see a different side of the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser joins your party. It has beloved characters that fans have never seen in a game since. It introduces the timed attack and defensive button presses during turn-based battles. It’s an all-time great RPG and Mario game.
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