Mario has developed quite the sports career over the years. Since 1995, when Mario’s Tennis graced the Virtual Boy, the plumber has tried his hand at a number of athletic events with varying degrees of success.
It’s often said that a Mario sports game is only as good as its opening. (Not familiar with that phrase? Not our problem.) While Allegra Frank, senior reporter at Polygon, and video producer Pat Gill are lifelong Mario sports fans, they revisited the intro movies for each and every game in an effort to reaffirm which of Mario’s athletic outings are worth the time.
Below, find their ranking of all 23 intros, and watch them as they rewatch the openings above; the video plays out in chronological order, starting with Mario’s Tennis and ending with this year’s Mario Sports Superstars. Leave your own takes on these sometimes awful, sometimes absurdly good mini-movies in the comments.
23. Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash (Wii U, 2015)
Allegra: We actually missed this one entirely in our stream because it’s so short and boring. Mario Tennis: How the mighty have fallen.
22. Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Wii U, 2014)
Pat: The Olympic Games are a celebration of human excellence. A showcase for ordinary people who have, through sheer willpower and effort, transformed themselves into super athletes. With that in mind, it’s disappointing that Nintendo didn’t even fucking try on this one. It’s bad.
Allegra: I remember almost nothing about the Sochi Games. Likewise, I remember almost nothing about this millisecond-long intro. Enough said.
21. Mario Tennis Open (Nintendo 3DS, 2012)
Allegra: We’re both big fans of Mario Tennis games, which makes this basic-ass intro especially disappointing. There’s no fanfare; no story; no intrigue. For a game that has “open” in the title, this opening falls completely flat.
Pat: Looks like Nintendo really dropped the ball.
20. Mario Sports Mix (Wii, 2010)
Pat: Mario and his friends have been trapped in an endless white void where they must play a never-ending sports game where the rules appear to change every few seconds. I don’t know if Mario and friends ever escape from white sports hell, but the intro doesn’t make me want to find out.
Allegra: I’d go a step further and call this not “white sports hell,” but white sports purgatory. It’s a torturous go-between, where entry into the afterlife is only obtainable through success in myriad diverse sports, played blandly and dispiritedly. Death does, indeed, seem better than this.
19. Mario Tennis: Power Tour (Game Boy Advance, 2005)
Allegra: The Mario Tennis series has a way of shoehorning original characters into things, which I’m totally amenable to. But Mario Tennis: Power Tour fails to properly introduce them into the overarching Mario canon in a way that generates further interest in getting to know them. This one has a banal story, too, and the dated graphics just bring the whole intro further down.
Pat: Likewise, I couldn’t get myself to care about any of the vanilla characters this title served up.
18. Mario’s Tennis (Virtual Boy, 1995)
Pat: Nothing much to talk about here. It gets the job done, then goes home.
Allegra: I dig that garish Virtual Boy aesthetic enough to give this one some points, but that’s it.
17. Mario Sports Superstars (Nintendo 3DS, 2017)
Allegra: I work in journalism, so I am qualified to say this: Ain’t no one reading the newspapers anymore. If this intro wants to showcase its five different sports in a quick, classy way, it might have been smarter if it featured flipping between sports blogs, not the sports pages.
Pat: This one did nothing for me. And yeah, print is dead.
16. Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Wii U, 2016)
Pat: The Olympic Games are back, and Mario has brought along his lovable troupe of heroes and rogues! Sonic’s here too, and he brought all his creepy friends. Ignore them and maybe they’ll leave soon!
Allegra: OK, we’re going to have to have a serious talk about you dissing Sonic’s friends. I will give you this game, though — there’s some weirdos from Sonic Boom in the intro that otherwise bring down what could have been a nice tribute to how colorful Brazilian culture is. Please, Sega, keep your Sonic Boom weirdos away from me.
15. Mario Golf: Advance Tour (Game Boy Advance, 2004)
Allegra: I’m really into the RPG stylings of the handheld versions of Camelot’s Mario Sports games. Advance Tour’s table-setting doesn’t really do it for me, though. It’s a pretty tired narrative — “be the best golfer!” — and, just like with Mario Tennis: Power Tour, the graphics make the original characters look kind of ugly. I’m not so invested in these blocky golfers’ careers, based on the intro.
Pat: I just tabbed over from watching this on YouTube, and I already forgot what happens in it.
14. Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS, 2014)
Pat: I appreciate the big N’s restraint on this one. We see a few close-ups of our athletes, a handful of thrilling putts and drives, and exuberant victory celebrations.
Allegra: I’m not as in love with this one, personally, but I do appreciate the subtlety. After Mario Golf: Advance Tour’s attempt at weaving a storyline into the painfully slow game of golf failed to resonate with me, this seems like a smarter and better-suited step for the sport.
13. Mario Golf (Nintendo 64, 1999)
Allegra: Camelot’s first go at the sports genre on Nintendo 64 led to this, a much quieter take on the Mario sports intro than we’d see from them in later years. I love how Plum, a character no one has ever seen or heard from before or since, is dropped in the middle of things here. She’s just part of the gang, man.
Pat: Hoping to see Plum confirmed for Smash on Switch. This is really the proto-intro. It feels like they are just figuring this whole thing out, and that makes it pretty charming.
12. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii, 2007)
Pat: Another opportunity to experience the splendor of Olympic competition with a colorful, iconic cast of characters. The Sonic people are also present.
Allegra: There is absolutely no reason that Mario and Sonic should be neck-and-neck in a race. No reason. God, I’m so mad about this.
11. Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Wii, 2011)
Allegra: Apologies to all of our viewers for us not knowing that “Big Ben” at the end is, uh … not Big Ben? Listen: We are opening cutscene analysts, not historians. This intro’s got some really subtle touches that highlight the London setting, Elizabeth Tower (see? We know it now!) aside, and it sets the tone as really pleasant and lighthearted.
Pat: This intro gives us a few really nice images. We see Bowser and Bowser Jr. rowing together, and Wario pedaling really hard around an indoor bike track. Unfortunately, Sega is still participating in the Games, despite its numerous war crimes and human rights violations.
10. Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (Wii, 2009)
Pat: Fuck Sonic and fuck the Olympics. I’m so tired, Allegra.
Allegra: Wrong on both counts. Sonic is great. The Olympics are great. This intro? Pretty good. I can totally buy Sonic and Mario being comparable at winter sports, unlike the summer events.
9. Super Mario Strikers (GameCube, 2005)
Allegra: This is the first sports game that Mario stars in where it’s really, really hard to believe that he’d be any good at the sport. That’s probably why this intro goes really heavy on the fantasy, in a way that doesn’t always land with me. It’s such a stark contrast from its predecessors, but it does make soccer a million times more interesting to me than the real sport ever has been.
Pat: Mario does not seem like the kind of guy who would care at all about soccer. That said, Nintendo pulls out a pretty impressive intro that culminates with a previously unseen crocodile goalie getting absolutely obliterated by Mario’s powerful legs.
8. Mario Tennis (Game Boy Color, 2000)
Pat: That opening shot really is gorgeous. This is a high-impact, high-action opening that tells us everything we need to know about Mario Tennis. Into it.
Allegra: Same. I’m a huge fan of the RPG stuff in this game, and I think it’s sold really well with such a short intro.
7. Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour (GameCube, 2003)
Allegra: This intro is one of the pinnacles of the franchise, in terms of pure cinematic drama. Waluigi and Wario are clearly established as enemies of the solemn sport of golf, a partnership that gets them in trouble with Bowser. Although other games’ intros do a better job of telling the sad tale of the Brothers Wa, this opening does a very good, fun job of broadening the scope of the staid golfing event.
Pat: Here’s a case where the intro clearly promises more action and excitement than the game can deliver. Even so, this lengthy intro is a thrill ride full of ups, downs and surprise twists. High marks.
6. Mario Super Sluggers (Wii, 2008)
Pat: I. Love. This. Great animation, great music, and Luigi gets the win for his team. What more could you want?
Allegra: I’m not happy about those magical, transforming Wii remotes in the beginning. Any issue I have with them immediately falls by the wayside with that powerful ending, where Luigi finally gets a win.
5. Mario Strikers Charged (Wii, 2007)
Allegra: If this were the opening for an intense, fantasy-tinged sports anime, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d also be obsessed with that anime, because damn, is this intro a knockout. There’s so much color and speed and action that it doesn’t matter that none of this is at all believable. Mario has transcended soccer.
Pat: Right. Here we see Mario and friends using the rules of sport to channel the ruthless aggression they are forced to hide in their day-to-day lives. This is not soccer. It’s soccer-shaped violence, and I applaud it.
4. Mario Superstar Baseball (GameCube, 2005)
Pat: This one wins big points with its outstanding music selection. “Let’s Play the Baseball Game” is an all-time great Nintendo composition that deserves a place alongside the World 1-1 theme. Really sensational stuff.
Allegra: “Let’s Play the Baseball Game” is reprised in Super Sluggers, but just as that game is a lesser follow-up to this one, nothing beats the first time you hear those catchy, unforgettable lines. This is a fun game, and that’s clear from this intro. Sure, there’s not much of a story — but baseball’s story is much bigger than a little opening can handle.
3. Mario Golf (Game Boy Color, 1999)
Allegra: This is the apex of the Mario sports RPG convergence. There are true stakes, a deeper sense of storytelling and a really solid aesthetic. We know that each of these characters are unique, and we want to know who they are. They want to be the best, the intro tells us. And we want them to be the best.
Pat: It really is lovely. I want to spend more time with buff star shirt guy.
2. Mario Tennis (Nintendo 64, 2000)
Pat: One of Nintendo/Camelot’s earliest outings proves to be one of their finest. Simple filmic storytelling establishes Waluigi as Luigi’s own dark reflection. It’s an important moment in Mario canon, and it’s handled in a terse, understated manner that puts the Coen Brothers to shame.
Allegra: Mario Tennis is one of the best Mario games of all time. Its opening makes that clear. We wouldn’t have Waluigi without this game, and we wouldn’t care about his backstory if it weren’t for this dramatic opening.
1. Mario Power Tennis (GameCube, 2004)
Allegra: Here it is: The peak of all Mario sports games’ intros. I gotta admit that this is not my favorite Mario tennis game, but the intro is some genius filmmaking. There’s a full three-act structure here, exploring Wario and Waluigi’s descent into some genuine, sports-obsessed crime. Their allegiance with Bowser may be short-lived, but it’s fraught with some genuine tension. No other Mario game has us genuinely curious to know how Wario and Waluigi pull off — or don’t pull off — their grand scheme against our ostensible tennis hero, Mario.
Pat: I agree. Here we see Nintendo delving into world-building in a way they aren’t wont to do with the Mario franchise. There’s so much here I want to know more about. Who is “Mr. Eyeballs”? What’s going on with Bowser’s Sports Dungeon? Why did the Wa Brothers spend so much time on that tennis training if they had no intention of participating in a tennis match? It’s a strange, compelling world, and I want to live in it.