A few months ago we decided to rank all of Mario’s greatest platforming adventures. Then we did the same thing with Mario Kart, and most recently, the Mario sports games. Well now we’re ranking all of Mario’s biggest role-playing games over the years, to see how the different turn-based iterations of the Mushroom Kingdom rank up with one another. Do you like a little Mario and Luigi in your RPGs these days? Let us know your favorite Mario role-playing games in the comments below!
9. Super Paper Mario (Platform: Wii)
Coming hot on the heels of the well-received Thousand Year Door, Nintendo decided to change their winning formula for 2007’s Super Paper Mario to a disappointing effect. Existing as a weird crossbreed of sorts between the role-playing Paper Mario games and the traditional sidescrolling Super Mario Bros. games, Super Paper Mario didn’t exactly shine in any one of its mismatched areas. And then there was also the weird 3D mechanic which let Mario and friends change the perspective of the papery world around them, but instead only served to show the developer slacking in filling these different viewpoints with actual scenery.
8. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (Platform: DS)
Despite coming from an otherwise fantastic series of role-playing games, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story didn’t do all that much to step out from the shadow of its wonderful predecessors. While admittedly travelling through Bowser’s body served as a fun, albeit slightly gimmicky setup for the game’s storyline, there was just too much about the game that made the overall experience feel a little disjointed in parts (perhaps thanks to the new touchscreen controls and use of the handheld system’s microphone, which were both implemented to varying degrees of fun throughout the zany adventure). On a side note though, it’s probably best we don’t know what goes on in Bowser’s belly going forward.
7. Paper Mario: Sticker Star (Platform: 3DS)
Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS was supposed to mark a return to the series’ RPG roots after the debacle that was Super Paper Mario. But even though the presentation itself made wonderful use of the 3DS hardware capabilities, the lack of an actual level-up system made battling enemies entirely pointless, since your attack stickers could basically just be replenished at will: not a smart omission for a role-playing game here. The stickers themselves were also a bit of a hit or miss inclusion, with giant stickers of scissors and other random household objects clogging up your entire inventory screen.
6. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (Platform: DS)
A wonderful and absolutely whimsical sequel to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Partners in Time was the role-playing spin-off series’ first release on the Nintendo DS hardware, and as such, it was able to make use of the system’s second screen to paint an even brighter picture of the game’s lighthearted art style. For the most part, Partners in Time stuck to the winning formula that made Superstar Saga such a huge hit, and presented another hilarious adventure time travel, a poisonous mushroom world, and an evil villain named the Elder Princess Shroob (SPOILER ALERT: she’s a real looker, that one).
5. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (Platform: 3DS)
Dream Team took everything that made the Mario & Luigi Saga series so great and simply pushed it all to the creative limits, making full use of the 3DS hardware to design some truly remarkable “Bros.” attacks that actually spilled the RPG into the realm of an action game on more than one occasion. In addition to that, the game itself is just packed to the brim with fun and engaging content, like the quirky and colorful locations for the plumber brothers to travel through (with a dream variation of each), dozens of hours of exploration and turn-based gameplay, and a heartwarming story with that same classic blend of humor and charm.
4. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (GameCube)
Building off the success and acclaim of Paper Mario on N64, the GameCube-exclusive successor Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door continued the trend of role-playing goodness. The sequel pulled out all the stops too, with larger-than-life boss fights and glittering locations like Boggly Woods, Poshley Heights, and my personal favorite, the Creepy Steeple (home of the nameless and oddball ghost boss in the sheet and party hat). The only thing that managed to hold the game back was its own lengthy storyline, complete with regular intermissions that had players controlling the kidnapped and imprisoned Princess Peach, or even Bowser at times in some oddly placed old-school Mario platforming levels.
3. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (Platform: Game Boy Advance)
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was another unexpected, yet completely welcomed surprise in 2003, when the unique role-playing game featuring the famous Mario brothers was released exclusively on the Game Boy Advance. It was colorful, fun, and above all else, offered a refreshing blend of role-playing gameplay that still managed to different from that of the Paper Mario series. If anything, it was also a lot of fun to finally see Luigi have such a pivotal role in a Mario game, even though he was always forced to walk behind his brother during the actual gameplay! But the real reason while Superstar Saga has become such an essential game in the entire Mario canon? The game is just downright FUNNY!
2. Paper Mario (Platform: N64)
Nintendo changed everything we thought we knew about a Mario game once again in 2001 with the release of Paper Mario on the N64. Not only was the art aesthetic completely different from any Mario game that came before (and also completely AWESOME), but Paper Mario was also a full-fledged role-playing game brought into the Nintendo mainstream. The game itself was absolutely massive, and I’ve still never managed to beat it even to this day. But that’s certainly not to say I don’t remember the finer, unforgettable details of the game, like trying to find the secret entrance to the hidden desert temple, the menacing Tubba Blubba, or even the bumbling paratrooper mail carrier who accompanies you on a portion of the way.
1. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Platform: Super Nintendo)
Make any list about Mario games, and you just know that Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is going to be somewhere at the very top. The rare Mario-themed role-playing game that popped up on the Super Nintendo in 1996 has largely gone unmatched ever since, with a gripping story and revolutionary gameplay that turned the Mushroom Kingdom as we knew it completely on its head. Also interesting is that Legend of the Seven Stars has never gotten a direct sequel in all of that time (something of an anomaly for a Nintendo game), which only helps to build up its gaming legacy even more.