In 1981, a Japanese company would release an arcade game starring a giant gorilla. This addictive platformer, known as Donkey Kong, would be a massive success. You played as Jumpman as he attempted to rescue Pauline while dodging obstacles (often thrown by the titular character). Jumpman would later be called Mario, a character you may have heard of. This was the start for one of the most recognisable characters on the planet.
Since those humble beginnings, Mario has gone on to star in many games that stretch across multiple genres. He’s been in traditional platformers, kart racers, party games and even competed in Olympic events. At one stage, he was more popular than Mickey Mouse. I was born after the release of Donkey Kong so I didn’t really get to experience it until it was included as a minigame in Donkey Kong 64. However, I have experienced some of the plumber’s wonderful adventures and below are some of my memories of them.
Super Mario Bros.
Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece was released in 1985 in Japan and North America, while Europe and Australia would have to wait until 1987. The game is an addictive platformer that is easy to pick-up and play. You control Mario (or Luigi if you were a younger sibling) as he runs and jumps his way through the Mushroom Kingdom. There are eight worlds, each broken into four levels. The levels have a decent variety to them, from underground caverns to underwater levels. Each world ends with a castle which you must navigate to encounter “Bowser”. It is incredibly fun to play, with bright visuals and catchy music.
I never had an NES growing up. Instead I owned a Sega Master System and Alex Kidd in Miracle World. While the NES was popular in Europe, it wasn’t on the same scale as in North America, where it’s often credited as saving the games industry after the 1983 video game crash. Having said that, I do remember when my friend got his NES. We were very young (I can’t remember how old we were) but I do recall him asking me to go over to his house. There, his uncle had set up the NES with Super Mario Bros. I was instantly hooked. We tried again and again to get as far as we could (which wasn’t far) before it was time for me to go home. I finally got a copy of the game on the SNES when it came as part of Super Mario All-Star. While I enjoyed this version, it didn’t have the same hook as the original did all those years ago. I’ll still stick on the original every now and again when I just want to relax.
Speaking of Super Mario All-Stars…
Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario All-Stars was released in Europe in 1993 and often came bundled with an SNES. The game featured four Mario games, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3¸, and a game previously unreleased in the west, Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels. The Lost Levels was the original Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan but was deemed to difficult and similar to the first one so we got a reskin of Doki Doki Panic instead (there’s the obligatory Doki Doki Panic reference out of the way). The games all had new graphics and a new control scheme. If you’ve ever watched a speed-run of the original three games, you’ll probably have heard the differences mentioned. There was another Super Mario All-Stars released later in the SNES’ life cycle which had Super Mario World.
I got Super Mario All-Stars as part of a bundle with my SNES. My parents had gone away and I was staying with my sister. My mother felt guilty, so she came back home early with the console. It was a nice surprise. For a long time, I only had Super Mario All-Stars and out of those, Super Mario Bros. 3 was my favourite. I loved the map layout, the strange worlds to explore and the battle mode that was very reminiscent of Mario Bros. I would always try to get as far as I could but never really succeeded. That was until I found out about the Warp Whistles. The first one I found was with the help of a video I found at a hardware store (odd, I know). It showed me the one that was hidden in 1-3. My cousin would tell me about the second one hidden in the castle in the first world. From then on, I could zip to the later levels to try (and fail) again and again. I did track down the NES version and I do intend to play through it at some stage but I prefer the SNES version due to the battery saves.
Speaking of SNES games…
Super Mario Kart
What happens when you take the iconic plumber and his friends (and some enemies) and stick them into a go-kart? A bloody good game is what. Super Mario Kart crashed its way onto the SNES in 1992 (or 1993 in Europe) in spectacular fashion. The game made fantastic use of the SNES’ Mode 7 graphics. You could choose from one of eight characters, each with their own stats, and battle your way through a variety of modes. Grand Prix had three different difficulties, four different cups and 20 unique tracks. It was fast, furious and chaotic. In multiplayer mode, you and a friend could engage in Balloon Battles. These were fun and frantic affairs where you tried to pop each other’s balloons.
I never owned a copy of Super Mario Kart growing up. Instead, I would rent it from my local video rental store (called Empire). My friend and I would then play the Balloon Battle mode after school. When he went home, I would then dive into the Grand Prix mode. I was never any good at it, only really winning the 50cc cups, but I really enjoyed it. I would eventually get my own copy much later and would bring it into work to play. We would have regular competitions in Vs mode to see who was the best racer. It really is a great racer to play with friends.
Speaking of great racers to play with friends…
Mario Kart 64
The Nintendo 64 was released in 1996 (or 1997 in Europe) and it blew my socks off. The games looked so impressive at the time. Everything was in 3D and it was amazing. Of course, a lot of the games haven’t aged well, which seems to be the curse of the fifth generation, but they were immensely fun nonetheless. One of those games was Mario Kart 64. It was released in 1996 and brought the genre into 3D. It featured eight characters, two of which were new (Donkey Kong and Wario). It had four cups with four tracks each and the three difficult options returned, along with mirror mode. The tracks were well designed and have some of my favourite Mario Kart tracks of all time, including Wario Stadium, Yoshi Valley and Bowser’s Castle. Gone were the CPU specific items, instead the computer had to pick up item boxes like you. This was a huge improvement. Another great improvement was the addition of 4-player mode. Here, you could compete in Vs mode and Battle Mode. Battle Mode was just as hectic as ever but I was always disappointed that Grand Prix wasn’t available in 4-player.
Mario Kart 64 was another game I didn’t own as a kid. Instead, I rented it… a lot! I loved it. I would sit for hours playing through the Grand Prix mode, slowly getting better and better. I would make my way through each difficulty, getting gold in all the cups. This was something I couldn’t do in Super Mario Kart (it was harder after all) but it was so rewarding to do it in Mario kart 64. I would then invite people over to play the different multiplayer modes, often balloon battle. I was amazed by the jump in graphics and sound. It really was such an excellent game and before long we had the likes of Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing to add to our mascot-karting collection.
Speaking of trend setters…
Super Mario 64
Let’s be honest, we knew this one was coming. It was just a question of when. Released in 1996 alongside the Nintendo 64. This was the game that showed how 3D platforming should be done. Super Mario 64 was a fantastic game that featured a massive hub world, engaging levels and different challenges to overcome. Everything looked stunning and the sound complimented the world well. With the single analogue stick, Mario could run, jump and glide in a variety of ways. The game also introduced new power-ups to help the plumber on his way, as well as a Charles Martinet voiced Mario. The only thing it was missing was a multiplayer mode but at least we got the “L is Real” myth out of it. The game would get a remake on the DS in 2004 that added in extra characters but was sadly missing the analogue control (for obvious reasons). The game would get another rerelease in 2020 as part of Super Mario 3D All-Stars.
Confession time. I never really cared for Super Maio 64. It was a game I had played in a friend’s house but never rented. In fact, Mario Kart 64 was my go-to Mario fix in this gen. When I did play it with my friend, it was often to help him to get the more tricker Stars. I don’t know why he asked me. This meant I missed out on the wonderful Bob-omb Battlefield, the fiendish Cool, Cool Mountain (you know what I’m talking about, you sicko) and the frustrating Dire Dire Docks. I do have a copy of the game today on both the Nintendo 64 and the DS so I am looking forward to experiencing the whole game to see what I have been missing out on all these years. Maybe I’ll finally be able to appreciate this smash hit.
Speaking of smash hits…
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Remember how I said Mario was pretty much involved in every genre? Well, here’s his (or rather Nintendo’s) take on the fighting genre. Released in 2001, Super Smash Bros. Melee was the sequel to the wonderful Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64 (it was one of the reasons I bought a Nintendo 64). This game on the GameCube added more stages, more characters and more modes. The battles were just as fast and frantic as before and the 4-player mayhem was improved. The game looked visually stunning and the controls felt sharper than the previous entry. Mario may have been one of 26 characters (including Sheik) to play as but he was a fun and unique fighter to use. The game would be so popular that it would end up in fighting tournaments for years, with fans debating over whether this or its Wii sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, were the superior game.
This was one of the games that made me buy a GameCube. The other was Mario Kart: Double Dash (I love Mario Kart). I remember playing through the Adventure Mode in Smyths and being amazed at the Super Mario Bros. inspired level. Having loved the original Super Smash Bros., I tracked down a copy of Melee as soon as I got my GameCube. Link was always my go to character and I would often invite friends around to play the multiplayer modes. My favourite memory of this game was when my nieces and my wife were playing together. My youngest niece picked Kirby and just kept floating across the top of the stage, frustrating everyone else. It’s an excellent game to play with friends.
Speaking of playing games with my nieces…
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Released in 2007 to coincide with the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games saw players control characters from the Mario and Sonic series as they battled it out across multiple events. The game was made by Sega and was released on both the Nintendo Wii and DS. The DS version took advantage of the system’s stylus and microphone, using them in different ways for each event. The game also featured “Dream Events” alongside the Olympic Events. These were a series of games that would take place in odd and unique settings. The DS version supported multiplayer through the Wireless Connection. This game would be the start of a series of Mario & Sonic games that saw the duo compete at several summer and winter Olympics.
I bought four copies of this game, one for me, my wife and my two nieces. We would then take part in a multitude of events using the Wireless Connection. It was the first Olympic game I played that didn’t completely destroy your thumbs. It was incredibly fun in multiplayer, as we all tried to outdo each other for the gold. We each had our own strong and weak events, so it was somewhat competitive. I enjoyed it so much, I bought Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games on the Wii just to save a bit of money. The DS version is still my favourite though, mainly because of the memories I have of playing it with my family.
Speaking of DS nostalgia…
New Super Mario Bros.
We have finally come full circle. Released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS, New Super Mario Bros. brought us back to the 2D days of Mario. The game featured wonderful graphics and music, new power-ups to enjoy and nine unique worlds to explore (some of which required you to meet certain criteria to unlock). The game was a breath of fresh air, in a time where 3D platformers were the norm. The levels were well designed and the difficulty wasn’t as tough as the original games, making it more accessible. The game would receive overwhelming praise and would start its own line of New games that stretched across every Nintendo console, form the Wii to the Switch.
I bought this one as soon as it was released. I had loved the old 2D Mario games and was excited to try this. I also bought a copy for my wife so she wouldn’t use mine. As the game wasn’t as difficult as its 8-bit predecessors, I did manage to fly through it quickly. It did take me a bit longer to unlock the alternative worlds as they’re a bit trickier. I really enjoyed it and always looked forward to a new entry in the 2D series. I do hope they’ll release a game that is unique to the Switch and not just a port of an earlier entry.
I hope you enjoyed my list of Mario games. What are some of your favourite games starring the plumber? How will you be celebrating his iconic birthday?