Archives: My Virtual History of the Super Mario series

Note – This is a MASSIVE post that compiles all of my posts from the first run of LVLS on the Super Mario Bros. franchise. I am looking at this as a first attempt to properly chronicle some sort of a history of video gaming, as well as the earliest I address my relationship with games in a more critical fashion. I have dropped the art galleries featured in the original posts for brevity’s sake, as well as removing some unnecessary elements. Some pictures I accidentally deleted, so I’ll be getting those fixed soon.

Chapter 1: Before Mario Was Super

Before Super Mario Bros. took the gaming world by storm, its leading man had three games under his belt already.  This feature will highlight Mario’s earliest games, as well as provide additional insights from me about their impact upon my life.

DONKEY KONG (Arcade, 1981)

Donkey Kong was the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto, tasked with the job of transforming unwanted Radarscope cabinets into something that would sell.  His first game would be an astounding success, one that would lead to his becoming one of the finest developers in the history of the medium.

Mario, however, was not always Mario.  Here, his name was Jumpman, so-called for his penchant for doing such acts.  It’s a good thing, too, as Jumpman would have to leap over barrels, fireballs, pits, pies and jacks on his quest to rescue his girlfriend Pauline from the angry ape.  The construction site motif ran with Jumpman’s occupation – a carpenter, which may explain his knack for using hammers to smash anything that got in his way (given that he didn’t mistime the swing and get clobbered!).  If Jumpman successfully maneuvered his way through all four levels, he would be reunited with his love…only to watch the game restart and become harder.  Such was the way of the arcade.

My first game was Donkey Kong, so I have some strong feelings about this game.  When I was a wee lad, I had a Colecovision, which had Popeye, Ladybug and Donkey Kong for it.  I spent most of my time with DK.  And despite having it at home, I loved playing the arcade cabinet whenever my mom and I went shopping.  I was terrible, mind you – reaching the second stage was a rarity, but that didn’t matter.  It provided a fabulous exercise in comprehension and understanding to me, and when I replay the game today I still appreciate its excellent simplicity.  It’s a well-executed arcade game that achieves everything a solid quarter-muncher should.

As we all know, Donkey Kong and Mario continue to antagonize each other to this very day.  The Game Boy revived the rivalry with its excellent Donkey Kong (’94), and Nintendo Software Technology has kept up the franchise with its Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series.  Alas, after the first, the gameplay became more of a Lemmings-style affair over platformer puzzling, but I didn’t think MvDK was all that great anyway, so it may be a better choice.

The arcade sequel to Donkey Kong took a slightly different course for its gameplay.  Jumpman, now called Mario (the prevailing belief is that he was named after Nintendo of America’s landlord at the time, Mario Segale), would go from protagonist to antagonist between the games.  What a twist!

DONKEY KONG Jr. (Arcade, 1982)

Mario had rescued Pauline, and has since captured and locked up Donkey Kong in order to teach him a lesson.  For some reason, they’ve left the construction yard for the jungle…where Donkey Kong’s son, DK Jr., discovers his father’s imprisonment and vows to save him.  Mario, using his carpentry skills, has built diabolical bear traps then called Snapjaws (aka Klaptraps, which would pop up in the later Donkey Kong Country games), armed up one stage to feature electrical sparks, and the final stage that requires multiple keys to make fall.  Busy guy.  DK Jr. ditches the previous game’s mechanics to focus on climbing – DK Jr. is an adept vine climber, and using his two methods of climbing is key to beating the game’s levels.  Fruit can be dropped onto foes over beating them with hammers, and the ultimate goal for DK Jr. is to reach the key dangling over Mario (or, in the last stage, to put all of the keys into their proper locks).  Like its predecessor, the game would loop and become harder once you conquered Mario at the end of the fourth stage.

I love DK Jr.  It’s my absolute favorite of the three games I’m covering here.  The mechanics are very well planned out, with a lot of strategy and reflexes required to make it through each stage safely.  I didn’t get as much playtime with it in my youth as Donkey Kong, but I distinctly recall discovering it for the first time, and how happy and engaged I was while I played it.  A marvelous arcade experience that properly pushed the gameplay into greater heights.

After Mario’s defeat at the hands of DK Jr., he washed his hands of this villainy shtick and changed professions.  He also left behind the Kongs who helped build his name, instead wrangling his little brother, Luigi, into the act.  The result is another masterpiece – Mario Bros.

MARIO BROS. (1983)

Mario and Luigi are plumbers, and their goal here is to defeat all sorts of wicked creatures that haunt the pipes on the stage.  Turtles (aka Sheelcreepers, which would be the basis for the Koopa Troopa legion forthcoming), crabs (Sidesteppers) and flies (Fighter Flies, who look so much happier in this art than they do in the game) are your major adversaries, alongside the occasional fireball that whizzes by with little warning – these are brave plumbers!  Mario had left his hammers and traps behind when he switched careers, but his knack for jumping remains steadfast, and serves him well here.  Utilizing this talent, Mario and Luigi can flip over enemies by striking them from below – this mechanic would become essential to the Super Mario franchise, but for now it merely served as the primary means to defeat foes.  Once knocked over, Mario or Luigi merely had to kick them offstage to clear the arena.  Fighter Flies and Sidesteppers were not that simply disposed of, though – Flies leaped as they moved, making Mario’s timing more tricky to defeat them, and Sidesteppers required two bumps to get them to trip up (and became pissed in the interim, running at a faster speed than their previous sauntering), adding in a little more chaos into the mix.  Lastly, another elemental enemy, the Freezie (called the Slipice way back when) will occasionally freeze part of the map’s floor, making the two plumber’s traction take a nosedive.  What made Mario Bros. truly wonderful was its two player mode – unlike the earlier games, both Mario and Luigi could engage in some enemy flipping together!

The original Mario Bros. I have not had the luck of playing in an arcade cabinet, but I have had plenty of exposure to Nintendo’s updates of the game over the years with Super Mario Bros. 3 and the GBA Mario Advances.  The Shellcreepers were removed, replaced by Super Mario’s Spinies, who make a satisfactory substitute.  My favorite moment with this game was when I had the capability to play it with Grace once while we were camping.  We got quite a kick out of it.  It makes me a little mad that Nintendo hasn’t revived the concept for the DS somehow – it’s begging for it!

Mario’s next two appearances would be on the portable Game & Watch handhelds, Gumpei Yokoi’s predecessor to the Game Boy.  He would run a cement factory in one, and is a bomb delivery man in the other.  Both show an early acceptance of his character being one to move the company forward.  Miyamoto would return to Mario to lead his next major game, the one that this industry owes a great deal to…

Chapter 2: Super Mario Bros.: The Humble Beginning

Nintendo had seen some success with Mario prior to his NES platforming debut – no one would be able to argue that Donkey Kong or Mario Bros. were not hits in Japan, Europe and North America.  Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to stick with Mario for his next project, one that would take the core concepts of the earlier games he starred in and taking them to heights previously unimagined in gaming history.

Mario and Luigi found themselves in a new realm – the Mushroom Kingdom, to be exact.  Right off the bat, players knew they were in for something that would amaze them, as moving slightly forward made the screen scroll.  This was a relative rarity in games at this time.  The map seemed so barren at first, but a quick trot would reveal Mario’s first new enemy, the lowly Goomba.  A quick leap over (on onto) it would be enough to eliminate that threat, but some floating brick boxes come into view, with other boxes with question marks piquing curiosity.  Knocking Mario or Luigi’s noggin into these ? boxes knocked out either a coin or a mushroom!  The mushroom empowers Mario, making him twice the size.  Those brick blocks that once were unbreakable now shatter, allowing Mario to plow onto platforms he wouldn’t have been able to before.  Green pipes, a reminder of Mario Bros., dot the landscape ahead.  If you duck on certain ones, Mario will suddenly sink, and enter a hidden room full of coins (and occasional power-ups!).  Once back up on higher ground, Mario could bump a hidden block, and a similar yet different colored mushroom will appear.  Collecting it makes a delightful chirp of a tune and a 1-Up is granted…this is good!  The first pit awaits you next – plummeting into it is certain death, but you may prod Mario into such a fate to see if anything special happens.  Alas, an extra life is lost.  Those who questioned the sanity of falling into a bottomless pit would be confronted with more blocks and enemies.  Knocking the ? block here would produce a new power-up – an innocent looking flower.  Picking this plant would induce a new change – namely, a switch in color.  Mario now donned white overalls and a red shirt.  Tapping the run button in this state would unleash a blast of fire from Mario’s hand, in a steady bounce into one of the swarming Goombas, defeating it.  Further exploration would produce a final power-up, an overzealous star that tries to escape your grasp.  If obtained, Mario would begin to rotate various colors, and a new song begins.  One that screams at you to run!  Doing so into a Goomba renders it defeated in your wake, but the effect doesn’t last.  After traversing the remaining obstacles, a castle and a flagpole beckons at the end of a staircase.  A leap of faith might net massive points, or bad timing will cause you to lose out.  As Mario enters the castle, a possible parade of fireworks may erupt, giving you cause for celebration.

Man.  Typing that synopsis of the first stage of thirty-six is as close as I can get to reliving the novelty of discovering Super Mario Bros.  I’ve played it many times since my first experience with it back in 1987, but it remains a fantastic testament to the power of gaming.  It’s a beautifully designed game, with tons of secrets, varying foes to figure out how to best conquer, and some of the tightest, most responsive controls of the era.  It was a landmark to end all landmarks.  Not many games would be able to replicate the joys of Super Mario Bros. in the early goings of the console, and it exceeds the majority of the games the system saw throughout its life.  The melodies that Koji Kondo created have enshrined themselves into memory, being able to be summoned in a hum instantly.  The graphics, while rudimentary now, were lengths ahead of many of the games I had played before it.  And the challenge level was just about perfect.  Super Mario Bros. isn’t a cakewalk – it requires dedication, practice and some perseverance to achieve the game’s final moments.  It’s totally worth it, though.

Super Mario Bros. has seen two remakes in its lifeline (not counting cameos in other games, like Bowser’s runthroughs of classic stages in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door) – Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color.  Both are more than suitable renditions of this classic.  All-Stars recoats the game with 16-bit graphic and audio overhauls, while Deluxe adds in several bonuses, like the Lost Levels, Yoshi eggs, Game Boy Camera support and more.  Any way you tackle the game, it’s one of the most important and incredible games ever made, and is well worth the time to play.

Chapter 3: Super Mario Bros. 2: The Odd One

Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
s: 1

Super Mario Bros. 2 was the first game I made my own purchase of.  I remember it like it was yesterday (a testament to how much gaming means to me; one of my most vibrant memories of my youth is buying a video game for the first time XD ).  My mom took me to the local Sears catalog store, where she had pre-ordered the game for me.  I walked past washing machines, refrigerators, and other appliances to make it to the front counter.  I stood there while my mom chatted with the sales clerk, who eventually went into the back and brought out the sealed copy of SMB2.  I gave my mom the money, and the purchase was made.  I held it close like a small child, afraid I would drop this cherished gift into some sort of black hole and never regain it.  Once we returned home, I put the fresh cartridge into the NES, and the title screen above greeted me, with an amazing introductory tune.  Next thing I knew, I was presented with the choice of four characters.  Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool and Toad all had different strengths and weaknesses, but I had no idea how they handled differently at the time.  I likely picked Mario to begin.  Suddenly I’m falling – that’s odd!  What should I do?  Is there some sort of secret maneuver I need to perform in order to save myself?  Damn, this just started and I’m already sucking!

Thankfully, I landed on a watermelon-textured hill, unscathed.  As I carefully plummeted down, masked enemies crawled around.  Unlike the first game, jumping on them was not enough to subdue them – I merely rode on their backs, much like riding a horse.  As I tried to run, I was shocked to see Mario lift the enemy over his head!  That’s different!  Curious, I repeated the B button press to let Mario throw the foe off of the cliff.  Well, that showed it!…wait, it’s down below me now.  How do I defeat these things?  Another one of these masked critters was nearby, so I tried throwing them into each other, and voila!  Both enemies were K.O.ed and fell from sight.  Clearly this was not the same game as SMB was.

And it didn’t have to be.  Little known to me at the time, Super Mario Bros. 2 was a remade title from Japan that had nothing at all to do with Mario beyond a POW block cameo.  Mario and Co. were Fuji Corp mascots in the original title, Doki Doki Panic, and Japan received a sequel that took the original SMB graphics and gameplay and made it incredibly tough.  Nintendo of America thought that gamers would be angry about such a difficult title, so a request was made for an alternative.  And this clever game is what we got.  Little did either branch of Nintendo realize at the time how ingrained SMB2 would become to the series, though.  Without it, Bom-Ombs, Shyguys, Birdo, Pokey, Luigi’s flutter jump, Peach’s float, Snifits, Pidget, and Ninjis would likely not exist, losing a valuable part of the rich Mario legacy.

Ultimately, this was likely the first game I truly beat.  I tended to get stuck in 8-1 in SMB, finding the challenge a little more than I could handle.  Figuring out how to defeat each boss was fascinating (especially Wart, who took a more sophisticated method to conquer), and the feeling of accomplishment was wonderful.  It may not have begun its life as a Mario game, but somehow, someway, it became one that worked.

Chapter 4: Super Mario Bros. 3: Revolution

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

Super Mario Bros. 3 is a sequel done right.  It took everything the original game did and managed to improve everything about it.  The game’s larger, has more things for Mario to do, more power-ups that did awesome stuff, tons of new enemies and bosses to conquer, more levels than before, and continued the earlier game’s tradition of secrecy, rewarding explorers with hidden rooms, items and alternative routes through the new hub worlds.

Much like its predecessor, Mario 3 introduces all of its new mechanics pretty early on.  The new Super Leaf power-up, which allows Mario to soar into the skies like a…um, raccoon (still one of the kookier things Mario’s been able to do – fly with a Raccoon Tail!), is quickly acquired and learned.  Picking up Koopa shells is also discovered right off the bat.  Those who inadvertently crouch on the white block for a few seconds will uncover one of the cooler tricks lurking in the game, and will lead the way towards the first whistle later on.  Flying reveals paths up in the sky to check out, giving the player a sensation of a grander scope to be had here compared to before.  A P-Switch will transform blocks into coins, which is an important gameplay feature to be used throughout the whole game.  And the deeper you go into the game, it continues to astound with its careful pacing of new elements.  Autoscrolling stages, hidden note blocks (and the note blocks themselves giving your leaps some boost), unassuming blocks that cough up powerups, Dry Bones regenerating themselves, riding platforms that sway back and forth, swimming in spurts compared to entire stages, being able to slide down hills (and knocking out foes in the process!), and plenty of other stage features I’m sure I’m forgetting…and this is merely Grass Land, the first world!

Another novel addition is the ability to power up Mario or Luigi in the hub worlds.  Toad will allow you to gather up items in his house, and Hammer Brother encounters give you special items if you can defeat the Brothers.  Hidden goodies are strung throughout the Kingdom too, like the aforementioned whistles, which give those lucky players the chance to skip ahead to future worlds.  Princess Toadstool will also send Mario items between successfully defeated worlds, given that you survived the airship level and triple-stomped one of Bowser’s children Koopalings.

The Koopalings were a fantastic way to switch up the boss fights – SMB provided several run-ins with Bowser, but now each world had its own unique boss that mixed up what they threw at you.  Larry wasn’t too difficult, but the layout of the arena became harder and harder with each encounter, and some of these creeps had special talents, like Roy and Ludwig shaking up the stage with their weight, or Wendy and Lemmy’s alternative attacks (Wendy in particular was frightening to try to battle due to those random rings of hers!).  And their designs were awesomely perfect, too.  I spent a lot of spare time roleplaying as these villains when I was young.

Thankfully, beyond the Raccoon power, Nintendo saw fit to stuff in several more power-up suits that became famous for their incredible abilities.  The Fire Flower returned, but its novelty was soon lost once a plucky player picked up a Hammer Brother suit, which was the epitome of bad-ass (for the relatively tame Mushroom Kingdom, that is).  Slinging hammers that K.O.ed practically anything (even Thwomps, Boos, Roto Discs and Stretch!) PLUS the added benefit of deflecting fireballs by crouching?  I know I always kicked myself losing that suit.  The Raccoon power-up was pushed to the max with the Tanooki Suit, which allowed Mario to fly AND transform into a statue, letting enemies pass by without any penalty…and could crush particular enemies you couldn’t normally defeat.  Lastly, the Frog Suit was an interesting blend of incredible swimming and atrocious land-based movement.  It certainly required some skill to get that swift kicking under control.  I’d be naught in my writing if I skipped over the mighty Kuribo’s Shoe, the stomping maniac power-up that most Mario players remember so well (and is still on my “Waiting for it to Return” wishlist).  It was only available on one stage, but it was so well done that it became immortal.

Of course, the enemy line-up in Super Mario 3 is worth discussing in more detail.  Goombas gained the ability to fly, becoming Paragoombas.  Mini-Goombas also made their debut here, and attacked in two ways – sticking to Mario like glue, making it hard to move, or by disguising themselves as brick blocks, and then trying to clobber Mario underneath them.  Bloopers also gained babies, which made their random patterns that much more frustrating to bypass.  Chomps made their first appearance in two forms – the more common Chain Chomp, who’s become one of Mario’s more famous adversaries, and the Fire Chomp, which made sky levels way more difficult.  There’s Thwomps, who continue to try to smash Mario to this very day, and Boos, another classic foe who began their haunting of Mario here.  Piranha Plants gained several new species, including the Fireball spitting type, the Munchers, who were invincible to everything outside of a P-Switch, the Nibblers, who could leap up at Mario, and the Ptooie, a special, walking variety that common spit out spiked balls.  Hammer Brothers also expanded their ranks with Boomerang, Fire and Sledgehammer equivalents.  Spike, a new enemy who would spit out…spikes, and then hurl them at you, also popped up, alongside Parabeetles, flying Beetle Baileys that would make a couple levels well noted for their insanity. Lastly, the notable Big Boss Bass made his memorable entrance to the Mario stage, and scared the crap out of everyone who realized that he could eat you.  In one gulp, without any size restrictions.  Terrifying.

With eight huge, diverse worlds to wander through, Super Mario 3 was a treasure trove to gamers.  Its power-ups, enemies and gameplay improvements were remarkable, and the overall game felt polished and perfect.  Any 2D Mario has had to fight off comparisons to this giant of gaming, but it’s a reputation that has been well earned.  It’s my second favorite in the series, and is a heap of fun.  That’s all I could hope for.

Super Mario Bros. 3 has seen two remakes – the Super Mario All-Stars enhancement and Super Mario Advance 4 for the GBA.  The GBA version included e-Reader support to unlock tons upon tons of new abilities, enemies and levels taken from other Mario titles (adding in vegetables to throw a la Mario 2, the Cape Feather from Mario World, etc.), but by the time this saw release the e-Reader was on its way out of retail and into obscurity, and many people never saw the extra goodies.  Apparently this content is on the cartridge, but needed the cards to unlock…which made for several irate Mario fanatics.  Alas, Nintendo’s never released a version that had the e-Reader unlockables available in any other fashion.

Chapter 5: Mario’s Other NES/Famicom Escapades

All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. (Famicom)
Pub: Fujisanke/Nintendo/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1

Nintendo and Fujisanke were pretty buddy-buddy in the mid 1980’s.  In 1987, Nintendo had made a game for them starring the Dream Factory event mascots called Dokidoki Panic!, which became the basis of Super Mario Bros. 2 for the US, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere.  Before that, though, Fujisanke asked Nintendo to create a special edition of the original Super Mario Bros. for them that starred their own personalities from their hit radio show, All Night Nippon.  And thus, All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros. was born.

A strange culmination of Super Mario Bros. and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2,  this game swapped out Goombas and Piranha Plants for two of the show’s popular hosts, Sunplaza Nakano and Tamori, respectively.  The Mushroom Retainers also were replaced with other ANN hosts.  The Princess…is apparently the Princess in a geisha outfit.  The Fujisanke symbol replaced the Axe in Bowser’s Castle and the flag that rises from the castle once Mario or Luigi enter also is adorned with that symbol.  Fence posts were suddenly microphones, and Starman took a backseat for a Star of David lookalike, the Hiranya, which was a popular craze in the mid-’80’s perpetuated by Japan’s popular Young Paradise show, which also aired on Nippon Broadcasting System at a different time slot than All Night Nippon.

The game was given out by All Night Nippon as a contest prize, and only 3,000 copies were made, making this one of the rarer Mario games in existence.  Overall, this is probably the oddest Mario game Nintendo themselves made.

Sources: – While laced with profanity aplenty, Sydlexia’s feature on this game is excellent and full of all kinds of info on the game’s usage of the All Night Nippon staff, the sprite changes, and much more. – NinDB’s page on the game.

Dr. Mario (NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

I don’t know what inspired the creation of Dr. Mario, but it did present Mario a wacky new occupation, and gave him some new villains, the three colored germs of the cold virus, to fend off.  It’s a novel concept compared to Tetris – it relies on color and random virus placement over Tetris’ more straightforward approach.  Dr. Mario was a success, seeing remakes for the Super NES, N64 (NA only), GBA, Gamecube (on the Japan only Nintendo Puzzle Collection), and on WiiWare and DSiWare.  Dr. Mario tends to keep to its own franchise, beyond the Doctor making a fighting appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee (with music from the game appearing in both Melee and Brawl), and the Viruses making a few clever appearances as enemies in the Mario & Luigi RPG’s, a brief microgame in Warioware Twisted where the blue virus pops up, and the same virus making it in as a weapon in Mario Kart Arcade GP.

I haven’t played this in years, and puzzle games are not my genre, so I don’t have a whole lot to add.  Music is catchy, though!

Wrecking Crew (NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

Wrecking Crew is an interesting experiment.  Mario is now a construction worker for real, tasked with demolishing the stage without running into enemies or trapping himself by bad decision-making. It’s a fine blend of platforming and puzzle games, perhaps setting the stage for the Game Boy revival of Donkey Kong.  The series saw a Japan-only revival in the form of Wrecking Crew ’98, which combines the original’s gameplay and levels alongside an all new puzzle mode that works like a more conventional puzzle game.  Definitely one of Nintendo’s unappreciated games, in my opinion.

I really like this game.  It’s not pretty even by NES standards, but it’s a well designed, fun-to-play title.  It’s straightforward, but has a lot of strategy and thought built into it.  The level editor is a nice bonus, too.  A unique piece in the Mario lexicon.

Wario’s Woods (NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

The last NES game Nintendo put out starred Wario and Toad, and even had cameos from Birdo from Super Mario Bros. 2 thrown in for good measure.  It gave Toad his sole starring role, and one of his relatively few playable appearances, too.  Wario’s Woods united gameplay from Super Mario 2 (picking up and carrying items) with a typical mix-and-match puzzler, which is fairly novel, I suppose.

I don’t like most puzzle games, as I mentioned above, and this didn’t alter that perception.

Yoshi (NES)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Game Freak
Players: 1 – 2

I remember reading about this game, seeing all those classic Mario sprites from Super Mario 3 thrown together into some wacky puzzler.  Game Freak developed it, who would later see much fame as Nintendo’s Pokemon creators.  It marked Yoshi’s first starring role, despite that it’s Mario doing all of the work. XD

Alas, I haven’t played it, nor do I know if it’s worth me trying. XD

Yoshi’s Cookie (NES)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Bullet-Proof Software
Players: 1 – 2

Bullet-Proof Software took a second spin with Yoshi-based puzzlers, this one proving to be a little more popular.  Mario became a cook (quite the talented man to balance this many jobs!  And this is only the NES!), and makes many tasty snacks for Yoshi to much (again, Yoshi gets the credit, but Mario does all the work…makes Yoshi’s Island seem fair, now :p ).  Despite Bullet-Proof’s departure from the gaming world, Nintendo continues to utilize it – beyond its inclusion on Nintendo Puzzle Collection for Japanese Gamecubes, it cameoed in Tetris DS.

Cookies are delicious!…but I’ve never played this, so I can’t contribute much more than my passion for cookies. XD

NES Open: Tournament Golf (NES)
: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

While the more generically named Golf has golfers who have been argued to be a heavily-altered Mario, NES Open is much more upfront about Mario’s presence.  North America got the better deal, as the USA and Japan courses were released as separate products in Japan.  Princess Daisy made her first appearance outside of Super Mario Land here, too, and would then be shuttered away for two more generations before being resurrected for the N64 Mario Tennis alongside Waluigi’s debut.  She continues to make appearances in all Sports, Kart and Party titles that have been made since (I’m not counting the movie’s odd choice to go with Daisy over Princess Toadstool/Peach).  I like the all-American approach Nintendo ran with for Mario and Luigi here for NES Open compared to Mario’s more traditional look for Japan.  It’s a little humorous. I’d like to give this a shot one day.

Chapter 6: Super Mario Land (series)

While not officially counted as part of the Super Mario franchise, the Super Mario Land games have been the most diverse of Mario’s platforming excursions that Nintendo has made.  They show creativity, a willingness to goof around, and feature some of Mario’s more unique enemies and villains.  This may be because of who developed them – unlike Mario’s console adventures, which were developed by Nintendo EAD under Shigeru Miyamoto’s eye, Nintendo R&D1 handled the Game Boy titles, and they were all produced by Gumpei Yokoi (Metroid, Kid Icarus, inventor of the Game Boy, Game & Watch, and many other devices for Nintendo), and were directed by Hiroji Kiyotake (designer of Wario, and continues to oversee platformers with the character), which may explain the shift in design philosophies.

Super Mario Land (GB)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players – 1

Mario’s first Game Boy starring role plopped him into the far-off realm of Sarasaland, where a diabolical alien, Tatanga, has abducted the fair Princess Daisy.  Seeing that Mario was fresh from saving Princess Toadstool from Bowser, he seemed a good fit to rescue another damsel in distress.  Sarasaland is split into four kingdoms, and Mario must make his way through all of them, conquering Tatanga’s minions along the way, up to the final showdown.

Super Mario Land strips out a lot of the franchise’s advancements in favor of a return to the format of Super Mario Bros. – Mario’s power-ups are limited to the Super Mushroom, the Starman, and a variant of the Fire Flower.  Unlike SMB’s version, in SML Mario’s fireballs (aka Superballs) are much more flexible, bouncing off of walls and ceilings at a 45 degree angle.  They can also gather up coins, something SMB’s fireballs would never do.  This takes a little adjustment to get used to, but they’re a bit more fun than the standard Fire Flower.  Some of the levels are horizontal shooters, with Mario riding in the “Sky Pop” to blast enemies and weave through the environment.

Graphically, the game mimics the original SMB sprite set, with Mario looking a lot like that particular sprite.  Enemies are either brand new or twists on the usual Mario bestiary, and work about the same as before.  The music was composed by Metroid/Kid Icarus/Donkey Kong composer Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, and has his eccentric style.  One of the catchier Game Boy soundtracks, from what I recall.

Tatanga has joined Wart in the Mario villain obscurity bin, making one scarce appearance as a mini-boss in Super Mario Land 2 before disappearing completely.  It would appear that Tatanga was under the employ of Wario, seeing that Wario invades Mario’s castle in the interim of SML’s events, but Nintendo’s never clarified that possibility.   Daisy, on the other hand, made a cameo as Luigi’s caddy in NES Open before entering a hiatus lasting two generations, until Camelot brought her back for Mario Tennis 64.  Since then, she’s been a regular Mario elective character, ending up in most of the Mario Kart, Party, and Sports titles that have followed.

I believe I’ve beaten this long ago.  My memory is quite fuzzy, though – it was a good ten-plus years back.  For a first crack, it’s adequate, but it’s not the finest Mario platformer I’ve played.  The sequel is much better.

Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (GB)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players – 1

A new archenemy has appeared!  The doppelganger Wario has usurped Mario’s castle (apparently Mario’s missions to save Peach have not been for charity!), and to get it back, Mario must defeat six of Wario’s goons and retrieve the six keys, which are golden coins, to be able to enter the castle and clobber that thief!

Super Mario Land 2 is most like Super Mario World – there’s a hub world to explore that Mario can traverse back and forth (a la Mario World), the power-ups mimic Mario World’s style (a traditional Fire Flower, the Starman and a new “animal that doesn’t fly in real life, but it’s going to fly when Mario steals its appearance” power, the Carrot, which gives Mario rabbit ears that allow him to both hover and slow his descent.  He can hop like a rabbit, too, which I’m sure is very useful. :p ), and the shooter levels from the prequel are all gone.

The difficulty can be selected before you start (by making Mario big or small), and the game throws foolhardy players a cruel trick if they lose all of their lives – if you’ve gathered up any Golden Coins, you’ll lose them!  The game’s graphics are much more in line with Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, with more vibrant spritework for Mario, the enemies and the backgrounds.  The music was composed by Kazumi Totaka (Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Animal Crossing, Yoshi’s Story), and yes, it does include that secret song of his.

Wario has become a major character in his own right since antagonizing Mario here.  The Super Mario Land series would evolve into the Wario Land series with its sequel.  From there, Wario would gain the Warioware, Inc. series (which is a microgame-packed franchise full of reflex-driven challenges), Wario’s Woods (an one-shot where Wario picks on Toad through puzzles), and Wario Blast (a strange blend of Wario with Bomberman gameplay…co-starring the titular hero of that series!), not to mention other platforming action (Wario World, Wario: Master of Disguise).  He also is a regular participant in Mario’s spin-offs, making his debut in Mario Kart 64 and has been a stalwart in all Mario Kart, Party and Sports titles since.  He even popped up in Smash Bros. Brawl as a combatant, which is showing off some star power!

I haven’t played this enough.  My dabbling wasn’t all that thorough when I was a kid, and my memories are very, very minimal.  It was fun, but I can’t really elaborate on it.

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (GB)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players – 1

Mario takes a vacation after booting Wario out of his castle, and Wario takes out his revenge by stealing Mario’s very own franchise from him.  Not a bad way to get back at someone. :p  With this, Mario would retire from Game Boy platformers, and wouldn’t reappear starring in a new one for a portable until New Super Mario Bros. on the DS well over ten years later.  However, Wario isn’t merely content to run off with the Mario Land franchise – the game’s plot revolves around him gathering up loot in order to outdo Mario’s castle with his own behemoth fortress.  The perfect opportunity arises – a golden statue of Princess Peach was stolen by a Captain Syrup, and Mario’s on the trail.  Wario realizes that a pirate stronghold is the ideal way to begin his castle construction, and that statue would not only be a great piece of capital, but would also be a fine way to stick it to Mario, too!  So, he sets off to Kitchen Island to plunder!

In Wario’s initial Game Boy adventure, he quests similarly to Mario – he can collect power-ups to boost his abilities, but unlike Mario, Wario utilizes hats given to him by various “pots”.  He has three to pick from – the Dragon Hat, which breathes fire, the Bull Hat, which allows Mario to ram into enemies and blocks that normally wouldn’t be fazed by his standard elbow dash, stick into ceilings,  and to create shock waves from slamming into the ground, and the final hat, the Jet Hat, which enables Wario to glide.  Enemies can be picked up and thrown, and Wario can elbow dash when he’s normal sized, giving Wario some more options than Mario.  He’s also able to take more abuse than Mario could – most enemies don’t faze Wario when he walks into them.  Only spiked foes give him any grief.

Captain Syrup is Wario’s nemesis, reappearing in several Wario Land games to continue harassing him.  She’s yet to achieve further success, but she does have a small fanbase waiting for her to step up to the next level.  Wario’s further adventures in this series would heavily alter the gameplay, taking Wario into more puzzle-action territory with transformations.  Wario wouldn’t take damage from bumping into enemies, but he would acquire some talent from them, like zombification, gaining additional weight, or becoming miniature.  I’ll dig more into this in the forthcoming Game Boy Super Mario Spin-offs article.

I only had a little bit of experience with this as a kid, and so, my memory isn’t all that great.  I liked it from what I recollect, though.

Chapter 7: Super Mario Spin-offs – The Game Boy Edition
Note – The Game Boy had a few repeats with the NES (Yoshi, Yoshi’s Cookie, Dr. Mario) and Super NES (Tetris Attack), so I’m going to exclude those.

Donkey Kong (GB)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1

After 13 years, Donkey Kong and Mario square off again in this sequel to the arcade games for Pauline.  Incorporating elements from the original, Donkey Kong Jr., and the Super Mario franchise, as well as infusing the game with a heavy dose of puzzle-driven level design, this is a fantastic update to the classic.

Donkey Kong Jr. joined his father as a accomplice to villainy, marking the first and only time DK Jr. was in such a role.  Pauline had been in hibernation since her first appearance in the original Donkey Kong (beyond a cameo in the NES Pinball), and following this appearance would reenter such a state until Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, and continues to be a part of that series.  This also marks the first appearance of Donkey Kong’s necktie.

This is among my favorite Game Boy titles.  It controls really well, has some challenging levels, and continues the magic of the arcade games.  I recommend this one!

Wario Land series (GB)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1

Wario usurped Mario’s Game Boy franchise for another 4 “Land” ventures, with two more of them landing on the original Game Boy.  II has Wario waking up from a nap to discover his castle home in chaos.  After cleaning up that mess, he goes out to reclaim his stolen treasures from the Black Sugar Gang and Capt. Syrup, the perpetrators of the crime.  3  sees Wario crashlanding his airplane into a far-off forest.  He stumbles into a cave and finds a music box, which has a being imprisoned inside of it.  Wario is transported into the Music Box’s world in order to free the being, who may not be the good fellow he seems.

Both of these games feature Wario’s transformation (or reaction) powers, which prevent him from dying in favor of becoming the enemy or object he touches.  It made the series far more puzzle-oriented than before, and also gave Nintendo plenty of opportunities to render Wario in goofy sprites.

Game & Watch Gallery series (GB)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Nintendo/TOSE
Players: 1 – 2

Nintendo decided to reinvigorate their Game & Watch line with these collections, which also saw one title for the GBA.  These bundled up the original G&W titles with remade modern equivalents starring Mario and his friends.

I haven’t played these, so I don’t have a ton more to add.

Mario’s Picross (GB)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Jupiter
Players: 1

Mario’s latest puzzle excursion casts him as an archaeologist.  He has to solve picture-related puzzles under a time limit.  I think NinDB explains it better than I would:

You start each puzzle with an empty grid and numbers along the side of each row and column. Each number represents a line of blocks that must be filled in somewhere along the line. Where there is more than one number per line, the filled in blocks must be separated by at least one space.

You must use logical deduction to work out which blocks are safe to fill in. If you fill the wrong blocks then you receive a time penalty. When all of the correct lines have been filled in, a picture is revealed.

The puzzle grids start out small, but as you progress they get bigger and more difficult.

To make the game even more challenging, you have to complete each puzzle within a time limit. You receive increasing penalties for making mistakes and a five-minute penalty for requesting a hint.

The Picross series has shed Mario’s identity from it as it’s continued on, but Mario cameos remain a vital part of it.

Wario Blast (GB)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Hudson Soft
Players: 1 – 2 (4 with SNES Multitap)

Wario Blast is merely a Bomberman game imported from Japan with a Wario sprite thrown in for good measure.  While Wario isn’t a bad choice for a collaboration with Hudson’s explosive mascot, this wasn’t the finest Bomberman game to pluck for North American audiences, and the game isn’t all that fondly remembered.

Wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t memorable, either, from what I can remember.

Chapter 8: Super Mario World – The Warcry

Super Mario World (Super NES)
/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

North America was in the middle of a war in the summer of 1991.  Most people didn’t know it at the time, but Sega and Nintendo had fired off their opening rounds that particular summer for the 16-bit wars, with Sonic the Hedgehog blazing from the cannon in July to represent Sega, and Mario’s first platforming excursion on the just-unveiled Super NES defending Nintendo.  The two would spar with each other fiercely following the initial salvo.

Super Mario World is arguably Mario’s most charming adventure.  The music was light-hearted and catchy, the graphics bright and adorable, and the overall vibe to the game was joyous and peppy.  Mario lost his multitude of suits from Mario 3, keeping only the Fire Flower, and replaced the closet with two additional powers: the Cape (that allowed Mario flight, but in a different manner from his Raccoon powers), and the rare P-Balloon, which would inflate Mario like a balloon.  He also received a new buddy, the green dinosaur/dragon…thing, Yoshi.

Yoshi would become a superstar in his own right in time, but here he proved to be an effective ally in the platforming challenges Mario and Luigi had to face.  The drago-dino could gobble up enemies, fruit, power-ups and more, flutter kick for extra lift, and provide Mario an additional shield to avoid losing whatever power he had.  All and all, I think Yoshi is a worthy addition to the Mario canon.

The Koopalings returned from Mario 3 to cause more mischief, and this time had their own unique arenas in which to battle the Mario Bros.  Bowser himself would take to the skies for his final showdown, forcing Mario to kick flattened Mecha-Koopas upwards to defeat him in his Clown Car.  The fortresses the Koopas inhabited featured several new tricks, like climbable gates (which Mario could flip around at special points, and smack Koopas crawling on the other side), blocks that could be transformed into enemies by Magikoopas, Grinders that try to carve up Mario, and lots of dangerous spike-related hazards.  These were the toughest challenges Mario had to face yet…until the realization that there were some secret worlds to uncover!  Star World and Special World opened up to plucky players who found the hidden keys and united them with their exits at the right stages, and provided some intense platforming for experienced players.  Good luck with those!

Mario World introduced Banzai Bills, Monty Moles, Wigglers and the aforementioned Magikoopas to the Mario bestiary.  Banzai Bills were massive Bullet Bills that probably startled the crap out of any new player.  Monty Moles were cute critters who sprung out of the ground or walls in an effort to catch the player off-guard.  Wigglers were caterpillars who hated being stomped, and became aggravated and much quicker once walloped.  And Magikoopas were like the Wizzrobes of Mario – obnoxious foes who could teleport and sling magical blasts at you.  They’re easier to dodge in a platformer compared to Zelda’s top-down perspective, though.

Super Mario World isn’t my favorite 2D excursion of his – I’d rank it below SMB3, NSMB Wii, SMB and SMB2 in terms of awesomeness.  That being said, I do like the game.  It’s a fine take on Mario’s earlier adventures with plenty of new material that expands the gameplay quite nicely.  It just didn’t catch me as much as the others have.

Chapter 9: Super Mario Spin-offs: The Super NES Edition

Mario Paint (Super NES)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Intelligent Systems
Players: 1

Mario Paint allowed gamers to create their own virtual paintings, much like a Video Painter (anyone else have one of those?).  With the SNES mouse (which the game required to work), massive amounts of artistic freedom were given to the player.  It also threw in a music editor, minigames, the first North American appearance of Totaka’s song, and animation options.  Alas, you couldn’t save your creations onto the cartridge.

While North Americans haven’t seen a proper sequel to this, Japan has, with the Mario Artist series for the Nintendo 64 Disc Drive.  Art programs minus Mario have made a few appearances Stateside, with the Wii Photo Channel, Warioware D.I.Y.’s game-making options, and the Art Academy DSi programs.

Super Mario Kart (Super NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

The most successful spin-off in the Mario franchise, Mario Kart has become a massive series all of its own.  The concept is simple – Mario and his friends and enemies race on go-karts on crazy tracks based on Mario locales, and are armed with items that can help them try to swipe first place.  It changed the foundation of racing games, and became its own genre.

Donkey Kong Jr. and Koopa Troopa were initial racers in this series, but the two have not made it into every sequel.  DK Jr. has yet to reappear in a Mario Kart, being replaced by the Rare-designed DK, while Koopa Troopa skipped Mario Kart 64, Super Circuit, and MK DS (although Dry Bones was in that one).  Wario took his place.

While I prefer MK 64 and MK DS to this, this is a fantastic beginning for the franchise.  It’s responsive, the AI isn’t cheap, it’s missing some of the more obnoxious items that have plagued the series in recent years, and has some engaging tracks.  Well worth trying out.

Super Mario All-Stars (Super NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 2

A compilation of Mario’s NES hits (and Super Mario World, if you can find the later revision of the game), this remains the best way to get a lot of Mario in one location.  The music and graphics were bumped up to SNES standards, giving the games a nice polish.

Yoshi’s Safari (Super NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1

Nintendo had a Super Scope peripheral to sell, so they armed Mario with the pseudo-bazooka and set him loose with Yoshi for some light-gun action.  This marked the last appearance of the Koopalings until they cameoed as bosses in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and made the first U.S. appearance of Princess Toadstool’s Japanese name, Peach, which has stuck with her character.

It is a little odd seeing Mario with a Super Scope…outside of Smash Bros., anyway. :p

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (Super NES)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1

Yoshi took the Mario World franchise onto his own with Yoshi’s Island (Mario seems to lose more of his games to his buddies and rivals, doesn’t he?).  Yoshi uses his tongue, eggs, and his newfound transformations to make his way through Yoshi’s Island, trying to reunite Baby Mario with his sibling.  Baby Bowser, however, has other plans.

Yoshi has made many platforming trips since splitting off from the Super Mario line, including Yoshi’s Story for the N64, Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation for the DS, and Yoshi’s Island 2 for the DS.

Kamek debuted here, and he’s become a decent rival in some of the following Mario games.  Shy Guys also became a massive enemy in the Mario universe thanks to Yoshi’s Island.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Super NES)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Square
Players: 1

Nintendo and Square united their talents to create one amazing RPG, and it set into motion further Mario Role Playing Games, the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi franchises.  Square’s major gameplay tweak was to allow players to add damage to their attacks by carefully timing their button presses, which would continue on into the later RPG’s.  Bowser and Peach were party members alongside Mario, and you met two new allies, Mallow and Geno.

Square would jump ship not too far after completing this title, becoming one of Sony’s major allies in the 32-bit/64-bit wars.  Their loss certainly was notable, as the Nintendo 64 lacked a major RPG franchise until the 1999 (Japanese) release of Ogre Battle 64, and as much as I love that game, it’s not Final Fantasy-level in terms of hype-inducing.

I enjoyed this game quite a bit, but I do like the Paper Mario games a bit more.

Tetris Attack (Super NES, Game Boy)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Intelligent Systems
ESRB: K-A/Players: 2

Tetris Attack has two reasons why it’s an oddity in the Mario pantheon – one, it’s not a Tetris game at all, so the name is a misnomer.  Two, the underlying game is Intelligent System’s Panel de Pon, better known over here as Puzzle League.  In Japan, this starred a young girl named Lip, the fairy of flowers, who was on a quest to restore sanity to the world of Popples overturned by the tyrant Thanatos.  In the end of the game’s hard mode, the final boss Cordelia (who apparently had some hand in inspiring Thanatos to do this – I’m working from Wikipedia here XD ), reveals herself to be Lip’s mother, and announces that this was merely a test to see if Lip could rule Popples as its queen.

This was apparently not suitable for American audiences, so Nintendo swapped out Lip and her fairy friends for a Yoshi’s Island-themed spin on the game.  The core mechanics were left alone, from what I understand.  The flowers and fairies were replaced with Yoshis and pastel-shaped background that were cute, but not quite as sugar-coated as Lip and Co.  You can see a comparison below:

Lip would continue to pop up occasionally in Nintendo games – her Stick is the notorious flower generating staff in Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl, and Kirby duplicates a Panel de Pon block with his Stone Special from time to time.  Brawl also saw a remix of her theme for the Pictochat stage and a few stickers of the Nintendo Puzzle Collection artwork.  She made an appearance in Captain Rainbow, alongside other obscure Nintendo heroes.  And she would return properly for the Gamecube’s Nintendo Puzzle Collection, slightly younger but following the same plot as before.  As for the Yosh, this was his last starring role in a puzzler, capping the prior parts of the trilogy of Yoshi and Yoshi’s Cookie.  Puzzle League, meanwhile, has seen a few somewhat sterile releases following Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack, with the N64 Pokemon Puzzle League, a combo of Dr. Mario and Puzzle League for the GBA, and Planet Puzzle League for the DS.

Not the weirdest game in the Mario franchise by any means – I don’t know if we can top All Night Nippon or Mario is Missing! in that department, but it’s not marketed as a Mario title at all in its North American box, and it wasn’t a Mario game to begin with, making it another intriguing case of culture switching.  Next time, another excursion to a non-Nintendo system as the CD-i’s Hotel Mario goes under the ringer.

Mario is Missing! (NES, Super NES, MS-DOS)
Pub: Mindscape & Software Toolworks/Dev: Software Toolworks (MS-DOS, Super NES), Radical Entertainment (NES)
Players: 1

Mario is Missing! is the first title that Nintendo legally allowed an outside developer manipulate their Super Mario franchise, and…it’s not all that great, from what I hear.  You control Luigi (in his first starring role!), who is on the hunt for Mario, who has been kidnapped by Bowser.  However, this is not a platforming title – it’s edutainment!  So there’s not a whole lot of action.  The gameplay revolves around Luigi visiting famous geographical landmarks (on Earth, not the Mushroom Kingdom :p ), searching for clues and artifacts held by Bowser’s minions.  Lots of trivia questions ensue, until Mario is freed from Bowser’s grasp.

The three variants of the game are all different in how they treat the motif.  Mario’s kidnapping, for instance, has him caught in a bag by a Koopa Troopa for the NES version, tumbling into a pit in the Super NES version, and being deceived by Bowser and lulled to sleep by some drugged candy in the PC version.  The Koopalings appear in the PC and Super NES revs, but not the NES title.  Even the final battle with Bowser is not the same among the three.  I’ll let Super Mario Wiki explain:

In the SNES version of the ending, Luigi pulls a lever to reveal Mario behind a wall. Bowser then jumps down from a distant ledge, but Luigi pulls the same lever, causing Bowser to fall down into a cannon. He is then launched out of the castle and into the snow, where he freezes instantly and then shatters.

In the NES version, Luigi and Bowser have a boss battle and “Bowser” turns out to be a normal Koopa Troopa in disguise, who is then flung away in Beach Koopa* form before exploding, revealing the key to Mario’s cage. Luigi frees his brother and they are later seen back outside with Yoshi and Bowser, who is crying over his defeat.

There is yet another different ending in the DOS version. In it, Luigi takes Bowser’s shell (which is also his tail in this depiction) off, causing Bowser to run off screen, embarrassed about his polka-dot boxers…Luigi shakes the shell to retrieve the key to Mario’s cell, and then throws the carapace away. Bowser returns and Luigi lies, saying he threw the shell off the balcony; then, when Bowser leans over the railing to look for it, Luigi kicks him off and he lands in the snow. Luigi then opens Mario’s cell and the two dance around in joy. They then go outside and shake Yoshi’s hand, before walking off into the distance together. Bowser then pokes his head out of the snow and throws a nasty look toward the player.

* Beach Koopas are what Super Mario Wiki refers to as a Koopa out of his shell.

The games were not universally praised – quite the opposite, actually.  Many players expected a more Super Mario-style experience than the quizzing method Software Toolworks utilized for the bulk of its gameplay, and in this particular age of gaming, the Internet was not mainstream enough to pass around information, and magazines didn’t cover it as thoroughly as they could have, so I suspect several gamers were quite disappointed with their purchase, and were wary when a sequel, Mario’s Time Machine, popped up.  Following that, Software Toolworks put out a series of preschool-aimed titles under the banner Mario’s Early Years, which marked the end of Mario’s edutainment career with Software Toolworks…at least on Nintendo platforms.

The MS-DOS version has become infamous in meme circles as the origin of “Weegee.”  Weegee refers to the hideously drawn Luigi sprite that appears in the game, which never blinks.  The NES and Super NES games utilized modified Super Mario World sprites, thankfully.

Super NES Screen:

MS-DOS Screen:

This is not one to hunt down unless you’re a Mario completest, or are REALLY into edutainment titles.

Chapter 10: Super Mario Imports – What Mario Madness Americans Missed

While Nintendo has been pretty good to us American gamers regarding their Mario franchise, there’s been several games that have not been localized throughout the plumber’s long career.  Let’s take a look at some of these fascinating titles.


Super Mario Bros. 2 (aka The Lost Levels)

The true sequel to Super Mario Bros. in Japan, this one added in new variants of enemies (like the Sky Blooper and unafraid Red Piranha Plants, who would bite no matter if you were next to the pipe or not), Poison Mushrooms that could reduce Mario’s size or kill him, and delivered some intensely punishing levels.  We Americans have seen the title appear twice since its initial release – as The Lost Levels on Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES and Wii, and as a Virtual Console release unaltered from its Famicom appearance.

All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros.

I cover this here.

Return of Mario Bros.

Also known as Kaette Kita Mario Bros., this is a spiritual sequel to the arcade/NES original, with two modes of play.  The first revisits the arcade levels, complete with arcade-quality sprites (the NES original used lower-res sprites, probably due to its early development for the Famicom’s launch), while the second is a harder rendition of the game, with tons of enemies and more fireballs for Mario and Luigi to contend with.  Nintendo had licensed Mario to a curry company called Nagatanien, who in turn sponsored the development of this title.  There’s a bevy of references to the curry, as well as Nintendo’s next Super Mario title, Super Mario Bros. 3.  Minus the corporate shout-outs, this is the Mario Bros. we should have seen in the first place.

I Am A Teacher: Super Mario Sweater

One of the more out-there games I’ve heard of, this was developed by Royal Industries, an appliance manufacturer in Japan, who had a sewing business as part of its arms.  The game allowed people to design their own sweaters, which Royal would in turn make for the customer.  There’s not much else known about the title, so that’s as far as I can take this.

Game Boy

Picross 2

The sequel to Mario’s Picross, which seemingly took off in Japan while floundering here.  Wario noodled his way into this one, but the primary attraction was new puzzles to tackle.

Mario Family

Another sewing program?  Yep!  Jaguar developed this Game Boy Color title, which could operate specific sewing machines to stitch out the designs in the cartridge. (I never knew there was such a demand in Japan for Mario sweaters XD )

Super NES

Wrecking Crew ’98

The sequel to the underrated NES action/puzzler, this combines two modes of play – the original, which is unaltered, and a new play mode that pushes the puzzle aspect even further.  It also merges the offshoot into the Super Mario universe, with Luigi, Bowser, Peach and Koopa Troopas joining the action.  This is one game I’d love to see over here – I adore Wrecking Crew, and found it a shame that Nintendo never made the effort to release it overseas.  Apparently it hasn’t made the jump to the Japanese Virtual Console, from what I can see…so I’ll be waiting and hoping.

Mario & Wario

One of the few games relying on the SNES Mouse to control, you direct the fairy Wanda, who helps the poor bucketed Mario, Peach and Yoshi towards Luigi in a Lemmings-esque game.  Wario, naturally, is the one who slammed the bucket onto the heads of our heroes, but Wanda can take revenge on his villainy in bonus rounds.  This is calling out for some Wiimote reprogramming, but I doubt we’ll see it.

Mario’s Super Picross

A console sequel to Mario’s Picross, with Wario again trying to usurp Mario’s hold on this spin-off.  Over 300 stages of Picrossing await puzzle fans.  This one is on the Virtual Console, so perhaps Nintendo will let this one see the light of day as an import!

Excitebike: Bunbun Mario Battle Stadium

Released for the Satellaview, which was a downloadable add-on for Japanese Super Famicoms that allowed owners to, according to NinDB,

…receiving news, weather or radio, but could also be used to transmit games to a specially created BS-X memory cartridge.Between 1995 and 1999, Nintendo released a number of titles for the service, but low sales, poor marketing and the next generation of videogame consoles meant that the Satellaview was considered a failure.

The games themselves are mostly poorly documented. Preserved BS-X memory carts are rare, and many games require the original satellite link to function correctly.

This particular title remade the NES Excitebike with Mario characters.  However, it aired at specific dates and times, and as NinDB notes, required the link to work.  Shame, as it could have been a nice revisit to a dormant franchise that wouldn’t see another update until late in the N64’s lifespan.

Nintendo 64

Mario Artist

The much-hyped 64DD, or Disc Drive, never got an international release, but Japan did get the opportunity to see them on their retail shelves.  This is the sequel to Mario Paint, with four different titles arriving before the system’s end – Paint Studio, Polygon Studio (the screen above is from this), Communication Kit, and Talent Studio.  Additional titles were in the works but were ultimately canceled.  I’ll let NinDB explain each title’s attributes and features.

Mario no Photopi

A SD Card/Paint Program combo before they were common, this cartridge contained two slots for Smartmedia cards to be inserted, which worked as a transfer device between the two and as an importer of photos manipulated by the software’s Mario-related media.  Sort of like Photoshop with a Mario slant.  The Super Mario Wiki has more info here.


Nintendo Puzzle Collection

The last title on our list features remakes of two Mario puzzlers – Dr. Mario and Yoshi’s Cookie.  Dr. Mario was basically Dr. Mario 64 with a couple tweaks, while Yoshi’s Cookie saw a massive overhaul of its graphics and sound.  It allowed the NES Dr. Mario and Yoshi’s Cookie to be transferred to the Game Boy Advance, which could be played until the handheld was shut down.  It also included an updated Panel de Pon, which I go into above.

Thanks to NinDB and the Super Mario Wiki for helping me out with info…else I’d be quite lost. XD

Chapter 11: Super Mario Oddities – Hotel Mario (CD-i)

Hotel Mario (CD-i)
Pub/Dev: Phillips Media
Players: 1 or 2

During the late days of the 16-bit wars, Nintendo and Sega were considering CD drive expansions to their consoles (which Sega did release, beginning the peripheral madness that led to their long decline into their current status as a third-party developer).  Nintendo initially went with Sony, but backed out on them to eventually partner with Phillips (causing Sony to enter the hardware race with the Playstation, the code name of the collaboration between the two companies).  Nothing came from Phillips’ tie with Nintendo beyond the awkward agreement that gave Phillips the right to create some titles utilizing Nintendo’s properties for their ill-fated CD-i console, which leads us to our latest oddity, Hotel Mario.

Perhaps more could be said by Phillips’ atrocious cutscenes than I could type expressing how terrible a product this was.  Hotel Mario was very poorly reviewed, and due to the underwhelming sales of the CD-i, sold poorly as well.  The plot is up to the usual Mario fare – Bowser and the Koopalings have captured Princess Toadstool (I’m not 100% sure if she’s Peach in this game or not), hiding her in various Koopa-branded hotels, and Mario and Luigi try to rescue her.  Beyond that, the quality dips below Nintendo’s high standards.  The gist of the game is to close doors.  When all of them are closed, the level is conquered.  Mario enemies will pop out through the doors on occasion, forcing you to retrace your steps.  The Koopalings are then fought, and if beaten, the hotel is demolished and a cutscene shows the Princess being abducted by another Koopaling and scurried off to the next area.

In short, Phillips dropped the ball horrifically with Hotel Mario (and their Zelda CD-i titles), leading the titles to become well-versed internet memes and goofball collector items.  Nintendo would reign in their precious franchises after these four games were released, and would be much more cautious with who they would let develop Mario and Zelda games in the future.

There’s not too much else to discuss in the weird department regarding Mario, save three titles that Hudson developed (which Hardcore Gaming 101 gets into quite fantastically here, so I’ll let them do that), and some further Mario games designed for young children, including Mario’s Game Gallery/FUNdamentals (which Interplay first published, and apparently Nintendo re-released), Mario Teaches Typing, Mario’s Early Years!, and a few others…which I’ll omit.

Chapter 12: Super Mario 64 – Reinvention

Super Mario 64 (N64)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
ESRB: K/A/Players: 1

With the launch of the Nintendo 64, Nintendo once again turned to their superstar to launch the system.  However, Nintendo had a console that was designed for 3D graphics and gameplay, so Mario’s 2D adventures would not be a sufficient way of showcasing the power of the hardware.  Something new would need to be created to compete with Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s Playstation, consoles that had beaten Nintendo to the punch with their own 3D games.  Luckily, Nintendo’s experiment paid off, in the form of the marvelous Super Mario 64.

The game opened up with Mario’s face, which players could manipulate if they grabbed parts of it.  This clever minigame served as a nice way of introducing Mario’s new look alongside showing off a bit of foresight into allowing gamers to fiddle with these newfound polygons that would revolutionize gaming forever.  Once the game started, a traditional Mario plot ensued – Bowser kidnaps Peach, and Mario has to save her.  Nintendo decided to run with the secret aspect that has always been in the background for Mario’s latest quest by utilizing Power Stars as its primary collectible.  As Mario explored Peach’s castle, he would uncover paintings that led to gigantic worlds packed full of Power Stars – 7 in each world, to be exact.  Six would be given short hints as to how to find them, while the seventh required 100 coins to make appear.  The castle itself held 15 Secret Stars that would require extra effort from the player to track down without guidance. These Stars were needed to make further progress into the castle.

The worlds themselves took on common platforming tropes, like two ice worlds, two water worlds, a desert world, a lava world, etc.  It was the excellent execution of these stereotypes, though, that made them so memorable.  The first water world, Jolly Roger Bay, was a fog-filled cave.  As Mario poked around, he discovered a vast underwater canyon, with a sunken ship at the very bottom.  As players sunk deeper into the depths, a large head could be seen inhibiting a window.  With some careful prodding, the head would reveal itself to be a giant eel, and would swim around in the canyon.  Players who went into the eel’s former lair would find a platforming challenge to get at a Star.  The ship will rise up following the Star’s removal, and additional challenges would revolve around the ship and the eel.  And that’s half of the stars here.  Three others lurk in the bay, alongside the 100-coin star.  Further exploration would uncover a cave in the canyon, where another star could be found.  Another required finding a Pink Bom-Omb to enable a cannon, which Mario could enter and try to snag a Star perched on a spire.  The last would require a new power-up in order to snag – the Metal Cap (I’ll get to that momentarily).  There’s all six Stars for one of the 15 worlds.

Mario lost all of his earlier powerups for Mario 64 – only the 1UP mushroom would make a return.  In their place, Mario was granted a wide plethora of moves, gaining the ability to punch, kick, long jump, wall jump, triple jump (with greater height with each jump), backflip, sideflip, dive, slide, do a ground pound in midair, sneak, pull off handstands, and pick up new items to gain additional talents – Caps.  To use them, you’d have to enable them.  This worked like the !-Block Power Switches in Mario World: you had to find their hidden activation room, clear the obstacles, and stomp the switch.  Suddenly, the power-up boxes would appear in their respective stages, and Mario could swap hats and take on new traits.  There were three in total – the Wing Cap, Metal Cap and Vanish Cap.  The Wing Cap is probably the most fun, as it allowed Mario to soar in the skies.  It worked a bit like Mario’s Cape powerup in Mario World, dive to gain speed and then lift Mario back up to gain extra air.  The Metal Cap had a ripping musical theme and was the closest to a Starman in Mario 64, as it granted Mario invincibility alongside its extra weight and nifty sheen.  The Vanish Cap allowed Mario to become invisible, slipping through special walls he normally wouldn’t be able to.  All three had their uses, and were great additions to the Mario universe.

Many of Mario’s enemies would make the leap into 3D – Goombas, Koopa Troopas (who were rare, but coughed up the awesome ability to surf on their shells!), Lakitu (who served as both a foe and as the camera operator), Spinies, Chain Chomp, Pokeys, Shyguys (Fly Guys to be exact), Wiggler, Thwomps, Boos, Bom-Ombs, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, Snifits (apparently renamed Snufits for American audiences, but I’m ignoring that), Swoopers, Monty Moles, and of course, Bowser himself.  Three notable omissions are Bloopers (who would return in Mario Sunshine) and Cheep Cheeps (who would replace the Bub enemies here in SM64 DS) and Buzzy Beetles (who would pop up in Paper Mario games, returning to the main series with New Super Mario Bros.).

I think Mario 64 is the pinnacle of the series.  I won’t repeat myself again here, but I really do adore this game.

With the launch of the DS, Nintendo remade Super Mario 64 for its launch.  The big selling point was that the game was no longer a Mario-only affair, as Luigi (whose absence from Mario 64 was quite noticeable), Yoshi (becoming much more than an end-game cameo) and Wario (entering his first major Mario platformer as a protagonist…which, so far, has been his only excursion into this realm) joined the familiar plumber as playable characters.  The graphics saw a massive overhaul, becoming much more attractive than the N64’s.  A bunch of new content and extra Stars were also added in.  Unfortunately, this remake sullied a lot of what made Mario 64 so charming.  First off, the DS has no analog stick.  To try to make up for this, Nintendo allowed gamers to use the stylus, which was not a suitable replacement for me.  It may be that my left-handedness doomed me, but I hated using the stylus to control the game.  The digital pad tried, but it too failed at recapturing Mario’s smoothness from the N64 original.  The lack of refined control made simple tasks become more difficult, and I found it more frustrating than fun.  Secondly, the game suffered from a Donkey Kong 64-style of character switching.  Mario, Luigi, Wario and Yoshi all had unique talents, and each could use a bonus ability, now powered by a Power Flower.  Mario could inflate a la Super Mario World’s P-Balloon, Luigi would gain the Vanish Cap, Wario the Metal Cap, and Yoshi would gain his Dragon Breath from Mario World.  Mario was the only one who could grab a Feather, which would allow him to gain access to the Wing Cap.  Unlike DK64, which had swap barrels in their levels, you had to track down caps floating around the level in order to become other characters, which became a bit of a bother.  It also overcomplicated the game’s mechanics.  Why not allow all four to use the same powers?  In my opinion, this isn’t worth the time to play…unless they remake it again for the 3DS, which does have an analog nub…

Chapter 12: Super Mario Spin-offs: The N64 Edition

Mario Kart 64
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1 – 4

Mario Kart was the first multiplayer sensation for the Nintendo 64, predating Goldeneye by a few months.  Wario and Donkey Kong replaced Koopa Troopa and DK Jr., respectively, and the track designs switched heavily from the last game’s, becoming three dimensional and featuring more diverse locales.  Some SMK purists disliked the alterations, but Mario Kart 64 was a massive success and it became one of Nintendo’s primary franchises.  Further Mario Karts will be covered in their own separate article.

The infamous Blue Shell made its debut here, becoming more and more vile as the games have progressed.  The original lacked the explosive aspect the later games made it to be, and it   In fact, it was a perfect rear shield (if you could get one and make it back up to first place) and wrecked plenty of havoc in its wake as it pursued the leader (woe be it to the player who was in first place and fired off one of these – it’d turn right back around and smack them!).  All Karts could now hop, too, removing the Feather item from play.  The speed-building coins were also left off the game plan, but a player could perform sliding boosts with some practice.

This remains my favorite in the franchise.  It reaches some magical plateau for me that most the others have not.  I like SMK and Mario Kart DS, but hated Double Dash.  I’ve yet to play the GBA or Wii titles.  But I think I’ve had the most fun with this one.

Yoshi’s Story
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
Players: 1

Yoshi’s second platformer diverted from the earlier Yoshi’s Island in many ways.  Baby Mario took a backseat, for one, allowing some tranquility for the player from his constant whining.  Second, the game’s artistic style tried to run with an arts and crafts storybook approach (one that Kirby’s Epic Yarn pulled off far smoother, if you ask me).  Third, the gameplay was restructured heavily, losing a fair amount of its charm and difficulty in the process.  It’s not warmly remembered by most.

I skipped Yoshi’s Story due to lack of interest and the bad reviews, but bought Dark Rift and Mission: Impossible.  There’s a problem there. :p  I’d like to think I’ve gotten better over the years.

Mario Party
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Hudson Soft
Players: 1 – 4

An experiment with Mario playing a life-size board game with his buddies and rivals became another hit for Nintendo during the N64 era, and would be one they would run to the ground by its eighth installment on the Wii.  Mario Party is a snoozer alone, but with a few friends it becomes quite the party (ha!).  The initial game however had some drawbacks – namely, the wrist mangling control stock rotation games, which will likely keep it benched for eternity for its sequels.

The first game is the only Mario Party title I’ve owned, and the novelty grew tired quite quickly. Compared to Goldeneye, Mario Kart, Smash Bros. and Perfect Dark, this was not all that popular with me or my friends, so off it went to Funcoland, more than likely.  I do like the menu music a lot, though (Yasunori Mitsuda, aka Mr. Chrono Trigger, did the music for the first game).

Two more Mario Parties were held on the N64 hardware – the second spun around costumes and an amusement park, while the third introduced some new faces – Waluigi and Daisy joined the cast.  The series would flourish on the Gamecube with four more entries, and one final hurrah on the Wii.  A DS and Game Boy Advance version were also released, as well as on the ill-fated e-Reader.

Super Smash Bros.
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: HAL Labs
Players: 1 – 4

The original Super Smash Bros. was quite a shake-up to the gaming community.  Not only did it bring together Nintendo’s biggest heroes into one game, but it also reworked how fighting game mechanics could flow.  Removing the limit on health and instead making it an endangerment, and by switching the KO’s to being knocked off of the stage, Smash Bros. became an overnight smash (god, I’m bad with puns right now XD ), and would become a blockbuster of all Nintendo’s many blockbusters.

The initial line-up was a little underwhelming compared to its sequels – boiled down to the essentials, we have Mario, alongside Luigi (who’s hidden) and his spin-off mates Yoshi and Donkey Kong tangling it up with Legend of Zelda’s Link, Metroid’s Samus Aran, Starfox’s Fox McCloud, Kirby’s…Kirby, Pokemon’s Pikachu (and the secret Jigglypuff), and two additional franchise reps that need to be unlocked, Earthbound’s Ness and F-Zero’s Captain Falcon.  These twelve form the core of Nintendo’s legendary video game lifeline, and Melee and Brawl would build off of this core for their richer rosters.  Some consider this first one to be the best, while the others have their fair share of fans.  One thing’s for sure, though – it proved to be one of Nintendo’s wisest releases of the N64 era, proving to be a sales behemoth with each sequel.

Mario Golf
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Camelot
Players: 1 – 4

Hot Shots! Golf was proving to be a fairly lucrative property for Sony during the Playstation era, and Nintendo somehow coerced its original developer, Shining Force developer Camelot, to switch sides and become a part of Mario’s legacy.  Camelot reinvigorated Mario’s golfing roots from NES Open, incorporated their well-regarded golfing engine to the mix, and spawned the beginning of the Mario sports onslaught that would follow.

Alongside many of Mario’s usual cohorts, Camelot included a few original golfers to spice up the game.  It would be the only time Camelot would do such a thing to a Mario console sports title.  They would go on to make the Gamecube’s Toadstool Tour, and would create a completely original golf game with Capcom called We Love Golf!, which may be their finest work gameplay-wise, but is quite obnoxious otherwise (terrible voice work and dorky character designs do not a good game make).  Why Nintendo has ceased the golfing goodness is beyond me.

I hate the N64 Mario Golf.  I’ve explained it before, but I’ll summarize it here – the golfers are too mismatched.  Mario outdrives Luigi by 30 yards or so, and poor Luigi will hardly be able to keep up in a standard match.  Toadstool Tour remedies that issue quite nicely, and I think it feels better gameplay-wise, too, so :p on this one.

Mario Tennis
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Camelot
Players: 1 – 4

Camelot was asked, after their golfing success, to bring back another of Mario’s old sporting outages, the forgotten Virtual Boy Mario’s Tennis.  Camelot was a little more creative this go-around, too, being allowed to introduce a whole new archrival into the Mario universe through Waluigi, giving Luigi his own doppelganger.  Camelot also rescued Super Mario Land’s Princess Daisy and Donkey Kong Jr. from obscurity.  Super Mario Bros. 2 miniboss Birdo and Mario enemy mainstays Koopa Paratroopa, Shyguy and Boo were also added to the mix, and Toad had a chance to actually play (a surprising rarity in these games).  Mario Tennis is often considered the pinnacle of Mario’s sporting excursions.

I’ve yet to play this, but I’m looking forward to seeing if it tops its sequel, Mario Power Tennis for the ‘Cube (and Wii).

Paper Mario
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Intelligent Systems
Players: 1

With Square gone making massive moolah on their Playstation games, Nintendo turned to their internal developers Intelligent Systems, best known for their Fire Emblem/Wars titles, among many others, to give Mario a second RPG adventure.  In their hands, Intelligent Systems took the graphical style in the exact opposite direction of Square’s faux-3D Super Mario RPG – flat, paper-thin sprites.  Mario and his small army of buddies (who can assist him both in battle and on the overworld with unique skills), Mario has to rescue Peach from Bowser.  Not the most original plot, but the later games in this franchise make up for that.

Paper Mario continued the action command system Square created for Mario’s SNES RPG, taking it to further heights.  Mario and his current ally can add oomph to their attacks by successfully performing the desired action, and could reduce damage taken if timed correctly.  It made battles a little more interesting.  Also, there were no random battles – all foes were visible on the Mario platformer-inspired stages, and could be avoided altogether with some skill.  Mario’s partners added to the joy, enabling him new abilities that he’d need to use to make it through the game’s hazards.  Its graphical style was also excellent, with a charming world to explore and cute takes on conventional Mario enemies and the Mushroom Kingdom’s citizens.

While it has a few downsides, Paper Mario holds up pretty well.  Its sequel, The Thousand Year Door, is much more imaginative and is better-designed, and is my favorite of the Mario RPG’s.  I haven’t played Super Paper Mario yet, but I’d like to someday to see what the fuss was all about.

Chapter 13: Super Mario Spin-Offs: The Game Boy Advance Edition

Note – I’ll be excluding the massive amounts of ports the GBA received (all the Super Mario Advance ports, the Classic NES ports, and a few others).  Also, see the chapter The Best of the Rest, for coverage on Warioware.
Mario Kart Super Circuit
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Intelligent Systems
Players: 1 – 4

Nintendo was quick to capitalize on its Mario Kart franchise for the GBA launch, getting Intelligent Systems to create a new title.  It is a bit of a throwback to the Super NES game (with the whole game being rendered in sprites again), but adds in a lot of touches the N64 sequel featured, as well as its own quirks.  However, it tends to be at the bottom of most people’s lists in terms of the series, and with me having not played it, I can’t vouch for it one way or another.  I do know I don’t care much for the GBA tracks on Mario Kart DS.

Game and Watch Gallery 4
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: TOSE
Players: 1 – 2

Oddly enough, only America and Europe saw the release of this one.  It’s the largest of the four Game and Watch Gallery titles, with 20 titles (11 of which include Modern modes with Mario characters taking on the roles), with some new titles alongside some from earlier comps.  Probably the best bet if you want some G&W gaming.

Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Alphadream
Players: 1 – 2 (Mario Bros. mode only)

A third branch of the Mario RPG tree came into being for the GBA, becoming the most popular original Mario entry for the handheld.  In this game, Mario and Luigi work together in both overworld exploration and in battle, with each brother corresponding to their own button.  Bowser also took a slight backseat for Cackeletta and Fawful commandeering the vile assault on the Mushroom Kingdom’s royalty this go-around, taking Peach’s voice.  The two plumbers travel to the nearby Beanbean Kingdom to get it back, and uncover a lot more than they bargained for.

Fawful became quite the sensation with his quirky Engrish-style of delivery and his overwhelming tendency to refer to food, and continues to pop up in the later Mario & Luigi titles.  This is also notable for resurrecting the Koopalings for their first appearance since Yoshi’s Safari, and I remember being so thrilled about seeing them again.

I for one didn’t like the game’s primary mechanic of each brother using his own button.  It got a little too baffling for me, and although I nearly reached the end, I gave up due to frustration and sold it off.  The sequels keep up this kind of gameplay, so I haven’t picked them up.  My loss, perhaps?  I will give the series this, though – stunning art direction.

Mario Golf Advance Tour
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Camelot
Players: 1 – 4

Mario Golf for the Game Boy Color had a light RPG mode alongside its main golfing attraction, but Advance Tour takes that to the next level.  The game’s all about its RPG-flavored gameplay, with you taking an original golfer through the Mushroom Kingdom, learning from Mario and his buddies and leveling up and such.  You could also port your character to the Gamecube Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, which lacked any OC’s beyond the GBA link.

I haven’t played it, so that’s all I got.

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: NST
Players: 1

Donkey Kong has been on his best behavior for years, but the new release of Mini-Mario toys make him go bananas and swipe ALL of the trotting figures, forcing the real Mario to chase after him to regain his merchandise.  One of the battier Mario stories to drive a game, but again, Mario’s never been too story-driven (beyond the RPG’s, anyway).

This is a sequel to the earlier Game Boy Donkey Kong, continuing that title’s puzzle/action motif.  It does not keep the prior game’s tight controls, though – they are a bit too slippery and it reveals itself often.  I sold mine off, and am happy with the first attempt of DK puzzling.

Mario Pinball Land
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Fuse Games
Players: 1

Also known as Super Mario Ball, this one-ups Mario Vs. Donkey Kong in the WTF? plot department, with Mario adding a sphere form to his ever-growing list of powers and talents thanks to the Spherasizer, a fancy device meant to allow Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants to enter The Fun Fair’s Air Cannon attraction.  As Peach gave it a try, wily Goombas knocked the cannon to fire at Bowser’s castle, and of course, Mario follows in hot pursuit.

Fuse Games’ first Nintendo outing did not fare too well, as the game was lacking in the level design department, becoming more of a lucky strike to pass a stage than with any skill.  Luckily, they redeemed themselves some with their second venture, the more appropriate Metroid Prime Pinball, in which Samus in morph ball form bounces around various Prime locales.

Yoshi Topsy Turvy (or Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Artoon
Players: 1

Artoon’s first handling of the Yoshi license was not well received.  Utilizing the Tilt Sensor, you controlled the world’s rotation – tilting it left would make the stage do the same, and so on.  Yoshi had to touch stars to progress, with no way of returning to prior locations.  To earn the right to battle Bowser, Yoshi had to meet certain goals per stage, which makes the aforementioned lack of backtracking a pain.

Despite dropping the ball with their first go, Nintendo’s been kind enough to let Artoon have a second chance, with Yoshi’s Island DS, which I’ll cover in a bit.

Mario Party Advance
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Hudson Soft
Players: 1 – 4

A very scaled-down party this was, with Wario, Donkey Kong, Waluigi and Daisy getting stopped at the door.  It also required an actual board to play with four players, a bit of an oddity.  E.Gadd got promoted big time here, with his devices (or Gaddgets) being the main focus of minigame tomfoolery.  However, it’s probably okay if you missed this one.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour (or Mario Power Tennis)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: Camelot
Players: 1 – 2

More sports-RPG excitement, and more “port your creation to the Gamecube!” shenanigans.  Camelot paired down the roster to highlight a mere six Mario characters – Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong and Waluigi (without Wario for once), and there’s a bevy of OC’s to develop and unlock.  I haven’t dug into this one, so that’s about all I have to say.

Chapter 14: Super Mario Sunshine – A Tropical Getaway Gone Awry

Super Mario Sunshine (Gamecube)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
ESRB: E/Players: 1

With the Gamecube, Nintendo made the curious decision to not launch with a Super Mario adventure.  Instead, Luigi carried that torch with Luigi’s Mansion (to be covered in the upcoming Gamecube Spin-offs piece), which was a very radical shift in Mario gameplay that certainly has its own charms, but it was not a blockbuster Super Mario platformer!  The following summer, Nintendo unleashed the first proper 3D sequel of the Mario franchise, the tropically-oriented Super Mario Sunshine.

Mario, Peach and an small army of Toads (plus adviser Toadsworth, who made his debut here) decide to escape the monotony of The Mushroom Kingdom and fly to the wonderful Isle Delfino for a much needed vacation.  However, it doesn’t take long for problems to begin – Mario’s apparently a criminal here for causing a massive amount of vandalism, and he’s been tasked with cleaning the island.  Thanks to Professor E. Gadd’s FLUDD device and the occasional help of his old pal Yoshi, rinsing off the goop isn’t too much of a hassle, but the doppelganger Shadow Mario quickly becomes one!  He whisks off Peach in the midst of your gathering up the needed Shine Sprites and cleansing the various locales.  However, Shadow Mario is merely a disguise for another newcomer to the Mario series – Bowser Jr.  He continues to antagonize Mario throughout the remainder of the game, culminating in a final battle against Bowser Sr. in…a hot tub.  Peach is saved and the Isle is back to normal, so Mario, Peach and their entourage return home.

Let’s talk up our new additions to Mario’s character pantheon before diving into anything else.  Bowser Jr. is a bit reviled, perhaps unnecessarily so.  He is seen as a lackluster replacement to the more beloved Koopalings, who took an extended break from any Mario platforming villainy until New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  I think more than that he’s disliked due to viewing Peach as his “mommy”, which was a bizarre and disturbing plot twist that certain practitioners of hentai would appreciate, but the majority of Mario fandom did not.  Since this, however, I think he’s become much more tolerable.  Toadsworth is Peach’s steward, and has popped up in several Mario titles in the same role.  He’s been more prominent in the RPG spin-offs, particularly the Mario & Luigi series, and he’s also playable in the Mario Baseball games developed by Namco.  He’s likable enough for me.

Mario saw more than a few changes to his moveset from Mario 64 to Mario Sunshine.  Several of his melee attacks were dropped in favor of FLUDD, a water-spraying backpack gizmo that can also hover or fire Mario off like a rocket straight ahead or up in the air.  FLUDD is primarily used to wash away Shadow Mario’s maliciousness (which takes the form of multicolored goop), which can also coat Mario if he’s not careful.  Mario’s jumping abilities are the same save the Hover nozzle, which allows Mario some extra airtime when used.  FLUDD is a love-it-or-hate-it addition, which comes into play in the game’s secret stages (which I’ll cover next).  Out in the standard levels, it’s a decent enough mechanic that is fun to play around with.

However, Mario’s not going to be using FLUDD all of the time.  Each level has at least one “secret stage” where Mario is teleported to a special arena that challenges the player’s platforming know how, and for some crazy reason, Nintendo felt compelled to strip away the key gameplay nuance the game had going for it – FLUDD.  Mario without FLUDD is not as tight or refined as Mario’s 3D debut in Mario 64 – he feels more slippery, and reflexive squeezes of the Shoulder Trigger are completely in vain here in efforts to save yourself…since you don’t have the apparatus you utilize for the rest of the game here to do that.  I found it quite annoying, and Mario’s edge grabbing talents were significantly lacking.  Strike one for me.

Secondly, the game’s programming isn’t as tight as it could have been.  The camera is deceivingly against the player, taking any chance it can to make the game more frustrating.  It isn’t as loose as Mario 64’s (which really wasn’t all that loose to begin with, and that’s saying something), tends to get snagged in backdrops more often, and occasionally picks terrible angles that makes it tough to properly gauge distance.  3D platforming really needs to have a camera that is better than this one.  Strike two.

Lastly, my major beef with the game stems from its sloppiness.  It did not feel as polished as it could have been.  Enemy renders are atrociously cobbled together, looking more like late-gen N64 models than high-poly Gamecube ones.  The secret stages lack much in presentation, with simplistic platforms hovering in empty space backed by a looping background texture also hanging out in the middle of nowhere.  The game relies far too heavily on Rare-esque item hoarding compared to Mario 64 – blue coins need to be gathered up to BUY SHINES (Wha?), for example.  Another beef is the tendency to make the secret stages hard to reach, and if you fail them by running out of lives, you get to relive that aggravation to try again.  I’ve heard the “Mario needing extra lives is an outdated throwback” argument relating to Galaxy, but I think it was more necessary to make that claim for Sunshine.  Strike three.

Mario’s lone 3D platforming outing for the ‘Cube disappointed me immensely.  It lost a lot of the joys Mario 64 had, and made several boneheaded mistakes.  Luckily, Nintendo learned from this misstep and made up for it big time with the two Mario Galaxies, which we’ll cover soon.

Chapter 15: New Super Mario Bros. – Back to Basics

New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
ESRB: E/Players: 1 – 2

Nintendo passed over doing any new 2D Marios for the Game Boy Advance, happily rehashing their earlier titles with bonus features to try to tide over the Mario fanbase.  However, with the launch of the DS, Nintendo decided to revisit the classic gameplay of the Super Mario Bros. series, but revamp it some in the process.  The game used a 3D engine to power its 2D gameplay, added in moves from Donkey Kong ’94 and Super Mario 64, and dialed back the core engine to be more similar in nature to the first game, with a few caveats thrown in (boss battles, extra power-ups) for good measure.  They titled it New Super Mario Bros., and it sold like hotcakes.

New Super Mario Bros. walks a fine line between its retro and modern aspects.  It tries to recapture the essence of Mario’s olden days, but with a more sophisticated engine powering the action.  It succeeds for the most part.  The game is a fun revival of Mario’s glorious platforming roots, but it has some issues holding it back.  Namely, the save system is sucktactular.  I’ll let my old Opinion explain:

Another shortcoming is the seeming lack of portability this game gives you. And by that I mean lack of save points. The only way you can save is either a) beat a tower or a castle or b) purchase a path via star coin signs. If this was a console title, I’d understand this setup. All of the Super Mario games on the NES didn’t let you save at all! But this is on the DS. A portable handheld. On batteries. Sure, the system came with an AC adapter. But on long trips, at school or at work, you’re not likely to either have the adapter or be able to use it. So what happens if you run out of juice? You get to replay all of the levels you just beat because you couldn’t reach a castle/tower and/or used up all your old sign saves. Also, the game opens up an anytime save feature AFTER you beat the game. So why couldn’t this be there BEFORE you beat it? Oy. Bad design choice.

I still am dumbfounded by the decision to handle saves this way.  It’s so atrociously terrible that I’m just flabbergasted.  As for the power-ups, well, the new ones mostly fell flat.  Again, my Opinion’s…opinion:

The old fire flower is still your #1 choice by a long shot, but the new powerups do add some new challenges to the game, but aren’t really useful outside of finding exits and star coins. The mini mushroom is the most used of the three new ones – it’s used to unlock two of the worlds, and there’s several small pipes that only Mini Mario can enter or high places that only Mini Mario’s floaty jump can reach that you’ll need this for. The Koopa shell is used sparingly in puzzles, and while it’s the most powerful powerup outside of the Starman, it is very limited in its other uses. It’s also quite hard to control once you get rolling. The Mega Mushroom is the most fun powerup, but it doesn’t work everywhere and its main purpose is to stock up on 1-Ups. Still, they’re fun, but compared to the Super Leaf, Frog Suit or Cape Feather, they aren’t the same by any means.

In reflection, Nintendo must have also agreed that the Koopa Suit was a mistake, as it had hastily disappeared from the sequel.  The mini mushroom’s novelty was reused, and to be honest, it was a nice challenge to try to avoid running into foes as Mini-Mario in both games.  The Mega Mushroom is incredibly awesome at first, as you rip apart the landscape and pummel enemies without breaking a sweat, but it quickly becomes a nuisance and you’ll be trying to avoid the damn thing later on in the game.

Comparing this to its sequel shows that Nintendo was holding back here.  It was a solid game, but lacked the inspiration and creativity the series prides itself on.  Bowser Jr. was woefully overused as a miniboss EVERYWHERE, the bosses tended to be jumbo-sized standards, and the level designs played it safe.  I think that these aspects combined with the broken save system and some awkward power-up creations make the game merely a satisfactory Mario game instead of a stellar one.

Chapter 16: Super Mario Galaxy – One Small Step for Mario…

Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: EAD Tokyo
ESRB: E/Players: 1 – 2

After Sunshine’s spottiness, Nintendo decided to send Mario’s next 3D outing into the hands of relatively new developers – EAD Tokyo, who had one game  under their belt, the DK Bongo-driven Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.  That game was well-received (save the hardcore DK fans clamoring for more of Rare’s DKC universe to be involved), and Nintendo threw what could be the greatest gift/challenge at them for their next project – making the next 3D Super Mario.  Luckily for us, EAD Tokyo rose to the task, and delivered a solid beginning to a whole new mini-franchise.

The game’s plot is pretty standard Mario fare – Peach invites Mario to the Star Festival at the castle, which he gladly accepts and begins meandering over there like a lovesick bird that can’t fly (that’s how I interpreted his happy run at the beginning :p ).  But before Mario makes it there, Bowser shows up in his airship (loved the SMB3 reference!), hi-jacks the castle and, utilizing amazing talents stolen from space, rockets Mario out of the atmosphere.  Luckily, our bedazzled hero lands on a planet, and discovers the galaxy surrounding the Mushroom Kingdom.  He meets up with Rosalina, the “Queen” of this galaxy, who agrees to allow Mario to explore her observatory (the game’s hub) in order to rejuvenate its Star power (which Bowser usurped)…and sit in on her Storytime to her Luma friends (who consider her to be their mother).  Yep.  Anyway, in the end, Bowser is defeated, Peach and the Mushroom Kingdom are rescued, and Rosalina leaves the intrepid hero and his Princess to return to their home deep in space.

Before leaping into the gameplay, let’s focus momentarily on Rosalina, the third official member of royalty to enter Mario’s canon.  Peach remains the most notable, naturally, and Daisy continues to serve as an accessory to Kart/Sports/Party games, but Rosalina has had the distinction of being in two main games to the series, supplanting Daisy’s lone appearance (and in Super Mario Land, at that), given her more clout.  She’s definitely more important to Galaxy than its sequel, which pushes her into the game’s conclusion and Super Guide aspects and ignores her otherwise.  Here she’s the head of the game’s hub world, protector of her children Luma and to the universe itself, and has yet to be captured by some spiky turtle dictator.  So, she’s a bit more empowered than Peach.  Her design comes from a very similar cloth to Princess Toadstool’s, save a large clump of hair covering her right eye, the blue dress that is different in style, and her wand waggling.  But I like her character, and think she’s a solid addition to the line-up.  It’s nice to see a princess who is NOT constantly threatened of being the victim of kidnapping, and she certainly has some power buried within that wand of hers, if my memory of Mario Galaxy 2 is any indication.

Okay, tangent over.  Mario Galaxy is a far superior product than Mario Sunshine was.  For one, it feels far more polished and creative, channeling a lot of Mario’s past into its design.  The levels are more linear than Mario 64 or Sunshine’s, feeling much more like one of the 2D Mario titles but done in three dimensions.  There’s alternative paths to take, which may lead you to hidden stars.  But Mario’s platforming is radically different than before thanks to the spherical nature of the planetoids he’s running around on.  Being in space opened up several gameplay possibilities that Nintendo keenly capitalized on (and its sequel perfecting, but that’s the next article), making this feel both similar and distinctly different from Marios of old.  These spheres, for example, are not flat – Mario can gallop all over them, and by doing so is able to run underneath some platforms, a mind-bending exercise that takes some adjustment to get used to.  “Falling” into a pit is also a change, as there are holes all over these globes to avoid, and not all of them lead downward.  It’s a fresh spin on the Mario model.  The game also breaks things down to smaller chunks – there’s rarely a huge field to cover ground on, but far more often it’s a small planet with its own unique task, and then Mario leaps through space to the next challenge, and so on.  It’s a refreshing break from the more straightforward approach the prior 3D Marios took with enormous areas to explore, and while it sort of strips away some of the discovery Mario 64 pioneered so well, it’s well-executed and rarely becomes a thorn.

I’ve felt that Mario Galaxy was attempting to channel the aura of Super Mario Bros. 3 at times, and one reason why I feel that way is the reintroduction of suits to the Mario power-up catalog.  There’s four in total, on top of the Fire Flower, Ice Flower (making its debut) and Starman – Bee, Boo, Spring and Flying Mario.  Bee Mario lets you hover for a bit, as well as stick to honey panels.  Boo Mario allows you to float around like a Boo, turn invisible and pass through certain walls.  Spring Mario, probably the most reviled power-up in the franchise due to its iffy controls, gives Mario some spring to his leaps and allows him to jump incredibly high, but is frustratingly difficult to control, since he’s always bouncing.  Flying Mario revisits Mario’s SMB3 colors and gives him the ability to soar around like Mario 64’s Wing Cap, but it’s more a bonus than anything else.  Galaxy 2 would expand upon this, but I’ll cover that in the next piece.  The Fire Flower and Ice Flower were timed, compared to before when the Fire Flower lasted until Mario was hit by something, mainly to minimize abusing their powers.  Ice Mario also could skate on the water, and looked like Metal Mario but frozen…which was kind of cool.

Beyond Rosalina and the Lumas, a Toad Brigade was introduced in Galaxy.  These intrepid Toads would follow Mario into the levels, often leading themselves to the platforming at hand, and offer advice or suggestions on where to go next.  They kept this for the sequel, which I liked – it’s nice to see Nintendo using the Toads for more than mere Bowser fodder.  Another nice thing about Galaxy is that it brought back a rather prominent Mario character who had been squeezed out of making an appearance in Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine for inexplicable reasons, and would have this aspect thrown in his face in cameos in the Paper Mario series…

That’s right!  Luigi FINALLY returned to the fold after skipping out on Mario’s prior quests, and even was playable for those dedicated players who conquered the game with all 120 stars.  You could play Super Luigi Galaxy and try to redo that feat with Luigi, who was much more agile in the air but had terrible traction.  It was really nice to see Luigi come back – I’ve always liked him more.

Galaxy also had a dynamic final encounter with Bowser, one of my favorite fights with him and is probably the one aspect the original game has over its sequel.  The final brawl with Galaxy 2’s Bowser, unless it improves significantly with having all of the game’s stars before tackling him, is a very unexciting rehash of what you did before, plus one extra step.  I was rather disappointed.  Galaxy’s, meanwhile, was quite epic and awesome.

All and all, the first Galaxy was a fine return to form after Sunshine’s mediocrity.  However, Galaxy 2 is a far more refined and incredible game that really took the building blocks behind this game and reimagined them beautifully as an ideal sequel, making this effort seem more conservative, which works against it at times.  The hub world was bloated and a chore to hike around, the worlds are less inspiring than the sequel, and the Spring power-up makes too many appearances.  I like Galaxy, but the sequel is far superior.

Chapter 17: New Super Mario Bros. Wii – Pure Unadultered Bliss

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii)
Pub/Dev: Nintendo
ESRB: E/Players: 1 – 4

After a drought of 18 years following Super Mario World, Nintendo released the next proper sequel in the Super Mario Bros. line on a console (I’m not counting Yoshi’s Island, which I consider a spin-off), New Super Mario Bros. Wii.  Taking the rudimentary concepts and engine from the DS New Super Mario Bros., Nintendo decided to really go all out with this latest chapter, resurrecting the Koopalings (who had not seen any real action since SMW, beyond their last major appearance in Yoshi’s Safari and their cameo boss fights in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga), several enemies not seen in decades, bringing back Yoshi (although in a more limited format than in SMW), adding in some mechanics from Super Mario Bros. 2 (picking up POW Blocks and other items beyond shells), and then building a fantastic game around all of these aspects, Nintendo produced what very well could be the finest original game on the Wii.  I consider it as such.

First off, let me admit that I am a HUGE fan of the Koopalings.  I think that that may have been obvious, at the rate I’ve blabbered on about them in this series of features, but I used to role-play as them as a kid.  I thought they were just awesome, and seeing them return in such a glorious manner made me ecstatic.  They were updated but with great care, with Iggy and Lemmy seeing the more radical of the alterations (which the two were my favorites, and it took a bit to adjust to their new looks, but I think these are improvements).  Seeing these guys (and Wendy) back and with better characterization than they ever had before was a treat.  Luckily for me, that wasn’t the only modification that works in New SMB Wii’s favor.

In fact, this embellishment of everything Mario was a fan’s dream come to life.  Nintendo went through the archives and dug up nearly every major adversary of consequence in the series and brought them back (save Shyguys, who are a notably absent foe on an otherwise rich roster of baddies) beautifully.  Seeing Spike, the spiked ball-vomiting turtle, for example, made me smile.  And I continued to smile bigger and bigger as more and more classics made their appearances.  In fact, since these New SMB articles have corresponding Opinion pieces, let me pluck a choice piece about the enemies I wrote a while back after playing the game through:

Anyone who’s been attached with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World will smile and laugh as they plow through this game’s many levels.  The sheer amount of retro enemy returns, gameplay mechanics, and musical throwbacks is astounding.  World 1 is pretty standard fare, but World 2 throws SMB3′s Spike, Fire Chomps, Boomerang and Fire Brothers, and Firesnakes at you, for example.  Further down the road, Big Boss Bass (AH!!!), Sledge Brothers, Mini Goombas, Mecha Koopas, Ptooies, Rocky Wrenches, Fuzzys, and a plethora of other baddies from the past await you, and I must have just looked like the happiest man of earth.  Seeing so many old foes return in such a glorious manner…I giggled in sheer delight each time I saw somebody reappear after so long.  And more just keep popping up as you go through the game.  It’s clear that Nintendo hasn’t forgotten all of these great designs from the past.

And the Koopalings?  How did their battles fare after such a long hiatus?

And the Koopalings!  BEST MARIO BOSS FIGHTS EVER.  Seriously.  Larry is pretty straightforward, but the tricks they throw at you as you go further along are just incredible.  I won’t spoil them here (honestly, you need to experience them!), but Iggy and Ludwig’s second rounds were by far some of the greatest 2D boss showdowns I’ve ever done.

And Bowser?  Did he recover from two humiliating scenarios that were just freakishly weird (Sunshine’s sauna encounter and New SMB’s voodoo-inspired oddity) and continue the greatness Galaxy presented?

And then…there’s the final fight with Bowser.  My god.  I thought the final fight in Galaxy was Bowser’s shining moment.  Nope, Nintendo topped themselves with an epic showcase that MUST be played to believe.  It’s as fun as it looked online and then some.  I tell you, the Wii and Bowser battles are ALL RIGHT.

That’s enough quoting myself for now.  I’ll get a fat head if I keep at it. XD

The levels have built upon New SMB’s foundation, rivaling the best of the previous games.  Many awesome set-pieces, crazy concepts and the aforementioned enemy throwbacks made each level a pleasure to explore.  The game’s also in line with the Marios of the past in difficulty, which can be tough at times, but nowhere near as complicated as some press outlets want you to believe.  New players who have some problems will find the Super Guide option a nice way to learn the mechanics of Mario, while veterans will likely not even see it at all.  The music continues on expanding the New SMB theme, but there’s plenty of great musical shout-outs to the past as well.  And last but not least, the new power-ups are fantastic, and have been much more integrated with the game than New SMB’s.  The Ice Flower from Galaxy and returning Mini Mushroom, along the Starman/Super Mushroom/Fire Flower standbys, are joined by two new suits, the Propeller Suit and the Penguin Suit.  The Propeller Suit requires a quick shake of the Wiimote to launch, and it’s a nice new way to fly.  The Penguin Suit combines the Frog Suit from SMB3 with the Ice Flower and the sliding proclivity of the Koopa Suit from New SMB, giving Mario a great swimming skill and the ease to conquer ice levels by slipping through them on your tummy.  Yoshi is back, too, as I mentioned, and he’s pretty much like you remember from SMW.

All and all, I was delighted with the quality and love that went into this game.   Well worth the investment to experience and enjoy!

Chapter 19: Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Beautiful Refinement

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Pub: Nintendo/Dev: EAD Tokyo
Players: 1 – 2

Super Mario Galaxy was a creative game, for sure, and one that put Mario’s 3D ventures back on track.  However, unlike the last two generations where one Mario title was good enough for that lifecycle, EAD Tokyo yearned to push the envelope further.  Tons of ideas bounced around in the developer’s collective minds following Galaxy’s release, and so the very first 3D Mario platforming sequel was greenlit.  It ignores the events of the last game (or, at the very least, resets things back to the Star Festival, like the first Galaxy took place in its own little vortex of time, only to be lost once it was completed), with Mario heading to the Mushroom Kingdom to visit Peach and watch the Festival take place.  Bowser shows up and does his usual kidnapping of the princess, and Mario, hurled into space, recovers and marches off after her.

Rosalina, the Luma Mother who played a rather prominent role in the first Galaxy, is whisked off to the conclusion of the game, only showing her face in the ending.  She does make appearances as the Super Guide avatar, but is covered in a starry texture due to Bowser’s influence. She will become a little more involved if you collect all of the game’s stars by opening up the ability to get Green Stars (if all 120 of the standard Stars are nabbed) and eventually popping up on Starship Mario to join all the other guests.  Speaking of which, Mario relies upon a new hub in Galaxy 2 – a planet made to look like his face (aka Starship Mario).  Piloted by a giant purple Luma named Lubba, Mario progresses between galaxies via a world map instead of a more conventional hub like the last three 3D Marios.  I personally like the shift.  While Peach’s Castle was fun enough to explore, the others haven’t been quite as joyous.

New power-ups join the collection from the first Galaxy (save the Ice Flower, which jumped ship for New Super Mario Bros. Wii) – Cloud Mario, Drill Mario and Rock Mario.  All three are great additions.  Cloud Mario lets Mario spin and enlarge his cloudy allies into platforms – very useful!  Drill Mario allows him to tunnel through dirt to get to the opposite side, and Rock Mario lets him pummel most anything in his way after a shake of the Wiimote transforms him into a wildly spinning boulder.  Bee, Boo, Fire and Spring Mario also come back (Spring Mario is limited to one level this time, thankfully), giving Mario one of his more diverse sets of abilities.  An old friend also comes back following his New SMB Wii appearance – Yoshi!

Yoshi is far better than his Sunshine outing – his abilities make sense, and he’s an asset to Mario instead of a hindrance.  He also has power-ups in the forms of fruit, giving him blimp-like powers, or insane speed, or making his skin luminous.  He’s more prevalent in Galaxy 2 as well, feeling more substantial and ingrained to the gameplay core than a mere afterthought (like in New SMB Wii).

Ultimately, Super Mario Galaxy 2 rises far higher than its predecessor in terms of creativeness.  The stages are all incredibly inventive, pushing the three dimensional planetoids and the concepts of gravity in very awesome ways.  Each level was a pleasure to work through (save a few – I’m looking at you, bird-gliding galaxies), and had some brilliantly incredible moments that had me on the edge of my seat.  While some challenges took a few lives to conquer, I think the game is nicely balanced with a fair amount of difficulty applied the further you dig in, which is exactly how it should be.  Mario Galaxy 2 continues one other aspect from its prequel – excellent music.  The first had a soaring soundtrack, and the sequel maintains that tradition.  Alas, the final fight with Bowser here is mostly rehashed from earlier encounters, which I was gravely disappointed with.

All and all, Galaxy 2 is a wondrous sequel that encapsulates the concepts of its prequel and fantastically builds upon them.  It’ll be hard for the next 3D Mario to top this one…(MODERN ME NOTE: …and yet Super Mario 3D World did…)

As a final note, I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Super Mario Wiki, where a lot of fact-checking on my part was done.  Well worth a visit!  Thanks!

Chapter 20: Super Mario Spin-Offs – The Best of the Rest

To conclude, I wanted to spotlight a few titles following the N64 and Game Boy Advance (MODERN ME NOTE: The 3DS and Wii U are not covered) that I felt were notable (and give Warioware its proper due).  Anything that’s a sequel to a prior spin-off will not be covered!

Other Heroes than Mario Leading the Way:

Luigi’s Mansion

Luigi lands his first Nintendo-made starring role, equipped with a ghost-nomming vacuum and a flashlight against a bevy of spirits, ghouls, and Boos.  Not a bad game by any means, but probably not the best one to launch your hardware with!  Luigi’s Mansion introduced Professor E.Gadd into the Mario family, although following the Gamecube/GBA eras he’s been notably absent.  Perhaps he wasn’t as welcome a guest as Nintendo hoped, eh?

Wario World

Developed by the ever-loved Treasure (who made Gunstar Heroes, Ikaruga, Radiant Silvergun and Sin & Punishment), Wario’s muscles get a fantastic workout as you get to clobber Wario’s treasure, which has been converted by a sinister Black Jewel into monsters and beasts.  With throws, blows and leaking noses, Wario’s first console platformer was very solidly done, if not a bit repetitive.  I like it, but I just don’t know if I’m going to replay it anytime soon…

Super Princess Peach

TOSE handled Peach’s platforming debut, which combined Mario mechanics with a very cliched “Emotional Vibe” system that gave Peach special powers depending on what mood she was in.  Using these feelings, she had to rescue Mario and Luigi from Bowser for once.  Novel!  Despite the sexism, it’s considered a great game, although it’s rather hard to find now.

New Sports:

Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix

Konami and Nintendo mixed together their large franchises for a one-shot Dance-off, with the unusual choice of making Waluigi the main antagonist.  It’s the closest he’s ever been to being more than Wario’s second banana!  The game features mixes based on Mario tunes, but Konami didn’t release any other DDR material for the ‘Cube, making it a game for the really hardcore Mario/DDR fans that yearned to see such a union.

Mario Superstar Baseball

Another outside company handled Mario’s baseball antics – Namco!  I’ve not played this or its Wii sequel, but I’ve heard they’re okay.  I don’t like baseball that much, so color me uninterested.

Super Mario Strikers

Next Level Games began their Nintendo relationship with what could be considered the most extreme (or XTREME, depending on how you look at it) take on Mario and his friends with Strikers, a crazy soccer game.  The first did well enough to launch a Wii sequel that improved a lot of the nitpicks from the first, but I’ve not tried this out yet, so I’ll cut further speculation out.  The devs would go on to make the Wii Punch-Out!! update, which was pretty huge.

I’ve included Peach and Daisy’s art here mainly because it’s so unusual to see them displayed in this way officially in the Mario canon.  This is probably the only time you’ll see their navels. :p  Kind of ballsy, really – usually Nintendo’s pretty conservative with them.  Very big shifts in their designs to go from dresses and high heels to these.

Mario Hoops 3-on-3

The developer roulette now lands on Square-Enix, the most improbable developer of a basketball game you may be able to fathom, but lo and behold, they did do such a thing.  With cameos from some Final Fantasy characters, it was the first (but not the last) mix-up between those two universes.  The game was panned a bit for its controls, if I recall, but again, I’ve not tried it out, so I’m not going to judge!

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games

An epic crossover spurned on by the rivalry of the 16-bit wars, Mario and Sonic united with their respective allies and foes to tackle Olympic events.  Sega handled the development duties with Shigeru Miyamoto supervising, and I guess they’ve been a hit, since we’ll be seeing a third chapter for the 3DS and Wii this year.

Mario Sports Mix

Square-Enix takes on Mario and sports a second time, this time adding hockey, volleyball, and dodgeball to their prior basketball concepts.  Dragon Quest’s Slime joined up with the Final Fantasy crew to make this a three-franchise crossover.  I’m more interested in this due to liking volleyball and dodgeball, but I doubt I’ll ever get it unless I find it cheap somewhere.

Warioware Series

Unquestionably the biggest hit Nintendo’s had with Mario spin-offs in the last two generations is the Warioware, Inc. line of mini-game hi-jinks, hosted by everyone’s favorite farting garlic-eater, Wario.  Here he’s been recast into new clothes, starring alongside a unique cast, and thrust into spearheading a rogue developer that cranks out short games on the cheap.  It’s a very unique premise that Nintendo went all out with, with six games in the series so far and no sign of it slowing down.  Somehow or another I’ve not tried these out – I’ll have to remedy that one day.