Andrew Brassleay on the best Super Mario ball bearing games…
Mario might be one of video games’ mightiest characters, but the world’s most renowned fictional plumber also has a home in three-dimensional entertainment.
Ball bearing and marble games released under the Super Mario brand have been available for almost as long as the character history, and have been hugely popular in Japan, with Epoch Games manufacturing them for the best part of 30 years. Now, some of the more popular games have found a home in European and North American stores.
We look at some of the best marble maze, racing and trap releases from the past and present.
Epoch Super Mario Great Adventure DX
Set in Bowser’s castle, which our shell-backed chum has bizarrely furnished with various ball tracks and gears, this sees players work through seven zones and challenges across a multi-storey platform. Not as frustrating as some games of its ilk, though building the thing in the first place can be. You can find it in many toy stores, for about £25-£30.
Epoch Super Mario Bros. Large Maze Game DX Princess Peach’s Five of the Labyrinth
A game with a name as spectacular as the concept, this provides a nod to Mario’s arcade roots with a joystick as a controller, which pivots the game board around, moving the ball bearing. It’s up to you to then explore Bowser’s ever-shape-shifting castle to find where Princess Peach is hidden. Each sub-maze around the central tower is unique and can be moved between games for various set-ups. The result? An incredibly frustrating, but absorbing game. Epoch’s Large Maze Game DX has appeared in several forms over the years in Japan – including the similar Crystal Maze set, which removes changes out the tower for more side mazes – but has now come to European markets. The latest in the series can be picked up for about £25.
Bandai Super Mario’s Adventure Game
Released in Japan in the 1980s, this relic sees Mario and Luigi guided through a canyon completing various tasks on bridges, twisty ladders and what looks like a zip line. All, it seems to rescue Princess Peach (yes, again). It’s all basic, button-pushing gameplay, but there are some fun-looking gadgets involved, and it’s not a ball bearing game as such, but the rather primitive Mario and Luigi pieces used to navigate the terrain are as good. Super-rare, with sets going on eBay for just under £300.
Epoch Mario Kart
Released in Japan in 2010, this two-player button-pushing game sees Mario and Luigi battle it out over assorted bridges and obstacles on the race track. Although batteries aren’t needed to play as such, using them will unleash Mario-related sound effects, as well as the starting signal. Built to a similar design, the Mario Kart 8 Grand Loop sees the game take on a multi-storey marble-run aspect. With both versions out of print and exceedingly rare, it might prove tricky to track down a copy.
Nintendo Super Mario World Maze Game
Another Japanese-only vintage release, this hand-held contraption sees players test their nerve by guiding a small red ball through a mini labyrinth taking on numbered obstacles to reach the end goal. It’s a very simplistic game, with Mario himself only appearing once on the artwork as a tiny image in the middle of the board. That doesn’t stop this going for anywhere upward of £50 on eBay though.
Epoch Super Mario Brothers Baseball Board Game
Epoch’s 2018 Japan-only sporting title takes its queues from several other similar baseball tabletop simulations on the market. However, this is the only one we know of where the publisher’s 12 Link System characters can be placed anywhere on the field to protect bases and the outfield. Players can bat and field, and quick reflexes are required, while there are nine different pitches to choose from to outwit your opponent. Outside of Japan, it might be hard to find for anything under £140.
Epoch Super Mario Fire Stadium
Bowser might seemingly be minding his own business at the top of his tower, but that isn’t going to stop Mario and Luigi attempting to knock him off his perch. A novel take on air hockey, this two-player creation has players hitting ball bearing disks with paddles toward their target, in order to topple Bowser. It might not be one to grab the attention for a long period, but It’s fast-paced action while it lasts. Available for about £25.
Epoch Mario Kart Racing Deluxe
A 2021 relaunch of the original Mario Kart racer, this has six obstacles to beat, and adds a second storey to the track. There are also two Mario and Luigi kart figures, which replace the ball bearings. However, there are elements that make this frustrating fare compared to the 2010 release – the finishing flag acting as a lap marker rarely works and the obstacles don’t feel quite so varied. Still, the two-player action does make good fun. Available in the shops for about £30.
Epoch Super Mario Castle Land
Released for a while in Japan but new to the UK market, Castle Land goes big on table presence. Combining both maze and trap mechanisms found in other titles, twin controllers are used to swing the set around to guide the red Mario marble through five sections and ten obstacles to reach the central tower’s summit. Retails for about £35.
What are your favourite Super Mario ball bearing games? Be sure to let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…