From diffusing bombs in the jungle to educational time-travel, Nintendo’s mascot has lived a strange life.
Mario is easily the most recognizable character in gaming. When he isn’t saving the Mushroom Kingdom, he’s out there playing golf or racing karts. In fact, Mario doesn’t seem particularly choosey about how he spends his off-time. If you want proof Mario is pushing himself too hard, have a look at some of the weirdest, most absurd games in which he appears.
Mario Paint (SNES, 1992)
Mario Paint took all the best things about Microsoft Paint, put them on Super Nintendo… and added music. Originally a pack-in title with the Super NES mouse peripheral, Mario Paint let the plumber show off his creative side. Mario Paint might be best remembered for the bizarre music people have created in the years since. But most importantly, it showed us a side of Mario we never knew before: wearing a smock.
Mario Teaches Typing (PC, 1991)
Typing is just something we take for granted in this connected age, but 20 years ago, learning to type meant the difference between a life of drudgery in a factory or a life of drudgery in the office of a factory. The game itself is actually pretty useful for teaching typing skills, but Mario doesn’t quite look himself and the MIDI soundtrack is like ice-picks in your ears.
Mario Bombs Away (Game & Watch, 1983)
This Game and Watch game has the distinction of being the only Mario game in history that can pair with John Fogherty’s ‘Fortunate Son.’ In the 1980s, when this game was released, the only war people remembered took place in the thick jungles of Vietnam. But it’s even weirder than just its tropical setting. Mario must move bombs from one side of the screen to the other, avoiding cigarette-smoking soldiers hiding behind trees, soldiers whose carelessness in combat seems a tremendous liability.
Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix (GameCube, 2005)
Back before Just Dance and Guitar Hero, the world’s favorite way to get rhythm was the Dance Dance Revolution franchise. DDR Mario Mix on GameCube took everyone’s favorite video game star and put him in a rhythm game. Which is weird, sure, but the main villain of Mario DDR is Waluigi, which doesn’t make sense to anyone. There are dozens of other antagonists to pick from, but only Konami dared to pose the question “When does that Waluigi dude get to shine?”
Mario Clash (Virtual Boy, 1995)
Do you remember the original Mario Bros. arcade game? Someone at Nintendo looked at its success and thought “This game is fun but it’s not red and I barely have a headache from playing it.” Thus Mario Clash for the ill-fated Virtual Boy was born. It’s just a take on the arcade game, with an added sense of depth thanks to the stereoscopic display. Also, there was no way to save your progress or your high score, so it taught ’90s kids about the impermanence of life.
Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up (PC, 1992)
Coloring is a fun way to relax and pass the time…and Super Mario and Friends: When I Grow Up is definitely a game with Mario in it. Featuring scenes of deafening silence, you click to fill colors into pre-drawn Mario art. They teach you about exciting careers like being a farmer or pharmacist. His friends are there too, just like the name implies, but it’s strange because they’re all grown up already, which spoils the endgame. I guess.
Mario is Missing! (SNES, 1993)
The weirdest thing about Mario is Missing is how Bowser weaponizes climate change to melt the ice of Antarctica, flooding the Earth so he can steal landmarks. It’s a super villainous plot and would cause the deaths of billions. Those unlucky enough to survive would wander what little land remained in a Cormac McCarthy-esque wasteland. Only instead of seeking meager scraps of food and clothing, Luigi finds the fog horn for the Golden Gate bridge and this leads to the recovery of his brother Mario or something.
Mario’s Time Machine (SNES, 1993)
Since learning about geography wasn’t painful enough, a similar edutainment game was created to trick kids into learning about history. Mario’s Time Machine sees Mario chasing Bowser through time to return the artifacts Bowser stole. Failure to do so will alter the course of history, and at the time this game came out, that seemed like a bad idea. This game is notable for highlighting how underappreciated Bowser’s evil truly is. Given access to a time machine, he opts to steal trinkets rather than kill Hitler. Unbelievable.
Those are some of Mario’s weirdest, most surreal adventures. For a more traditional take on Nintendo’s mascot, check out our list of the 10 Best Mario Games Ever made.