Bonus round: Best Mario Spinoffs
It was seriously difficult narrowing down the top Mario games and that was without including all of the awesome spinoffs that have come out in the last 35 years. It would be a crime not to include these, so we've highlighted the very best offshoot games that stem from the Mushroom Kingdom.
5. Yoshi's Island (SNES 1995)
Since this game is technically a sequel to Super Mario World, it has made its way into our bonus round. In an odd twist of events, Kamek, the evil Magikoopa, kidnaps baby Luigi, but Baby Mario slips between his clawed fingers. Baby Mario plummets from his stork wrap in the sky and lands on an unsuspecting Yoshi, who decides to help save the infants from mortal peril with the help of his colorful Yoshi family.
This 48-level platformer is not only fun to play but gorgeous to behold. The hand-drawn look comes straight out of a coloring book, and the bright, detailed levels are a treat to take in. It introduced different mechanics, like tossing and creating eggs, eating enemies, and floating jumps so it feels like a different platformer entirely.
It's a charming, relaxed, and fun experience that incorporates the spirit of Mario while doing its own thing. It even spawned its own series of games sticking to the lower-key style and craft-persona, like in Yoshi's Crafted World. Yoshi's Island definitely deserves a nod for pushing the SNES graphics into new territories while creating a new series that many love today.
4. Mario Tennis 64 (N64 2000)
Mario characters and tennis? Yes, please! While the very idea of Mario characters playing tennis may seem like a cash grab, this game is actually a ton of fun. It streamlined tennis for console by making gameplay accessible and simplifying controls. You only need to rely on two buttons for serving and returning, and the combination can change your shot.
But you don't have to just rely on pressing the buttons; character choice certainly helps. Whether you want power or speed, you have to choose wisely. Bowser can pack quite a punch but he's incredibly slow. On the other hand, Yoshi is incredibly fast but his shots aren't as powerful. You can actually play as many characters like Daisy, Birdo, or as a Shy Guy. Plus, this game brought us Waluigi for the first time!
While playing exhibition matches by yourself can be fun, you can double that by playing with up to three friends. You and a partner have to strategize against the opposing team using your character's strengths and balancing out the weaker parts to overcome your opponents. You can easily get a tournament going or grab a friend and take on the computer. Mario Tennis 64 is just plain fun, and it's an easy game for anyone to just pick up and play regardless of skill level. While others have come out since the original release, the OG is simply the best.
3. Mario Party 6 (GameCube 2004)
At the time of this writing, 11 Mario Party games have been released on various consoles throughout the years, but the very best one is Mario Party 6. This entry introduced a day and night mechanic, which influenced what kind of challenges appeared on the board and also changed the kind of mini-games you played at the end of each round.
Speaking of mini-games, there are over 82 of them and since there are day and night versions, it really makes it feel like there's a lot of variety. With some other Mario Party games, it feels like you just play the same 10 mini-games over and over again.
There were several boards to choose from and each one had different themes and spaces to interact with. Most importantly, players could spend the coins and Stars obtained to purchase new characters, boards, and games, giving them more of a reason to keep playing. It's the standard to which we compare all subsequent Mario Party games.
2. Mario Kart Double Dash (GameCube 2003)
You can't talk about our mustachioed friend without thinking about Mario Kart. These games have long been a staple for friend hangouts, sleepovers, and family reunions. Everyone has their favorite, but of all of the titles in this series, none compare with Mario Kart Double Dash.
Double Dash might not have as many characters on the roster as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but at the time, it was one of the first Mario Kart games to seriously expand upon the number of racers you could choose from. Not to mention, the ability to have a friend on your same kart allowed for a unique multiplayer experience that we haven't seen before or since. This allowed up to 16 players at once, a vast improvement from Mario Kart 64's max of four players and still better than 8 Deluxe's 12-player max.
Plus, having a buddy on your kart allowed you to more easily watch your back or get revenge on another team. It's the best Mario Kart game we've had to date.
1. Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube 2001)
While Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is alive with a growing roster, it can't hold a candle to Super Smash Bros. Melee. This game was released back in 2001 on GameCube, and nearly 20 years later, people still call this the best of all time. With a challenging arcade single-player mode, fun versus mode, and unique story mode, this is more than just a fighting game.
Players can collect trophies for completing certain objectives, unlock characters and new stages, and bask in the glory that is the multiplayer option. The environments are alive, they look stunning, and the character animations are top-notch, even by GameCube standards. Melee is considered one of the best competitive games in the series, with well-balanced characters, unique items, and various modes of destruction.
Let's just say there's a reason why it was, hands down, the staff's number one pick for the best Super Smash game.
Thank you so-a much for playing my game!
Mario is such an iconic character, and after 35 years, it's hard to pin down the greatest of all time. Everyone's experience with the plucky plumber is so unique, and you can never really forget your first Mario game. Whether you can't get over the excellence that is Super Mario Bros. 3 or you are blown away by the 3D platformers like Mario Odyssey today, Mario has carved a legacy for players of all backgrounds to enjoy.
As we move on to the next chapter, we can only hope that Nintendo continues to inspire with these amazing platformers. We can't wait to see what the future holds.
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Sara is the Freelance Coordinator, writer, and editor at iMore. When not editing or writing away, she's glued to her Nintendo Switch, Xbox, or PS5, though she's a retro gamer at heart.
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