For closing in on three decades, Mario has been the undisputed star of the video game world. No one else even come close to his unparalleled universal popularity. If Nintendo were a country and every single sale of a Mario game was a citizen, then that country would be the fifth-most populous country on Earth. Mario has moved twice as many video games than Prince has moved albums. Are you getting the picture?
And as any Wii or 3DS owner knows this has led Nintendo to slapping the mustachioed one's visage into any game they can knowing that it's basically a license to print money. We'll pay a lot more to watch Mario play tennis than we will to watch Tennis Man play tennis. Hell, we'll pay more to watch Mario play tennis than we will to watch Andre Agassi play tennis.
Yet even with all this there are still Mario games that fly under the radar of the average gamer, and today we celebrate these lost entries in his history.
Hotel Mario:: Nintendo almost never licenses its properties to other developers or systems because characters like Link and Samus are arguably the only things that have kept the company going during rough spots. One of the few times they have was to Phillips and their CD-i system, which was part of a deal where Phillips would develop a CD-ROM drive for the SNES. That fell through, but Phillips did indeed release a few Nintendo properties to almost universal disdain.
Hotel Mario followed Mario and Luigi as they attempted to rescue the princess from a series of hotels run by Bowser and his kids. You destroy each hotel by closing all the doors in them, and the princess is then whisked away to the last one. It's honestly not that terrible a game considering the source. At least it's better than Legend of Zelda: Wand of Gamelan, which is a pretty low bar to clear.
Wrecking Crew: There's a theory that Mario and Luigi are actually two day-laborers just struggling to get by doing various construction jobs when they stumble onto the Mushroom Kingdom to become heroes in the first Super Mario Bros. The subsequent games on the NES are just dreams of that first adventure (SMB2) and a theatrical performance based on the same adventure (SMB3).
I like this theory because it sort of explains a lot of what Mario was up to in the early '80s clearing sewer pipes of turtles and working on construction sites that attract giant monkeys. In Wrecking Crew he was doing demolition work. For further investment in the theory, Mario is set against an abusive foreman named Spike who is sort of an early version of Wario. Maybe Spike followed his former employee into the Mushroom Kingdom to try and win some acclaim for himself!
More obscure Mario fun on the next page.
Super Mario Bros. Special: Another rare licensed port was actually the original sequel to Super Mario Bros. Released by Hudson Soft on PCs in 1986 this was very similar to The Lost Levels that Americans got to play as part of the All-Stars release, but had some very interesting quirks. The run and jump mechanics were made slightly harder, and the timer was sped up to make the levels more challenging.
More than that, the game integrated staples of earlier Mario games. The crab enemies from Mario Bros. appear regularly, and Mario can wield the hammer from Donkey Kong as a weapon. It's also the first game in the franchise to offer a flying power-up.
Mario Teaches Typing: Speaking as a professional writer who types all day, the years that teachers spent hammering the idea that if I didn't learn to type fast I would eventually be left to rot in the desert of abandoned American capitalism into my head were completely worthless. I type about 40 WPM using three fingers, four if I'm feeling daring, and that's fine because I can only think about 45 WPM tops.
But hey, kudos to those that play the QWERTY like a piano. Maybe if my parents had forked out for a copy of Mario Teaches Typing I would be among you today. I especially like the 1997 sequel, where Mario uses a snorkel (Completely submerged, mind you) to investigate a sunken ship and steal typewriter pieces from an octopus.
Famicom Grand Prix: F-1 Race: Super Mario Kart wasn't the first Mario racing outing. This game was another exclusively Japanese title, and as promised it does have Mario in it. In fact, as you can see from the picture above, all it has in it is Mario. All the drivers are Mario, all the crew is Mario, and though you can't get a close look all the fans are probably Mario too. At least in the sequel they threw Luigi in.
Mario's Cement Factory: Quick question, what was the first video game success story for Nintendo? The answer was the Game & Watch series, a group of handheld electronic games that also served as alarm clocks. Each one came with its own single title, like Mario's Cement Factory in 1983. The systems were so popular they paved the way for all those Tiger games that we all so remember so fondly and were still being made up until 1991.
Cement Factory is honestly kind of gruesome for a Mario adventure. His job is to make sure that two pipes don't overflow in the titular factory, because if they do they spill out and kill one of his workers. More and more I'm starting to understand why he finds fire-breathing dragons a respite from his previous day jobs.
Still more of the strangest Mario games on the last page.
All Night Nippon Super Mario Bros.: Mario once sold out hard. How hard? Well, it was early in his career and he teamed up with a popular Japanese radio show called All Night Nippon to release a one of a kind licensed port to be given away as a raffle prize. In the game, Mario is still the star, but all the enemies have been replaced with caricatures of the DJs in addition to the symbol on the flags at the end of the level being replaced with the logo of the show's producer.
Oh, and instead of rescuing the princess Mario would rescue Japanese celebrities like Takaaki Ishibashi, who played Isuro Tanaka in Major League II.
Alleyway: So let's say you're Nintendo and you want some of that sweet, sweet Breakout pie. You've got a problem though, because it's the late '80s and you and Atari are swapping lawsuits like Alf trading cards (I said it was the late '80s). What do you do?
Well, you make a game that is as close to Breakout as humanly possible, and then you draw a very tiny Mario in the little spaceship to call it a Mario game. For some reason, more than Dr. Mario, more than just having a leisurely go-kart race, this one bothers me more than anything else. Is there seriously no one else in the Mushroom Kingdom that can destroy alien blocks from a spaceship shaped like the medication you should probably be taking so you don't hallucinate this crap?
Excitebike: Mario Battle Stadium: For reasons I've never fully understood, Excitbike remains this really classic title that we all love in spite of the fact that it's objectively terrible. I'm not letting myself of the hook, here, by the way. I just played it a few moments ago to make sure this point was valid. My reaction was, "This is awful. I'm having so much fun." I think I need to take that spaceship pill I mentioned last entry.
In 1995, the Japanese SNES had something called a Satellaview, which was a modem-enabler that allowed you to download games. In 1995! You could even use it to listen to the radio. One of the games was a reimagining of Excitbike with Mario characters, and you know what? It absolutely kills! Seriously, why this hasn't made a comeback is beyond me.
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I am a Teacher: Super Mario Sweater: Nintendo has this weird thing with knitting. No really. They were actually going to release a knitting controller that would couple with a game so you could design patterns. The plan was to use this to market to the parents of girls that wanted to own the system so they could assure the parents that the girls weren't just having fun, they were learning domestic skills. Not a bit of that was made up.
The controller went nowhere, but Nintendo did team with Japanese appliance maker Royal Industries to make this title for the Famicom Disc System. It's actually not a bad idea. Players could design their own sweaters featuring licensed characters, then either make their own using a sewing machine or order one from the company for $24. Though it didn't work out, I bet if Nintendo tried this again here in the age of Etsy they'd make a fortune.
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