Illustrations by Karen Chu.
New Super Mario Bros. U, announced recently at E3, isn’t just a mouthful —
although it’s slightly less embarrassing to say aloud than “Nintendoland” — it’s a game that unequivocally cements the plucky plumber from Brooklyn’s position as one of the world’s biggest animal enthusiasts outside of your local furry convention. In NSMBU, Mario, Toad, or Luigi can grab an acorn mushroom that transforms them into a flying squirrel, granting its holder to drift in the air, do a double-jump, and sport spiffy vestigial squirrel ears.
Flying-squirrel Mario is the latest in a tapeworm-sized timeline of animals Mario has grabbed a strange item to be transformed into, from Frog Mario in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Penguin Mario in New Super Mario Bros. Wii to Mario Bee in Super Mario Galaxy and Hammer Suit Mario (he’s a turtle chucking home-improvement tools) also in Mario 3. So, taking cues from the new game, I figured it’s a good excuse to put our fan-boy caps and imagine other animals Mario should embody in power-ups that existed in any game yet — but should.
9) Horse Mario
Words can barely capture the amazing majesty of a common horse, but Mario could with this power-up. Snatching up a sugarcube that emerges from a tan-colored box, Mario is turned not into a centaur-like beast but instead his human legs are transformed into horse legs and his hands become hooves with a lustrous mane emerging, almost Mohawk-style, down the back of his head. With this power-up, Mario can run much faster, jump higher, and stomp over any goomba or turtle foolish enough to take a head-on approach. The only drawback, really, is that he smells terrible, in the way that a horse does. Then again, Mario routinely goes through sewer pipes to take shortcuts, so a little horse funk probably won’t bother him at all.
8) Elephant Mario
Nope, no fat jokes here about Mario’s prosciutto-clogged arteries — as Elephant Mario, if you die by falling into a pit, you “remember” how to bypass it, and instead of having to double-back from the checkpoint, instead you’re automatically allowed to skip it. You lose the power-up and will be small Mario, but, hey, it beats being murdered for your ivory tusks to be made into a grand piano, right? Snag the peanut from a question-mark box and make the call yourself.
7) Chameleon Mario
When you get right down to it, Yoshi is just an expendable beast of burden — and if you say you’ve never used him to get over a long pit, and then bounce off his saddle at the last second, you’re a tooth-faced liar. As Chameleon Mario, Mario can take advantage that lizard’s camouflaging abilities to mask himself from those annoying haunted-house dwellers, the Boos.
You can also double-jump off any surface, sticking to the highest point of your first jump, staying there, and then hopping off again from there. Just down a couple of insects, as Mario might on an episode of Fear Factor
, and you’re off to the weird-looking lizard races!
6) Bigfoot Mario
Given that Mario’s a big hairy plumber from Brooklyn, it’s frankly quite surprising no one at Nintendo has thought to make him the greatest, hairiest, hoaxiest ape. Maybe there was a reluctance to do so because he’d look similar to Donkey Kong, but, no, the Bigfoot isn’t just a big monkey, he’s a massive beast with unparalleled brute strength and astounding agility. By performing a butt stomp on a mysterious set of bushes, Mario will get sucked in by them and then emerge as the mythical creature. He’s a hulking menace, able to uproot anything on the screen, be it bricks, pipes, or even more shrubbery, and chuck it at the puny spinys that used to mock Mario in his human state.
5) Hedgehog Mario
Finally, Nintendo can do what Sega always said it Nintend-couldn’t. Mario needs simply only grab a single ring that comes out of any ordinary coin box – it’s easy to spot since it’s the circumference of a coin but doesn’t disappear immediately after and instead drifts along. Then, you know, Mario is really, really, fast. (Note: This power-up would exclusively be available in side-scrolling Mario games, because as Sonic has taught us, the freedom to go anywhere you want as quickly as you want makes for very shitty games.)
4) Pangolin Mario
Okay. Are you back from looking up what a pangolin is? That was silly to do because I’ll explain here: It’s a scaly armored anteater with an extremely weird name. And before you say, “What kind of obscure animal is this? Is he running out of ideas?” I have just one word to say back: “tanooki.” Anyway, Mario, like the pangolin, can curl up into a ball to accelerate down large slopes, is armored (so only hits from the rear can hurt him), and when Mario loses the power-up, he spews scales everywhere as a defense mechanism.
Also, Pangolin Mario spits termites in an impressive three-way attack. Also, if you’re curious, the Wikipedia page on the pangolin has tons of information on how to cook a pangolin
3) Sloth Mario
Remember when you first played Super Mario All-Stars, fired up The Lost Levels and grabbed what turned out to be a poisonous mushroom? Not only was it a huge shock, but it’s another area that should be explored with power-ups — power-downs, if you will. Sloths, nature’s Muppets, are slow moving, lazy leaf-eaters. As Sloth Mario, you crawl at a syrupy-slow pace, and if you ever cross a bush, Mario can’t move until he eats every last frond. Well, it serves you right for snatching up every single thing that pops up on the screen — those coins in that box were someone’s life savings. Don’t you people read the paper? There’s a recession going on!
2) Jellyfish Mario
Even though they keep throwing those damned water levels into Mario games, there’s a disquieting dearth of aquatic power-ups. Jellyfish Mario would shake things up with a jolt. Literally. He’s nearly invulnerable, save for his precious membrane-like hat, his one weak spot. Otherwise, any enemies foolish enough to cross Mario’s path from below get be stung and die. Literally. They don’t just fall off the screen, they die gruesome, suffocating deaths in a watery grave. Yeah, well, that’s what they get for living underwater.
1) Kangaroo Mario
Kangaroo Mario is really cool because he can jump a lot higher than normal Mario and also throw joeys at his enemies. Unlike fireballs, the baby kangs will keep hopping along the screen, bopping whatever it comes across on the head. Since they’re babies, it’ll just stun the enemies, so you’ll have to take them out yourself with a daddy kangaroo-strength pounce. Hey, if you think it’s a bad idea, it’s no worse than something Nintendo already gave the world: the mystery that is the Non-Specific Action Figure