SPOILERS: The games below are discussed in great detail, though all spoilers are confined to each game's section. Skip any sections for games you haven't played. Also, go play those games. Seriously.
We all know it to be true: Mario is, without question, the single most influential character in videogame history. From the day our red-capped hero first hopped onto our screens, Mario has been an irrevocable icon not only in the gaming industry, but in all mainstream media worldwide. A masterclass game even today, one which all at once saved the industry from the videogame crash of 1983 and paved the way for games of its generation and the generations to come, it is safe to say that Super Mario Bros. will be a game remembered and revered for centuries.
There are few who understand this game's importance better than today's game developers, who have been consistently recycling and reiterating on ideas first introduced by Nintendo's legendary title in ways both big and small. However, as games evolve, complexity grows, and game design strays further and further from the foundations first established by the likes of the world's favorite Italian plumber.
Enter the indie devs. In the latter half of the 2000s, the gaming industry saw a rise in independently developed videogames, due mostly to the new accessibility of digital distribution. Many of the developers behind these games, having no ties to big-name publishers, had a certain artistic drive behind their ambitions. Although still seeking compensation for their work, these developers were equally concerned with their artistic integrity as they were with their financial success, if not more so.
If [Super Meat Boy] makes $20,000, that would be enough to make the next game...Even though it's a game that people are supposed to buy, it's not a game that I made for people; I made it for myself. Ed [McMillen] and I made it as a reflection of ourselves.
-Tommy Refenes, Super Meat Boy developer
Though many of these new artists hope to innovate and venture into the unknown, some indie developers have taken it upon themselves to pay tribute to the great games of past generations. And of course, no game has been celebrated in this form more than Super Mario Bros. These indie games take from Super Mario Bros. and other 2D classics in ways best suited to each individual game. The creators of Fez chose to use platforming as a simple means to traverse the gameworld in a tranquil and engaging collectathon, while Team Meat took an approach more focused on the timing and precision of Meat Boy's platforming skills. However, while all of these developers set out to create something unique, there is one theme under which many of them stand united; a paradigmatic element which calls directly back to Mario, making these games a masterful collection of odes to the Italian plumber.
In each of these games, you must save the princess--and she's always in another castle.