The Gratuitous Rainbow Spectrum

Missing Mario Multiplayer Madness!

Missing Mario Multiplayer Madness!

Kris Randazzo
8 minute read

Mario multiplayer madness is nothing new, even in the world of Mario platformers. But did you know that some of these games have some truly excellent competitive modes? From the Game Boy Color to the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS, Nintendo has releaed a number of outstanding and outlandishly entertaining multiplayer Mario games that are almost all exclusive to the platforms they were originally released on. But what are they? Let's take a look. 

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Transcript of the video

It would be ridiculous to claim that there’s a shortage of Mario multiplayer games in the world. Mario Party exists in many, many forms. Mario Kart is basically the biggest brand on the planet. Mario sports games come and go multiple times per generation. Super Smash Bros. is a juggernaut. 

But those are Mario spinoffs. What about Mario multiplayer mayhem in actual Mario games? Not to sound too much like a crotchety old man, but back in my day multiplayer Mario typically meant taking turns between lives and levels. Today, though, with the exception of Super Mario Odyssey, new Mario games tend to come with some sort of multiplayer mode standard. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is still one of the best selling video games of all time, and it introduced the world to playing 2D Mario adventure games with 4 players simultaneously. Was it great? Sort of. It was kind of fun for a bit, but it ultimately devolved into the less fun kind of chaos thanks to not being able to occupy the same space at the same time, and depending on who you were playing with, the want to sabotage your friends at every turn was definitely something to contend with.  

Super Mario 3D World took the “adventuring with friends” thing a step further by letting 4 players run through an 3 dimensional environment where everyone has plenty of floor space to occupy. A step in the right direction, but far from the perfect multiplayer Mario experience. The upcoming Super Mario Bros. Wonder looks like its multiplayer aspects are going to improve things even further, which is great to see. 

But aside from the mainline Mario adventuring, the series has historically been great at competitive Mario multiplayer too. Where, you ask? Well, in a handful of unlikely places. All of which I feel in my heart of hearts should be packaged together and remade with modern platforms in mind. 

The first time Nintendo did multiplayer Mario right was actually way back in 1983. The arcade game Mario Bros. was a beautifully fun multiplayer experience that encouraged competition as much as it did cooperation. If you work together, you can reach later levels way easier, but if you play competitively you can get higher scores and bragging rights. It’s a classic that still holds up today, and one that Nintendo has revisited more than once. They included an updated version of it as a multiplayer minigame in Super Mario Bros. 3, but one could argue that they perfected the formula in 2001’s Super Mario Advance. 

In that game, as long as you had the cables and consoles required, you could play with up to four players, which makes for some truly delightful chaos. They accommodated the extra players by extending the stage’s vertical layout a bit and adding a second POW block. They also added Super Mario Bros. 2’s control scheme and physics, meaning that not only could Mario control his mid air movement, but he could also pick up and throw things like the aforementioned POW block. You could also pick up your friends and toss them at enemies, which is a devious delight. 

This game in all its four-player glory is a thing to behold, and an amazingly fun time with the right crowd. Its only real limitations are the ones imposed on it by the system it was created for, the Game Boy Advance. A larger screen to allow for more breathing room for the characters would be most welcome, as would an audio/visual upgrade. It’s not exactly ugly, but the scratchy sound of the GBA leaves a lot to be desired. It’s also pretty limited in terms of character selection.  Here, you simply choose between different colored Marios instead of the now standard Mario, Luigi, Toad and Toadette/Peach, etc. Additions such as being able to play as different characters, especially if they went all out and added different attributes for everyone, and adding stuff like new enemies and even powerups, could make this an absolutely killer online competitive game. It could work in couch co-op too, but one of the great things about this version over older ones is not being able to see where all your opponents are at all times, which isn’t really something you can properly accomplish in split screen. Regardless, it’s a proven timeless type of Mario game, and it should really get a chance to shine on its own someday. 

Now, Super Mario Advance is available now with online play as part of the Nintendo Switch Online service, but it’s one of those sort of buried experiences that not everyone knows about. It’s also just the same Game Boy Advance game, and the issues that already exist with it are still present here, minus online play, which is kinda great. 

But before Super Mario Advance updated the original Mario Bros., an upgraded version of Super Mario Bros. hit the Game Boy Color in the form of Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. This was the first time the original Super Mario Bros. was made portable before, and it was a thing of beauty. They put a ton of effort into the game, even going so far as to add slight visual touches like animating lava and water, and an overworld map screen. The biggest addition though, was multiplayer.

This mode could technically be played solo via the Boo races, but if you really wanted to know what Super Mario Bros. Deluxe was all about, you needed a link cable, and a friend with their own Game Boy Color and copy of the game. This Vs. mode was all about racing to the finish against a friend through completely unique levels designed just for this game that also featured brand new elements like color changing outline blocks you could switch on and off to mess with your opponent. 

This isn’t exactly a complicated game, but holy heck is it fun. It’s also something that an absurdly small number of people have actually played. 

This mode did get a welcome spotlight put on it during the 2017 Nintendo World Championships where it made a surprise appearance as one of the games people had to play to win, but even then, it’s not like there was an easily accessible way to play it with friends, which still stands true today. 

Once again, this game was also limited by its platform, especially in terms of screen size. The Game Boy color’s screen is pitifully small, and the available real estate, especially when displaying what’s effectively an NES game, made things pretty tough. Take away those limitations, and you’d have one heck of a great multiplayer Mario. 

But what’s perhaps the best, in my opinion at least, multiplayer Mario game ever conceived came as a mode in New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS. 

The game includes the same set of minigames that came packed in with Super Mario 64 DS, but its unique Vs mode was the real star of the show. In it, Each player comes out of a pipe and has to start running through a 2D Mario level. The stage loops infinitely, so there’s no race to the finish or anything like that. Instead, the goal is to collect stars that appear somewhere in the stage at random intervals. The first player to collect enough stars wins, but keeping the stars you’ve collected is the hard part. 

Mario and Luigi are also presented with multiple respawning power ups throughout the game. Hit someone with a fireball, they lose a star which then bounces around for them to either re-collect or for you to steal. Do a butt stomp on the other player's head, two stars pop out. Get a mega mushroom and you can easily crush your opponent and steal their stars. The stages are big enough for you to stay away from one another sometimes, but they’re also small enough that it’s nearly impossible to actually stay hidden for long. 

Let me tell you, matches in this game can get vicious and absolutely epic. 

My proposal is this. Take all three of these concepts, make them all 4-player, remaster them with modern visuals and aspect ratios, and release it as some sort of Mario Olympics game. These concepts are so good that having them limited to mere modes in other games that people often don’t give any sort of attention to is a crime.  Where the Switch has become a bastion for great local multiplayer affairs, that these games haven’t found their way to a more easily accessible form is beyond me. But there’s always hope for the future, right? 

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