Saturday, May 8, 2010

Obscurio: The Most Famously Unfamous Mario Characters

There’s Mario, and then, less famously, there’s also Luigi. From there on out stretches a hierarchy of Mario characters that includes the famously unfamous, the formerly unfamous, the minorly unfamous and finally the Z-listers that you’d only know about if you played and loved and breathed the games — and then did a little bit of additional research. I don’t often do lists on this blog, but if were ever going to do one, it should be on this subject.

(A quick note: In this post, when I refer to a certain title as being a Mario game, that’s my shorthand way of saying it’s either a Mario game or a game in one of the series that have sprung off from the main Mario series. It’s just easier that way.)

First up: Those that recently rose from the depths of obscurity.


She once suffered the greatest indignity of all: being not only the first female Mario character but also the co-star of both D.K. and Mario in the original Donkey Kong. But while the ape and the plumber continued on to further starting roles, Pauline fell off the radar. She appeared in the 1994 Game Boy remake of Donkey Kong — her blonde hair replaced with curly brunette locks, apparently to differentiate her from Peach — and in the Game & Watch Gallery remakes of the LCD-age Donkey Kong, Peach actually took Pauline’s place. However, with the release of Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 in 2006, Pauline came back. Sure, she had bigger boobs and more make-up than ever, but now that she has a fully realized character model floating around, I’d bet that we could see her in the next Mario game featuring a large cast of playables. Come on, Nintendo — why not?

Captain Syrup

If Pauline is the most likely candidate to join the ranks of Mario’s tennis- or golf- or miscellaneous sport-playing buddies, then I’d say Syrup is a close second. Next to Pauline, she’s also the most obscure character to get a reprieve from video game oblivion. Despite being the first female boss in a Mario game and the first boss besides Bowser to be the big bad in more than one game, Syrup only appeared in Wario Land and Wario Land II before the ten-year hiatus leading up to 2008’s Wario Land: Shake It! The game reintroduced Syrup with an improved look and reinforced her role as Wario’s rival but not his archnemesis. (She just wants what he wants, really: money.) I’m glad to see Syrup come back. And if she’s not soon driving a go-kart, I’d be happy to see her squaring off against Wario in a new platforming game.


The Koopalings

The return of the Koopalings in New Super Mario Bros. Wii was perhaps the biggest surprise of all — at the height of their popularity, these little brats were way bigger deals than the two characters I’ve previously described. But I thought the Koopalings were gone for good, what with their apparent retcontastic replacement by Bowser Jr. and their their large number making them difficult to implement in games. (From a few perspectives, it’s more interesting to pit Mario against bosses of all shapes and sizes, rather than seven fairly similarly statured turtle squirts.) But after some false starts — that weird non-speaking appearance in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and that nixed appearance from Super Princess Peach — we finally got to see Larry, Morton, Wendy, Iggy, Roy, Lemmy and Ludwig return to the spotlight, in reckless disregard for the logic of birth order. (Bowser Jr. seems like the youngest, but how did he get to be Junior if he’s the eighth born?) Whatever — the important thing is that the eight kids can apparently coexist, and longtimers like me got to relive some fond memories when stomping the initial seven in New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Stanley the Bugman Donkey Kong 3
Stanley the Bugman

Yeah, compared to everyone listed so far, Stanley’s comeback has been puny. But this Mario stand-in from Donkey Kong 3 and the Game & Watch title Greenhouse went from being totally disregarded by Nintendo to at least being acknowledged as existing in two main ways: the Smash Bros. games, where he has cameoed as a trophy and a sticker, and the WarioWare games, where he tends to pop up in 9-Volt’s collections. It’s not much, but it’s something. I’m not saying we need Stanley back, for he is essentially a Mario clone who fires bug spray instead of doing any of the cool stuff Mario can do. But he is nonetheless part of the family, and I’m happy to see that Nintendo remembers that.
Next: Oh, how the might have fallen — one-time big deals still awaiting their revivals.

Donkey Kong Jr.

If the Koopa Kids can reappear alongside Bowser Jr., then it’s technically possible that that D.K. Jr. could hold his own alongside the new Kong family sidekicks, Diddy and Dixie. (And yes, I’m aware of the debating theories about whether the current D.K. is actually a grown-up D.K. Jr. I don’t care. I’m talking about the entity that looks like and acts like the bibbed mini-simian you see above.) Despite being the second-ever protagonist in a Mario game and even being one of the eight selectable racers in Super Mario Kart, D.K. Jr. seems to have vanished from games altogether. Never say never, though — don’t forget that D.K. Jr. once appeared in the same game as the Donkey Kong Country-era D.K. in the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Tennis. However, the fact that Baby D.K. appeared in Mario Super Sluggers makes me think that there’s little chance Nintendo will throw in yet another apprentice ape into the mix.


For similar reasons, I’m guessing Wart may not make a comeback, even though he has the honor of being the second boss to preside over Super Mario Bros.. Simply put, he just looks too much like Donkey Kong Country big bad K. Rool. And that wouldn’t be a big deal if K. Rool hadn’t finally crossed over into the Mario games with his playable appearance in Mario Super Sluggers. I’m guessing we’ll probably see K. Rool in a playable role again, and I’m guessing ol’ Wart will continue to languish in the video game No Man’s Land, aside from subsequent remakes of Super Mario Bros. 2. Hey — he at least has the Zelda games to cameo in, right?


In terms of Super Mario series big bads who aren’t Bowser, Wart came first and Tatanga came second, as the spaceship-piloting alien who kidnapped Daisy in Super Mario Land. But while Wart’s chances at a comeback seem to be handicapped by K. Rool’s existence, I can’t think of any reason why Tatanga couldn’t show up again. For the record, such a thing would actually mark Tatanga’s third appearance in a Mario game, as he’s also a boss in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. Though he’s never referred to by name and though Wario is the game’s big bad, it’s clearly Tatanga that Mario must beat at the end of Space Zone. I, for one, would relish the opportunity to tear around a Mario Kart racetrack in some wheeled version of Pagosu, his nifty little spaceship.


Oh, who really cares about a dog that doesn’t even have a nose? (Seriously, he doesn’t have one, despite that he mainly helped out in Yoshi’s Story by sniffing out items.) After appearing in Yoshi’s Island, Poochy seemed like he’d continue to grow with the expanding Mario universe. But he hasn’t done all that much, aside for his appearance in Yoshi’s Story and the Yoshi-themed Tetris Attack. When the game that would become Paper Mario was first announced, Poochy seemed poised to break out of the Yoshi game ghetto with a role in a proper Mario game, but alas — the beta screens showing Mario being followed around by the little dog were nowhere to be seen in the game’s final cut. Too bad, Poochy. If only you had a nose, things might have been different.

Baby Chauncey

So, okay, this character isn’t the most significant one ever, but he was for me the most memorable one introduced in Luigi’s Mansion. I mean, hell — he’s a demonic ghost baby. A dead baby — in a Mario game! Pretty dark stuff. And that fight with Chauncey, the game’s first boss, was pretty freaky. Since the game debuted, E. Gadd and King Boo have proven to be the ones who would become series regulars. With Nintendo’s apparent focus on the Mario babies — eight and counting! — it would be nice if they threw one into the mix who wasn’t so overwhelmingly cute. Please, Nintendo? Can we have a playable Baby Chauncey instead of Baby Waluigi? Baby Rosalina? Baby Petey?


Say what you will about Super Princess Peach, it did introduce a new character to the Mario mythos: Perry the sentient parasol. As Peach’s guide, ally and weapon throughout the game, Perry is fairly important. But the odd thing about this character is that he’s given a mysterious back story that is never resolved in the one game he appears in.

Through a series of dreams Perry has throughout Super Princess Peach, we learn that this character once had a form other than an umbrella. At some point, Perry and his adopted grandfather were attacked by an unnamed pair of bad guys wanting to use Perry’s special powers. When Perry refused to aid them, the bad guys turned him into an umbrella. Perry, in his new form, escaped but ended up being sold to Toadsworth, who have Perry to Peach to help her in her quest to fight Bowser. Perry wonders if he will ever meet his “grandfather” again, but the game gives no closure. What the hell, Nintendo?! Super Princess Peach has its share of problems, to be sure, and the loose end that is Perry’s tragic story is just one of them. Given the critical drubbing that the game got, I suppose we’ll have to assume that we’ll never figure out what the deal with this magical umbrella was.

Everyone from Super Mario RPG

Geno, Mallow, assorted bad guys — we miss you. Tell Square-Enix we want you back, in some form. Seriously. Super Mario RPG was a thing of beauty — and, really, the first glimpse we’ve ever gotten of a fleshed-out Mushroom Kingdom populated by characters rather than just sprites. In their day, the Super Mario RPG crew was big news. They still are, as far as Mario fanboy circles go. And they might not be still holding onto hope had Geno not made that cameo in the non-Squeenix-produced Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, a fleeting appearance that did not, sadly, yield repeat ones by Geno or anyone else. Personally speaking, the two I miss the most are Booster and Valentina. I’d be very happy to see those two thrown back into the mix. But I’m not holding my breath.
Thirdly: They once played central roles in one game or another, but they’ve always been obscure — and likely will continue to be.

Foreman Spike

Also known as Blackie, Spike is the big bad in Wrecking Crew and Wrecking Crew ’98, a nasty dude who attempted to work his demolition magic to do in Mario. Despite that resume and the fact that he looks like he could have been a prototype for Wario, Spike remains largely forgotten among Mario fans. It doesn’t help that his most recent appearance was in Mobile Golf, a title released only in Japan. But hey — he was playable, at least. I’d be happy to see him in a playable role in some future Mario title, but give that hardly any series fans know who this guys is — “Why is Wario dressed like a gay leather daddy?” — I’ll assume that these wishes won’t come true.


Historically, Wanda is important. Practically, she’s not. But for the record, we should all take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of the little fairy who can make blocks appear or vanish with a mere shake of her wand. She’s the first-ever female character to be the default protagonist in a Mario series game, beating out Dixie Kong in Donkey Kong Country 3 and Peach in Super Princess Peach by years. In the Japan-only release Mario & Wario, Wanda was responsible for preventing Mario, Yoshi or Peach from wandering Lemmings-style into certain death. Wanda showed up once more in Wario’s Woods, helping Toad combat Wario once more. Beyond that? Nada. Cute those she may be, I’m not holding out that we’ll see Wanda in action again.

Winky the Frog

Poor Winky never had a chance. Though he might be familiar to anyone who played through Donkey Kong Country, most gamers might not realize that he only appeared in that one title. Rambi the Rhino, Expresso the Ostrich and Enguarde the Swordfish each appeared in subsequent titles, but Winky faded into nothingness after that first Rare-bred outing, probably because Winky’s one superpower — jumping really high — didn’t make him all that valuable a steed for the Kong clan to mount. In Donkey Kong Country 2, Winky was replaced by Rattly the Rattlesnake as the go-to high-jumper — and at least Rattly appeared in the Game Boy version of that game, Donkey Kong Land.

The Subcon Fairies

Remember those things that spring out of the vase at the end of Super Mario Bros. 2 They’re ostensibly the residents of Subcon, the land of dreams and this game’s setting. They’re also apparently called Subcon, which is confusing. Despite their status at the second Super Mario game’s damsels, players learned next to nothing about them and they never appeared again, aside from various remakes of Super Mario Bros. 2. I wonder if Doki Doki Panic — from which, of course, Super Mario Bros. 2 was made — offers any more detail as to who this winged little creatures are. As it stands now, we barely have any idea what their species name is — and given that the original Super Mario Bros. 2 ending credits offers Birdo’s name as Ostro and Clawgrip’s as Clawglip, I wonder if even their name being Subcon was a mistake or translation error.

Human nobodies in Mario sports games

Ah, to be a boring human in Mario’s world. You must suffer the sad fate of being a playable character but being no sane player’s favorite character in the Mario series as a whole. To illustrate this type of character, I’ve picked eight who will likely be familiar to even avid Mario fans, as they only appeared in the Japan-only title Mobile Golf: from left to right, top to bottom, it’s Ken, Napple, Lisa, Thread, Rozary, Bean, Bird and Powert. You say “Who?!” I say “Exactly.” To be fair, some of these blank-eyed nobodies have squeezed a bit of fame out of their appearances in these Camelot-produced spin-off sports games. Plum, for example, scored a trophy in Smash Bros. Melee, while Azalea had the honor of having her faced stolen by Daisy. And that’s something, at least.
And finally: the far reaches of the Marioverse — the forgotten, the unloved and the unrecognizable.


I’m beginning with this weirdo from the Super Nintendo version of Wario’s Woods because he’s especially notable in that he looks just like Tatanga — just better dressed. The purple skin, the fans, the connection to Wario and even the syllable pattern of his name all seem to lead to the idea that Katsini may have some connection to Wario. Does he? Who knows. After Wario’s Woods was released, the introduced characters promptly vanished, so any sort of reunion between Katsini and Tatanga was left up to the minds of Mario fanboys.

Aqualea Meidou Wario's Woods
Aqualea and Meidou

Also especially notable among the Wario’s Woods freaks are these two mermaid characters — Meidou in the Nintendo version of the game and Aqualea in the Super Nintendo version. Are they one in the same? Is Aqualea simply the localized name assigned to Meidou? We’ll never know. But if they are indeed two separate characters, isn’t it odd that Nintendo would invent two very similar but ultimately different mermaids to fill two almost identical roles in versions of what is essentially the same game?

Ball Bunny

Notable in that he’s made two appearances as a level boss — in Wario Land II and Wario Land III. Also, Wario doesn’t have to beat the tar out of Ball Bunny, just out-score him at basketball. (Technically, the latter game, Mario has to beat him in a game of soccer in which the rabbit-eared one is aided by an unnamed tortoise character. But same idea.) Rather odd. Might he made a good addition to Mario Hoops 3-on-3? Ah, but then he wouldn’t be on this list.

Dangerous Duck

Not too different from Ball Bunny in some respects, Dangerous Duck isn’t even a boss. He’s a generic, boomerang-tossing baddie in Wario Land and Wario Land II. Nonetheless, in the latter, D.D. actually pops up as the central character in Wario Land II in a remake of the old Game & Watch title Flagman. A rare honor, but not one great enough to make him known to the Mario fan community at large.


In a game where the gender of the protagonist is emphasized so much, Blizzaurus stands out simply because she’s the only female baddie in the entire game as well as one of the few not from or inspired by a previous Mario baddie. The boss of Super Princess Peach’s sixth world, Gleam Glacier, Blizzaurus initially appears as a hulking dragon. After a few hits, however, the character’s true form emerges: a little pixie. She’s still every bit as devilish and uses ice magic to try and thwart Peach. And like every other boss in Super Princess Peach, she’s a total pushover. But still — thanks, Nintendo, for giving Peach at least one similarly gendered opponent to take on. Bonus points for the NES Metroid-like reveal of “Oh! Hey! This one is a girl, it turns out!”

Imajin, Lina, Mama and Papa

Long before Mario and company ever set foot in Subcon in Super Mario Bros. 2, Imajin’s family ventured through and trounced Wart on their own in Doki Doki Panic. This is now common knowledge, even among casual Mario gamers. However, I say these four shouldn’t just step aside; they should still have a place in the Mario games. This is likely complicated by the fact that the characters may be owned by Fuji Television, as Imajin and company were created as mascots for the 1987 Yume Kōjō festival, which showed off Fuji’s various wares. According to Wikipedia, everything in Doki Doki Panic besides the family members themselves was created by Nintendo, and perhaps that’s why we today have Shy Guys, Bob-Ombs and Pokeys causing trouble everywhere. Still, I feel the characters wouldn’t be out-of-place in a Mario game — brother Imajin and sister Lina in particular. But I also feel that if Nintendo hasn’t opted to use them yet, they probably won’t. Boo. I say mainstream video games need more turbans.

Prince Pine and King Fret

Not all the members of royalty needing rescue are female. In Yoshi’s Safari, Mario first rescues Peach and then Fret and Pine, in that order. Before you assume that their status as he-damsels renders them less masculine than the rest of the male inhabitants of Mario’s world, remind yourself that beyond the events of Yoshi’s Safari both Fret and Pine are respected heads of state… of a place called Jewelry Land. Wait, that’s not any better, is it?

Princess Shokora Wario Land 4
Princess Shokora
One of the lesser-known princesses Mario and crew have ever come across would have to be Shokora, the damsel awaiting rescue at the end of Wario Land Advance. There’s two qualities about Shokora worth noting. First, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, she manifests in one of four forms in proportion to how much loot Wario scores over the course of the game. As such, it’s not clear what she actually looks like — spoiled baby princess? Wario-looking shebeast? Or maybe she’s the Peach-like princess depicted in the official artwork? But if that’s the case, why does the “best” form — the one the players see if they’ve amassed the greatest amount of wealth — have such severe features, cropped hair and a generally boyish look?

Beyond that mystery, there’s a second shapeshifting matter that actually makes Shokora even cooler than most ballgown-sporting captives: She actually helps Wario over the course of the game, though she does so in the form of a Mr. Game & Watch-resembling shopkeeper who sells Wario “weapons,” many of which actually involve the character herself morphing into the various forms of attack. Additionally, Shokora also appears throughout the game in the form of a black alley cat that follows Wario. So she’s a princess and a captive, sure, but at least she makes better use of her spare time than Peach, what with her letter-writing and item-sending.

Princess Eclair

But there’s always someone waiting to one-up you, even if you’re Shokora. There’s an additional princess who deserves a mention here, however brief, and it’s the mention-but-not-seen damsel from the similarly implied Super Luigi adventure in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. Luigi is initially sent to Waffle Kingdom at the bidding of Minister Crepe to gather the pieces of the Marvelous Compass in order to defeat the evil Chestnut King and rescue Princess Eclair. Once he collects all the necessary items, he finds that Crepe is actually the story’s villain and the Chestnut King is Eclair’s true love, transformed. In the end, Luigi stomps Crepe and heads back home. Eclair returns to the arms of her sweetheart and she’s never glimpsed — which is fine, really, since Mario’s world is populated with enough food-named princess as it is.

“Pinky” Kong

There is no Pinky Kong, technically. However, as noted in this Destructoid article, there is an unexplained pink-colored clone of D.K. Jr. who appears as an opponent in Donkey Kong Jr. Math. Practically speaking, this palette swap offered an easy fix to the problem of D.K. Jr. not having enough competition in the game. To the overthinking gamer, however, it creates a mystery: Who the hell is this guy? (Or girl?) If D.K. Jr. eventually led to the creation of the similar Diddy Kong, then I’d like to think that this pink version of the big Donkey Kong’s little buddy is the spiritual predecessor to Dixie Kong, who is also a diminutive simian with a predilection for pink.

Dogu, Oyazi, Onigiri and Onnanoko

Nintendo saw fit to throw in a few extra unlockable playable characters in the Japan-only release Wrecking Crew ‘98 — clockwise from top left, an ancient clay figurine, a middle-aged dude, a living ball of rice and a little girl. Why these four got the honor of tussling with the likes of Mario, Spike and Bowser, I’ll never know, but then again I’ve never played the game. Perhaps their presence is an integral part of the plot?


Wario tends to get the quirkier characters to pal around with, and Hen is no exception. Hen, as you might expect, is a hen. She’s also Wario’s pet. (Leave it to Wario to give his charge an especially uncreative name.) In Wario Land II, Syrup’s goons make off with Wario’s treasures, including Hen, and one whole stage of the game is spent trying to get Wario to return Hen to her nest. Neat in that it proves Wario can feel actual affection for something that’s not actually worth money. Hen appears only once more, in the “Fire Attack” game in Game & Watch Gallery 4, where she may lay eggs that grant bonus points.

Nurse Peach

As much a separate character from regular Peach as Dr. Mario is from regular Mario. Right? While Dr. Mario has enjoyed a certain measure of fame, even appearing as a playable fighter in Smash Bros. Melee, Nurse Peach seems content to wait on the sidelines — appearing more prominently in the instruction manual than she does the game itself, presumably because she’s busy answering phones or weighing Dr. Mario’s patients. Another notch on the obscurity meter: Nurse Peach technically existed before the official switch away from the name Toadstool, so her name really wasn’t ever Nurse Peach, at least in the U.S. versions of Dr. Mario. Technically, Nurse Peach made a cameo in Smash Bros. Melee in one of the challenges. I believe Peach’s white dress in that game was supposed to be a nurse’s uniform to match Dr. Mario’s white lab coat, though Nurse Toadstool generally wears pink and the white dress looked more like a wedding gown.`

The One Red Snifit in Super Mario Bros. 2

I can’t take credit for this one. The Progressive Boink has a whole page dedicated to the fact that Super Mario Bros. 2 features one — and only one — red Snifit in the entire game. I know, I know — the mind boggles.

Unnamed Purple-Haired Lady

And now we’re coming to the real unknowns. I wouldn’t even bother mentioning this one, but she appears fairly prominently in certain screens in the Super NES version of Wario’s Woods. The series in general is known for featuring minor-players as well a host of oddball newcomers such as the two mermaids mentioned earlier, assorted other weirdos and this purple-haired lady. She occasionally takes the place in the game screen usually occupied by Birdo. Why? I honestly can’t remember. I believe she’s good, even though she’s sporting Wario’s trademark purple-and-yellow color scheme. She seems pretty stoked to be in the game but apparently not enough to introduce herself. Rude, really.

“The Professor”

There’s a second mysterious character Wario occasionally runs into during Wario Land Advance — a weirdly unnamed old man whom Wario must pick up and toss around in order to solve various puzzles. He doesn’t talk, exactly, though he might scream a bit when Wario bashes him about. He’s often peering into a magnifying glass, which I think led some to conclude that he’s supposed to be an archeologist examining the Golden Pyramid, the game’s setting. (He also appears in the game’s opening cinema on a newspaper announcing the discovery of the pyramid, so maybe that assumption is valid.) I’d always just called him The Professor, though many erroneously concluded that he’s Mad Scienstein. (That’s a separate Wario character). And, at one point, I could have sworn I read that his name was Paul, though I can’t remember where.

Recently, I stumbled onto a good theory about who this character is and why he ended up in this particular game. Remember Richard from Link’s Awakening? He’s the guy in the villa overrun by frogs, and many know that his appearances is a reference to the Japan-only Nintendo title Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, which can be accurately translated as For the Frog the Bell Tolls or humorously translated as The Bell Tolls for the Frog. Just as Zelda’s Richard is originally from this obscure game, so too might this old man be. This message board thread notes his resemblance to a Frog character named Dr. Arewo Shitain. (Ha.) He looks like this:

So a definite match? Maybe not. But the resemblance is striking, and the character designer for Frog also worked on Wario Land Advance. So that, it seems, is the best possible answer to the mystery of this obscure Mario character: He’s most likely not a Mario character after all.

The King of Subcon

And you thought the Princess Peach’s father was the only phantom monarch hovering around a major Mario game setting. No, there is also apparently a King of Subcon — at least according to BS Super Mario USA Power Challenge, a 1996 remake of Super Mario Bros. 2 released in Japan only. A quasi-sequel to Super Mario Bros. 2 that uses the same old levels but takes place after the events of the first time Mario beat Wart, this game boasted quite a few unusual features, including a radio drama that would unfold as the game was played, timed challenges and the added gameplay aspect of collecting golden statues of Mario that the King of Subcon erected to honor the previous victory over Wart. The king appears in the above grid of character portraits, looking quite kingly but also very unfamiliar to this Super Mario Bros. 2 diehard. And that’s the list. I’m sure I’ve neglected plenty of worthwhile characters, but these are the ones I thought to include. Please don’t hesitate to point out who all else you think deserved a mention.

Other noteworthy Super Mario-related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment