Retro gaming, four of a kind: top Mario spin-offs without Mario

Posted on 1 October 2015
By James Brookfield
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Super Mario Maker continues to dominate the video gaming headlines as many players experience self-created levels inspired from thirty years of Mario history.

Due to this Four of a Kind has dedicated two previous editions to Nintendo’s mascot, concluding this week with four of the top games in the plumber’s franchise that do not feature him as a playable character.

1. WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (Gameboy Advance, Gamecube)

Though it is not Wario’s first venture in Mario lore, the character made his first appearance in Super Mario Land 2 after which Nintendo created the Wario Land series, WarioWare is one of the finest non-Mario spin-off titles.

Essentially the game is a collection of mini games designed to be completed or, at the very least experienced, at a fast pace with each testing the reaction speed of the player.

Most of these games are so fast the player has very little time to process the objective before it is over. An interesting aspect is what appear to be acts of randomness are in fact cleverly designed and logically created sequences, thus making WarioWare an engrossing game that players can repeatedly enjoy with each playthrough.

WarioWare does contain a plot which is both intuitive and self-parodying regarding the video game industry. As already stated WarioWare became a series within its own right, spawning sequels that are stronger than the last.

2. Luigi’s Mansion (Gamecube)

Luigi’s Mansion is the second title in the Mario franchise where Luigi is the main character, the first being Mario is Missing!. The is the most successful Gamecube title for numerous reasons. A cynical argument stems from the affiliation with Mario, however Luigi’s Mansion is a good game. For example the mechanics offer fresh, innovative, new ideas that utilise the control pad i.e. Luigi’s use of a special vacuum cleaner to either hoover up enemy ghosts or solve puzzles.

Consequently the gameplay is interesting as each ghost type is distinctly different and, in particular, puzzles are challenging.

The sound effects, music and limited voice acting all add to the overall spooky atmosphere of the haunted mansion setting but still maintain Nintendo’s charm. Luigi’s Mansion does have downfall in respect to the game’s length however the world created within the game is a great.

3. Wario Land 4 (Gameboy Advance)

Two common rules of Four of a Kind is to not present a game that has appeared in a previous list and do not feature two games from the same series. The inclusion of Wario Land 4 technically means these rules are still intact. This is owing to the game being a facet of a different series, although Wario is the titular protagonist, and genre in comparison to WarioWare.

Wario Land 4 is the fourth entry in the Wario Land series, a franchise that spawned from Mario Land series. As a result the gameplay mechanics are nothing new for the side-scrolling platformer. However this title is the strongest in the series as the game is challenging, varied, enjoyable and creative but without the high degree of frustration that is found in Wario Land 3.

Graphically the game is detailed, colourful and fantastic, exceeding the Gameboy Colour to its visually limitations. Also Wario Land 4 retains the humour of the character’s previous video games, creating familiarity for returning fans and an entry point for new players.

4. Yoshi’s Story (N64)

As previously stated Four of Kind does not feature games found in previous editions. Resultantly Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island has been omitted; on the other hand Yoshi’s Story deserves a place.

Known as the sequel/spiritual successor to the SNES title, the game has similar platform and gameplay mechanics to its predecessor. Though some critics argue Yoshi’s Island is the superior game between the two, Yoshi’s Story does have some positive aspects.

The first is visual style as the game creates a pop-up storybook approach, worlds are crafted from different materials, and features pre-rendered 3D graphics. As well as a unique visual style the story of Yoshi’s Story focuses on a humorous and simple plot.

A negative point of the game is that despite a more puzzle-orientated direction, there is a minimum amount of challenge. There are also much fewer levels, 24, in comparison to the fifty available in Yoshi’s Island.

Yoshi’s Story is a good game but unfortunately falls short due to the critical reception of the SNES title.

That concludes an examination of Mario spin-offs that did not include the iconic plumber. As always feel free to comment on the games above or talk about any that have not appeared.

Honourable mentions: Mario is Missing (SNES, PC), Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation (Gameboy Advance), Wario Land 3 (Gameboy Colour), Super Princess Peach (Nintendo DS) and Yoshi’s Safari (SNES)