There's a lot to say about a videogame character who can stay relevant and popular for thirty years, but Mario has done so. Through 2D and 3D, Mario has been a staple in gaming not only with his main series, but also with his spin-offs.
Way back in 1985 when Super Mario Bros. released (though PAL regions had to wait an extra two years before they could play) there was a certain charm in how it played, how it felt to control. I wasn't even born when it released, but the classic game stayed within the family, and I had my first taste of Mario platforming with it.
Of course, this was nearly twenty years after release, and my only exposure to Mario from before then was Mario Kart: Double Dash on Gamecube.
Sequels to Super Mario Bros. expanded on the game with new items, mechanics, and enemies and allies. The games gave themselves a unique style of their own, so each one looked different from the last. Spin-off games would give themselves their own identity, but follow in giving some new visual flair.
When it came for Mario to transition to 3D, he made it perfectly in the form of Super Mario 64 - considered one of the most iconic games in history. Through the Gamecube era, plenty of people would give Super Mario Sunshine a try, but ultimately this was the period in which a certain spin-off and a mascot collection would get their time to shine and begin to rival the main series in terms of popularity.
The DS and Wii era perhaps gave us Mario at his best. The DS gave us the start of a new 2D series (which, while it has evolved over the course of games, hasn't changed itself up much in visuals), as well as the remake to Super Mario 64. The base game stayed the same, but changed the story up a bit to allow us to play as Yoshi instead.
Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi were playable in the form of collectible caps for Yoshi to wear, and after a certain amount of story played the characters themselves would be playable.
Of course, the Wii managed to trump even that. Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel are quite possibly the highest rated games in the Mario series. Considered the best of the modern Mario platformers, these games took Mario to space and in doing so crafted some of the most effective level styling. Of course, New Super Mario Bros. Wii added onto what the DS version gave, but couldn't stand once these two had been released.
3DS carved the return of the Mario Land name with Super Mario 3D Land, and crossed both 3D and 2D Mario games together. The WiiU would expand this by reviving the Mario World name in Super Mario 3D World, adding to what 3D Land offered, and allowing the choice of four characters to play as while also allowing four player co-op. Of course, the pure 2D games continued with New Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U.
I could devote an entire article to the mass of spin-offs that came from Super Mario Bros., but this one is a celebration of all Mario gaming, and the spin-offs are as much a part of that as the main series. Yoshi was guaranteed a spin-off almost as soon as the first game he starred in was released.
From Super Mario World, he jumped to Yoshi's Island. It branded itself as a prequel and used the Super Mario World name to form Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, and focused on the Yoshi as a species who helped Baby Mario reunite with Baby Luigi.
The spin-off garnered huge acclaim and became a series in its own right, as most spin-offs did. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins introduced Wario to the series, who later got his own spin-off which developed into a series of its own. Super Mario RPG became a success, which gave it two spiritual sequels in Mario and Luigi, and Paper Mario. Both of which were liked well enough to gain more entries.
RPGs and other platformers are not the only thing Mario became successful at. He became a professional sports star, as well as a doctor. Various sports games come and go, but Golf and Tennis are perhaps the largest collection of releases. Not counting Mario Kart, which these days is less a spin-off that became a series and more like a series in its own right.
Doctor Mario is a puzzle game featuring the classic matching colours gameplay of other puzzle games, most notable Tetris. Of course, there is also Mario Party, which has been another mainstay of spin-offs since it first released on the Nintendo 64. Another puzzler, Mario vs Donkey Kong, also makes the rounds quite often.
Luigi got a time to shine in his spin-off about ghost catching - Luigi's Mansion - which became a highlight of the Gamecube and a much requested game for a sequel, which it got many years later for 3DS. Mario has also teamed up with former rival Sonic the Hedgehog in the Olympic Games.
Of course, the latest spin-offs are something different. Captain Toad featured in a few bonus levels within 3D World, which seemed more about testing the idea than anything else. When the full game starring Captain Toad was announced, it seemed a bit off-beat at first, but people grew to love it. It's a game full of charm and took things out of the box. 3D diorama-like levels where the good Captain Toad could not jump. It certainly made for some good level design.
Then there is the newest of the spin-offs. Super Mario Maker allows users to create levels their own levels and share them with the world. Utilising the history of main 2D Mario platformers, it gives a range of possibilities to do something that main Mario games would never do. It doesn't give everything, but what it does give is enough that some pretty crazy levels can be made.
There is something about Mario that everyone likes. I have quested to try as much as possible - at least a game of every spin-off - to see whether it's for me. Mario Kart is an instant love of mine. The Mario and Sonic Olympic titles are perhaps second in the spin-off territory. Mario Party is something I have liked, as is the Wario series.
I have never played a game in the Yoshi series, but plan to turn that around quickly with Woolly World soon enough. Everything else I have played - Super Paper Mario, Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga, the latest demos of Tennis and Golf - I have all liked well enough. Of course, Super Mario Maker is becoming a favourite of mine, as Captain Toad already has done.
In terms of main Mario, I adore the 3D games more than I do the 2D games. That's not to say I don't like the 2D games, but my preference has always been in the 3D camp. Super Mario 64 DS must have been what made me feel that, though my preference has always been for openness in games that only feel achieved by me in the 3D space.
There's much to be said about the main mascot of Nintendo, but these 30 years show that there are many more years ahead for Mario. People will always be guessing what comes next, whether that be Super Mario 64 HD or Galaxy 3, but one thing for certain is that Mario will keep bringing new experiences to all.