By Matthew Byrd

Along with being one of 2021's biggest Switch games, Mario Golf: Super Rush is the latest entry in the surprising history of Mario sports games.

Nintendo's first sports game (1983's Baseball) was supposed to be the start of a Nintendo sports franchise. That idea didn't make it far, but the series did give Mario a chance to shine.

Technically, Mario made his sports debut in 1984's Golf, but only some versions of the game refer to the playable character as Mario. To this day, the golfer's identity is a bit of a mystery.

Aside from a cameo as a referee in Tennis, Mario's first undisputed appearance as a playable character in a sports game was in the easily forgotten Donkey Kong Hockey for Game and Watch.

It wasn't until 1987's Mario Open Golf that Mario got a sports game of his own. Even then, the title was renamed NES Open Tournament Golf in the West.

While it may not be a "traditional" sports game, 1992's Super Mario Kart has to be considered Mario's breakout sports hit. After all, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still the best-selling Switch game.

After the failure of Mario Tennis for Virtual Boy and the success of Mario Kart 64, Mario returned to the links in 1999's Mario Golf. It's one of the N64's best games.

Mario Tennis for Virtual Boy

That same year, Nintendo released Mario Golf for Game Boy Color. What should have been a lesser port was enhanced by an RPG story mode in the secretly superior version.

2000's Mario Tennis for N64 revived that spin-off with stunning success. Like Mario Golf, the GBA version of Tennis featured an RPG storyline that would define most future handheld Mario sports games.

The following years saw the release of all-time great Mario sports games like Mario Golf: Advance Tour, Mario Kart: Double Dash, and Mario Power Tennis. It was truly a golden age.

Mario Kart: Double Dash

Not every Mario sports spin-off became a franchise. Among Nintendo's forgotten sports spin-offs from this time were Mario Superstar Baseball, Mario Hoops 3-on-3, and Super Mario Strikers.

Super Mario Strikers

Mario sports games broke barriers in 2007 with the release of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. It was the first game that officially let the former mascot rivals share a stage.

Most modern Mario sports games stick to the Tennis, Golf, Kart, and Olympic franchises. Still, there's always hope that Mario may explore new athletic avenues in the future.