Mario is the most recognizable video game character in the world. There’s almost no competition, either. This short, mustachioed, hat- and overalls-wearing plumber has spread across the globe through games, TV shows, movies, comics, cereal, toys, clothing, and basically every other possible form of media and merchandise. He’s many people’s first exposure to gaming, and despite being in dozens upon dozens of games, rarely appears in a game that isn’t at least good if not amazing. He revolutionized the platformer, did it again with the shift to 3D, and has maintained the crown as the peak of both creativity and satisfying controls for both genres ever since. He’s even spawned an entire cast of friends and foes that have gotten their own games and series.
For all the great Mario games out there, fans will always want more. That, or they want to evolve and expand on concepts Mario only touched on, or maybe never even tried at all. Nintendo even gave us tools to create our own Mario platforming adventures in Super Mario Maker and the sequel, but long before those titles hit fans were crafting their own fan-made games.
Note: Mario fan games are not officially approved by Nintendo and therefore within their legal rights to take down. Fan games that use copyrighted material, such as Mario characters, cannot be sold or used to make any profit. If you are looking for more information on how to find, download, or even make your own ROM hacks, check out the resources found in Mario Fan Games Galaxy.
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Way before his strange, meme-fueled rise in popularity, hardcore Mario fans saw the potential in the lanky, mysterious side character known as Waluigi. One fan even went far enough to create an entire 2D platforming adventure starring Luigi’s counterpart titled Psycho Waluigi. This game isn’t just a standard Mario-style platformer, only with Waluigi swapped in instead of Mario, but is more comparable to how the Wario games added a new mechanic to the character in addition to running and jumping like normal. The game has a near-perfect Super Mario World pixel art style, and could easily pass as a game that came out on the Super Nintendo. It’s a full, complete adventure, too, and considered perhaps the best Mario fan game ever made, despite not starring a typical protagonist.
Psycho Waluigi introduces a new power to Waluigi to set him apart from the rest of the cast in the Mushroom Kingdom. In this interpretation of the character, Waluigi has psychic powers he can use to grab objects and enemies in the level and launch them as projectiles. In a way, it’s a bit like Kirby’s powers of inhaling things and spitting them out, but with Mario levels and physics. Set in a new kingdom called Unconcia, you will guide Waluigi through more than 30 stages, each with a high score to try and beat. If you manage to beat the high score and earn the gold crown on each level, you can gain access to even more secret, more challenging stages. This fan game is a full on adventure that matches Nintendo’s own output in quality, design, art, and length. Psycho Waluigi is a must-play.
Mario, and his franchises, have done crossovers with nearly every major franchise at this point between the Smash series and other titles. However, there’s never been a crossover where other characters have entered into Mario’s home turf of pure 2D platforming. Those have always been reserved for the plumber brothers, Peach, and Toad for the most part. A fan wondered what it would look like if they not only brought in other characters into a Mario game, but kept their mechanics as faithful to the original as possible. Super Mario Bros. Crossover was originally launched as a flash game and was updated and expanded to include new characters, levels, and even graphics over a few years. It was intended to get a final update for WebGL, but was unfortunately canceled. Thankfully, the game lives on with alternative players.
Take the original Super Mario Bros. game from the NES, but add a character-select screen that includes Link, Mega Man, Samus, Simon Belmont, Ryu, and other iconic video game characters. Each one you pick plays exactly like they do in their respective games, such as Link attacking with his sword and Mega Man shooting yellow pellets. The goal, stages, enemies, and everything else are all identical to the original game, but the way you go through them with different mechanics feels like a fully fresh experience. Stages play far differently when you can whip enemies ahead of you as Simon Belmont, or climb and jump off walls as Ryu Hyabusa. It’s a blast to play as each character and go through all eight worlds and face Bowser at the end.
Many, many fan games like to call back to the old 8-bit Mario days. Not only because that is a somewhat easier style to recreate, but also because it was home to some of the best official games in the series that inspired people to create games in the first place. What sets the best 8-bit fan games apart is how they evolve that formula, though. Any game can just remix levels, but the best introduce new mechanics, such as with Super Mario Bros. Dimensions. Taking the appearance of Super Mario Bros. 3, this fan game is a fully complete game that adds a new mechanic in a meaningful way, but also a level of polish a lot of fan games lack.
The twist in Super Mario Bros. Dimensions is, obviously, the dimensions mechanic. While platforming through the stages, at any point you are able to switch dimensions at the push of a button that will alter the appearance and layout of that stage. This is fun to play with on its own, but will also make you think about how you approach different obstacles in a completely new way to a typical Mario game, or even any 2D platformer really. There are over 50 levels to complete, hundreds of collectibles, secret levels to unlock, easy and hard modes, and a nice little story. You can play as either Mario, Luigi, Toad, or even Toadette. The game also creates some new characters, like Maria and Luise, cousins of the Mario brothers.
This fan got at least one thing right when making his fan game, which is the title. Super Mario Brothers Odyssey, at least the first chapter anyway, was released in 2014, long before Nintendo would take on the same subtitle. That coincidence aside, this game is nothing like the real Super Mario Odyssey, but instead is a much more ambitious reboot of sorts of the original Super Mario Bros, with further chapters intended to do the same for subsequent Mario games in the series. Unfortunately, future chapters were canceled by the creator. Regardless of future content, this first chapter is still a complete package worth playing. Even if you’ve played the original game to death, or perhaps especially if you have, the changes and improvements this fan game provides are all done with the love and care that you would hope.
Super Mario Brothers Odyssey’s most major addition to the original game is the inclusion of actual cutscenes. The story is the same, Mario and Luigi are trying to save the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser, but these cute little scenes help tell that story within the game itself instead of the manual. The whole game is given the 16-bit, Super Mario World, graphical look, with plenty of brand new sprites and levels thrown in, plus some power ups and items that were only introduced in later Mario games. You can play as Mario and Luigi, but also unlock additional characters, alternative skins, and secret levels.
We noted at the top of this article that Nintendo has every right to take down any fan games, of which they have exercised that power on possibly hundreds of games we can’t feature anymore, but rarely does one get hit by a DMCA and live to tell the tale. Technically, No Mario’s Sky doesn’t exist anymore, only DMCA’s Sky does, but we’ll still refer to it as its original title for simplicity’s sake. Originally release in 2016, this game was created by ASMB Games during a 72-hour game jam with a team of only four people. Just one month after the team put the game up to play online, they received the notice from Nintendo and were forced to take it down. However, in part due to the large fanbase the little project had gained, they somehow managed to scrape the game completely clean of any references, images, or terms that referenced Mario in any way, replace them with new assets, and get the game back up just one day later.
No Mario’s Sky imagines what a Mario game would be if it were mixed with No Man’s Sky. Or, rather, a much simpler, 2D version of that game. You’re spawned into a randomly generated stage to start, just like your starting planet in No Man’s Sky, only instead of a normal left-to-right progression of a typical Mario stage, the level is circular like a mini-planet. You can travel around and find your spacecraft to blast off and land on new planets with their own enemies, gravity levels, and enemies. What once was Mario, Peach, and Goombas have been replaced with Spaceman Finn, Princess Mango, and Moombas. Worlds are infinitely generated at random, so you can explore No Mario’s Sky for as long or as short a time as you like.
Paper Mario 3D Land asks what a Paper Mario game would look like it if also retained the platforming elements of a typical Mario game, such as Super Mario 3D Land. The result was a game that fans of the Paper Mario games, who were feeling a bit burned by the series since Paper Mario: The Origami King had yet to even be announced, were more than eager to flock to. Visually, the game has nailed the 2D papercraft look of the original Paper Mario games, but with a slightly changed angle to allow for smoother and more accurate platforming. However, while this game does incorporate plenty of RPG elements, it is more of a platformer than traditional RPG.
Paper Mario 3D Land is stage based, again like the more traditional Mario titles, but with the twist that Mario, and all the enemies, all have health bars and deal damage in numbered increments. It might be a little weird at first when you jump on a Koopa and they don’t instantly die, but it quickly feels at home thanks to the tight controls and great art, sound, and music. There are 16 brand new levels, new mechanics to learn, plus the return and introduction of power-ups that can be simple buffs to attack and defense, or new animal suits to give you new moves. It might sound like a blending of Mario genres that wouldn’t work, but the creators of Paper Mario 3D Land clearly put in the work to make this vision an incredibly fun reality.
It would be easy to fill this list with nothing but games that claim to be love letters to the original Mario games, and arguably that’s what this list already is, but Super Mario Flashback tries to do more than just callback to what makes Mario games so great. Even though this game is a pure 2D platformer, it attempts to replicate as many parts of Mario’s platforming history as possible, including 3D games. The plot is as thin as an official Mario game, where Mario and friends are sucked into a strange portal, but does the job to set up the unique mechanics of this game.
Super Mario Flashback only has six timelines, this game’s equivalent of worlds, each with three stages within them. However, in order to actually progress through each timeline you need to beat it with every playable version of Mario (and one as Luigi). Each version of Mario plays differently, including Modern Mario, Retro Mario, Paper Mario, 64 Mario, Baby Mario and Yoshi, and GameBoy Mario. The amount of visual and mechanical variety is astounding. Each and every style of Mario game represented here feels authentic and is a joy to play.
This might be an older fan game, but it was clearly a labor of love over the many years it was in development. Toad Strikes Back is another fully complete Mario experience that has won tons of fan awards, including best game, best sprites, and best level design among many more. In fact, it is the most award-winning fan game on Mario Fan Game Galaxy. While the art isn’t as impressive today, the style of an early SNES game still holds up very well.
Playing as Toad, Toad Strikes Back features over 50 brand new levels across seven worlds that incorporate a bunch of mechanics from typical Mario games, plus unique ones like new power ups and items that can be used to interact with the stages. The entire game feels a bit faster than a normal Mario outing, and has a nice cast of old and new bosses to face. You can even play a boss rush mode if that’s more your speed. If you enjoyed this, there’s also a more recent sequel titled Toadette Strikes Back you can play as well.
The Mario Maker series is about as perfect a mixture of both a game and a tool as one can get for 2D Mario. Even with the sequel, though, Nintendo never attempted to translate that same ease of creating and playing levels into the third dimension. That’s where Kaze Emanuar entered the picture with Super Mario 64 Maker. This fan project was started not long after the first Mario Maker came out on the WiiU, and looked to apply that formula to arguably the most popular Mario title of all time. The result was a surprisingly quick turnaround for such an ambitious project, and while not perfect, is well worth it for anyone interested in 3D game design, or who just wants an easy way to play fan levels.
Super Mario 64 Maker has a higher learning curve than the 2D Maker games, which is to be expected, but is still a very robust toolset. Players can craft entire levels in 3D, save them with save states, and upload them to a database for others to download and play themselves. The community is obviously smaller than the big-budget games, but hardcore fans keep it alive. If you ever wondered what a theoretical 3D Mario Maker game would be like, Super Mario 64 Maker is the best answer you’ll get.
Mario has been in so many genres at this point it’s almost comical. We of course have both his 2D and 3D platforming adventures, plus a slew of sports games, puzzle games, party games, and even educational games. The one genre he’s never officially taken on is also one of the most popular, Metroidvanias. If you think that all of Mario’s suits and power-ups would make a perfect fit for this genre, you’re not alone. KoBeWi also saw the potential in the plumber’s style and moves to create Mariovania, a full-on 2D Metroidvania adventure starring Mario during the height of the genre’s popularity.
Mariovania isn’t up to the highest standards of the genre, with awkward controls being the biggest offender, but is still a complete blast to explore and play. It has a large, fully explorable world, a map to fill in, new equipment, magic, and skill systems that can be upgraded to reach new areas. Even smaller parts of the Metroidvania genre are here like an enemy encyclopedia. Of course, there are tons of secrets, a staggering number of enemies, and the creator is still responding to fan feedback.
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