10 Mar Happy Mario Day! Here’s Some Underloved Mario Games!
For those of you who may not be acquainted with today’s national Holiday…it’s March 10, Mar10, OR Mario Day! Mario is my favorite video game character and it’s my favorite series of games of all time. Mario is no slouch, Nintendo releases a new Mario game almost every year! He’s gone on RPG adventures, raced go-karts, fought all of the rest of the Nintendo Pantheon, captured a giant ape, and even helped demolish some old buildings. Mario has done everything! When he’s not saving the Mushroom Kingdom from his nemesis, Bowser, Mario can be seen playing tennis, or golf, or going to fairly competitive parties. Mario is a bit of a Renaissance Man, He’s been a Doctor, an Artist, and a Boxing Referee. I guess plumbing doesn’t quite cut it in the Mushroom Kingdom these days. To celebrate one of my favorite “Holidays” I wanted to take a look at some Mario games that are under-loved. I don’t like to use the term “underrated” because I feel that these games are often rated where they should be! These games, however, are a bit underrepresented and I want you to play them! That’s right, YOU! If you have access to them, play them!! We can sit and talk about Super Mario Bros. 3, or Super Mario World, or Super Mario 64 for literal decades, but it’s also cool to check out some of the lesser discussed Mario games that are just as good as the rest!
Mario Bros. (Arcade)
I love this game. Of all the famous Nintendo Arcade games of the 1980s, Mario Bros. may be my favorite. In 1983 on the heels of Donkey Kong Jr., Nintendo released a fantastically fun single-screen platformer starring Mario and his newly created brother, Luigi! I love this game because of its simplicity, but it also introduced us to some of the fun enemies that we’d fight in the future! The shellcreepers are the prototype for my personal favorite, Koopa Troopas! While the gameplay is vastly different than future titles in the Mario series, Mario Bros. was the first instance of us seeing these characters as a unit. I’m eternally grateful for this game due to it’s introduction of Luigi and also being the perfect add-on to almost every Game Boy Advance Mario port! I still play this in it’s original form at every arcade that has it and you can get it on switch thanks to Arcade Archives. It’s an eternal classic and influential to the future of Mario-Based puzzle platformers like Donkey Kong 94. I highly suggest playing the ACA version on Switch if you’re itching to spend $8 USD on a fun arcade game. It’s not the game that started it all, but it’s definitely quite important to the development of Nintendo’s platformers starring Mario and his brother, Luigi. Due to the bros. fighting monsters in a sewer, Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto decided that he was no longer a carpenter, but a plumber and thus the Mario Mythos was born! Miyamoto worked on this game with Gunpei Yokoi, who would eventually go on to create the Game Boy. The development team Nintendo R&D1 would eventually forge its own path within the Big N, creating series like: Metroid, Super Mario Land, Wario Land, Wario Ware, and many of the other oddities of Nintendo. Its influence has definitely been seen more on the stranger side of Nintendo, but that’s what makes them who they are. Nintendo is a lovely, strange company and the weird side of things dates back to Mario Bros. You can see the influence this game has had on Nintendo’s progression into the modern era, and despite its overall importance, it’s often forgotten. So let’s celebrate Mario Bros. today!
Super Mario Bros. 2/Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic/Super Mario USA (NES, Famicom Disc System, Famicom)
I have a really soft spot in my heart for Super Mario Bros. 2. And mostly everyone at this time understands that it’s really only a Mario game in the US. The story goes…that Nintendo had worked with Fuji Television in 1987 to create a game for the Famicom Disc System to promote their event Yume Kojo (Dream Factory) ’87. The original game did not feature Mario characters, but when Nintendo decided to localize this title in the West, they changed it to Super Mario Bros. 2 to capitalize on the popularity of Super Mario in 1988. The REAL Super Mario Bros. 2 ultimately released as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels on the Super Mario All Stars collection. It’s normally attributed to how difficult SMB2 is, but I also think it has something to do with timing. Nintendo has just released the NES nationwide in the US, and while SMB was incredibly popular, it was still very new. Releasing a second SMB game on the heels of the original would most like have over-saturated the market and created confusion.
Doki Doki Panic was eventually renamed Super Mario Bros. USA and released on the Famicom (The Japanese NES) in Japan in 1992, due to the Yume Kojo license ending. While it’s not REALLY a Mario game…it’s become a Mario game over time. What I appreciate the most about this game, was that Nintendo was willing to take their most recognizable brand and give US audiences something so bizarre and different that many must have been taken by surprise. As for me, I don’t remember much of the world without Super Mario Bros. 2 and I always appreciated how NES-era sequels went out of their way to change up the formula. This is seen with SMB2 and Zelda II most noticeably. It forced Nintendo to think a little differently and I thought it was remarkable for a company to follow up their successful titles with something VASTLY different. It’s dangerous and brave and I’ll always respect them for it. SMB2 though, has contributed much to the mythos of the Mario universe. This game was developed by the team that would become synonymous with Mario, Zelda, Mario Kart, Star Fox, among others. It’s no wonder why the characters from SMB2 have continued to show up in future games, I’m looking at YOU Shy Guys! Those of us who grew up watching the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, can see how our minds were shaped by the characters in SMB2 as that show was essentially the game turned cartoon. Nintendo has also continued to include characters like Birdo in all of their sports and party games, so while this title is a bit of the black sheep of the series, SMB2 does have legacy. Strangely enough, SMB2 has become a very important part of the Yoshi series, as the Shy Guys are the main enemy to Mario’s dino-guardian. Even Wart, Mario nemesis in SBM2 shows up in Link’s Awakening, oddly another game about sleep (did I just connect Mario and Zelda via the collective subconscious? I think I did).
Nintendo has been famously known to draw influence and use mechanics from previous games in their future installments. As SMB2 focuses heavily on not only jumping on enemies, but being able to pick things up from the ground (including enemies) and throw them as a form of attack. I’m grossly speculating here, but I feel as though this mechanic influenced the eventual Mario ability to jump on a Koopa, pick up its shell, and kick it. Equally intriguing is how SMB2 gave each character their own special feel. This introduced Luigi as a high-jumper, Toad as a stout and strong character, and Toadstool’s (Peach’s) ability to float in mid-air. These mechanics have continued onward into the Mario series and while SMB2 isn’t REALLY a Mario game it’s influence has continued to show up in the series for over 30 years. One of my absolute favorite Mario games, Super Mario 3D World, is an isometric spiritual successor to SMB2. Many fans like to forget about or gloss over this game, but it’s true, it’s influence is MIGHTY!
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES)
What does Nintendo do after they create a massively influential game? They create a sequel that throws all the old ideas out and craft an incredibly different and unique game. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is NO different. SMW was a genre-defining, series highpoint in 1991. It helped sell the SNES and in my opinion, is the single best 2D Mario game and possibly the best game ever made. So it would make perfect sense for Nintendo to follow that up with another game in the same style, right? Wrong. Nintendo has very rarely iterated on Mario without massively overhauling essentially everything about the game. Mario 3 introduced flying, Mario World crafted a world that felt expansive and somewhat non-linear. Yoshi’s Island took Yoshi and created a world around his ability to make eggs and throw them. Four years after SMW, Yoshi’s Island totally retooled what Mario could be and Nintendo crafted a platformer that was built more around exploration, discovery, and collection. Super Mario in name only, Yoshi’s Island puts you in control of Yoshi as he and his friends seek to deliver Baby Mario to his parents in the Mushroom Kingdom. Yes, Yoshi is literally doing the stork’s job, because the Stork dropped Baby Mario into the jungles of Yoshi’s titular Island. This game is still one of my absolute favorites and at this point it’s not really even a Mario game. Yoshi’s Island, Like Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, has spun off into it’s own series.
Super Mario World put emphasis on exploration with it’s 96 exits, secret stages, and alternate paths to Bowser’s Castle. It also introduced us all to Yoshi and we’ve not looked back since! Yoshi had become an instant hit for Nintendo, so it only made sense for The Big N to follow up SMW with a game starring everyone’s favorite Dinosaur. This was also during a time where everyone seemed to be really into dinosaurs and prehistoric stuff. There were a LOT of caveman video games…for real…Jurassic Park was also one of the biggest movies of the decade, so it makes sense, we’ll have Mario hang out with Dinosaurs (yes…I know Mario World predates the JP Movie). With Yoshi’s Island, Nintendo took away one of the mainstays of the Mario series, the timer! Super Mario Bros. 2 also did not have a timer, but didn’t benefit from its lack of a time limit like YI. Why no clock? That’s because you’re supposed to pour over every inch of the map, looking for flowers, red coins, stars, and other collectibles. Each stage in Yoshi’s Island has a score, and if you get 100% on each stage in the world…you’re treated to TWO bonus stages. While much of the Yoshi games are fairly simple, the true challenge of this series exists in finding all the collectibles and finishing the bonus stages, which are bonkers hard.
I love the aesthetics of Yoshi’s Island, the art design is like a children’s coloring book or doodle pad. The pastel colors are vibrant and stand out even among other beautiful SNES games from the era. Yoshi’s Island is still one of the best looking SNES games of all time. The enemies are fun and I loved the return of Shy Guys and the introduction of Kamek as Bowser’s right hand and court wizard. Yes this game may be disgustingly cute for many a hardened gamer, but I love every single aspect of Yoshi’s Island! It’s influence does not extend much beyond its own series, but being able to spin off into a franchise on its own is pretty remarkable. We also can’t forget that it gave us the original “baby” Bowser and for that we must rejoice! He’s way better than Bowser Jr., btw.
While many people love this game, it’s easy to get overshadowed by the original Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. Yoshi’s Island released at a very strange time for Nintendo and while it was just at the tail end of the SNES, YI is something to be celebrated. Let’s try not to forget this game on Mario Day! In the end, it was taking Mario in a new direction and I think we can all appreciate that. Sadly the series has become hit-or-miss, but it’s definitely worth it to play: Yoshi’s Island, Yoshi’s Wooly World, and Yoshi’s Crafted World. You can skip Yoshi’s Story (hot garbage), Yoshi’s Island DS, and Yoshi’s NEW Island. Y’know what…just play SMW2: Yoshi’s Island over and over…you won’t be disappointed.
Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)
Boy OH boy did people love to hate on this game. Like many first-party titles on Gamecube, Super Mario Sunshine was immediately trashed upon it’s previews before release. This was also seen with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Metroid Prime for changing up the formula. After the tremendous success of Super Mario 64, it would have only made sense for Nintendo to continue with the same style and structure with their follow up. However, when Super Mario Sunshine released in 2002, Nintendo took many of the gameplay mechanics from its predecessor and changed them completely. Mario was no longer in Princess Peach’s Castle, but on vacation with Peach on Isle DelFino, a tropical paradise. While enjoying his vacation, we’re introduced to a new, Shadow Mario, who eventually reveals himself to be Bowser’s Son, Bowser Jr. This Shadow Mario is responsible for polluting all of Isle DelFino with toxic waste and framed Mario for it all! Mario was sentenced to hard labor to make this right and with the assistance of his new tool, Fludd, a water pack/robot thing, Mario is able to spray water to clean the waste. It’s a very strange idea and in perfect Nintendo fashion, seeks to change the mechanics and ideas from the prior game. I think it’s quite successful and while it has some elements that feel rushed or tacked-on, it’s still a solid entry in the Mario series and definitely deserves a little more love.
What I appreciate most about Super Mario Sunshine is how it embraces the summer. While we’re used to beach and tropical stages in Mario games from time to time, Sunshine leans heavily into that aesthetic. You can almost feel the warm summer breeze while playing through SMS. You’ll venture to a quiet beach town, a seaside festival, even a deluxe resort (that’s also haunted)! The game seeks to be a vacation for Mario both in theme and gameplay. Mario no longer punches enemies, he sprays them with water. While he still can jump well, Super Mario Sunshine introduced a sort of water-based Jetpack with FLUDD. This aspect of SMS pushes the player to try out new ideas while traversing Isle Delfino. I love how Mario games push to differentiate upon their predecessors by changing the game up, Sunshine does this in spades. I can understand why it was much maligned at the time, but when going back to play SMS close to 20 years later brings a certain joy, Nintendo had something with this title and it’s still visually impressive. I appreciate the aesthetics of Super Mario Sunshine and while the vibe of the game is very specific, there’s something special about spending a summer day hanging out on the beaches of Isle DelFino. SMS is also only for the most intense of Mario players since this game is about as unforgiving as it is tropical. That all being said…it’s worth your time, you should play it.
Super Mario 3D World (WiiU)
This is possibly the strangest game of this bunch. Super Mario 3D world was a WiiU exclusive sequel to a 3DS game and while we should expect a Switch port soon, 3D World is trapped on one of the least popular Nintendo consoles of all time. This game is only “underloved” because not many people played it. The WiiU in its 5 year live span only sold about 13.5 million units, which when compared to the Switch, the hybrid console was able to eclipse those sales figures in less than one year. Due to it being on a less popular Nintendo console, 3D World only sold about 5.8 million copies worldwide, less than a third of Odyssey’s sales. So in the long scheme of things, this game is fairly underrepresented. I think it’s a novel concept that worked incredibly well on the WiiU and has a place in its own franchise of Mario games. Super Mario 3D World challenges the gameplay style of both 2D and 3D Mario games while somehow being both. It employs a shifting focus camera that mostly presents the game in a isometric format but also sometimes turns into a 2d platformer. It’s neither meant to be a successor to the 2D New SMB series nor is it meant to be part of the 3D franchise, it stands alone with Super Mario 3D Land (3DS) as a strange-yet-fantastic Mario game.
Super Mario 3D world, as stated earlier, is in many ways a spiritual successor to Super Mario Bros. 2. You can choose to play as: Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Peach, each retaining most of their abilities from the Super Mario 2. Toad in this game isn’t strong, but fast, which makes way more sense. Luigi can still jump super high, Mario is well rounded, and Peach can float. In 2013, this game was a love letter to all of us who appreciated SMB2 for what it was, a strange take on the popular format. 3D World is no different, as it continues to be imaginative and change all the things Mario and friends can do. In the discussion of “Greatest Mario Ever” 3D World is often forgotten for the likes of Odyssey, 64, or Galaxy. This is unfortunate as I would consider 3D World to be one of the tops of the franchise, in the same category as 64 or Odyssey, challenging the Mario status quo and giving us something very new.
This game is something special to look at as well, with many different worlds and maps for Mario to run and jump through. It feels original and even if it’s almost seven years old, Super Mario 3D world is still one of the most original experiences in the series. It’s also tough-as-nails, trying to finish every stage and get every collectible is very difficult, but if you want that 100% completion…there’s a lot to find! This is also the first Mario game that was able to fully utilize 4-play simultaneous multi-player without being incredibly annoying. While the New SMB series was starting to get long in the tooth by this point, 3D World offers up a necessary and fun change to the mix. It’s not the easiest to explain why I enjoy this game so much, but it’s got everything great about Mario in it, while being different. If you dare to be different, then this Mario game should speak to you.
I hope you all have a wonderful Mario day and spend some time playing some of the more forgotten or underloved games in this series. Enjoy!!