The Strangest Mario Spin-Off Games

Five Weirdest Mario Spin-Offs

Mario is unquestionably the most famous video game character of all time, and it is probably safe to assume that nearly every person on the planet has played a Mario game at some point in their lives. But despite the plethora of familiar and beloved titles featuring the moustached Italian plumber, a great number of more unusual Mario spinoff games have also been released over the years, with some even being so strange that you really will wonder what the developers must have been thinking. This list covers five of the most bizarre spinoff games featuring Mario, so fans looking for less conventional gaming experiences with Nintendo’s mascot will know where to start.

Mario Pinball Land
Image: Nintendo

1. Mario Pinball Land

Also known as Super Mario Ball, this incredibly strange Game Boy Advance title found Mario being transformed into a humanoid ball so that he can navigate his way through a series of pinball-themed levels before eventually rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser’s castle. This was clearly one of the strangest games in the entire Mario franchise, and the sight of the iconic plumber contorted into a ball shape was enough to traumatize any self-respecting fan for the rest of their lives. And no, we don’t even want to think about how Mario went to the bathroom while he was shaped like a ball. Some questions really are best left unanswered.

Developed by UK-based Fuse Games, Mario Pinball Land received mixed reviews upon its release, but it is still worth experiencing for the pure weirdness factor of seeing Mario literally becoming a human pinball. Fuse were also responsible for the more acclaimed Metroid Prime Pinball, but when it comes to pure weirdness, Mario Pinball Land wins by a mile.

Yoshi's Cookie
Image: Nintendo

2. Yoshi’s Cookie

He may look cute and cuddly, but we all know that Yoshi is a savage carnivore who greedily devours Mario’s foes like Bugs Bunny devours carrots. But despite his fierce appetite for Goombas, Koopas, and Monty Moles, Yoshi also has a soft spot for freshly-baked desserts, as we learned with the enjoyable 1992 NES title, Yoshi’s Cookie. The objective of this little-known puzzle game was to clear rectangular grids filled with cookies by arranging the cookies in specific rows of the same type. If that sounds complicated, just think of Yoshi’s Cookie as Candy Crush with Mario characters, and you can get the basic idea. Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov also helped to design the game’s puzzles, and he clearly did a great job.

Mario and Yoshi would also be shown operating levers whenever the player entered a command, and a nice little animation of Mario chasing after runaway food items was played after the completion of each stage. The complicated nature of the gameplay meant that reaching the end would certainly not be an easy feat, but fans of puzzle games who enjoy a good challenge will probably have a great time with Yoshi’s Cookie.

Yoshi’s Safari | Mario Spin-Off Games
Image: Nintendo

3. Yoshi’s Safari

Another Yoshi-themed entry, Yoshi’s Safari is notable for being the only light gun shooter game in the entire Mario franchise. Released on the SNES in 1993, the game was developed and published by Nintendo to help promote the Super Scope peripheral, which sadly never became a hit. The player would control Mario as he rode Yoshi and blasted enemies throughout each level, with most stages ending in a boss fight. Experienced players would easily beat the whole game in under an hour, so it was clearly something which was designed to be enjoyed in short bursts rather than offering a deeply immersive experience, but it was still fun, nonetheless. And it was definitely surprising to see Mario actually gunning down his enemies instead of stomping on them. The Super Scope may have been a toy, but Mario packing heat is certainly not something which can be unseen.

Despite receiving positive reviews, Yoshi’s Safari sold poorly and has now largely been forgotten by fans, but we can only hope that Nintendo will one day give this widely overlooked spinoff the re-release it deserves.

Mario and Wario | Mario Spin-Off Games
Image: Nintendo

4. Mario & Wario

Wario proved to be an immensely popular villain after his debut in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, so it came as no surprise to see him returning in Mario & Wario, which was released on the SNES in 1993. Developed by Game Freak, who would go on to become known for the Pokémon franchise, each level of Mario & Wario would begin with Wario dropping buckets and other hollow objects onto Mario’s head, effectively blinding him. The player controlled a fairy named Wanda, who would guide the sightless Mario to Luigi, who would remove the object from his head at the end of each stage. The premise of Mario & Wario sounds like it was conceived by a drunk person, but the sight of Mario bumbling around with a Yoshi egg covering his face is still hilarious enough to make this game worth seeking out.

Mario's Time Machine | Mario Spin-Off Games
Image: Nintendo

5. Mario’s Time Machine

This educational SNES game from 1993 found Mario using a time machine known as the Timulator to return famous works of art to their rightful places in history after they were stolen by Bowser so he could display them in his personal museum. We never figured Bowser to be much of an art lover, but apparently, the King of the Koopas considers himself to be something of a connoisseur when he is not kidnapping Princess Peach. The mind boggles at the thought of an art history documentary series presented by Bowser, although it would probably attain huge viewing figures.

Anyway, Mario’s Time Machine offered players an immersive educational experience, as the historical figures Mario encountered throughout the game would describe interesting facts about the periods in which they lived. It seemed almost surreal to see Mario interacting with the likes of Isaac Newton, Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Gandhi, and Queen Elizabeth I, but with any luck, kids who played Mario’s Time Machine would end up knowing a little more about history than they did before. But the game was not all one big history lesson, as it contained bizarre surfing sections where Mario would need to collect mushrooms while avoiding collisions with spiked Koopa shells. 

Overall, this was an unashamedly offbeat game that deserves to be commended for its noble goal of teaching history to its players. Although kids wanting to unwind after being forced to study Shakespeare in school would probably be none too thrilled to see William Shakespeare showing up in their video game.

David Gelmini

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