Since first appearing as "Jumpman" in the original Donkey Kong arcade game, the character we now all know as Mario has become the most enduring video game character of all time. He has starred in dozens upon dozens of games on every Nintendo platform and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Many gamers associate Mario with quality. If it's a Mario game, you know you are going to have a good time, whether it is playing as the character in his traditional 2D/3D platforming games or enjoying one of his various spin-offs like Mario Party and Mario Kart.
But there is a dark side to Mario that Nintendo doesn't like to bring up. While the vast majority of Mario games are classics, there are a select few that can only be described as atrocities against Nintendo's very name. The games below are such games, a strange mix of educational titles and downright bad game design. While most of these weren't actually developed by Nintendo (thank God), it's hard to forgive the Big N for allowing some of these to happen. We will never forget, Nintendo. We will never forgive.
Mario Is Missing (1992, NES, SNES, PC, Mac)
At first glance Mario Is Missing kind of, sort of, looks like a real Mario game, with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System version of the game featuring sprites close to that of the excellent Super Mario World. Spoiler alert: Super Mario World this is not. In fact, this game doesn't even star Mario so much as Luigi. You see, Mario goes missing when he falls through a trap door. Luigi, being the responsible brother that he is, then embarks on a quest to save him by exploring a castle that, for reasons unknown, transports him to various real-world locations.
It's here that you begin playing, only to quickly realize that you have no idea what is going on. The entire game is an excuse for nonplayer characters to spout various geography facts to you. Sure, there are Koopas and the occasional Mario enemy to be stomped on, but for the most part the game is about wandering around being lost and then later being quizzed about what you learned. Fun!
Super Mario & Friends: When I Grow Up (1992, PC)
This particular title isn't really a game at all. It's actually a digital coloring book, meant to teach kids about various professions by having them color pages of familiar Mario characters performing everyday jobs. That's all there is to it. Worth noting is that the "game" has no sound whatsoever, making coloring even more boring than usual.
Mario's Time Machine (1993, NES, SNES, PC)
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that shoehorning Mario into various non-Mario style games wouldn't end well. Case in point: the truly awful Mario's Time Machine. The setup here is that Bowser builds a time machine (how?) and steals various important artifacts from throughout time. Then he puts them all in his castle because he can.
The point of the game is for Mario to travel back in time and return the artifacts to their rightful homes. The game is kind of like Mario is Missing, except somehow even worse. Whereas Mario is Missing sort of has traditional Mario gameplay elements, Mario's Time Machine is mostly about reading paragraphs about various historical artifacts and then filling in the blanks. The only real "gameplay" to speak of is when Mario travels in time. For reasons still completely unknown, this is depicted as Mario surfing across an ocean collecting mushrooms. Collect enough, and Mario is then transported to the given time period associated with the artifact. Mario is Missing is worth playing just to see firsthand how confusing it is. Never, ever play Mario's Time Machine. It holds no entertainment value. You're welcome.
Hotel Mario (1994, Philips CD-I)
If the name Philips is attached, longtime Nintendo fans know to stay far, far away. The Philips Compact Disc Interactive (CD-I) console is infamous for featuring non-Nintendo developed Legend of Zelda games, but the console also featured one of the worst Mario games ever made. Hotel Mario is this: Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach once again, and this time he is keeping her at one of his seven "Koopa Hotels." It's up to Mario to explore these hotels one at a time and save the day.
What this actually means is Mario must go through various multifloor "hotels" closing doors, collecting coins and stomping on enemies. Only when all the doors are closed is the level complete. Sound fun? It's not, especially when combined with the game's terrible controls and the fact that enemies later in the game will re-open doors you've already closed. Why does Mario need to close doors to save the Princess? Your guess is as good as mine. The game also has some wonderfully terrible animated cutscenes that are worth checking out if you are looking for a quick laugh.
Mario's Tennis (1995, Virtual Boy)
One of Mario's first sport game appearances holds the special distinction of shipping with every Virtual Boy Nintendo sold back in 1995. You've likely heard of Nintendo's red-tinted attempt at virtual reality and how it was a massive failure, so it's no surprise that Mario Tennis isn't exactly remembered fondly. If you could get over literally everything being red, you'd find that the game did actually have a cool stereoscopic 3D effect that allowed for greater depth perception, not so different from what Nintendo would later employ with its 3DS handhelds.
Alas, Mario Tennis' fate was sealed almost the moment it was created. The Virtual Boy's visuals and controller held the game back, plus the fact that the title gets a little boring. While later Mario Tennis games would add various power-ups and special moves, Mario Tennis on the Virtual Boy was basically just tennis. But with Mario. And red.
Mario Clash (1995, Virtual Boy)
Another Mario game for Nintendo's failed console, Mario Clash had some interesting ideas that simply didn't culminate into a meaningful game. Using the Virtual Boy's unique capabilities, the game tasks Mario with eliminating enemies by tossing shells into the background, foreground or sliding them along the ground.
A unique idea, but one that quickly grows repetitive. Combined with the game's eye-bleeding visuals, Mario Clash will go down in history as one of the few Nintendo-developed Mario games that didn't reach its full potential.
With the release of Super Mario Maker, players will finally be able to try their hand at crafting their own Mario levels. Turns out a lot of work goes into crafting a good Mario game, a lesson many a Mario Maker player is sure to learn. Rest assured, no player-made level will ever come close to being as bad as these Mario games that are better left forgotten.