ByTim Gruver, writer at
Freelance writer and self-professed geek. As seen on GamesRadar, CG Magazine, and We Got This Covered. Need a writer? Let's talk.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a character busier than Mario. For over three decades, the chubby plumber’s career has been a virtual whirlwind of success since his 8-bit days of whimsy. Racer, golfer, partier, doctor, Mario has long proven himself a man of many talents more than worthy of his age-old “Super” prefix of his many series. Such diversity begs the question: what does he truly do best?

It would be rather easy to say that Mario’s greatest strengths have and always will lie with his roots. The titles that began his legend have an inescapable nostalgia and the names of such games like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World continue to withstand the passage of time.

Image via Imgur
Image via Imgur

Though simplistic by modern standards, they maintain an integral quality in their gameplay unparalleled among even today’s platformers. Their effect on game design going forward has been undeniable.

Such levels as SMB 3’s World 8-3 and SMW’s Donut Plains still retain a precision that holds up across any era and instill a timelessness that stacks up even for today’s players.

From the originals to the New Super Mario Bros. series, these 2D platformers possess simple mechanics that invite challenge without unfairness and their appeal is still relevant today. Players could have the freedom to discover every hidden Star Coin at their own pace.

Mario Rocks Any Dimension

Our plumber lad has no need to limit himself to just two dimensions. Mario’s 3D platforming innovated his series via different methods. They may not span as many generations as their more retro NES and SNES predecessors, yet they’ve heralded a wealth of features like the hubs of Super Mario 64‘s Castle and Super Mario Sunshine’s Delfino Plaza, opening up Mario’s worlds like never before.

It was all for the better that Mario’s gameplay evolved with his surroundings, giving us the delights of FLUDD and Super Mario Galaxy’s mind-bending gravity puzzles. Such strengths proved that the company could be at its best even when times were hardest for such consoles as the N64 and Gamecube.

Mario Games Can Tell Great Stories, Too

Maybe it was changing tastes that encouraged Mario to stray from his comfort zone and into story-driven games, thanks to the rise of Final Fantasy in the '90s. Super Mario RPG may still stand as one of Mario’s oddest and most inventive titles. Alas, the red-tape of Squaresoft’s merger kept a sequel far from fans’ grasp ever since, but Super Mario RPG found a worthy spiritual successor in 2000’s Paper Mario.

The cast of Super Paper Mario (2007)
The cast of Super Paper Mario (2007)

Always with an indelible charm, the Paper Mario series forged its own audience and its four entries remain some of Nintendo’s most preciously silly and captivating examples in storytelling. Balancing their trademark sense of humor with superb gameplay, particular games like The Thousand Year Door and Super Paper Mario offered a wide selection of side-quests and lovable characters.

Their plots turned the Mario formula on its head, going beyond such clichés as “saving the Princess” and jumping on Bowser’s head.

Mario Can Role-Play Like A Boss

Games like Paper Mario showed that RPGs didn’t have to be confined to melodrama and could afford to poke fun at the genre, introducing a complexity to their universes which was both moving and hilarious. In these ways, Paper Mario games added a little heart to Mario’s own brandname without being commercial juggernauts in their own right.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (2001)
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (2001)

When discussing Mario’s RPG success, the underrated Mario & Luigi games shouldn't go without a mention. Keeping all the irreverent humor of Paper Mario, these RPGs carried decidedly more puzzle oriented elements. In addition, they gave us some worthwhile storytelling in the neighboring nation of the Beanbean Kingdom, a place ruled by strange green people with their own wacky sense of aristocracy.

The series is unfortunately disregarded by all but the most dedicated Nintendo fans, but its unforgettable development for such overlooked characters as Bowser, Luigi, and Professor Egad can’t be disregarded. Few players would ever forget Fawful’s hilarious “mustard of doom” speech, or the hysterical sight of the Koopa King trying to lose weight on a treadmill.

Mario Has A Need For Speed

One can’t deny Mario’s long held need for speed. Mario Kart games have gone from strength to strength since their debut, shifting units and entertaining players for over two decades. Their amusing combination of characters and balanced difficulty have granted them the greatest sense of accessibility, appealing to everyone from casual to diehard fans. Their high quality multiplayer mechanic has only added to their success.

While the horrifying sounds of blue-shells and banana peels may shake even the most seasoned of racers, these items are instrumental to creating a sense of a level playing field. This sense of balance has been key to building and maintaining such a wide audience. Mario Karts are simple fun and it’s doubtful anyone would want to change that party.

Mario's A Party Animal, Too

Mario Party 9 (2008)
Mario Party 9 (2008)

Mario’s never been a stranger to the party scene either. While the Mario Party series may never be spoken of with the same respect as the others, their subtle appeal can’t be outright denied. In the same style as the game boards, each game harkens back to slow dice-rolling mechanics, repetitive mini-games, and its critiqued element of chance has long fostered its sense of infamy among critics.

It can be said it’s who the series is played with that fosters the real fun. Alone, Mario Parties are subject to their formulaic process, but in a group, what content it boasts takes on a new meaning among your joshing friends. So is it with Mario’s sports games. Far fewer would be compelled to throw impossible pitches with a Goomba or score a goal if it weren’t for the presence of your contemporaries.

If anything, a history as long and prestigious as Mario’s demonstrates what an icon the plumber has become. It can be easily be argued that platforming will always be the cornerstone of Mario’s 2D and 3D adventures, but it would be difficult not to deny that Mario’s RPGs add something special to the series.

The depth and indelible charm of their stories and characters make Mario into a stronger personality. In some ways, they’re a rebellion against the grain of both their genre and the franchise they span from. That’s undoubtedly what I applaud the most at the end of the day.

What's your favorite Mario game? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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