The results are in: Mario Golf: Super Rush is a pretty decent game. It’s certainly one of the best Mario sports games in a while, and the best available on Switch at the moment. Super Rush’s release also has us reflecting on what is perhaps Mario’s least appreciated spin-offs, though: the ones that involve ballfields and scoreboards.
We have Camelot Software Planning (or just Camelot) to thank for nearly all of the sports games represented here (not counting Mario Kart or the Olympic games – those are their own thing), and we especially owe them a great deal of gratitude for crafting the purple-clad villain we now know as Waluigi, a character they designed after being asked for a “Wario-like” rival for Luigi. Their contribution to our culture with Waluigi alone is, of course, immeasurable.
So in celebration of Super Rush’s release, here’s our list of the best 5 Mario sports games out there, dating all the way back to the Nintendo 64.
5. Super Mario Strikers
Mario was slow to warm on Europe’s favorite pasttime. It wasn’t until the Gamecube that the franchise received its first soccer game Super Mario Strikers. Thankfully, the game is as crisp and polished as any Mario game comes, with a ton of cool visuals that set it apart from the longrunning Mario Golf and Mario Tennis series thanks to the electrifying art of Cassidy Scott. Like many of the sports emulated by Nintendo, Strikers is a pretty faithful adaptation of the game it represents with a few fun twists. The pitch on each stage is a bit smaller than is traditional, and the teams are about half as large as is usual, but the gameplay itself is recognizably soccer if a bit simplified for the sake of accessibility. (Hey, soccer’s a complicated game!)
The only thing holding Strikers back from being one of the true greats is its relative lack of game modes, which trims the game’s viability as a party favorite considerably. Still, it’s undeniably one of the best sports games available on the Gamecube, and an enjoyable one to pick up and play if you’re bored during off-season.
4. Mario Superstar Baseball
Mario Superstar Baseball takes a game with hundreds of moving parts and contains it in one big irreverent package. Boasting perhaps the largest roster of playable characters in any single Mario game, Superstar Baseball allows you to take control of an entire team captained by one of several iconic leaders ranging all the way from familiar players like Donkey Kong and Luigi to more random faces like Toadsworth and Monty Mole. Superstar Baseball is definitely one of the more exaggerated iterations of the sport it sets out to represent, and there’s no real way to avoid the hijinks as in some of the older Mario sports games, but the game thrives in its most chaotic moments. It’s a frenzied joy to chase after a ball while avoiding a Chain Chomp’s bite, or try to hit a Piranha Plant in hopes of getting a new Star Skill.
The game truly shines in its Challenge Mode, where you select one of five team captains and fight for the honor of taking down Bowser’s team. Through beating other minor teams you’re able to recruit other captains and their team members, which allows you to assemble your dream team of whichever Mario characters you like. Once Challenge Mode is finished you’re able to replay it as Bowser, which serves as a slightly harder mode with a few different rules. Superstar Baseball has a lot of replayability going for it, and is plenty of fun as both a multiplayer experience or going in solo. Namco struck a homerun with this one.
3. Mario Golf
Before Super Rush there was Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64, which remains one of the most sophisticated sports games ever made. Mario Golf stars the usual suspects but introduces some original Camelot characters like Plum and Charlie that round out the game’s roster and allow for a wider variety of playstyles. In many ways, Mario Golf is the platonic ideal of the Mario sports spin-offs: it’s a faithful rendition of the sport but adds plenty of flair and style to make it uniquely “Mario.” The game is notable for starting you with relatively few options—you can only play as Baby Mario, Peach, and a couple original characters starting out, and there’s only two courses you can play on initially—which gives the game a fun sense of discovery despite its lack of a story mode.
What sets Mario Golf apart from, say, the PGA Tour series are the wacky obstacles that stand in the way of you and a hole-in-one. The game has one of the most efficient yet charming HUDs yet seen in a sports game – it makes the sport of golf, with its many rules, seem totally legible while managing to fit in other important elements like environmental details, too. There’s a reason many still consider Mario Golf the definitive virtual golf experience.
2. Mario Golf: Advance Tour
Nominally the handheld counterpart to Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour on the Gamecube, Mario Golf: Advance Tour offers a wholly unique experience. Instead of featuring a pick-up-and-play style, you take on the role of an aspiring player character setting out to be crowned the ultimate golfer. It’s a unique take on the sports game in that it’s entirely a roleplaying game in every respect: you have stats and levels you have to track, there’s a storyline complete with a ton of dialogue, and a cavalcade of rivals to get to know. You can play for quite a while without ever encountering a Mario character at all, but you won’t care once you hit the course and discover just how detailed this game’s presentation really is.
Advance Tour boasts some truly lovely visuals (you can really tell Camelot were also the team behind Golden Sun) and slightly more complex gameplay than any of its console counterparts. It’s a game to really dig into – not everyone is going to like its story-based progression, but it’s impossible to deny just how well the game plays. Advance Tour is one of the most enrapturing and addictive sports games ever made. It’s all topped off with an excellent score courtesy of Motoi Sakuraba, who got to flex some of his more baroque leanings that set the soundtrack apart from his work on other Mario Golf and Mario Tennis titles.
1. Mario Tennis
Believe it or not, Mario Tennis is responsible for many of the Mario franchise’s iconic conventions. Most notably, Mario Tennis marks the first appearance of Waluigi, Luigi’s sworn nemesis (who has yet to receive proper justice by appearing in a mainline Mario game). Mario Tennis also served as a reintroduction to Princess Daisy, an otherwise minor character from the spin-off Super Mario Land, as well as Birdo, the mini-boss from Super Mario Bros. 2. All three of these characters have since become some of the most recognizable Nintendo characters to date. Building on the gameplay of 1999’s Virtua Tennis, Mario Tennis made the relatively complicated sport approachable and simple. It’s a fun game for both adults and kids, and features shockingly realistic physics – you might be playing as a flying yellow turtle, but it’s unmistakably tennis you’re playing here!
Despite its honest simplicity, the game comes paired with three silly arcade modes, including Ring Shot, Piranha Challenge, and the Bowser Stage. There’s just enough here to keep you coming back without getting bored; it’s pure entertainment and doesn’t rely on a ton of bells and whistles to keep things interesting. Mario Tennis is remembered not only as one of the best sports games available for Nintendo 64 but also as one of the best games on the console as a whole.
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