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Cary's Top Ten Mario RPGs!

On 01/28/2016 at 09:12 PM by Cary Woodham

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The newest game in the Mario & Luigi RPG series just came out on the 3DS: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.  It’s a crossover title between Mario & Luigi and the other popular Mario RPG series: Paper Mario.  In honor of that, here is a blog where I rank every Mario RPG game in a top ten list (granted there’s only been ten of them, so, yeah). 

Just a couple of things to note before we get started.  First of all, there may be some slight spoilers here and there.  Now, Mario RPG stories don’t have too many surprises or anything too revealing, so I’m not too worried about spoiling anything big.  But just in case, you’ve been warned.  Also, I kind of cheated on this top ten list just a little bit.  You’ll see once you start reading, but it’s my list so I’ll do what I want.  OK, let’s begin!

??? Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS)

See what I did there?  There really isn’t a number ten, as Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam just came out and I haven’t played it long enough to rank it yet.  If I HAD to rank it, it would probably go before or under Super Mario RPG on my list, but again, I’m not going to rank it as it just came out.  The game’s story is as expected.  Luigi finds a book that has all the Paper Mario characters in them, and when he opens it, they all fly out and Mario and Luigi must team up with Paper Mario to rescue Paper Toads.  Of course, they must also battle Bowser who has teamed up with his paper self to kidnap both princesses and double their army.

While the game plays like any other Mario & Luigi game mostly, it’s neat how they implemented the Paper Mario stuff as well.  In battle, you must press buttons at the right time to maximize your attacks, and the timing for Mario & Luigi is different than Paper Mario’s.  So if you’ve played both series, you’ll benefit from remembering how the pace of battles goes in both games.  It looks like they also ditched two ideas found in Dream Team and Bowser’s Inside Story.  So far, I haven’t encountered any flat 2-D areas, and the giant bosses where you tilt the DS or 3DS to its side are gone.  They’ve replaced those with giant papercraft battles.  These are 3-D action packed battles where you move your papercraft around ramming into enemies.  It’s kind of fun, and at least it’s different.  If you pre-ordered the game from GameStop, you got these papercraft Mario figures you could make yourself.  I haven’t done that yet since I’m a klutz with that kind of stuff.

There are some things I don’t like about the game so far, though.  The main thing is that every so often, you have to drop everything to find hidden Paper Toads, and those sections can be a pain in the butt.  They’re just padding the game out, and one of the missions was so hard that I failed enough times that they allowed me to skip it. You can’t even save the game when you’re on one of those missions.  Later on the game gets pretty difficult, too.  This may be the hardest Mario RPG out there.  I even opted to do the easy mode after I died so much later on in the game.  The amiibo support is also kind of dumb.  You can scan Mario amiibo figures to unlock cards you can use to help you in battle, but to use those cards; you have to scan the amiibo AGAIN while in battle.  Why can’t the game just save what you had unlocked?  At least the game is still charming, though.  I loved how Bowser Jr. and Paper Bowser Jr. quickly become best buds, and even the Koopa Kids are in it!  Yay!  We’ll see how well I like the game as I play it more.

9. Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)

The neat thing about Mario RPGs is that almost all of them are good.  But there are a couple that aren’t, or at least I don’t think so.  Paper Mario: Sticker Star is one of those.  It looks like any other Paper Mario game, except in this one, stickers fall from the sky and Bowser takes the most powerful ones to wreak havoc on Paper Mario’s world.  In this game, everything you do requires a sticker in battle.  If you want to jump on an enemy or use your hammer, you’ll need to have a sticker in your inventory to do so, among other things.  So the game is very heavy on the item management side, and item management is rarely fun in a game.  Every area in the game is set up like a level in a regular Mario game, so there is not much exploration or story.  And if you fight every enemy in a stage, you’ll probably run out of stickers.  You also don’t get any experience points from defeating enemies.  Just coins to buy more stickers.  You make your HP higher by finding certain treasure chests.  So since you don’t get any experience from defeating enemies and you endanger yourself by running out of stickers, the game actually kind of encourages you to avoid battles.  Now, battles are the meat of a good RPG, so a game that has you avoid them?  No thanks.  It’s a shame that this one turned out so lousy and disappointing, given the history of previous Paper Mario titles. 

8. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS)

Dream Team isn’t necessary a BAD game, it just had some big problems that kept me from wanting to beat it.  In the game, Mario, Luigi, and the Princess visit a vacation island where the residents look like pillows.  These pillow people can also enter a dream world.  One day, a villain from the dream world escapes and teams up with Bowser to take over the island and the dream world.  Luckily, Luigi can fall asleep anywhere at any time, so Mario uses that talent to hop in and out of the dream world to thwart their enemies’ plans.  This game has a lot in common with Bowser’s Inside Story, but it doesn’t really improve anything.  In fact, the elements they used from the previous game feel less fun here than in Bowser’s game.  In the dream world, you play in a 2-D area like how you did when you were inside Bowser in the last game.  Since you’re in Luigi’s dream, he can do lots of things he normally couldn’t do, like duplicate himself a bunch of times, or turn into a giant Luigi for special boss battles, similar to the Bowser battles in the Inside Story predecessor.  This game features a lot of Luigi because it was released during the “Year of Luigi” to celebrate his birthday.  While that’s cool and all, the battles are really slow paced and the game has a lot of padding and meanders a bunch.  That’s why I didn’t finish it.  I got pretty far, but when a single boss battle takes up your entire lunch hour (which should never happen on a handheld), it’s hard to want to keep playing.

7. Super Mario RPG (SNES)

OK, every other game on this list is really good.  And I mean, REALLY good.  I’m only saying that because I’m sure a lot of you are already griping about how low Super Mario RPG is on my list.  I really do like this game a lot, and when it was the only Mario RPG out there, it was super awesome and I played it to death and knew all the secrets.  But I just felt that other Mario RPGs captured the Mario ‘feel’ better than this one did.  This game feels like Mario in a Final Fantasy game, which is understandable since Square made it.  In fact, there’s even a secret boss that looks like it could be in a FF game!  While Super Mario RPG laid the groundwork for future Mario RPG titles, like a whimsical feel and turned based battles with timed action buttons, other Mario RPGs really improved on the formula and felt more Mario-ish.  But this game is still really good and I highly recommend it.

6. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (DS)

In this early DS sequel, aliens have taken over the Mushroom Kingdom and Mario & Luigi must go back in time to set things right.  They meet up with their past selves as babies, and they all team up together to save the day.  This game had two things going for it.  One was the clever time travel gimmick, and the other was the adorable Mario babies.  They made the adventure so cute.  It was even a little sad in the ending when the babies had to go back home to their own time, and Baby Luigi didn’t want to say “Bye bye!”  Kind of touching for a Mario game.  After playing this game I just wanted to adopt the Mario babies.  There was one problem with the game, though.  In the first Mario & Luigi game, you had to press two buttons for attacks and dodges.  One for Mario and one for Luigi.  But in this game, they added two more buttons for the babies, and it would sometimes get confusing which button to press.  At least it was for me at times.

5. Super Paper Mario (Wii)

Some people may not consider this a Mario RPG, and that’s understandable.  It is way more action oriented, and plays more like a traditional 2-D Mario hop and bop.  But you and enemies still have hit points and there is lots of exploration and items to find, so I’m still putting it on my list.  It’s my list and I can do what I want.  I guess the only problem I had with this game is that it felt like it should’ve been released on the GameCube instead of the Wii.  The Wii features just felt tacked on.  But then, a lot of early Wii games were like this, including Twilight Princess and the awful Donkey Kong Barrel Blast.  But aside from that, I still thought Super Paper Mario was a pretty humorous and entertaining (albeit very easy) little romp.

4. Paper Mario (N64)

This was the first Mario RPG after the SNES one, so it had big shoes to fill.  But I thought it had a more Mario ‘feel’ to it, and they perfected the action timed battles where you would press a button at the right time to dodge or increase attacks.  In fact, this was a necessity to do; otherwise you wouldn’t get very far!  You could kind of flub your way through the first one’s battles, but not Paper Mario!  Plus the pop-up book paper graphics were pretty clever for the time.  I don’t remember as much about this game because I haven’t played it in a long time, but it did come out when I was high on the hog writing reviews for The Dallas Morning News, so any games I played around this time, I have good memories associated with them.

3. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA)

One thing about the early Mario RPGs like the Square one on SNES and Paper Mario on N64 is Luigi was hardly even in them.  He only led the parade at the end of Super Mario RPG, and you only saw him hanging out in their house in Paper Mario.  So I thought it was pretty cool when this first Mario & Luigi game came out since Luigi got title billing.  In this RPG, Mario and Luigi worked together both in battle and out on the field.  I thought it was pretty cool that there was a game where the two brothers co-operated, since in most other games they usually compete against each other.  I think having them work together and care for one another was a good message to kids, showing players that when they work together and get along with their siblings, they can do great things.  Plus the game was incredibly funny and introduced us to one of the best villainous sidekicks in Mario RPG history: Fawful with his broken English!

2. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS)

So the Partners in Time sequel kind of mucked things up a bit by adding two characters in battle, but in this next sequel, they found a happy medium by just having one extra.  In the game, Bowser eats a mysterious mushroom that causes him to suck up almost everything in the Mushroom Kingdom uncontrollably, and Mario & Luigi must go inside him to fix things.  They must also work together with Bowser to save the day from another villain, and luckily, this time Fawful gets to be the main bad guy!  When you are exploring the overworld as Mario, Luigi, or Bowser, you view everything in top down fashion like the other games.  But when you go inside Bowser, the game switches to a 2-D view, like a classic Mario platformer, which was very clever.  Usually while inside Bowser, Mario & Luigi must find and play a mini-game to help Bowser gain a new ability or even make Bowser grow huge so he can fight a giant boss in Godzilla style battles where you tilt the DS sideways.  So yeah, Mario & Luigi are helping make their arch-nemesis stronger!  Sometimes while battling as Bowser, you can suck up the bad guys so Mario & Luigi can fight the baddies inside him!  This is probably the closest thing to Bowser getting his own game, and he even gets the reward that Mario usually gets at the end of his games!  Oh, and Super Mario RPG fans, Geno even makes an appearance in this one, just so you know (granted he just hosts a mini-game, but still).  Only problem I had with this game was the final boss battle took too long, but since it’s the last boss, I’m willing to forgive.  Bowser’s Inside Story wasn’t too long or too short, and added lots of new features and improvements, making it the best of the Mario & Luigi series. 

1. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GCN)

This GameCube sequel to the N64 classic takes everything about the first game and just makes it all better tenfold.  I love how all the battles had a stage with an audience, and you could earn bonuses by wowing the audience with flashy moves.  Every area in the game felt different and there were no slow sections.  One of my favorite parts was the area that was just a stadium and poked fun at wrestling.  If you’re a big fan of wrestling, you’ll want to play this game just for that part!  This game is also extremely funny, and has some of the best writing and script I’ve seen in a game, EVER!  The game even makes fun of itself because every time you talk with Luigi, he tells you about adventures he’s having in different lands with friends of his own, and it is poking fun of how interchangeable the Mario RPG stories can be! I also liked Toadette in this game because she teaches you new skills, and when she shows you your last skill, she runs off crying because she knows she won’t be talking to you again!  By the way, Toadette is also pretty awesome in Paper Jam, as she makes the papercraft characters you battle in.  Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is easily the best Mario RPG out there, and probably the best GameCube RPG, too.  Even better than Tales of Symphonia (yes I went there).  If you can only play ONE Mario RPG, make it this one!


And that’s how I rank all the Mario RPGs.  Let me know what you think of my list, and tell me your favorite Mario RPGs, too! Later!  --Cary



Super Step Contributing Writer

01/28/2016 at 11:23 PM

The only Mario RPGs I've really played or seen are the SNES and N64 ones. And yeah, SMRPG felt like an FF game. I loved the humor in Paper Mario.

Cary Woodham

01/29/2016 at 05:18 AM

If you liked the humor in Paper Mario on N64, you should really try and play the GameCube sequel (Thousand Year Door, my number one pick).  It's one of the most well-written games I've played ever, even to this day.

Super Step Contributing Writer

01/29/2016 at 08:49 PM

That'll be on my GCN wishlist then.

Cary Woodham

02/01/2016 at 12:00 AM

I hope you get to play it!  It's a lot more worthwhile than those GTA games.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

01/29/2016 at 02:08 AM

this is a really nice blog, Cary. I was very disappointed in Sticker Star, and I'm sad to hear the new one has so many problems. But when I get a chance, I'm going to pick up a copy of Inside Story. It sounds like a lot of fun.  

I also played the GBA game. It was fun, but got so difficult.  Why are these games so hard????

Cary Woodham

01/29/2016 at 05:20 AM

Paper Jam is definitely better than Sticker Star.

Definitely try Bowser's Inside Story, it's the best in the Mario & Luigi game series.

I felt the original GBA Mario & Luigi game was probably the easiest one.


01/29/2016 at 04:15 PM

The first Toad hunt in ML: Paper Jam almost stopped me cold. I couldn't find the last two for a while. I started hitting everything with the hammer in frustration. I found them though, finally. 

Thousand Year Door is incredible! Played that about a year ago and now I'm so excited for all the Mario RPG games. 

Cary Woodham

02/01/2016 at 12:01 AM

Yeah sometimes it's hard to find those Toads.  There were parts like that in Sticker Star too, that got annoying.  Some of the Toad missions in Paper Jam are easy, and some were so hard that the game opted to let me skip it after I failed a bunch of times.

I'm glad you got to experience The Thousand Year Door.  I hope you agree with me that it is the best one.


02/01/2016 at 01:48 AM

I started Super Mario RPG but didn't finish it. I like it a lot though. . . Thousand Year Door was really special. 

Cary Woodham

02/01/2016 at 03:33 PM

I've had lots of people agree with me about Thousand Year Door.  I hope you get to play Super Mario RPG again.  Even though it was low on my list, I still REALLY liked it.

Matt R Staff Alumnus

01/29/2016 at 09:02 PM

I thought this was going to be tongue in cheek. I can't believe there have been 10 already!

Cary Woodham

02/01/2016 at 12:02 AM

Yeah there's just barely ten now that we have Paper Jam.  Some may not consider Super Paper Mario an RPG, though.


01/30/2016 at 09:09 PM

I didn't realize there were 10 Mario RPGs.  I only own a couple of them.  I think? 

Cary Woodham

02/01/2016 at 12:03 AM

Yeah there's just barely ten now that we have Paper Jam.  Some may not consider Super Paper Mario an RPG, though.

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