To celebrate Mario Day, I thought it would be fun to look back through some of my favorite Mario moments.
The first Mario game I ever played was Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in North America in 1985. I was born in 1986, so I guess you could say I kind of grew up with the little mustached dude.
I have vague memories of playing Super Mario in my parents’ bedroom where they kept the Nintendo, and actually, very clear memories of playing Dr. Mario – which was released in 1990 – with my older sister. I’ve always been freakishly good at Mario games, but Dr. Mario was one of the few games she could beat me at, which is probably why she wanted to play it so often.
I never really liked Super Mario Bros 2. It was released in 1988, and to this day, remains one of my least favorite Mario games. The characters looked funny, and I could never get on board with the bad guy being Birdo. Just never did it for me. Super Mario Bros 3 came out in 1990, and it was instantly a game changer as far as I’m concerned because of the introduction of the Super Leaf which gave the power to turn Mario into Raccoon Mario. It was also the first game that gave Mario the ability to slide down slopes or hills, climb vines, and it introduced the Tanooki Suit, which has always been one of my favorite versions of Mario. Nothing made me happier than when I found one of the boots and was able to hop on top of stuff while wearing my Tanooki Suit. It was just my jam.
I remember when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System came out in North America in 1992 because it was the introduction of Super Mario World, and more importantly, Yoshi! I love me some Yoshi. Mario and Yoshi go together like peanut butter and jelly. They’re just better together. I remember how afraid I used to be of the Ghost Houses in this game, and how frustrated I would get having to repeat the same one over and over until I would finally figure out the right way out to get to the next level. This game was also the first one to introduce the ability to store an extra power-up in a box at the top of the screen, giving the opportunity to arm yourself with what you think is the best power for any given level and providing a new level of strategy to the game for the first time. Even now, it’s one of my all-time favorite Mario games.
Also in 1992, Super Mario Kart was released. I can guarantee I spent more time playing this game than any other game in my life. Not only did I spend countless hours trying to come first in every available race, my sister and I played this constantly in Battle Mode for years. In fact, my sister was obsessed with the Spice Girls at the time (ha!), and we would play Mario Kart and listen to the Spice CD in our room while we played. I still can’t even hear any song off of that album without images of Mario Kart coming to mind. I know this is going to sound like my ego talking, but I swear, I was so good at this game. I had it memorized down to where to hop over the holes in the ghost levels, to where to go flying off the edge in Rainbow Road to save me some time. I knew where every secret was, every single Question Block to run over, and the quickest way around every course. I owned this game (literally and figuratively), and though I haven’t tried it in a dozen years, I can still see the courses and hear the music clearly in my head now. I bet I could still hold my own if I tried to play it again.
The Nintendo 64, N64 for short, came out in 1996. I think it was a couple of years before I got my hands on one of these, but I can remember how hard it was to get used to the 3D graphics and game play at first. Actually, to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever really got the flying thing down in this game. The joystick caused more trouble than it was worth at first, but I did eventually get the hang of it while spending a whole lot of time playing Super Mario 64. Super Mario 64 was the first Mario game to use 3D graphics and have an open world playability. The point of the game is to collect stars, which you can then use to open different doors inside the castle until you can get to Bowser. There are still some levels I never managed to get all the stars in, and I can remember them vividly because of how much time I spent working on them. This game gave Mario a ton of new abilities. He could walk, run, and jump as usual, but he also gained the ability to crouch, crawl, swim, punch, kick, and climb. There were different jumping combinations available, including the wall kick, which took me years to master consistently.
Also in the Nintendo 64 era, Paper Mario was released in 2001. Paper Mario was the second Mario role-playing game ever released, and was the first in the Paper Mario series. Paper Mario is a whole new ball game in the Mario world, but one of my favorites due to the strategy and puzzle solving involved. I also always found the dialogue between the different characters in the Paper Mario worlds quite amusing, and laughed out loud at a lot of the jokes.
Another game featuring Mario introduced on the N64 was Super Smash Bros. The game play here is a little different, because the objective isn’t to destroy enemies by depleting their life bars, but instead to knock your opponents right off of the stage. Super Smash Bros was a popular game, but it gained even more success after the release of the Nintendo GameCube in 2001, and Super Smash Bros. Melee actually became the best-selling game for that system. Mario is a playable character in every one of the Smash Bros games, and Dr. Mario makes appearances in two out of the four. I spent a lot of time playing this game as a teenager with my high school boyfriend, his brother, and their cousin. I was the only girl, and I actually won major points with the other guys when I ended up winning more than my fair share of the time whenever we played this game. I have a lot of laughs, and really great memories associated with Super Smash Bros. Melee.
The first Mario game released for the Nintendo GameCube was Super Mario Sunshine. This was probably the game I played the least out of all of the most recent Mario games.
Instead of collecting stars like in previous Mario games, the objective in this game was to collect Shine Sprites, which Mario gets by cleaning toxic slime left behind by Bowser in various parts of Isle Delfino with a robotic backpack named FLUDD (Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dousing Device) helping him out. For me, this was just too far outside of the regular Mario mode of operation, and I just didn’t enjoy playing it as much as I did other Mario games. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was released for GameCube though, and it is my all-time favorite Paper Mario game, so it kind of balanced out for me.
In 2006, the Nintendo Wii came out, and with it came the New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Controls for this game were basically the same as others, with the exception of Mario being able to spin in mid-air by shaking the Wii Remote, and being able to pick up and throw other players. In multi-player mode, if one of the players loses a life (and has at least one life in reserve) they come back in a bubble, and only resume play if another player pops the bubble by touching it or hitting it with a Koopa shell, or an ice or fire-ball.
New Super Mario Bros. U, was released for the Wii U in 2012. I got the Wii U for Christmas when I was 26 years old, and it was the first time I was able to play a video game with my nephew, who was six at the time. Maybe because it’s so recent for me, this game is associated with so many happy feelings. I remember laughing my head off trying to get my dad, my sister, and my nephew to play with us. My nephew thought it was hilarious that he could pick up the other players (us!) and throw them around, and there was a lot of dying within the game that was a direct consequence from that. The level pictured here was one of the ones we yelled at each other over the most. If the player moving forwards fastest in the level didn’t wait for the others, they’d fall off the screen and lose a life. So when we weren’t working together well, we’d all die a lot, and it was just utter pandemonium in my mom’s living room.
The last Mario game I’ve had the pleasure of playing is Paper Mario: Color Splash. It was released for the Wii U in 2016. I had two kids at this point, and both of them would sit and watch me play this for hours.
I really liked this game because it was always so immediately gratifying whenever I got to fill in one of the blank color spots. I spent weeks after I had completed the story going back into each level and making sure I filled in every color spot, sometimes playing the same level multiple times in a row trying to find a spot I’d missed. Ultimately, it was as frustrating as it was satisfying! As usual with the Paper Mario games, the dialogue was hilarious, and it made both of my kids laugh whenever I’d read it out loud for them. Color Splash is one of the most fun single player Nintendo games I’ve ever played.
Looking back at Mario throughout my life, it’s kind of amazing how it has played such a prominent part of different stages as I’ve grown up. As a tiny little kid playing with my sister in my parents’ room, as an older kid playing with her and listening to CDs, as a teenager with my high school boyfriend, as an adult who can still play with my now grown-up sister and her son, to a thirty year old playing with my children watching. I’m still holding out on purchasing a Nintendo Switch because it’s a big splurge, but when I get it, I know this will be the system where my children fall in love with playing Mario the same way I did when I was their age. Who knows, maybe by the time Mario Day rolls around next year, I’ll be able to write about their favorite Mario games, too!