Nintendo may be getting ready to wrap up The Year of Luigi this spring, but over here at Den of Geek, we’re already putting Mario back under the spotlight as we rank all of the platforming plumber’s starring games. First we took a look at all of Mario’s platforming adventures, before setting our sights on the Mario Kart games. Next up is our list of the best Mario sports games, which all saw the iconic residents of the Mushroom Kingdom don their athletic gear. Are you ready to play ball?
9. Mario Super Sluggers (Platform: Wii)
When compared to the baseball-driven fun that was Mario Superstar Baseball, Nintendo’s follow-up on the Wii, Mario Super Sluggers, seemed to have missed some pretty big opportunities. The biggest change this time around was in the Wii Remote controls, which had players swinging the controller every time they were at bat, sort of like the mechanics that fueled the baseball mini-game in Wii Sports. But aside from that, Mario Super Sluggers was essentially the same game that we had already played in Mario Superstar Baseball, and the lack of a proper online mode in a 2008 baseball game was also just a little too disappointing.
8. Super Mario Strikers (Platform: GameCube)
Mario had already seen some unexpected and continued success in the tennis and golfing communities by the time the GameCube came around, so why not bring those jumping boots into the soccer stadium and see what they could do with Super Mario Strikers? Unfortunately, the visuals felt a little uninspired, and didn’t exactly have that total Mario essence that we have come to expect from any game associated with our red-hatted pal. However, that’s certainly not to say that Nintendo didn’t put their own Mario spin on the sport, as players could use a number of iconic Mario items like bananas, red shells, and even blue shells to give them the upper hand!
7. Mario Tennis Open (Platform: 3DS)
For as great as 2012’s Mario Tennis Open looked running on the 3DS hardware, the actual gameplay itself was a bit mediocre at best: suffering from an odd combination of optional touchscreen controls and “Chance Shot” combos. Indeed, the game tried to needlessly complicate the simple Mario Tennis formula, with an excessive range of tacked-on features only being matched by the sheer number of unlockable characters. At least some of the Special Games were fairly interesting, like “Super Mario Tennis,” which let you smack tennis balls against a projected backdrop of the original Super Mario Bros. gameplay!
6. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (Platform: GameCube)
Like most Nintendo franchises that made the move from the N64 to the GameCube, Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour just wasn’t as exciting and original as its N64 predecessor. That’s certainly not to say that Mario and friends didn’t know how to swing a golf club on the new Nintendo system: in fact, a lot of the courses were more vibrant than ever, and even showed us that there are far worse things in the sport than sand traps, like a wild Chain Chomp on the green, for instance. But besides the graphics overhaul, Toadstool Tour was one of the Mario sports games that played it very safe, and was criticized by some as being way too similar to the first game.
5. Mario Strikers Charged (Platform: Wii)
In many ways, Mario Strikers Charged could be seen as a superior game experience when compared to its predecessor, but specifically because its visuals and framerate were a notch above the rest, and its unique “Striker Challenges” offered a fun diversion from the core single-player and multiplayer gameplay (not to mention they rewarded you with some fun character augmentations upon their completion!). Though perhaps not as popular as some of the other Mario sports series like Tennis or Golf, Mario Strikers Charged proved that Nintendo could be just as big a contender with their own spin on the game of soccer. At only two entries long so far, are we past overdue for a new Mario Strikers game to turn up on the Wii U soon?
4. Mario Superstar Baseball (Platform: GameCube)
Well if you’ve already got Mario playing tennis, golf, and soccer, then you might as well give him some cleats and chewing tobacco to take part in America’s greatest pastime: baseball! Like many of the other Mario sports titles, Mario Superstar Baseball on the GameCube put another Mario-fueled spin on the traditional sporting game, with a unique single-player mode and a number of fun and unlockable mini-games, such as Wall Ball, Chain Chomp Sprint, and my personal favorite, Bob-omb Derby. So buy me some peanuts and mushrooms, because this is one ball game that you won’t want to miss!
3. Mario Power Tennis (Platform: GameCube)
Like any good sequel, Mario Power Tennis on GameCube took a lot of risky chances that weren’t seen in its predecessor, but they all paid off to make another exciting tennis game with an unmistakable Mario twist. The shining stars of this game, though, were the different courts with their own unique advantages (or disadvantages), like the Luigi’s Mansion-inspired court that had spooky ghosts slowing down your player’s movement. In addition to the variety of court types, Power Tennis also saw the inclusion of fun diversions from the main tournaments and exhibition modes called “Special Games,” which tasked players with things like hitting water balls at Shine Sprites that were covered in dirt (shout out to Super Mario Sunshine, holla at ya boy!)
2. Mario Golf (Platform: N64)
Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64 was the Mushroom Kingdom’s first legitimate foray into the realm of sports games, a place so seemingly far away from the traditional platforming gameplay that Mario fans had been so used to. But if Mario Golf taught us anything, it’s that Mario and friends are just as capable of bringing a good time with a golf club as they are jumping on the heads of turtles. And above all else, the game actually made the sport of golf seem FUN. Imagine that! The only odd thing about this one was Nintendo’s weird inclusion of newly created non-Mario characters, like decidedly human Plum, Sonny, and Harry.
1. Mario Tennis (Platform: N64)
Even more so than Mario Golf on the N64, Mario Tennis was a crowning achievement for tennis, video games, and the Mario franchise, all rolled into one compact yellow ball. The game was just so simple to play but dastardly tricky to get good at, and it also helped that the whole thing had a wonderfully colorful coat of paint backing up the accessible gameplay, courtesy of the Mushroom Kingdom (I can’t tell you the rush I felt when I was finally good enough to unlock Donkey Kong Jr.). The game was also particularly noteworthy for introducing the character of Waluigi into the Mario canon, as well as reinforcing the presence of Princess Daisy and Birdo for many titles going forward.