tiistai 11. tammikuuta 2011

Good vs. Evil - Mario & Bowser

I have long planned some sort of a weekly feature for VGMania. Inspired by my recent return to the God of War series - reviews of God of War III and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow will be published back to back as soon as possible, by the way - I came up with this idea to list the best boss fights in history. However, that would be just impossible and extremely biased thing to do. If I were to compile a Top 50 of the best boss fights in history, I reckon at least half of them would be from the God of War and Metal Gear franchises combined. Not really what I'm after when I'm writing a list.

Good vs. Evil is a weekly profile on one video game hero and his/her villainous counterpart. In this case, we have Mario and Bowser opening this show since they sincerely were the first ones to come to mind when I started to think about the most legendary hero and villain in video game history. Even if you're not a Mario fan, I don't think you can blame me.

I believe this is going to be a lot of fun, and even if my pace of writing reviews might have slowed down a little, you will most certainly have this entry to chew on, every week from here on out. Enjoy.


a.k.a. Mr. Video, Jumpman
Voice actor(s): Ronald B. Ruben, Marc Graue, Charles Martinet (current)
First game: Donkey Kong (1981)
Latest game: Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)

Mario as the carpenter
"Jumpman" in Donkey
Spend all your time tallying up your lifetime frag count in the Quake multiplayer room? Enjoy blasting hookers' brains out in Grand Theft Auto? Laughing maniacally whenever you successfully QTE-gut someone in God of War? Whether you're into the soft side of video gaming or not, you must take note that your favourite passtimes were made possible by the most recognizable character in video game history. Mario has been Nintendo's mascot for the past 30 years. Sure, he took a little dive in popularity in the mid-90's, when  Sony stepped into the fray to steal most of Nintendo's exclusive contracts and technically outdo the former megapower again and again, but his diversity and already established fame helped him through the ordeal. Some of us more mature players have come to know Mario as a total bad-ass, a legendary figure from our past. No video game character can survive as commercially strong as ever for three whole decades. No one, except Mario, who once had a global phenomenon named after him - the Mario Mania.

During the course of three decades, the pudgy plumber has starred in every kind of game imaginable. Several beat 'em ups, racers, puzzles, sports games, role-playing games, you name it. What he's most famous for, of course, is the Super Mario series of platformers. Before that began to take shape in 1985, he had already been in the arcades chasing down his rampant pet gorilla in 1981's Donkey Kong, as the villain in the sequel Donkey Kong Jr., and a plumber charged with pest control in the sewers of New York City in 1983's Mario Bros.. Super Mario Bros. was the game in which Mario began his quest for world domination. In this legendary platformer, Mario navigated the horizons of the surreal Mushroom Kingdom together with his brother Luigi, on a quest to save a princess kidnapped by the evil King Koopa. This storyline is still used to some extent in every new Mario game, and apparently it never ceases to work. To date, the game, which was bundled with the Nintendo Entertainment System for the longest time, has sold over 40 million copies. Overall, Mario games have sold over 210 million copies.

Mario as he appears
in Super Mario World
Jumped the shark?
Just the thought of naming Mario's very best moment seems like a waste of time, but personally, I would have to name Super Mario 64 (1996) the best Mario game of all time. The moment a 3D Mario jumped out of a pipe and actually talked to you, a 12-year old kid still recovering from a 16-bit fever, felt like time had just stopped. Before that, there was Super Mario World. And before that, Super Mario Bros. 3, which I still regard as one of the most innovative and influential games of all time. So, I think that no matter how much I dislike Mario's most recent escapades, the man has jumped the shark so many times that he will always remain one of my favourite video game characters of all time.

Hit rock bottom?
First, there were these games that weren't even developed by Nintendo - Software Toolworks' educational trash decorated with Mario's name. They are still the games in which I think the likeness of Mario hit rock bottom in just every way imaginable, but I also have to mention my personal issues with the more than critically acclaimed Super Mario Galaxy series. They're innovative and decent games, for sure, but naming them the best Mario games in history shows how unprofessional some critics are. I find them boring. Not bad, but boring - and boring is far from what the Mario series used to mean to me, and what those old games still mean to me. It should also be noted within this context, that Mario was the first video game character that came to life on the silver screen, played by Bob Hoskins. Super Mario Bros. stands as the one prime example of how live-action movies based on video games can be nasty business. Casting the late, great Dennis Hopper as the subject of the next profile is one of the greatest crimes committed against all humanity.


a.k.a. King Koopa, Daimao Koopa, King Bowser, Prince Bowser
Voice actor(s): Marc Graue, Isaac Marshall, Eric Newsome, Scott Burns, Kenny James (current)
First game: Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Latest game: Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)

Bowser is an epitaph. Long before we had victims of some sort of conspiracies rising to take over the world in a fit of rage and jealousy, or genetic freaks looking to build an army of clones of themselves and threatening the world with a nuclear strike, Bowser emerged as the main villain of Super Mario Bros., being evil just because being evil was fun. Of course, back then he was known as King Koopa, and who would've believed that seemingly retarded green bundle of pixels would soon take over as one of the most memorable and persistent villains in video game history?

Bowser as he appears in
Super Mario Bros. 3
Bowser's true name and face came alive in Super Mario Bros. 3 in 1988, and the rest is history. Mario had to conquer seven worlds, Bowser's equal amount of children and the demonic Dark Land to reach the big cheese himself. In one of the most epic and innovative boss fights ever seen at the time, direct action was not an option. Instead of spamming him with fireballs, Mario had to use Bowser's own destructive force to emerge as the victor. What made the potential victory even more rewarding was the fact that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the lengthiest video game ever conceived, and it didn't have any sort of save feature. Bowser kind of skipped the otherwise magnificent Super Mario World when it comes to truly epic boss fights, but he redeemed himself in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, in which his early incarnation, the mischeavous Prince Bowser was transformed into one giant, pissed off infant by court magician Kamek - and who could possibly forget Mario and Bowser's first of many epic confrontations in Super Mario 64?

Jumped the shark?
This is surprisingly easy to answer! Super Mario Kart was the first game that allowed us to use Bowser as a playable character, but the true "jump the shark" - and also "what the fu..." - moment for Bowser was when he aligned himself with Mario and his friends for the very first time in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Of course, the great demon king did not see himself as a temporary member of Mario's party, he rather saw Mario, whom he claimed to have begged him for a spot in this distinguished army, a temporary member of the Koopa Troop. Bowser would've never admitted it, but he needed Mario to get his castle back from the group of aliens who took over and go back to his princess-kidnapping ways. Then again, Mario also needed him, since what would a Mario game be without one kidnapped Peach (Toadstool.) and one impish, giant turtle behind it all?

I know, Bowser, it was one shitty game, but
there's no need to cry about it.
Hit rock bottom?
Of course, I could once again disturb Dennis Hopper's distinguished memory by dragging the legendary actor into this, but I'll just opt for a game that totally embarrassed Bowser: Mario's Time Machine for the NES. In the final confrontation with Bowser, Mario easily dispatched his nemesis, after which he was shown CRYING in the very anticipated final screen, which told us that the game had finally ended. Of course, whoever designed the game (Brian Carpenter.) could not have destroyed Bowser's legacy that easily - the game itself was so fucking embarrassing.

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