The man, the plumber, the legend has been in a lot of games since 1985’s Super Mario Bros. truly put him and the Mushroom Kingdom on the map. Everyone knows about the newly-released Super Mario Maker and the games it pays homage to within (from Super Mario Bros. to New Super Mario Bros. U). But what if I told you there was a Mario-themed Excitebike racer, or that time Mario hosted a medal game (what’s that)?
If you haven’t heard of the following games, you haven’t heard of them at all. Be they arcade-only or home console obscurities, Mario’s reach knows no bounds. Here are some of the strangest and most obscure games ever to bear the Mario license.
The Mario games listed by name, release year, and developer.
Mario Roulette, Konami, Arcade, 1991
Back in the days of Super Mario World, Nintendo collaborated with Konami to effectively produce a gambling machine for arcades, wrapped up in kid-friendly colors and lights inspired by the Super NES hit. Players would insert coins and stop the machine’s giant red button to connect slot images, Vegas-style. Wins got you tokens, like your average Chuck E Cheese machine, only not tickets. Players would lose more often than not, greeted by multiple icons of Bowser’s victorious sneer. A string of coincidences would have prevented this novelty from leaving Japanese arcades. The lack of popularity of medal games like these, combined with Konami’s licensing the Mario brand, on top of the dying breed of American arcades at the time (in a pre-Street Fighter II world where Capcom single-handedly gave arcades a new lease on life) all had to do with this game’s obscurity.
Mario Undoukai, Banpresto, Arcade, 1993
Before there was Dance Dance Revolution, there was Mario Undoukai. A simple dance game aimed at children, it’s a Japan-only obscurity with little known about it. Like DDR, you stomped on an arrow-based base to Olympic-style marathon events. Thematically, it once again patterns itself on Super Mario World, what with the Koopalings and Yoshi. It’s also one of the few instances where Mario speaks in Japanese, contrary to his short English-driven speak nowadays. Watch a video of this mode below to get the idea. That little is known about the other modes should tell you how obscure it really is.
Super Mario Fushigi no Janjan Land, Capcom, Arcade, 2003
Surprise, surprise, it’s another medal game. This Capcom-developed arcade machine from the early Aughts is similar to the earlier Mario Roulette from Konami, but different in form. The machine is presented pachinko-style, so players shot balls upward that trickled down and scored points accordingly. It’s also themed around Super Mario Bros. 3 rather than World (to tie in with the Game Boy Advance remake from around that time). It saw no less than three follow-ups in later years, all from Capcom and all pretty much the same thing. Once again, it never left Japan because of the non-existent scene for medal games in North America, let alone those that encourage kids to effectively gamble.
Excitebike: Bun Bun Mario Battle Stadium, Nintendo/St. GiGa, Satellaview 1997
Nintendo’s prehistoric step into online connectivity starts with the Satellaview, a Super Famicom add-on that connected to satellites to deliver broadcast games and downloadable content. It ran for five years in Japan, and in its prime there was this Mario-themed makeover of the NES racer Excitebike, It played much like the original, only with Mario characters replacing the generic bikers from before. To continue the forward-thinking internet theme, the game was even released in episodes, each with a new character. In short, there was a Mario spin-off released for the Super Famicom after the Nintendo 64 launched.
Mario Party e, Hudson Soft, e-Reader, 2002
Having gone strong for ten core entries by 2015, Mario Party e is one of the least-known entries in the venerable Mario Party series. Hey, there’s bound to be a stinker at some point. As you probably guessed from the title, this Party made use of the e-Reader to deliver an accurate board game experience. You and three other players took turns on the included play mat, and mini-games were accessed via e-Reader cards. If you chose not to, the e-Reader wasn’t even required for play, stripping away one of the series’ core components. The barrier to this game having popularity was all the extraneous content included in the package, when the games released prior only needed four controllers to have fun. Nintendo later released a proper Mario Party for Game Boy Advance in 2005, sans multiplayer of any kind. Later Parties on DS and 3DS cleaned up all the barriers to entry that this obscure entry provided, namely going wireless.
Kaettekita Mario Bros., Nintendo EAD, Famicom Disc System, 1985
Ever wonder what was missing from Mario Bros.? Product placement! This updated version of the arcade classic, only found on the Famicom Disc System add-on, actually includes intermissions that consist of advertisements. Specifically, ads for Nagatanien, a Japanese food company. There was also a real world contest held after the game’s release, evidenced by the ‘Nagatanien World’ mode where slot machines popped up periodically. Winners would mail in promotional codes for a chance to win Mario playing cards. While it was never released outside of Japan for obvious reasons, a European re-release of Mario Bros. includes this version’s less invasive gameplay changes such as being able to change direction mid-jump. Those same changes carry over to all remakes of Mario Bros. thereafter.
All-Night Nippon Super Mario Bros., Famicom Disc System, Nintendo EAD, 1986
Unlike the previous game mentioned above, this re-release of 1985’s Super Mario Bros. has the exact same gameplay as its Famicom cartridge. Just like with Nagatanien Mario Bros, however, this game never saw a re-release because of it’s, ahem, product endorsements. The biggest addition comes to the graphics, with the stars of Japan’s All-Night Nippon radio show taking the place of certain enemies and Princess Peach. If nothing else, it represented one of the earliest examples of Nintendo sharing their coveted properties with an outside licensee. No thanks to its licensed likenesses, this port will never again see the light of day.
Mario no Photopi, Tokyo Electron Device, Nintendo 64, 1999
Less of a game and more of an application, this unusual Mario-themed photo editor was an unusual device. The cartridge itself had two slots for SmartMedia cards (and back in a time when media storage devices were exorbitantly expensive and had limited storage). Users were able to import photos and edit them and decorate them with all manner of Mario imagery. Said photos could then be printed out for your amusement. For reference, here’s how the cart looked:
The involvement of developer/publisher Tokyo Electron is probably why this cart never released outside of Japan. Well, that and the unpopularity of digital photography at the time. That said, American kids in 1999 knew the joys of printing photos from a Nintendo 64 game via Pokemon Snap and its Blockbuster Print Stations. It’s no big loss: nowadays, this functionality could be replicated on your average smartphone app.
As you can see, Mario has been quite willing to shell himself and his Mushroom Kingdom friends to a number of companies and out-there concepts over the years. More likely, Nintendo has tightened the leash on their most precious IP in the years since the Mario franchise’s early boon. Outside of Namco’s Mario Kart spin-offs in the arcades, you’re not likely to see Mario shill for an educational game or a creativity application. These days, he’s been stuck playing ball for Nintendo-owned spin-offs and core platformers, leaving little left to the unfamiliar and uncharted.
Any other obscure Mario games you know about? Leave a comment and share ’em with the world. Who knows, perhaps there will be a Part II of this surrealist quest to categorize the unknown Mario spin-offs.