All Together Then: Mario's second bananas
Mario's friends and foes take a turn in the spotlight.
With the Halloween release of Luigi’s Mansion 3 (look out for coverage next week, Nauties!!) reinvigorating everyone’s enthusiasm for sidekicks, I thought it an appropriate time to have a serious squint at the Super Mario series’ comrade chronology. The characters in Nintendo’s flagship franchise are so indelible and beloved that they’ve easily supported a broad slate of their own games over the years, and it’s a now-traditional four of them that we’re going to say hullo to today.
All together then!
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (1994, Game Boy)
Mario’s rotund rival of course first appeared in 1992’s Super Mario Land 2, but this was his first adventure as the ostensible protagonist. A marvellously expanse slice of handheld goodness, Wario Land saw the fetid firecracker shoulder-barge his way around a curious world of pirate paraphernalia, donning various magic hats in order to use their associated power-ups. The more puzzly elements from the subsequent entries hadn’t really surfaced in this inaugural title, but finding all the secret treasures will take careful thought. With chunky, characterful graphics, a brace of hidden levels to find and multiple endings, you needn’t Wari about getting bored! (What? – Ed)
Donkey Kong Country (1994, SNES)
This is a bit of a cheat, because Mario is actually the one who span off from the original Donkey Kong, but it’s my list and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker isn’t retro yet, so give me a break. Anyway, you know Donkey Kong Country, it’s the game that’s cool to hate despite being such a unique, enjoyable experience within the SNES library. Gorgeous and ground-breaking use of pre-rendered sprites, a fantastic Dave Wise soundtrack and kinetic-but-weighty play control make DKC a classic for a reason. Of course its sequel is about a thousand times better and one of the best games of all time, but that’s not a knock on the original. Still an absolute (barrel) blast.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995, SNES)
Recent years have seen a more divisive reception for Yoshi’s Island, thanks to its focus on collectables and the admittedly slightly annoying Baby Mario mechanic. Nonetheless I find it laughable to call such a gorgeous, glorious game “bad” under any meaningful criteria. Every single stage feels polished within an inch of its life, every single boss battle is memorable and the presentation is spectacular. I don’t think there’s a level in the game that I don’t love. That said, I liked the sequels as well, and they routinely get slated. I’m too busy having a good time to care. The Yoshi platformers, all the way up to Crafted World, truly are joyous things. Except Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation, which was excrement.
Super Princess Peach (2005, DS)
This colourful DS adventure from Legendary Starfy developer Tose has the rather unfortunate conceit of kidnapee extraordinaire Princess Peach utilising her extreme womanly emotions. Look, don’t get upset with me, this is what they put in the game. Even back in the day people went “hang on, this is a bit rum”. It wouldn’t fly now, in the age of Twitter. But I digress. You can (Christ) affect Peach’s mood swings by tapping various icons on the touch screen, using – for example – a flood of tears to nourish a seedling into a full-fledged beanstalk, or literally make her burn with rage to take out enemies and torch certain obstacles. There’s next to no challenge, but it’s a comprehensive package with loads of collectables and mini-games, and overall a very enjoyable way to spend your time. That is, if you don’t mind being patronised to within an inch of your sanity. It’s like the gaming equivalent of a “take my wife” joke.