I doubt I'll ever repeat it enough times. I LOVE the Mario series. Some people grew up with Sonic, others grew up with Zelda, others grew up with PlayStation or Xbox franchises... Me, it's Mario. I was stomping Goombas twelve years ago and I still do, as I control the red-clad plumber in his quest to save the princess.
One MAJOR point of criticism about the Mario series is how it's the simplest plot ever. I gotta say, I understand. It all started with a plumber saving a princess from a fire-breathing turtle-dragon, and twenty-eight years since that first encounter, Mario is still doing that. Except things have gotten bigger now. How, you may ask?
As I mentioned also before, the Mario series has become extremely diverse. 2D platformers, 3D platformers, RPGs, puzzle games, party games, sport games (golf, karting, baseball, soccer, dancing, the list goes on)... In the past, Mario even had educational games! ...Yeah, you certainly heard of Mario is Missing, A.K.A. Weegee Teaches Us Geography.
Still, for a series that is claimed to have had very little plot for so long... It sure doesn't deserve that reputation. I mean, Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser are still around, and most plots revolve around the four of them in a way, but aside from that, the series really expanded on its own universe and brought us many, MANY examples of complex stories. And yeah, most of those come from the role-playing games, I prefer to tell you right now, because it's so obvious. Okay, what am I waiting for? I present to you the Top 12 plots from the Mario series!
Remember that this is all opinion-based, so you have every right to disagree with me on one or more of the choices on this list. But I'd like to hear which games you thought had a good enough plot that they would be on a similar list.
12. Super Mario 64 DS
I'd be the first to admit that Super Mario 64 is just the regular Mario formula. Peach gets kidnapped, Mario must reach Bowser, give him a beating, saves Peach, end of story. The REMAKE for the Nintendo DS, however... Now that's a bit better. For the recap, this game's story is still pretty similar. Bowser kidnaps Peach and holds her hostage in her own castle, but guess what? HE ALSO MANAGES TO CAPTURE MARIO, LUIGI AND WARIO. Now that's badass. Who's left to oppose Bowser? Well, none other than Yoshi, who was sleeping peacefully on the castle's roof! Yes, Yoshi collects stars and frees Mario. Then Mario searches through the castle and frees Luigi. Last but not least, Luigi recovers the key to unlock Wario's prison. And now you still have to collect 80 Stars in order to battle Bowser. And only Mario can go against the final Bowser. I believe this is an improvement over the original, if only because you get to control four different characters. This still has the simple plot, with only the added aspect of “more characters”, but think about it. Mario teams up with Luigi, Yoshi and anti-hero Wario. They all have different abilities (Mario can fly, Luigi can turn intangible, Wario can become super-strong), and I can't help but imagine what the game would be like if they interacted more. Imagine all the stories we could create around their teaming up! Fanfiction fuel for sure!
11. Mario Party Advance & Mario Party DS
The Mario Party series has little to no plot. Something happens, Bowser is usually the cause, a group of characters from the series duke it out on game boards and in mini-games to solve the problem. I'd say, however, that the best plots for this party series are found in the handhelds. Mario Party Advance twists the whole Mario Party formula around by having everything happen on the same giant board that represents the Mushroom Kingdom, and the four playable characters must win Stars by helping citizens of the Kingdom with their troubles. And each time they collect enough Stars, they must battle Bowser and his entire ARMY of Koopa Kids. As a story, it's not so special, but it shows an aspect we see in the RPGs, yet hardly ever in the platformers: Those critters Mario defeats in most games? They're sentient beings, they can need help, they have emotions. Makes you think twice the next time you head out to stomp a Goomba... Mario Party DS is an odd case. All eight characters are miniaturized by Bowser's scepter, and thrown into the wild, too small and too weak to put up much of a fight. They play the party games to get back to Bowser's Castle and go back to their normal sizes. It's interesting as the Story Mode unveils a bit of plot on each board. Board 3 is regular size Donkey Kong turned into a statue by a wizarding Dry Bones. Picture that. Anyway, those two party games have a better plot than all the other party games, and I definitely recommend them.
10. Super Mario Land 2
Mario came back from the odd Sarasaland, only to find out that his personal castle (Um... okay??) has been stolen by Wario. The evil cousin plumber has locked the door with six golden coins, and Mario must retrieve them to access his castle and kick Wario out. This is one of the rare platformers to have such a complex story. Because, as you find out while playing, Wario's plan to steal Mario's castle had started in the original Super Mario Land. Mario was gone to battle the evil alien Tatanga in Sarasaland,. But you find out in the sequel that Tatanga worked for Wario, and was a diversion! Wario had little personality at the time, but clearly he was already gross, greedy and unlikable. He could also use the same power-ups as Mario, imagine that! As a result, this odd Game Boy game has more depth - and more story - than we'd think at first glance, which made it a pretty interesting addition to the franchise.
9. Super Mario Bros. 3
Talking about diversions, one of the better plots in Mario's early history has to be the third installment for the original NES. In it, the seven Kings of the Mushroom Kingdom, each reigning over a themed part of the world, were transformed into other things by bizarre creatures. Mario has to reach the castle in each world, board the Airship, and defeat the creature, which happens to be one of Bowser's (then) seven kids. After each world, Peach sends a letter to Mario with a good power-up to help him. However, while Mario was on that quest, Bowser took the opportunity to kidnap Peach and brings her to Dark Land, a Hellish world where he lives with his children. You heard right; Bowser doesn't kidnap the Princess until near the end of the game. Truly the Koopalings' moment to shine, and Bowser's first instance of showing intelligence. It's kind of sad how the Koopalings were reduced to world bosses in the recent New Super Mario Bros. games, without such a good plan behind them aside from participating in the Princess' kidnapping. Also sad that they show little personality, but I guess it's not easy to give a character some personality in a platformer.
8. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
One of Bowser's traits, while I'm discussing him, is that he's a truly powerful enemy, as proven with the Super Mario Galaxy series, but in some cases he shows his own weaknesses when he is upped by an even more dangerous threat. This is the basic plot in most Mario RPGs: Something worse than Bowser shows up, Bowser decides either to help or not (depending on how personal his grudge against today's opponent is), and the characters must still battle the villain by the end. In Bowser's Inside Story (the third installment of handheld RPG series Mario & Luigi, in which you control both brothers all the time), Bowser's whole army forces get hypnotized by Fawful, a weakly-looking villain with far more brains than you'd expect. Fawful also forced Bowser to eat a cursed mushroom, causing the turtle-dragon to become a living vacuum that can suck anything inside himself, from characters to items. And as it turns out, Mario and Luigi must help Bowser from inside himself while Bowser is on his quest to retrieve his possessions. Fawful's plan involves, as is the case again with most Mario RPGs, a powerful item of darkness that will cause the end of the world as we know it. Third time in all the RPGs that we can take control of Bowser, and God do we enjoy every minute of it.
7. Luigi's Mansion
Mario rarely takes the role of person-in-distress. When he does, however, he has to count on the others. Once it was Peach, but in most cases it's Luigi who must man up and save his bro. In Luigi's Mansion, King Boo captures Mario and traps him in a portrait. Luigi has to use the Poltergust 3000, an invention by Prof E. Gadd, and suck all the ghosts in so that he can find a way to save his brother. This was Luigi's main moment to shine (because the games where he was the hero, I mean games before this one, were... um... Again, let me remind you that Mario Is Missing was an educational game about geography). Still, seeing Luigi take up the hero business is quite great. All-new game mechanics, a new powerful enemy, the lesser bro's spotlight... this game couldn't be any better. Or it could. At least I hope Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is even better.
6. Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix
Quite an odd choice to put near the middle of the list, huh? At the top of the famed Truffle Towers rest the famous Music Keys, which get promptly stolen by today's villain. None other than... WALUIGI??? Or rather, he tries to get them, but they scatter all over the Mushroom Kingdom. The race is on, as Mario – or Luigi – must prove his dancing talents to retrieve the Keys before the enemies do. After all, those Music Keys can grant wishes when they're all recovered, and you gotta fear what a villain could wish for...
It stats with a rather silly way to start a Mario dancing game, until we realize something amazing: The villain is Waluigi. This is, thus far, his ONLY moment of plot relevance in the Mario series, ever, in which he's the main villain for the bigger part of the story. And even then, his place gets stolen by Bowser near the end of the game... But for once, it's the most forgotten plumber of all who manages to have a major role. And even with that into account, the story itself isn't too awful, either. Though in ANY Mario sport game, the whole point with the story is to force the characters to play the game's sport, whether it is baseball, basketball, or, in this case, dancing. It's just one of the more clever variations of such a basic story.
5. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
As I mentioned earlier, the complexity of the Mario series really shines brighter in the RPG games than in any other game of the franchise. Of course, most of those still require the group of heroes to collect a certain number of legendary items. But it's the plot based around this basic setting that makes it worth it. In The Thousand-Year Door, Peach tells Mario about the Crystal Stars, great artifacts who, when all collected, would let one open the titular Thousand-Year Door. However, once Mario is gone, Peach gets abducted by a cult of aliens called the X-Nauts. As if that wasn't enough, dark witches also get in the way. Mario's quest raises three levels of epic as it progresses, up until a battle with a Princess Peach possessed by an ancient dark force...
Sadly that's one of the games on this list that I've never played, so I can't tell all the plot details (and besides, I'd rather use a full review to discuss such a complex story), but as you can guess, this whole story is one of the best examples of plots in the series. But keep reading, there's even better...
4. Super Mario Galaxy
This is the last non-RPG game on the list. At first glance, it is a very simple story, same as usual: Bowser kidnaps Peach, but this time brings her... IN SPACE! When chasing them, Mario is flung away in space and is found in the Comet Observatory, home to hundreds of Lumas... and (Princess?) Rosalina. Mario learns a new way to defend himself from the opponents, by spinning, and then travels from galaxy to galaxy to recover Power Stars to bring the Observatory's power back in order to reach the center of the universe, where Bowser holds Peach captive. While Mario accomplishes this quest, we find out about Rosalina's sad backstory, and how she became the “queen” or “mother of the Lumas”.
It is a game that is very simple at first glance, with the same formula at the beginning, but it evolves into a whole new thing, with the player getting to know new characters, and seeing Bowser in one of his greatest schemes ever – no, I rephrase that, HIS greatest scheme ever. Greater than anything else he's tried doing before. And that's saying something.
3. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
That little big game came out in 1996, months before Super Mario 64, which is probably why so many people seem to forget it. However, Legend of the Seven Stars, created in association with Square-Enix, was the pioneer title in giving some of the main characters in the Mario series some kind of personality. Mario doesn't say much, but his determination is amazing. Princess Peach cares deeply for her Kingdom's citizens, serves as moral support, and can get angry easily if you get on her bad side. This game is also the first instance of Bowser joining Mario's team, helping against the new villains; the turtle-dragon also shows a surprising side of himself: He's like a father to his men, and even wishes luck to one of his underlings who leaves his army to train as a martial artist.
Oh, the story? Silly me, I was about to forget it. Mario was about to save Peach from Bowser (again), when a giant sword coming from the skies destroys the Star Road and indents itself into Bowser's Keep. From it come out hordes of weapon-themed villains, all of them known as Smithy's Gang. They are hunting the seven Star Pieces scattered around the world. Mario teams up with Peach, Bowser, “frog” Mallow and “star spirit in a doll's body” Geno. The final battle? In an alternate universe, against an extremely powerful robot. No less!
2. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
It's sad how Luigi gets little to no development in the Paper Mario series; well, no worries! He gets plenty in the Mario & Luigi series! He's the odd one, the goofball, the scaredy cat, the guy who will often make fun of his brother but, in the end, will help him a great deal and can get over his own fears for the sake of the greater good.
And the Mario & Luigi series starts strong with Superstar Saga. In it, evil witch Cackletta, helped by her underling Fawful, steals Princess Peach's voice and heads back to the neighbor Beanbean Kingdom, where everything is bean-themed. Mario and Luigi, helped by Bowser, follow her there, and try to retrieve Peach's voice. Cackletta's plan is to awake an item of great good using a good voice and turn it evil, using her own. But Peach knew it was coming, so she had someone pose as her, and... Well, things keep getting more complicated from there.
The story contains a demi-dozen plot twists, truly interesting villains (A living drink, anyone?), lots of things to collect, new gameplay mechanics that were hardly ever seen in RPGs before (those mechanics come back in all the Mario & Luigi titles), and, most of all, an awesome final fight against CACKLETTA'S SOUL, INSIDE BOWSER HIMSELF.
This game also upped the comedy aspect by making it even more prominent in comparison to the previous RPG titles, and that's no small feat. Though, the story still retains its dark side despite more humor, and that's no small feat either!
1. Super Paper Mario
Oh, this game... I love this story, but I also dislike it a little. I'd love to take a whole month discussing it, because I have just so much to say about this game as a whole.
So, Princess Peach AND Bowser get kidnapped by an illuminated dark being named Count Bleck, who forces them into marriage in order to awaken the Chaos Heart, an object that will bring forth the destruction of all the universes to have ever existed. Bleck has a number of followers, such as O'Chunks the Irish stereotype, Mimi who can look humanoid but is actually a giant spider, Dimentio the jester, and Nastasia. Mario learns to flip from 2D to 3D, an ability that becomes very useful in this quest, and has Peach, Bowser and Luigi join him in his most epic adventure. Ever.
I wrote this a short while ago: Mario collects multiple little helpers known as Pixls, witnesses the dangers of being an obsessive geek, goes in SPACE and in the cavernous eras, literally sees the annihilation of a universe, is killed and goes to (a Grecian version of) Hell, jumps BACK to Heaven, faces dozens of troubles in a dark castle to fight against some dark-hearted wizard hell-bent on destroying all that exists, only for that wizard's place as boss be taken over by a jester, which merges with the almighty evil item and Luigi to become... A total disappointment of a final boss, but I'll get to that when I review the whole game. The story contains a ton of clichés, from prophecies to fortune tellers to rivaling clans, and I'm forgetting a dozen.
But the point is that, in the end, this game has the most complicated – and most interesting – story out of all the Mario games. Mario goes really EVERYWHERE in this quest, beyond his own universe, beyond anything he has ever done in his series, and that's because the threat is greater than anything else he's ever seen; total multi-universal annihilation, imagine that! Hence why I believe the last boss to be such a disappointment, but... Like I said, I'll talk about this another time. This story, despite its flaws, is STILL the best plot to have come out of the Mario series.
Well, that's it for this list. I've played most of these games, tried a few others, and there's maybe two that I haven't ever played. This is my list, maybe the order is incorrect, maybe you believe another game should have taken the #1 spot... Feel free to comment, maybe tell me your own list, and I'll be glad to listen to what you have to say!