Mario might just be the most instantly-recognizable and influential video game character ever created. While his platformer titles and iconic aesthetics have been plenty to keep Mario at the forefront of the entertainment medium, the continued innovation and inspirational pivots provided by Nintendo have shot the little plumber to legendary status. Thanks to his creator’s willingness to try new game genres, settings, and technologies, Mario can pop-up in just anything and seem like he’s built for the task at hand. This versatility created over the decades since he first appeared in 1981’s Donkey Kong has further spawned some fantastic mini-games, which became a staple in the mainline series.

A history of adaptability and versatility

Along with several appearances in the early ‘80s Donkey Kong games as well as cameos in the likes of Pinball in 1984, Golf in 1985, and 1987’s Punch-Out!! as the referee, 35 years of Mario has also seen him headline 19 mainline titles and a tonne of spin-offs. All-in-all, Mario’s said to have made appearances in more than 200 titles. One of his biggest and best spin-off series is the ever-popular Mario Kart. Taking the character into a go-kart racing game revolutionized Nintendo, with the latest version, Mario Kart 8, exceeding 41.86 million in sales. Keeping in the sports theme, while Mario Tennis continues to get a lot of attention from the publisher, it’s Mario Strikers that garners the most praise and craving for a sequel. It’s been 14 years since Mario Strikers Charged released, with the popular football game only being the second in the exciting series. Of course, there have been the more novel pivots for the Italian, too, such as Dr. Mario, who lives on in mobile gaming with Dr. Mario World, as well as taking Mario to the Olympic Games, alongside former rival of Sega, Sonic. Mario hasn’t been restrained by the plastic casing of Nintendo hardware, either. The global fandom for the character has convinced his creators to bring him into new mediums, which has, in turn, further helped to welcome new entertainment formats into the Mario universe.

One of his first out-of-game appearances was in Saturday Supercade, a short-run animated series that played two seasons from 1983 to 1984. In 1993, Mario landed on the big screen, but very much to the opposite reception of his game legacy. The Super Mario Movie used many characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, but it has gone down as one of the worst video game adaptation movies ever created. Soon, he’ll be the centrepiece of the real-world theme park Super Nintendo World, with the Mario Kart Ride coming to all SNW grounds around the world. Going so seamlessly into other genres has enabled the games to adopt just about any feature, with the prime example being with Super Mario 64 DS and its mini-games. They have even managed to insert roulette, one of the most easily recognized and intuitive table games widely featured on most online casino sites. It now takes many forms, with different variants and live versions, and Mario has even taken to the game, with Mushroom Roulette being one of Luigi’s many mini-games in SM64DS. As the game’s mechanics are so well-known, it was easy to adapt into the Mario series back in 2004, not looking out of place as the character is known to jump between themes and formats.

Iconic and exciting mini-games born from Mario’s versatility

Mini-games have become a staple of mainline and spin-off Mario titles, from secret doorways and tubes leading to puzzling arenas to bonus rounds to get more lives at the end of a run. In the mainline series, up to the most recent Nintendo Switch Super Mario game releases, this tradition has been upheld. The all-conquering 2017 release Super Mario Odyssey featured several compelling mini-games. Among the best, as ranked by NME, are Beach Volleyball, where you need to clock 100 hits against a skilled and sporting giant snail, and the rolling snow slalom known as the Round Bowl Grand Prix. The 3D games have historically produced the best of the Mario mini-games, with the notoriously difficult-to-complete Super Mario Sunshine having several with hidden rewards. The gigantic Pachinko Machine, for example, is not only a hidden mini-game but also holds a Red Coin, while the secret Red Coin available on the Lily Pad Ride is also absurdly tricky to land.

Recognizing the love of Mario mini-games, Nintendo created a series that exclusively put players into little competitive games. Super Mario Party on Switch was well-received, with one of its best games being a reoccurring feature from the N64 release, Bumper Balls. A surprisingly skilful yet frantic game, Bumper Balls remains a top mini-game, as does the equally-manic Slaparazzi. Even in Mario games where having mini-games is necessary, developers love to chuck them in for good measure. In 2020, Nintendo released an update for Super Mario Maker 2, with the final major update of the mid-2019 release adding three Toad House mini-games to the World Maker mode. The three derive from previous Nintendo creations, with Super Mario Bros. 3’s Match & Win! sideways slot game, the NES game Baseball’s Catch & Win!, and a Famicom Disk Writer reference in the form of Pop & Win!

Mario isn’t secluded to just type of game, or even modern renditions of one type of game: the legendary character has been used across all game genres and even some extra entertainment mediums. As Nintendo has been so willing to let their mascot venture just about anywhere, it opens Mario games up to utilizing several other forms of entertainment in their mini-games, creating some exhilarating additions.

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