It’s no secret that aside from tending to the sewers of Brooklyn and adventuring in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario has a lot of hobbies. The portly plumber and his friends (and often foes) have seen themselves involved in all sorts of athletic escapades, ranging from competing in the olympic games to hitting the court alongside LeBron James. The man himself was even umpiring tennis matches as early as 1984, long before he first picked up a racquet for himself in Mario’s Tennis for the Virtual Boy.
Mario’s sporting spin-offs are undoubtedly some of his most popular outings, with the likes of Mario Tennis, Golf and Kart being responsible for many a fond multiplayer experience. One unique aspect of these titles has always been the roster, often putting more minor characters in the spotlight and giving them their shot at a playable appearance, even in some instances leading to the creation of characters who have since become Mario series staples, such as Waluigi (this isn’t up for debate!).
Whilst it’s obvious that some of these characters clearly aren’t important or popular enough to receive their own titles, their inclusion in the various Mario spin-off games is a good thing, because it’s often the only chance they have at development. Part of what makes the Mario series so endearing is its charm and personality, something which shines through especially well in the role-playing titles such as Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario, and more often than not the side characters that populate the colourful world of Mario have more personality than the man himself!
The Mario series has the benefit of having a highly recognisable cast, especially with a younger audience. Certain consistencies between spin-off titles, especially those with large rosters of selectable characters like the sports and party titles, are evident and make a lot of sense; after many appearances, there are characters whose absence from said titles would be considered strange, regardless of their overall importance within the world of Nintendo.
When analysing roster decisions between the various Mario spin-off titles, it’s important to look at recent trends that would suggest who you’re most likely to find with a golf club or tennis racquet in their hands. I believe that it’s possible to group characters together based on their current importance in the franchise, taking into account a variety of factors.
‘The Usual Suspects’
If these guys aren’t there, then something has most likely gone seriously wrong. This is your standard Mario spin-off crowd, the most recognisable and popular characters, especially amongst a casual audience. Most of these picks are self explanatory, but some may question the inclusion of Rosalina, who first appeared in 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy. Whist still being a relatively new addition to the Mario family, Rosalina has seen an incredible rise in popularity since her debut, even to the extent of seeing an appearance in Super Smash Bros, even before the likes of Toad who has been a mainstay from what seems like the beginning! Following appearances in a wide variety of spin-off titles and even Super Mario 3D World, Rosalina has become popular both with casual and hardcore Mario fans and I imagine her inclusion in games in the future, both mainline and spin-off, is a given.
If Nintendo decided to leave any of these characters out of future Mario spin-off instalments, regardless of the sport or activity, they’d likely be shooting themselves in the foot; for the millions of households that made the likes of Mario Kart Wii and Mario Party 8 some of the best-selling games on the Wii, these are some of the most familiar Mario characters, likely the ones you’ll see on merchandise and apparel. This is part of the big appeal of Mario spin-off titles; it allows a wider audience to become better acquainted with the series’ colourful cast, and popularity garnered from these appearances is likely to affect chances of future appearances.
In each Mario spin-off title, you can most likely expect all of these characters to appear.
These are the guys who don’t always show up to the party; you can still have a fun time without them, but you can’t help but notice that they’re not there. Princess Daisy and Waluigi are unique characters in that their appearances tend to be limited purely to spin-off titles (and in Waluigi’s case, his entire existence is a result of Wario lacking a tennis partner). With this in mind, they’re likely to be held in higher regard when considering a roster for sports titles, filling the role of the ‘partner’ characters to Peach and Wario respectively. On occasion, the same can be said for Bowser Jr, whose frequent appearances in the New Super Mario Bros. series games have likely made him a more well-known character amongst a casual audience. However, despite a high-profile appearance in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, Junior failed to make the cut in Mario Kart 8, ditched in favour of his 7 ‘siblings’ the Koopalings. A similar situation occurred for Diddy Kong, a frequent face in sports titles and Smash Bros, but a frequent absentee from many a Mario Kart race.
In games which call for supporting characters such as the Mario Strikers and Mario Baseball series, the likes of Shy Guy and Boo get their chance to shine alongside their fellow minion Koopa Troopa. By this point, Shy Guy has essentially become a Mario Kart mainstay following two back-to-back appearances in 7 and 8, but Boo’s appearances are less certain; on occasion, King Boo may make an appearance instead. The baby characters first rose to prominence in Mario Kart Wii; whilst a fourth baby character, Baby Daisy, made an appearance in Wii, her appearances are less frequent than that of Baby Mario and Peach, who have recently appeared in Mario Tennis Open on 3DS. However, Baby Daisy’s return, along with the the addition of yet another baby, Baby Rosalina, in Mario Kart 8 not only makes Rosalina’s wide popularity clear, but suggests that we’ve yet to see the last of the heroes’ infant counterparts.
The final character I believe fits into this category are the player avatars, Miis. Their appearances in spin-off titles have been more frequent, with Mario Kart 8 even using Amiibo to let you dress yourself in Nintendo-inspired getup, and with their inclusion as a recurring feature of Nintendo hardware makes it likely we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future, perhaps even on future NX instalments of the notable Mario spin-off franchises.
In each Mario spin-off title, you can most likely expect the majority of these characters to appear.
‘What happened to those guys again?’
These guys have made past appearances, but in recent times appear to have gone missing in action, occasionally given cameos or background appearances, but rarely playable. In some characters cases, they’ve simply been replaced over time by more important ones; the likes of Koopa Paratroopa, Dry Bones and King Boo are likely considered too similar to their standard counterparts, making it understandable why their appearances are infrequent, but not leaving them without their fans. Despite being one of the more high-profile Mario enemies, Goomba’s appearances seem to fluctuate on a developer-by-developer basis, and how liberal said developer is towards his lack of arms. It’s strange that of all the titles Goombas have appeared in, it’s in the Mario Baseball games, baseball being a sport that revolves almost entirely around using your hands!
The likes of Birdo and Toadette are the most likely of this selection of characters to appear; they are popular and somewhat recognisable, but there are plenty of other, higher-profile characters who could easily be selected over them to make an appearance. Petey Piranha also seems to be showing his face a little less over the years. I can’t imagine he’s a particularly popular or recognisable character and along with Wiggler, he sports one of the more outlandish designs that could be considered physically unsuitable for use in some activities.
The inclusion of Dixie and Funky Kong brings up the debate about the boundaries between the Mario and Donkey Kong franchises. Donkey Kong is a popular and recognisable character but his fellow ape’s appearances seem to be on a developer-related basis. Past sports titles such as Mario Baseball have seen the inclusion of many Donkey Kong characters, even going as far as using characters such as Tiny Kong and King K. Rool who are more likely to be lesser-known to a wider audience.
In each Mario spin-off title, you can most likely expect a few of these characters to appear.
Because of the way Mario spin-off rosters tend to work, it could be argued that there is a lot of wasted potential when considering who goes into each game. The general rule of thumb seems to be that if the main roster fits the criteria listed above (all of the ‘main’ characters and a selection of the ‘side’ characters), then anything else goes. With this in mind, I believe that it’s through these spin-off titles that Nintendo should be educating players about characters from the wider Mario universe and beyond, making use of some of the fantastic character designs that unfortunately often go unused (with some going for many years without a single appearance).
Of course, it’s important to take into account issues of licensing and of course, the physical work involved in adding characters to each game; I’m not saying every Mario spin-off should have a roster with 100 characters in it, but there are choices that could be made that I think could generate a lot more interest in spin-off titles that would otherwise lose people’s attention, especially considering that recent titles have been criticised for playing it too safe in their character choices. Some of these ideas may seem outlandish or impossible, but they are purely opinions on how the character selections in these games could be enhanced (please note that the characters pictured are not necessarily who I think should be in the game, but allude towards the ideas in the descriptions):
Enemies, enemies, enemies!
Some of the most memorable character designs in the Mario series are the enemies! After stomping so many, they’re likely a familiar sight to most players, so it seems foolish not to make use of these creative designs in the spin-off titles! Spike recently made a surprise appearance as an unlockable character in Mario Party 10, and whilst this was a nice addition, there are higher-profile enemy types that more than deserve an appearance. It’s a well-known fact that Kamek was cut from Mario Kart 64 in favour of Donkey Kong; in retrospect, a sensible choice, but there’s no reason the crafty Magikoopa can’t have his day now!
In a series as unrealistic as Mario, I feel that worrying about armless enemies being unable to drive or hold a tennis racquet is simply holding back the potential for creative character additions; if a Goomba can use a baseball bat, what is there stopping him from driving too? More humanoid enemies like the Hammer Bros. seem like obvious choices and would bring a lot more variety to spin-off titles as opposed to characters like Dry Bones, who are simply alternate versions of characters already in the game.
Bosses that need to come out of retirement!
It’s safe to say that there are a number of ‘historical’ bosses throughout Mario’s many adventures who are unlikely to appear in a mainline title again. However, there’s nothing stopping them from appearing in side games! There are plenty of creative designs in both the main Mario titles and in spin-offs such as the RPG series that shouldn’t be wasted on a mere single appearance; their inclusion in spin-off titles could give these characters a chance to be ‘re-invented’, perhaps sporting some design changes for a more modern Mario, opening the way for future appearances or perhaps a re-entry into the main Mario titles.
Whilst some of the bigger bosses may raise questions of impracticality, creative liberties can be taken with their inclusion; after all, characters like Petey Piranha who have appeared in past sports titles was portrayed as being considerably smaller in said spin-offs than in his appearances as a boss character. The likes of Wart and King Bob-omb would fit perfectly into the ‘heavyweight’ or ‘power’ classes featured in many Mario sports games.
Bringing side characters off the bench
There are plenty of creative characters oozing with personality (or in some cases, the potential to be developed) who support Mario in his adventures from the sidelines, but in spin-off titles, anything goes; Mario Kart or Party could provide the perfect opportunity for the less physically active residents of the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond to take part in the action! Toadsworth made a notable appearance in the victory screens of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, driving the Grand Prix’s winners on a victory lap; perhaps it’s time he ditched the formalities and burnt some rubber himself?
Characters such as Pauline have had few appearances and little development; perhaps a more modern take on her design could secure her a place in the Mario universe for the foreseeable future? The same can be said for the likes of Lubba or the Sprixies, who required rescuing in Super Mario 3D World; there’s no guarantee we’ll be seeing these characters again in a mainline Mario title, but perhaps through including them in one of many spin-off titles could inform people of their existence and perhaps give them a more memorable place amongst the cast, at little cost to the credibility of the game’s character selection.
Cameos a little closer to home
The inclusion of The Legend of Zelda‘s Link in Mario Kart 8 came as a pleasant surprise; the inclusion of a cameo character was a first for the series, but there’s no reason it needs to stop there; however, whilst the idea of Link wielding a golf club as opposed to the Master Sword may horrify some, there is wide potential for cameo characters whose origins are a little closer to the Mario series. There are already clear links between the Mario and Donkey Kong series, so there’s no reason why some of the more important characters from the latter shouldn’t interact with those of the former; the likes of King K. Rool and Cranky Kong are popular characters with good designs who could easily fit in alongside the Mario cast with DK himself.
There’s also no reason why characters from one Mario spin-off series couldn’t converge with those of another; the human characters featured in Camelot‘s Mario Golf and Tennis games seem to have disappeared over time, but perhaps some of the more notable of them, such as Plum from Mario Golf, could see a return to glory through inclusion in future spin-off instalments; it’s without question that these aren’t some of the more memorable Mario characters, but again, with design tweaks to make them more suited to a modern Mario, there’s no reason they couldn’t garner some popularity.
What seems to me to be the biggest wasted potential in terms of crossover characters is with those of the Wario series, both Wario Land and WarioWare. Wario Land staple Captain Syrup seems like the perfect candidate for representing the former, as a well-designed character with a lot of personality. The same can be said for the brilliant and quirky cast of WarioWare, who wouldn’t seem out of place and would diversify the rosters of spin-off titles, making them more interesting as a whole. It would also provide some much needed coverage for the WarioWare series, with a resurgence in popularity perhaps provoking Nintendo to pursue further instalments; Ashley‘s inclusion as a Costume Mario costume in Super Mario Maker perhaps hints that we may be seeing more ties between Wario and Mario games in the future…
We’ve yet to discover the full roster of Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash, which releases next month for Wii U. So far, the announced characters appear to be Mario spin-off regulars; hardly out of the ordinary. However, I think that looking forward into the future, making some more off-the-wall character choices could help to not only generate fresh interest in the many Mario spin-offs that some believe are starting to become stale by not making enough changes between instalments, but will help keep the creative, colourful and ever-growing Mario cast popular and full of personality, which is what makes them so likeable in the first place.
Who do you want to see in future Mario spin-offs? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!