When it comes to Mario’s traditional platforming adventures, the story is mostly set dressing. There’s an intro about Peach being captured or Bowser turning into a sentient castle, and then you get on with the jumping and exploring. But there’s a rich and interesting world that goes underexplored — which is where Mario’s roleplaying spinoffs come in. Since the original Super Mario RPG on the SNES, these games have not only given more stories and character to the Mario universe but they’re also somehow even weirder than the already quite weird mainline games.

And with the addition of the new remaster of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, the Nintendo Switch (and its subscription service) has slowly turned into a great starting point for getting started with the Mario RPG universe.

The obvious place to start with the franchise is Super Mario RPG. For a while, that was easier said than done. Unlike most Nintendo games, Mario RPG hasn’t been ported all that much; there’s the original SNES version, rereleases on the Wii / Wii U virtual console, and its inclusion in the SNES Classic Edition. But last year, the Switch got a full-on remake, which doesn’t change much aside from introducing proper 3D graphics and some quality-of-life tweaks.

But it didn’t need to change much: this game is a delight. Created in collaboration with Final Fantasy maker Square Enix (then SquareSoft), it’s a fairly traditional RPG — which means turn-based battles, gear upgrades, and magic — that turns the Mushroom Kingdom into a fever dream of a fantasy realm. It somehow manages to marry slapstick humor with an epic quest, stuff it with Mario references, and still feel cohesive.

From there, Mario RPGs went on two diverging paths. One of them is only lightly represented on the Switch. As part of Nintendo Switch Online’s library of Game Boy Advance titles, you can play Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, which, as the name implies, has players controlling both brothers on a goofy journey to rescue Peach’s voice from an evil bean. To give a sense of how odd Superstar Saga can get: the game opens with a scene where you see Luigi doing laundry and Mario in the shower. It only gets sillier from there. But its playful approach to combat and storytelling makes it stand up even now.

The other spinoff series is Paper Mario. It kicked off on the N64, and the original game is available as part of Switch Online. What defines this series — aside from the distinct lack of playable Luigi — is its papercraft aesthetic. Not only does it give the games a playful look but it also creates all kinds of opportunities for great jokes and fun gameplay. Depending on the game, Mario can turn into a paper airplane or travel around the world using a fax machine.

The series arguably peaked with Thousand-Year Door, which originally launched on the GameCube in 2004. It maintains the lighthearted charms and solid yet accessible gameplay of its predecessors, but it builds on them with a surprisingly deep and interesting story and an extremely odd and lovable cast of characters. The remaster on the Switch mostly adds some welcome quality-of-life-tweaks, so that personality remains intact. Unfortunately, from there, the Paper Mario series slowly drifted away from its RPG roots, with subsequent releases shifting more into action territory.

That said, I have to give a special shoutout to 2020’s The Origami King on the Switch. While it’s not as pure of an RPG as Thousand-Year Door, it is still absolutely hilarious and has some of the most memorable — and heartbreaking — character moments in the entire series. Bobby the Bob-omb has forever changed how I view Super Mario enemies.

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