Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars - SNES
Towards the end of the SNES' life, Nintendo teamed up with Squaresoft to produce this little masterpiece. The graphics were some of the best that Nintendo's 16-bit machine ever produced, and the game featured countless neat little touches and mini games (including Yoshi racing!). It was up to Mario to stop the evil Smithy gang from taking over the Mushroom Kingdom. SMRPG introduced the idea of timed hits, which have been used in every game in the series since and certainly help prevent the battles from coming monotonous. A correcly timed press of the A button would see Mario either score extra damage, or he would block some of the damage if he was being attacked. The game also featured some unique characters that haven't been seen in any Mario game before or since, including Mallow and Geno. A fantastic start to one of most enjoyable series ever!
Paper Mario - Nintendo 64
Paper Mario was unique (at the time, at least) because it used a pop-up book style visual effect. It was very succesful, and the game still looks fantastic today, if a little low-res next to Paper Mario 2. This time Intelligent Systems handled the developing duties (they've also made the brilliant Advance Wars games on the GBA), and they did a brilliant job. Like the other games in the series Paper Mario was a little on the easy side, but there was still more than enough game to keep you happily occupied for around 25 hours. The game also saw Mario team up with a strange bunch of characters, including a Parakoopa, a girl Boo and a Lakitu.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga - GBA
Last year saw Luigi finally get his turn in the limelight. However, he still had to share it with Mario. The game used a rather tricky control scheme whereby you used one button for each brother, and often had to use both at once to jump over spikes, electricity or enemies. There were cameos from more recent Nintendo characters such as Professor E. Gadd, who had started up his own coffee shop business called StarBeanz. If you have a GBA, this is an essential purchase, and if you don't, it's worth getting one just to play this game. Better yet, the forthcoming Nintendo DS is backwards compatible, so you can still enjoy all your GBA games on it. This time the game was made by AlphaDream Corporation, who previously made the thematically similar game Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door - Gamecube
So finally we come to the next, eagerly awaited installment of the Mario RPG series. Additions to the formula this time include a audience mode. Each time you enter a battle, you will be performing on stage. The better you do and the more spectacular you are the more audience members there will be, and if they are really impressed they will throw beneficial items to you such as mushrooms. However, if you play badly they will throw rotten fruit and other nasty things at you, so you'd better watch your step! The graphics take the style of the N64 original and up the resolution, which makes them amazing to behold. The power of the Gamecube also allows hundred of enemies to be on screen at the same time, which Mario can then bash with his trusty hammer. Intelligent Systems are developing this game once again.
So there you have it. One other thing I should mention is that all the games in the series up to now have featured some hilarious dialogue - the script in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was particularly well translated.
So don't delay, go out and preorder your copy of Paper Mario 2 today!