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What should you know about Mario?

December 4, 2010

If you’re one of the poor souls who never played a Mario game, you have explicit permission to stop whatever you’re doing and buy one of them right now.  After reading this section, of course.  Everyone else, this’ll give you info on the games we’re playing that you haven’t played.

Mario is probably the most famous character in the history of video games.  He was created in 1981 as the hero of Donkey Kong (though he was simply called “Jumpman” at the time), but it wasn’t until Super Mario Bros. on the NES that the character and game series became so well known.  It’s generally considered to have invented the modern platform game, then later invented the modern 3D platform game, though they’ve broken into most game genres since.

The 2D platform games have similar objectives.  Mario goes through a series of levels, some of which contain a boss, with the common objective being to rescue Princess Peach from the main antagonist, Bowser.  Along the way, Mario collects items to help him power up, commonly including a super mushroom (which increases his size and allows him to take an extra hit) and a fire flower (which allows him to throw fireballs at enemies).

Super Mario Bros (NES, 1985): Mario and Luigi had been introduced previously, but this is where Bowser and Peach make their first appearance.  Some levels can be skipped via hidden warp zones that allow players to advance further into the game.  Generally considered one of the most influential games of all time, even though many of the gameplay basics are common now.
Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (NES/JP, 1986): The game plays very similarly to its predecessor, but ramps up the difficulty considerably.  Mario and Luigi now have different attributes; Luigi jumps higher, but is harder to slow down while running.  The game eventually reached other regions through a compilation pack several years later.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES, 1988): This is actually a remake of a completely unrelated game, Doki Doki Panic, and resembles other games in the series the least.  Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad all are playable, each with different advantages: Mario has average skills across the board, Luigi jumps highest but is fairly slow and has a difficult-to-control jump, Toad is the fastest character but has the weakest jump, and Peach has lower abilities but can hover through the air for a few seconds.  Enemies are attacked by throwing items at them, and enemies themselves are led by a different antagonist altogether, Wart (who hasn’t been seen since).
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990): This game reverts back to the SMB1 formula, but expands on it greatly.  There is now an overworld map, all of which follow a specific theme, with several roads, allowing some levels to be played out of order or skipped altogether.  Mario now gets new powerups, a super leaf allowing him limited flight and a raccoon form, and three different suits.  The frog suit provides free movement in water, the tanooki suit is a more powerful raccoon form, and the hammer bros. suit allows Mario to throw hammers capable of defeating almost anyone in a single hit.  It’s also the first appearance of the Koopalings, seven of Bowser’s kids that serve as each world’s boss.
Super Mario Land (GB, 1989): This handheld spinoff most resembles Super Mario Bros. in terms of gameplay.  Peach and Bowser are replaced by Daisy and Tatanga, and warp zones are removed altogether.  The levels themselves each have a different theme to them, with a few providing a genre shift into a side scrolling shoot-’em-up.
Super Mario Land 2 (GB, 1992): This game is closer in feel to Super Mario World.  It’s also less linear, as the six golden coins required to access the final level can be collected in any order.  Wario, Mario’s evil twin, makes his debut here as the final boss.
Super Mario World (SNES, 1991): Released as a pack-in game with the SNES, and the first appearance of rideable dinosaur sidekick (and fan favorite) Yoshi.  The cape feather replaces the raccoon’s leaf from before, though it’s functionally similar.  Many levels now have two exits, with a particular path taking the player into the game’s hardest levels, the Special Zone.
New Super Mario Bros. (DS, 2006): After a long hiatus from 2D platformers, the series goes back to its roots here.  The game has a similar feel to SMB3 and SMW, containing a similar overworld map with multiple exits.  A few new powerups are introduced here, among them a mega mushroom that makes Mario big enough to trample through most of the level, the mini mushroom that shrinks him small enough to fit through the smallest tunnels, and the shell, allowing him to slide through segments in a turtle shell.  3 star coins are hidden in each level, offering an additional challenge (and occasional) shortcut to players looking to collect them all.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (WII, 2009): As the name implies, the game is based mostly on NSMB, but has one notable new feature: four players can play simultaneously, with the other three playing as Luigi and two different Toads.  Replacing the mega mushroom and shell from before are the propeller mushroom, once again allowing flight, and the ice flower, which can freeze enemies.  Yoshi, the Special Zone, and star coins return from previous games as well.

The 3D platformers play somewhat similar to the 2D ones, but more often have multiple objectives in each level, which end with collecting a power star.  The traditional powerups are less frequently seen, and puzzle solving is played up more.

Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996): One of the launch titles of the Nintendo 64, the first Mario game to use polygon graphics, and arguably the game most 3D platformers used as inspiration.  Each of the game’s levels contain 7 stars to collect, with a certain number of stars required to face off against Bowser to unlock new areas.  Mario’s natural abilities have increased dramatically, allowing for many new moves that include wall jumping and a more powerful ground pound.  Replacing the powerups from before are three special caps.  The wing cap allows Mario to fly after landing three consecutive jumps, the metal cap makes Mario sink in water and impervious to most attacks, and the vanish cap makes Mario invisible and able to walk through some walls.
Super Mario Sunshine (GC, 2002): Mario, while on vacation in tropical Isle Delfino, is charged with cleaning up the island after it is vandalized and polluted by an imposter.  Much of the gameplay revolves around FLUDD, a water pump.  FLUDD can be used to attack, but with certain modifications can also act as a water-powered jet pack or rocket.  The game puts more emphasis on collecting items, with many of the shine sprites collectible by finding blue coins throughout the levels.  Bowser Jr. makes his first appearance here.
Super Mario Galaxy (WII, 2007): Mario goes into space to rescue Peach this time, in the process coming to the aid of the Lumas, a star-shaped race that mature into new planets and galaxies, and their leader, a Peach lookalike named Rosalina.  Levels consists of several different planets, all of which have their own gravitational pull and many of which can be circumnavigated.  Some of the classic powerups return here too, along with some new ones.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (WII, 2010): Think Super Mario Galaxy done again with more creative content and a notable difficulty spike.  Yes, the game’s similar enough that I’m not going to give it a separate description.

The RPGs in the series are fairly basic in terms of game mechanics compared to most other games in the genre.  Battles are turn based with a small selection of special moves and small cast sizes, but they also feature a timing aspect in which damage can be increased (or reduced if you’re the target) by tapping a button just before the attack hits its target.

Super Mario RPG (SNES, 1996): When a giant sword smashes into Bowser’s castle, shattering a Star Road that causes wishes to come true, it’s up to Mario, Peach, Bowser, a cloud-like boy with some control over the weather named Mallow, and a Star Road representative Geno to fix it.   While the battle system is fairly standard aside from the timed hits mentioned before, the maps frequently contain platforming segments.
Paper Mario (N64, 2001): Named after its graphical style, in which all the characters look like paper cutouts.  The plotline is very similar to SMRPG, but the gameplay differs considerably.  Mario’s equipment is changed from the standard weapon/armor/accessory selection to a variety of badges that could add extra attributes or new abilities.  Mario is joined by a variety of different partners, all of which are based on common enemies from the rest of the series.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GC, 2004): Mario ventures to another city after hearing rumors of a large treasure, which requires seven crystal stars to open, which are also being sought after by another enemy, Grodus, to be used for bad intentions.  The game uses its paper motif more creatively, with Mario being able to literally fold himself into an airplane or boat to progress.
Super Paper Mario (WII, 2007): The black sheep of this subseries, as it plays like a hybrid of an RPG and platformer.  While Mario and friends run and jump in two dimensions, (though Mario alone has an ability to break into the third dimension) characters gain experience points and damage is dealt in numerical increments based on attack and defense power as in most RPGs.  The plotline deals with Mario, Peach, and Bowser joining forces in order to prevent a dark rift from destroying the entire metaverse, in the process exploring multiple dimensions to stabilize it again.

And finally, here are the other spinoff games I can’t quite include in the other categories above:
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES, 1995): A prequel to the entire series, where a team of Yoshi’s must rescue Baby Luigi and reunite him with Baby Mario after a botched attempt to prevent both of them from being born instead simply separates them.  Yoshi is the main playable character, and can attack by eating enemies and throwing eggs at them.  Each level has a score attached to it based on how many items were found, with a perfect score in the entire world awarding a secret level.
Yoshi’s Island DS (DS, 2006): Based primarily on the previous game, with similar gameplay.  There are multiple baby characters, each of which provide different abilities: Baby Peach has a strong hover, but can’t do bank shots when throwing eggs, while Baby Donkey Kong provides a powerful body slam attack and exploding egg shots at the expense of speed.
Luigi’s Mansion (GC, 2001): Luigi won a mansion out of a contest he never actually entered, and spends the game searching for Mario when he got lost exploring it.  Oh, and the mansion’s haunted.  This is the series’ attempt at survival horror, thus putting the emphasis on solving puzzles, with most of the enemies being in some way vulnerable to a modified vacuum cleaner.

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