He’s the most famous plumber in the world, yet he’s never unclogged a real-world drain.
Mario, Nintendo’s mascot and the main character of one of its best-selling franchises, celebrates his 35th anniversary on home consoles this year. Let’s revisit ten of his most iconic titles together.
Please note: this list represents my personal opinion.
“Super Mario Bros.,” 1985 (box art copyright Nintendo, 1985)
While Mario first appeared in 1981’s “Donkey Kong,” his first home console success was “Super Mario Bros.” on the NES. This classic introduced many of the franchise’s staple characters (such as Bowser and Peach) and is also credited by many journalists, including Time’s Alex Fitzpatrick, with having saved the industry from total collapse.
Fun fact: According to Wired’s Chris Kohler, the sound design of “Super Mario Bros.” was a dedicated process. “Koji Kondo, the composer of “Super Mario Bros.,” worked with [game creator] Shigeru Miyamoto to find musical tracks that would perfectly compliment the speed, tempo and action of the game. So it’s almost like you were helping to play the music every time you jumped,” said Kohler.
“Super Mario Land,” 1989 (box art copyright Nintendo, 1989)
Despite its relatively short length, “Super Mario Land” set an important precedent as the franchise’s first mainline portable title. It also marked the first appearance of fan-favorite Princess Daisy, and the sequel (“Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins”) introduced Mario’s rival Wario, who would eventually star in his own spin-off series. Nintendo, if you’re reading, please bring “Wario Land” back. Or, at the very least, re-release “Super Mario Land” and its sequels as downloadable content for “Super Mario 3D All-Stars.”
Fun fact: According to the Gaming Historian, a popular gaming YouTuber, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto did not direct development of “Super Mario Land.”
“Super Mario World,” 1991 (box art copyright Nintendo, 1991)
After three successful outings on the NES, Mario ushered in Nintendo’s next home console with “Super Mario World,” a launch title for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). This game showcased the improved graphical capabilities of a 16-bit processor and introduced Mario’s dinosaur companion Yoshi who, like Wario, would headline his own spinoff series.
Fun fact: According to “The Gamer,” much of “Super Mario World’s” soundtrack is one song with several “variations.” This idea would extend, in large part, to the 2018 title “Yoshi’s Crafted World.”
“Super Mario Kart,” 1992 (box art copyright Nintendo, 1992)
If Mario could be a plumber or doctor, Nintendo thought, why couldn’t he drive a kart too? “Super Mario Kart” pioneered the modern kart racing genre, says IGN, and established what could (arguably) be the most successful video game spinoff of all time. What’s truly remarkable is how, 25 years later, “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” (still the best-selling Switch title) still follows much of “SMK’s” blueprint: Grand Prix cups, wacky items, and, of course, Rainbow Road.
Fun fact: According to Mental Floss, the first builds of “Super Mario Kart” didn’t even feature Mario, but rather a generic “guy in overalls sitting in the kart”!
“Super Mario 64,” 1996 (box art copyright Nintendo, 1996)
It’s hard to imagine how amazed players must have been to see Mario in a fully three-dimensional world for the first time. “Super Mario 64” helped the franchise make the leap from 2D to 3D in one fell swoop and continued the pattern of Mario games driving early console sales. Ambitious and entertaining, Super Mario 64 set the early bar for the 3D platforming genre of video games; for this reason, critics regularly list it among the greatest and most important games of all time.
Fun fact: “Super Mario 64” was the first time that Mario spoke in a game. Voice actor Charles Martinet is still Mario to this day.
“Paper Mario,” 2000 (box art copyright Nintendo, 2000)
As Nintendo World Report said, five years before “Paper Mario,” Nintendo and developer Square Enix had collaborated on “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars” for SNES, and the two companies planned a sequel. However, the relationship between the two soured, and Nintendo decided to completely overhaul “Super Mario RPG 2,” which would eventually become “Paper Mario.” Fast forward to 2020, and the “Paper Mario” series already has six entries. Just don’t ask fans about whether they prefer the “new” “Paper Mario” to the “old” “Paper Mario”; visit Twitter to find out how heated that conversation can get.
Fun fact: As several online commenters have noticed, the Koopa Bros., a group of bosses within the game, were designed as a nod to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
“New Super Mario Bros.,” 2006 (box art copyright Nintendo, 2006)
After the success of “Super Mario 64” and “Sunshine,” it’d have been easy to wonder if 2D Mario would ever make a comeback. But “New Super Mario Bros.” answered that question with a resounding yes and (say it with me) established a successful series in its own right. While the NSMB series has been criticized by several reviewers (such as Nintendo YouTuber Arlo) for running out of originality these days, there’s no denying that “New Super Mario Bros.” made quite the splash when it launched on the DS in 2006 — it remains one of the series’ best sellers to this day with over 30 million copies sold, according to Statista.
Fun fact: In addition to its story mode, “New Super Mario Bros.” also featured all the minigames from “Super Mario 64 DS,” which vary from blackjack to a “Space Invaders” lookalike.
“Super Mario Galaxy,” 2007 (box art copyright Nintendo, 2007)
Space has always held fascination for us Earthlings, and Nintendo capitalized on those fantasies with 2007’s “Super Mario Galaxy.” Not only did the game review well (97/100 on Metacritic!), it also broke new ground for the Mario franchise, franchise, with many reviewers praising the use of gravity as a platforming concept. I had the choice between this game and “Backyard Football ’07” as a kid; I’m glad I ended up on the right side of history.
Fun fact: According to official information accompanying the music box in “Super Mario 3D All-Stars,” “Super Mario Galaxy” was the first Mario game to feature an orchestral soundtrack.
“Super Mario Maker,” 2015 (box art copyright Nintendo, 2015)
“Super Mario Maker” box art. Copyright Nintendo, 2015.
With “Super Mario Maker,” players finally got the freedom to create their own Mario levels, reminiscent of the 2008 PlayStation 3 hit “LittleBigPlanet.” And they got creative — a lot. Nintendo recently said that over 20 million levels had been created in the Switch sequel “Super Mario Maker 2,” but none of that would have been possible without this Wii U classic.
Fun fact: Courses created in the first few months of the original “Super Mario Maker” featured 260 million+ blocks!
“Super Mario Odyssey,” 2017 (box art copyright Nintendo, 2017)
The most recent 3D Mario title, “Super Mario Odyssey,” yet again set the bar for the 3D platforming genre by letting Mario run free in an exhilarating open world, complete with unique locations like New Donk City (read: NYC) and the Luncheon Kingdom. “Odyssey” was praised by critics like YouTubers Arlo and The JWittz for, among other things, forgoing the series’ traditional powerups in favor of the capture ability, which allows Mario to take over whatever enemy he wishes.
Fun fact: If you visit New Donk City’s café, you’ll hear an “elevator music” version of “Super Mario World’s” main theme.
Whew! That’s quite the 35 years. Here’s hoping the next 35 are even better.