Super Mario 3D Land is finally released to the cheers of rejoicing 3DS next week.
It’s as good a time as any to take a look back at some of Mario’s previous handheld adventures and spin-offs throughout the years.
This isn’t a list of every single one of Mario’s portable adventures, but rather a handpicked selection of some of the highs – and lows – of Mario’s long history as the face of Nintendo’s portable consoles, from the humble Game Boy to the innovative 3DS.
You might be a little busy trying to earn killstreaks or exploring the world of Skyrim this week, but don’t forget about that little Italian plumber who continues to be one of gaming’s greatest icons – pretty impressive for someone who spends all of his time scrounging for coins and stomping on fungi.
Check it out, and make sure to keep your eyes peeled for our very own review of Super Mario 3D Land as it hits stores next week on the 18th.
Super Mario Land
Mario’s classic first adventure on Nintendo’s Gameboy set the tone for future Mario Land titles, with Mario hopping his way across various themed worlds in order to save the kidnapped Princess Daisy.
While shades of the original hang over the later Mario titles, Super Mario Land remains the most distinctively unique. The worlds are minimal and simplistic – full of jagged lines and fiendish traps, rather than the gleeful and more forgiving design of later games in the series.
There’s also no sign of the trademark villains like Bowser and Wario, and even characters like Luigi and Toad aren’t anywhere to be seen. Also, with no save feature avalaible, Super Mario Land is a difficult game, which forced players to beat it in one sitting without losing their precious lives.
In many ways, it’s this fiendish difficulty and one of a kind uniqueness to Super Mario Land that makes it a fan favourite of the Mario Land series and still as addictive when played today on the 3DS Virtual Console.
Arguably the only game worth merit on the infamous Virtual Boy, Mario’s Tennis followed in the footsteps of the popular Mario Golf by combining traditional sports gameplay – or Pong – with the likable characters of the franchise.
It’s a little bogged down by the Virtual Boy’s limitations – including a clunky design, headache inducing 3D effects and ugly red and black visuals – but Mario’s Tennis still became another successful Mario license.
The series began to really hit its stride with Mario Tennis for the N64, but the original deserves particular notability for being one of the few decent games on an otherwise forgettable portable system from the usually reliable Nintendo.
Super Mario 64 DS
An accomplished port of the revolutionary Super Mario 64, the game remains a pinnacle of 3D platforming – even as a handheld remake – coming almost ten years after its original release. In fact, during the early days of the DS it was pretty much the best title avalable, and that’s not to say there wasn’t other good stuff around, but Super Mario 64 DS was so packed full of new features, characters and bonus goodies that it’s more than just a remake.
Exploring Princess Peaches castle and its many worlds and hidden secrets never gets old, while the new mini games – unlocked by finding and catching rabbits – make innovative use of the touchscreen controls of the DS.
Even without all the added bells and whistles, it’s still a joy to play Super Mario 64, making it remain as one of the best 3D platformers ever produced for any console.
Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins
Super Mario Land 2 is my personal favourite Mario game, and one which brings forth a variety of nostalgic memories. Released in 1992 at the height of the Gameboy‘s success, it became a definitive platforming experience and is still considered as one of the best games in the series.
The sequel made significant advances from the first game, as well as toning down the difficulty of Mario’s handheld debut, for better or worse. Mario Land 2 also boasted an explorable hub world which featured six worlds, all holding a unique coin. On completing each level and discovering each of the coins, Mario could enter Wario’s castle for a climatic and tricky final battle.
Many of Super Mario Land 2’s features, such as its emphasis on power-ups, the varied hub world and a handful of mini-games have become trademarks of the series and hugely influential on not only the Mario series, but rival platformers since its release.
A genuine classic that’s available for a mere few quid on the 3DS e-shop – buy it now.
Game and Watch Gallery
A compilation of titles from Nintendo’s classic Game and Watch handhelds from the early ‘80s, the cartridge established Nintendo’s desire to produce remakes of classic games which were actually worth playing. Despite thier humble beginnings as basic LCD games which made use of limited technology, they received an updated sheen of new visuals, complete with Mario as a playable character.
As witnessed by its appearance on the 3DS e-shop, games like Manhole and Fire are still just as addictive and entertaining to this day, with the most simple of gameplay prerogatives being used to its full potential…. Beating your high score.
Mario Golf: Advance Tour
Game Boy Advance
All kids love golf right?….. Well maybe not, but somehow Nintendo’s mix of Mario and a traditional Scottish sporting pastime makes for a relentlessly addictive and enjoyable sports title. There are even RPG elements in Mario Golf, which were pushed to the forefront with Advance Tour.
After selecting a character, players are free to walk around an explorable mini-map – similar to those seen in Mario platformers – complete with clubhouses, lodges and secrets. For what seems like a simplistic spin-off, Mario Golf: Advance Tour is a surprisingly deep and substantial game, making it one of the best Mario spin-offs, as well as a legitimately good golf sim.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Game Boy Advance
It’s no surprise that Mario Kart became the most successful Mario spin-off title, with the series being so enjoyable that it spawned its own sub-genre known as the kart racer. Even then, after years of imitations from the good (Sega All Star Racing) to the bad (South Park Rally) to the downright ugly (Crazy Frog Racer) the Mario Kart series and its numerous incarnations are still the best.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit pushed the series forward with new power-ups and characters along with some of the best and most ingenious tracks thus far, making it one of the best portable entries in the series. It’s also the meatiest of Mario Kart titles – despite its lack of the online multiplayer of later entries.
Nintendo weren’t content with having one hugely successful puzzle game with Tetris, and decided to put together a similarly cryptic title with Mario at the helm – in an obvious attempt to combine two of the most profitable cornerstones of the Gameboy during the early ’90s.
The result – while not as fiendishly addictive or memorably simplistic as Tetris – was an engrossing puzzle game which had the potential for hours to be whittled away while sitting on the loo with a tightened grip on your trusty Gameboy.
Mario’s sudden change in career path from plumber to professional doctor is never quite explained, and you suspect he’s not exactly qualified to diagnose or cure any legitimate illness. So while you’d not exactly want to make an appointment with a Mario for a health check-up, you can’t refute his ability to craft an enjoyable puzzler.
New Super Mario Bros
Mixing the classic gameplay of Super Mario Bros 3 with some of the advances made with 3D entries like Super Mario Sunshine, New Super Mario Bros wasn’t so much a vast step forwards, but rather a mishmash of everything about the series that’s worked before – of both 2D and 3D games – into one compact experience. So if it suffers a little from its own identity crisis, New Super Mario Bros is still a blast to play and one of the best Mario titles on the DS.
We’ll soon find out when we get our hands on it, but of all the games baring the Mario name, Super Mario 3D Land looks similar – both visually and in its design – to New Super Mario Bros. and if anything, that simply has us more excited about the 3DS debut.
Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros 3
Game Boy Advance
It may be a port of the NES classic Super Mario Bros 3, but that’s hardly a bad thing. Bringing what’s arguably the best game of the entire series to a handheld was a masterstroke and key to the success of the GBA’s long running Super Mario Adavance strand of titles for the console.
Mario’s third adventure on the NES was a stonkingly good entry with some of the very best worlds and power-ups of the series, making it more than just one of the greatest Mario games, but a game which regularly pops up on lists of the best games ever made. It also brought us the fantastic Tanooki suit, which makes its return to the franchise with Super Mario 3D Land.
Having such a classic title in your pocket – complete with new added content – makes Super Mario Advance 4 an undoubted highlight of Mario’s portable history.
Mario Pinball Land
Game Boy Advance
Much like the forgettable if decent Sonic Spinball in 1995, Mario himself was subject to an ill-advised pinball spin-off on the Game Boy Advance. Mario is transformed into a strange chubby ball with a mustache and thrown around a variety of colourful pinball tables which are themed around the familiar worlds and characters of the series.
It’s perhaps notable for having some of the best graphics on the GBA, coming late its lifespan as the DS was set to take over. Sadly, there’s little else about Mario Pinball Land that’s worth celebrating – it’s just a perfunctory pinball title that’s bogged down by infuriating design choices and clunky controls.
Super Mario 3D Land is released on Friday 18th November.
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This article was first posted on November 9, 2011