Sure, Smash Bros. and Mario Kart are great, but Mario’s various sports outings have introduced many important changes to the plumber’s extended universe. Like these seven additions!
It’s been over twenty years since the Mario sports series had its inauspicious debut with Mario Tennis on the Virtual Boy. Previously relegated to referee roles in the likes of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and Tennis and siblings-only outings in the NES’ many first-party golf games, the last two decades have delivered nearly two dozen Mushroom Kingdom sports games, and most don’t get their just due.
In the face of bigger franchises like Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and proper Mario platformers, it’s easy to forget that some pretty memorable in the history of Mario, Nintendo, and gaming itself started with a sports game. Here are seven underrated innovations we have Mario sports games to thank.
7 – Mario’s Tennis Was The Only Mario sports Pack-In Game
When it came to America in August of 1995, the Virtual Boy was the first Nintendo platform to release in the United States without a traditional Mario platformer (Mario Clash and Virtual Boy Wario Land were holiday releases), so the first-ever Mario sports game remains the only Mario-led sports pack-in on a Nintendo platform in North America. It was the only sports pack-in with a Nintendo platform for over a decade, until Wii “best-selling game of all time with an asterisk” Sports was included with the Nintendo Wii.
While there have been higher-profile sports titles starring Mario and his many acquaintances in the two decades since Mario Tennis, the extremely sparse Virtual Boy launch lineup allowed for the only game starring a familiar face to accompany the ill-fated hardware. This tennis match lacked depth, as later Mario sports games would incorporate power-ups to spice up the competition and new modes to increase replay value. If that was a letdown, maybe you’ll spend a bit more to get Red Alarm, the Star Fox game without Star Fox!
6 – Mario Strikers Charged Was The First Mario Game Rated Higher Than E from the ESRB
With the exception of the Smash Bros. series, which had earned E10+ and T ratings for the sheer fact that characters across the Nintendo universe were using firearms and punching each other, no game that stuck to the Mario universe itself ever encroached beyond the comfy confines of the family friendly E rating. That streak ended with Mario Strikers Charged for the Wii, which earned a E10+ rating, though it probably should have been bumped up to Teen for the liberties it takes.
Here’s a short list of the crazy shit that goes on in Charged; Daisy touches her butt while making a sizzling noise, Wario farts even more than usual, every character attempting a Mega Strike seemingly turns into a demon, and Waluigi leads his team in a Degeneration-X-style crotch chop when he scores a goal. The only other non-Smash game to hit E10+ was Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. I never played it, so I’m assuming by the title that the reason for the rating involved incest.
5 – Mario Hoops 3-on-3 Had The First Inclusion of Square Characters in a Mario Game
While relations behind the scenes may have been different, it certainly seemed like Nintendo and Square would never reach the same level of cooperation they had during the 8- and 16-bit eras after the Sony PlayStation became Square’s only console home during the 32-bit generation. Sure, some amends were made with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles on GameCube and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, but with bigger games exclusive to Sony and Microsoft consoles it seemed like we’d never see a Super Mario RPG-level collaboration.
Oddly enough, Mario and the characters of Final Fantasy finally did cross paths thanks to the American pastime of basketball. Perhaps inspired by the inclusion of Mario, Luigi, and Peach in NBA Street V3, Square Enix developed the DS-exclusive Mario Hoops 3-on-3, trying to best EA at putting plumbers on the court. Even though the focus was put on Mario and his pals, a few unlockable characters brought Final Fantasy favorites like Moogle and Cactuar into the mix, perhaps paving the way for future collaborations. Who knows? If the under-the-radar Hoops hadn’t happened, maybe Cloud’s much-hyped Smash Bros. debut wouldn’t have either?
The strange debuts of major Nintendo characters and mascots uniting await you on the next page!