Everybody has heard of Super Mario and fans are eagerly awaiting the recently delayed film adaptation. Super Mario is one of the most popular video game characters in the world and everyone’s looking at his future excitedly, with the movie and other projects on the horizon. But there’s still a lot yet to be discovered in his past, as well.
Mario is a character with over 35 years of history that goes back even before the release of Super Mario Bros and the character had four whole years of existence before that game. While some of the games during that time are well known, like Donkey Kong Junior and Mario Bros., there are plenty of other hidden gems.
Most Mario fans are aware of the follow-up to Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior. These fans probably even know about its obscure follow-up, Donkey Kong Junior Math, where Donkey Kong acts as a tutor to his only video game family. But there’s another early Mario game in the Donkey Kong line. The third Donkey Kong game stars Stanley the Bugman, a greenhouse owner.
Donkey Kong apparently was looking for a less busy habitat after New Donk City. But unlike the previous games in the series, this is a shooter. Kong ends up disturbing the insects in the greenhouse and so Stanley must fire bug spray at the insects and Donkey Kong to hold them off.
Wrecking Crew is an older Nintendo title that gets a lot of references and it even has a stage in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Most recently, the antagonist of the game, Foreman Spike, was revealed to be in the upcoming Mario movie to be played by Sebastian Maniscalco. Mario is his employee on an unsafe construction site.
Mario’s had a lot of occupations over the years, so being a construction worker isn’t that surprising. What is surprising is the blatant lack of health and safety guidelines on this site. Floors collapse onto lower floors when support beams are destroyed by the player and this can be used to trap and defeat enemies.
Mario Bros. Special is an odd piece of the franchise’s history. It was a half port/half sequel of Mario Bros. arcade for Japanese PCs and was developed by Hudson-Soft, who would later work on Mario Party. The game features very different-looking graphics and sound.
It also featured a completely new objective. In the original game, levels were won by defeating all the enemies. In this game, levels were completed by reaching a goal at the top of the stage. It also featured new items like the Cash symbol.
Pinball is a classic game genre that most franchises have tackled. Mario himself had Mario Pinball Land on the hit handheld, the Game Boy Advance. But long before that was Pinball on the NES and Famicom. It was a pretty standard pinball game with only one board.
Players can see a familiar face on the cover art. That’s Mario, who only appears during the game’s bonus mode. That mode is less pinball and more Breakout. Players would move Mario left and right to deflect a bouncing pinball into objects to score points.
Golf for the NES has an interesting legacy. It is often overshadowed by NES Open Golf, which more blatantly features Mario. This game was one of the first projects by Nintendo’s late CEO, Satoru Iwata. As a tribute, it was inserted into the Nintendo Switch’s firmware for a time.
It’s a pretty standard golf game. It has two modes: stroke play and match play. But the more interesting thing is Mario’s involvement. A guidebook from 1991 and the Game Boy port say that the golfer is Mario, but the Wii title, Captain Rainbow, claims the character is named Ossan (which was one of Mario’s names in development).
Before Nintendo became known for its video games, they were a premier toy developer. One of their late successes was the Game and Watch. These weren’t “video” games, as they featured LCD displays, but characters from their games made frequent appearances on it and Donkey Kong Hockey was one such appearance.
The game was part of the Micro Vs. series, meaning it was one of the few multiplayer games for the line. Players would each hold a paddle connected to a main game board. On the game board, they would control Mario and Donkey Kong competing in ice hockey. This might be the earliest ancestor of the Mario Sports titles.
The second Mario Bros-inspired game on this list in the Game and Watch version. Despite sharing a name, it has nothing in common with the arcade game. In this one, Mario and Luigi work at a bottling plant together. The game has two screens to represent the sending and receiving on an assembly line.’
The game is somewhat bleaker than other Mario games and goes on until the player causes an accident and the boss chews the brothers out. Interestingly, this game was released before the arcade version, meaning it is the surprising first game appearance of Luigi.
Crazy Kong is commonly believed to be a bootleg version of the original arcade Donkey Kong. This is incorrect, as the game was actually officially licensed by Nintendo as a replacement cabinet for when they couldn’t meet demand. The license was revoked shortly after, but this game is official and follows basically the same format as the original with a few differences.
The game runs on different hardware so mechanics are not one-to-one. The graphics are rendered slightly differently and look somewhat discolored. The game is also considered to be harder than the original due to differences in hitboxes. The sound is another thing that is different, taken from one of developer Falcon’s earlier games.
Some have observed that prior to their modern iterations, Mario’s relationship with Donkey Kong was abusive. While DK was the aggressor in the first game, Mario locks him up in the sequel and attacks his son. In Donkey Kong Circus, Mario forces DK to perform for his amusement. Some fans believe this is the incident that led DK to capture Pauline.
The game is similar to the Mickey Mouse game on Game and Watch. Donkey Kong, while on a barrel, must juggle objects from one side of the screen to the other. At the same time, he must avoid the fire thrown by Mario. No wonder DK hates his guts.
Looking back at the earlier days of a series can be fun. When looking back, one often finds stuff that one would never expect to see in the modern series. Mario’s Bombs Away is one such game. The game sees a military-clad Mario moving throughout a jungle to plant bombs in strategic positions.
The game’s tone is rather dark. The concept sees Mario avoiding enemy soldier fire and engaging in underhanded tactics. The enemy soldiers are even known to smoke cigarettes. It’s a prime example of early installment weirdness in one of Mario’s most obscure headlining roles.
NEXT: 10 Wildest Glitches In The Super Mario Series