Super Mario's Other Odysseys: A look back at the lesser known
Celebrating Mar10 day with some hidden games
Happy Mar10 day, everyone! Acknowledged officially by Nintendo since December 2016, March 10th serves as a day to reminisce about our favorite plumber-turned-doctor-turned kart racer turned…just about everything under the sun, really! Mario truly is the delightful little Renaissance Man of video games, so it’s appropriate we eke out a day to really celebrate his storied legacy across numerous titles. Whether they be the charming and exciting cosmic journeys he takes in the Super Mario Galaxy games, or even the humble, yet imaginative trip he embarks on in Super Mario Bros. 3, there’s many a great moment to be shared. After all, Mario’s been around for nearly 41 years!
But…let’s wind that back a little bit to my “everything under the sun” comment. I could write about those games I just mentioned (Super Mario Bros. 3 in particular!), but I want to shine the spotlight on a different set of Mario games. Mario games that have fallen out of cultural canon, be it due to a Japanese-only release (this is very frequently the case with titles in the 80s and 90s), or a required console accessory. These games are incredibly fascinating; their existence a testament to how different the Mario brand was back then, and proof that every long-lasting franchise has some really interesting history to dig up if you look hard enough. Without further ado, let’s look at some of Mario’s most strange and overlooked titles!
That time Mario had a bucket dropped on his head
Our first trip down Mario memory lane involves the SNES Mouse. I already know you’re thinking, “everyone’s played Mario Paint!,” and yes, everyone has. I’d even wager some people are sick of hearing about Mario Paint (somehow), but don’t fret! That’s not the ONLY Mario game involving the SNES mouse that was made.
Mario & Wario was released in 1993 for the Super Famicom, and developed by Game Freak (coincidentally, this is also the only Mario game developed by Game Freak). It never came out in the United States, likely due to its reliance on the SNES Mouse for controls, along with the lack of traditional controller support.
The premise on its own is unique: Mario, Peach, and Yoshi are searching for a fairy within the depths of a forest when suddenly, Wario drops a random item onto their head (the most notable of which is a bucket). Rather than simply removing the item from their heads, they instead wander aimlessly. That’s where the fairy comes in! Controlled by the mouse, you move the fairy around the screen, activating blocks for the hapless victim of Wario’s prank to walk across. Mario and his buddies move entirely on their own, and stop for absolutely nothing, barring a wall, hole, or the end of the stage. While I haven’t mentioned Luigi yet, he actually plays a rather important role. Luigi is the one who takes the item off Mario, Peach, and Yoshi’s heads, letting them see once more. He simply wanders around near the goal area, waiting for his friends to arrive.
Mario & Wario is a pretty satisfying puzzle game, albeit a simple one. If you’ve ever wondered where the roots of games like Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis were, you can trace them as far back to the Super Famicom and this game! As for how anyone would know of this game’s existence, it would be through the previously-mentioned headgear; the bucket. HAL Laboratories must’ve really had a soft spot for this bucket, as it managed to make its way into Super Smash Brothers Melee as a trophy. This was likely the only way the majority of Western players even knew that Mario & Wario existed! Still, a pretty cool footnote for the game, wouldn’t you say?
That time Mario told Bowser he didn't have a building permit
The title Wrecking Crew brings a lot to mind. Demolition, arcade-like gameplay, Foreman Spike…but when you think of Wrecking Crew, do you think of “late 90s competitive puzzle game featuring Mario and a playable rice ball character?” We’ll get to the latter half of that question in a moment. First, let’s discuss a Super Famicom Wrecking Crew game that many people don’t know exists!
Wrecking Crew ‘98, released physically on May 23rd, 1998 after a brief stint of exclusivity on the Japanese Nintendo Power’s flash cartridge service, is a really interesting twist on Wrecking Crew gameplay. This outing bears almost no resemblance to its namesake, beyond the themes of construction work, demolition, and Mario wearing a different hat. Once again, like Mario & Wario, this game never made it out of Japan, though it did see a re-release for the Wii U’s Virtual Console (once again, only in Japan).
The story, like the last game, is pretty simple. Bowser’s constructing a bunch of large buildings in the Mushroom Kingdom (likely without a permit), and they’re blocking sunlight from reaching the plants! Mario cannot allow this, so he dons a hard hat, grabs his trusty hammer, and sets out to demolish all of Bowser’s tacky structures. Mario has to contend with many of Bowser’s minions old and new alike, ranging from the standard Koopa Troopa to the aforementioned sentient rice ball. Even Foreman Spike makes an appearance with a fancy new redesign, marking the first time he and Bowser appear in the same kind of media directly (and with the Mario movie’s confirmation of Foreman Spike, it won’t be the only time, either!).
As for gameplay, Wrecking Crew ‘98 is a puzzle game focused on competitive gameplay akin to Panel De Pon. You move your character around and smash blocks, all with the goal of making a line of three or more panels of the same color. When each color of panel is matched during a combo or stronger line (4 or more consecutively), your opponent will be hit with a different effect, like summoning an irritating enemy to obstruct their movement, or dumping hard to break junk tiles onto their side. If the blocks pile up too high on one player’s side and aren’t cleared within a certain time frame, the other player wins.
It’s a pretty basic concept, but the addition of platform movement and side panels that allow you to rearrange block formations add a lot of nuance. It makes for a more kinetic feeling similar to Wario’s Woods, but unlike that game, the control scheme is a lot simpler and the game’s premise is much easier to understand. It’s a pretty interesting entry for the Mario franchise that was doomed to release only in Japan, as it didn’t reach the Super Famicom until late 1998. That said, I do have a little hope they might re-release the game via the Switch Online Super Famicom service. I’d love to see this puzzler given a real chance to foster a competitive scene, given the great quality of online play added to the Switch Online’s 16-bit collection. As a final note, this game appears to be the origin of what is commonly referred to as the “Builder Mario” design, popularized through Mario Maker years later.
That time Mario participated in motor sports
So we’ve had a lax puzzle point-n-click, and a competitive puzzler. The next natural step is clear: motor sports! No, this isn’t a pivot to Mario Kart Wii, the other game where this happened. Instead, we’re turning to the Satellaview, a Super Famicom accessory that allowed players to download games and stream satellite radio broadcasts.
As you might expect, the Satellaview offered Mario games. Mario All-Stars, Super Mario Bros. 2 (renamed Super Mario USA), Dr. Mario, Mario Paint, and so on. However, one title sticks out, and it’s not talked about often: Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium. Yes, Mario Excitebike! Your eyes do not deceive you, and the image above is not doctored. You get exactly what it says on the tin: Excitebike, but with Mario characters and visuals.
The gameplay is essentially 1:1 with the original Excitebike with some minute differences that don’t stand out, and a couple extra mini-games between races. Unlike Excitebike, you do have a choice of playable characters, and there were four Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium games added later via download.
Mario Excitebike serves as a remarkably fascinating piece of Mario media. It’s a remake of another Nintendo property, and it’s also impossible to play on a Super Famicom, given that the Satellaview service is long discontinued. That being said, there still exist plenty of gameplay videos on YouTube, and there’s a small glimmer of hope that Nintendo will re-release this game one day. They’d likely have to rework how the game handles menus and timers, as they were tied to a radio broadcast in the original, but the actual game should play perfectly fine with a regular controller.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this game’s existence is how it really brings the Excitebike Arena DLC for Mario Kart 8 into weird, full-circle territory. What at first seemed like a simple callback to Excitebike morphs into a random reference to a Satellaview oddity. What a world we live in!
That time Mario wielded a firearm (yes, before the Rabbids game)
Shooting accessories have been a tradition of sorts for game consoles, reaching far back before the Famicom and NES peripherals. That’s why it’s only fitting Nintendo’s 16-bit console would continue the tradition with the Super Scope. A comically large accessory closer to a bazooka than anything I’d call a “scope,” the Super Scope launched in 1992, and offered a number of exclusive games, just like the NES’ Zapper. Looking back at Nintendo’s Zapper history brings up plenty of ideas for Super Scope sequels. Another Hogan’s Alley, perhaps? Maybe Duck Hunt 2? Well, there must have been a very interesting board meeting at Nintendo, because their development team went a completely different route by asking, “What if we let Mario shoot this thing?” This led to 1993’s Yoshi’s Safari, the first and only Mario-themed rail shooter game, and the only title on this list to get localized!
The premise of the game itself is pretty simple: Bowser and his Koopalings have attacked the kingdom of Jewelry Land, kidnapping its rulers and stealing twelve gems that keep the kingdom stable. This theft results in the kingdom being split in two, making the Light Realm and the Dark Realm. Mario, armed with his trusty Super Scope(tm) and his stalwart steed Yoshi, takes the fight to the Koopalings and Bowser, all in the hopes of winning back the gems and restoring peace to Jewelry Land. A pretty uncomplicated story that involves Peach for a grand total of 10-15 minutes cumulatively, but nevertheless, it sets the stage well for the on-rails action.
In Yoshi’s Safari, you control Mario’s Super Scope and blast away enemies while Yoshi carries you through 12 stages. The mechanics are straightforward, with the only limitation being a stamina gauge on your rate of fire. This gauge can be upgraded permanently, which paves the way for a pretty lax experience compared to other SNES rail shooters. The experience can be made even easier, as Yoshi’s Safari includes a proper two-player mode. While Player 1’s role remains the same, Player 2 gets to steer Yoshi, which can come in handy during certain boss fights. It’s worth mentioning that Player 2 can also make Player 1’s life considerably more miserable by constantly jumping and moving in the wrong direction.
Above all else, Yoshi’s Safari demonstrates just how versatile the Mario universe is. Paragoombas in standard 2D Mario games are just minor nuisances, but in Yoshi’s Safari, they become a true terror of the sky by dive-bombing aggressively towards Mario. It’s really cool to see enemy designs that were initially crafted with platforming in mind get transferred over so smoothly to something like a rail shooter. This novelty factor makes the one-to-two hours you’ll get out of Yoshi’s Safari that much more worth it.
Sadly, Yoshi’s Safari has never been re-released, likely due to its reliance on the Super Scope accessory. Still, I think it’s ripe for reworking, as touchscreen and motion controls provide a modern solution to the problem.
If you’re keeping track, we’ve covered a puzzle game, a competitive puzzle game, a radio broadcast Excitebike remake, and now, a rail shooter. Where else could we go? Well, there’s one place that Mario ended up in his early years that just wouldn’t happen in the modern era. Let’s go back to the mid-80s to take a look at one of Mario’s earliest sequels.
That time Mario was on your computer in the 80s
Up until this point, I’ve focused on games that are on the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo. Platforms you’d expect a Nintendo release on, for sure…but what if I told you long ago, Nintendo released their IPs on not just their consoles, but Japanese home computers, too? After their work on Punch Ball Mario Bros. and Mario Bros. Special, Hudson Soft took a crack at bringing the SMB1 experience to home computers; specifically the PC-8801 and the Sharp X1. The end result was nothing short of a technical marvel.
Released in 1986, a mere two months after Super Mario Bros 2 (known in the West as The Lost Levels), Super Mario Bros. Special is worthy of the phrase “technical marvel.” By looking at the PC-8801 port in the image above, it becomes apparent that it’s not just a version of Super Mario Bros. 1 with concessions to gameplay; but a miracle.
Super Mario Bros. Special on the PC-8801 is missing a ton of crucial features that make the experience smooth. There’s no screen scrolling, the speed is all sorts of strange, the weight and movement of Mario feels wrong, the trampolines in the game are wonky, and the use of color is, at best, an eyesore. With those issues in mind, the other features of the game are excellent, and it’s a shame the technical limitations undercut these.
Not settling for their game being a mere level-pack expansion of the original, Hudson Soft added new features to Super Mario Bros. Special. You’ll find new power-ups like the hammer from Donkey Kong and an item to let Mario fly, enemies from the Mario Bros. arcade game, and even original hazards like icicles on castle ceilings. This all goes hand-in-hand with level design that is extremely well thought-out, as it builds on the original Super Mario Bros. in a meaningful way.
The Sharp X1 version of Super Mario Bros. Special fares a lot better, being both easier on the eyes and a smoother experience overall. Screen-scrolling in this version works much like it does in Castlevania or The Legend of Zelda on NES; the action pauses for a second as the screen scrolls smoothly to catch up. Obviously still not as good as the original Super Mario Bros., but markedly improved over the PC-8801 build.
Super Mario Bros. Special is an obscure, but fascinating point in Mario’s history. It stands as a very interesting, impressive achievement that’s remembered fondly by those who know of it. It’s also the hardest title in our list to track down and play nowadays, leaving you wondering if the effort is worth it. While I can’t answer that for you, there’s at least a good deal of gameplay videos of the game on YouTube. Some kind of re-release would be nice to see, but with Hudson Soft’s absorption into Konami, the licensing would no doubt be a nightmare.
Where will Mario go next?
While this is the end of our look back, there’s still a ton of obscure and unheard of Mario media out there. Our selection might not dig half as deep as the rabbit hole goes! After all, Mario’s been around for a very long time, and he’s gone through many different identities, corporate priority shifts, and general philosophy changes.
My goal here was to highlight some of the more interesting, less talked about moments in Mario’s formative years. If you already knew all five of these titles, congratulations! You’re absolutely Mario savvy, and you probably know even more amazing things about the mustachioed one’s history. If this feature was your first introduction to these Mario titles, I hope you found it a fascinating and fun read for Mar10 Day. Who knows, maybe you’ll even give some of these games a try! I’d like to think these oddities demonstrate what makes releases like Super Mario Odyssey so exciting. Seeing Mario do something new and different, visiting strange and weird places, it feels so reminiscent of the character’s origin, and pays respect to the ever-changing idea of Mario.
If you have any interesting Mario anecdotes or trivia, be it obscure or not, feel free to share in the comments. I’ll read and respond to as many as I can!
Until the next Mar10 Day comes, may your jumps be nimble, your stomps accurate, your cape flights successful, and your next playthrough of Super Mario Bros. 3 blessed with a Treasure Ship.
Great little article! Man, it would be really cool if Nintendo focused on rereleasing some of these lesser-known games.
About Excitebike: Mario Bun Bun Battle Stadium, more than being a 1:1 of Excitebike, I think it's more like a 1:1 of Vs. Excitebike, that one had minigames every 3 races or so.
Ah yes, how could I forget Vs. Excitebike! That one sort of slipped under the radar. I'll have to admit I'm not as familiar with that game across all of its ports
Moar please :) Neat article.
Loved this read, weird old Mario stuff is great!
I still play Yoshi's Safari now and then. My favorite Super Scope game and easy enough to plow through in a hour.
Excellent read! I honestly didn't know about some of these titles so it was cool to learn about them. Thank you.
While some of it certainly looks dated, so much of the NES/SNES sprite artwork here still looks amazing to this day!
Great article, was a very fun read!
One small footnote about the Mario and Wario, one other way Western audiences might have heard about it, it was featured in a Nintendo Power preview, so presumably they were thinking of bringing it over at some point. It was just a paragraph and a few pics, but I was really looking forward to that game!
Huh that’s cool. Didn’t know about a few of those.
I really hoped the Zapper and Super Scope games came to the Wii. Duck Hunt, Hogan's Alley and Wild Gunman were released on the WiiU Virtual Console though. Really hoped Gumshoe and Yoshi's Safari would be next, but never came.
What a great article, i didnt knew about most of this games, that mario exite bike looks hot!! And the mario pc ports lool super? interestimg. Also i love the site layout and how each picture has a description, very well written article too!! This new site is fire RMC!
Fantastic article! I'd love to see some of these games come West.