While many Mario games feature some varied version of the Bowser-kidnaps-Princess-Peach-story, not every one is as basic as it seems. In fact, many other games in the Mario franchise feature unique worlds, interesting plot points, complex characters, and twists you never saw coming.
Rather than focusing on the party, sports, puzzle games featuring everyone’s favorite plumber, we’re here to focus on the Mario games with adventure-stocked stories that are impossible to put down.
It’s time to jump into the best Mario series storylines. Let’s-a go!
9 Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
In Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, the brothers must rescue Peach after she uses a time machine to go to the past and doesn’t return. It becomes revealed that in a former time, the castle was invaded by an alien species known as the Shroobs, which is now holding the princess hostage.
Mario and Luigi journey back to the past and end up encountering the baby versions of themselves, who tag along for the mission. Eventually, they defeat the Elder Princess Shroob and return the past back to its original state.
The layered adventure and time travel elements make this story, while still involving the traditional Peach kidnapping, one that stands the test of... well, time.
8 Paper Mario
Okay, yes — Paper Mario has that traditional Princess-Peach-is-kidnapped-by-Bowser story that we said was all too common. But what this RPG also has is multiple stories within the larger story.
As Mario journeys through the Mushroom Kingdom, he is joined by eight partners with unique backgrounds of their own. A Paratroopa named Parakarry joins Mario to deliver mail he lost throughout the land, while later a Cheep-Cheep named Sushie joins in because she loves how romantic Mario’s mission to save Peach is — and these subplots keep going.
There are also various side quests and a unique cast of characters the player can interact with, making this one a very expansive version of the common Mario story.
7 Super Mario RPG: Legend
While Super Mario RPG also sees Princess Toadstool being kidnapped by Bowser, it all takes place in the prologue. Mario defeats Bowser in his castle, and as it happens, the structure shakes a gigantic sword named Exor falls from the sky and sends Bowser, Mario, and the princess to separate locations. When Mario attempts to look for Toadstool at Bowser’s castle, he discovers that it has been taken over by the Smithy Gang, which plans to use it to take over the world.
Mario and friends journey through fresh locations and encounter all sorts of fascinating characters on quests of their own. In the end, the full-circle fate of all their friends is revealed, and players who watch the credits are even treated to a parade.
6 Super Mario Galaxy
Mario’s story takes a galactic turn in Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel.
Princess Peach invites Mario to the centennial Star Festival, and unsurprisingly, Bowser shows up and blasts Peach’s castle into space. While Kamek tries to keep Mario from rescuing Peach by blasting him onto a lone planet, he encounters Rosalina: an enchantress who watches after the stars and travels across the universe using the Comet Observatory. Because Bowser has stolen all the Power Stars, though, the observatory is immobile. Therefore, Mario must travel through space with a Luma to restore power to the observatory, thereby rescuing Princess Peach.
Many of the characters and settings were unique to the Mario franchise at the time of its release, making its storyline an out-of-this-world win.
5 Super Mario Bros 2
While the second Super Mario Bros. game might not have featured complex gameplay, it did contain a well thought-out story.
Mario dreams of a staircase leading to a world known as Subcon, where he is asked to defeat an evil frog named Wart and free its people.
When he awakes, he unites with Luigi, Toad, and Peach who all recall the same dream. The clan goes on a picnic but soon discovers a cave with an actual staircase leading to Subcon. They embark on an adventure to defeat Wart, but after it all ends, Mario wakes up in bed. Gamers were shocked by the twist finale, which begged the question, was it all just a dream?
4 Super Mario Sunshine
Mario, Princess Peach, and Toadsworth set out for a tropical vacation on the beautiful Isle Delfino in Super Mario Sunshine. Once arriving though, they find that the island has been polluted, and Mario — with the help of F.L.U.D.D. (Flash Liquidizer Dousing Device) — defeats a slime-covered Piranha Plant. Unfortunately for Mario, a couple of Pianta police officers misunderstand and believe he caused the mess, sentencing him to cleaning up the island and recovering the Shine Sprites that will make Isle Delfino sunny yet again.
The story is full of unique twists and turns: Mario discovers that a shadow version of himself has been causing the pollution, Bowser Jr. informs Mario that Peach is actually his mother, and the princess gets kidnapped (Okay, so it’s not all surprising).
The original premise and sheer fact that Mario is searching for suns instead of stars makes it far more interesting than many Mario games before it.
3 Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
The Thousand-Year-Door is set in Rogueport, a seaside town that was built on the remains of a once prosperous city that had been struck cataclysm and sunken deep into the earth. Time passed, and it became legend that a great treasure lie in the forgotten underground city. When Princess Peach stumbles upon a treasure map while on vacation in Rogue Port, she enlists Mario’s help — but he gets there only to discover the princess has gone missing, assuming she went after the map’s seven legendary Crystal Stars herself when in actuality, she’s been abducted by the moon-dwelling X-Nauts.
This set-up has Mario traveling through unique words and joining alongside characters with complex backstories of their own. Its originality and depth make it far more interesting than the traditional Bowser-captures-Peach story, and the surprise twist at the ending makes it all the more fascinating — and dark — for a Mario game. Hint: Princess Peach may or may not get possessed by a demon. Of course, Mario and friends aren’t going to sit by and let that happen for long.
2 Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga
This Mario series game, originally published for the Game Boy Advance and later remade for the Nintendo 3DS, sees Princess Peach’s voice getting stolen and replaced with explosives by a witch named Cakletta. Mario and Luigi show up to stop Bowser, who decides not to kidnap Peach and team up with them after learning that doing so would destroy his castle.
Mario and Luigi get separated from Bowser early on as they continue to adventure through the original Beanbean Kingdom. But eventually, they’re confronted by Bowser again, who has been turned into the evil Bowletta as a result of Cakletta inhabiting Bowser’s body.
Although Mario and Luigi are eaten alive by her, this allows them to defeat her in her spirit form and ultimately save the day.
The biggest twist comes at the end when it is revealed (much like in Super Mario Bros. 2) that none of it happened. A crew of Yoshis were simply watching a movie.
1 Super Paper Mario
The most hotly debated Paper Mario game has one of the most un-debatably incredible storylines.
Princess Peach and Bowser wake up to find they’re being forced into marriage with each other by the villainous Count Bleck. Upon exchanging their vows, a Chaos Heart is formed, which Bleck uses to create a black hole called “The Void” that will eventually grow to consume everything in the universe.
Mario’s adventure begins in the town of Flipside, where he travels through doors leading to other worlds to collect Pure Hearts and put an end to Bleck’s plan alongside a once-human butterfly Pixl named Tippi. The narrative later has Peach, Bowser, and Luigi also joining Mario’s journey to all sorts of locations literally including heaven and hell.
Flashbacks between the chapters tell the story of a forbidden romance, and in the end, it’s revealed that Tippi and Bleck were once lovers. It turns out Bleck isn’t the worst of the villains, as Tippi and Bleck ultimately renew their love for each other, thereby sacrificing themselves and saving the universe in the process.