Portable Pedigree: We celebrate Super Mario 3D Land with a handheld Mario retrospective

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Portable Pedigree: We celebrate Super Mario 3D Land with a handheld Mario retrospective
DS + 3DS + Game Boy ...
| Super Mario 3D Land

Mario might be Nintendo's number one mascot and the star of countless games, but Super Mario 3D Land - out this week on Nintendo 3DS - is only the portly red plumber's fourth portable platformer.

That's not to say he hasn't had a lot of games on pocket systems like DS, Game Boy Advance, and the original monochrome Game Boy. He's had a bunch, in fact. We counted about 40 handheld games featuring the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom.

It's just that he spends most of his time playing tennis, hanging out with Sonic, or racing in karts. Or, it might just be that Nintendo got a little lazy in the middle and spent a good few years on ports and remakes of Mario's console games.

Whatever the case, it makes for a hazy, higgidly-piggidly history of N64 rehashes and Game Boy Color-operated sewing machines, of Japan-only curios and utterly forgettable party games. To help you swot up before playing Mario's latest release, here's our comprehensive history to Mario's portable legacy.

The Super Mario Land series


Mario's foray into the world of handheld kicked off with the rock-hard black and white Super Mario Land (Game Boy, 1989).

Like a number of other Nintendo franchises, going onto Game Boy gave Mario a chance to be a little experimental. It toyed with Easter Island heads, a submarine section, alien spaceships, and a fire-breaking Sphinx. It was unquestionably weird, but made the game stand out amongst its console big brothers.

We soon got a follow-up in Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Game Boy, 1992) and while the chunky visuals made it look a little more familiar to Mario fans, it still amped up the strange. You'd have an entire world set inside a clockwork robot of Mario, and eating carrots gave you bunny ears.

It also introduced a new character in its final boss, the greedy, bizarro-world plumber Wario. He soon became the firm's go-to guy for handheld releases and had four "Land" games of his own on Game Boy. But that's a subject for another retrospective.

Mario versus Donkey Kong


Lest we forget, Mario's first ever appearance saw him battling an enraged, girlfriend-snatching primate called Donkey Kong. That life-long feud carried over to handheld in the puzzle-orientated platformer Donkey Kong (Game Boy, 1994).

That clever idea, of Mario solving puzzles and collecting keys to chase down a massive gorilla, reared its head again in the brain-bustingly smart Mario vs Donkey Kong (Game Boy Advance, 2004).

It seems Nintendo was enamoured with the game's wind-up mini-Mario toys, as they received the staring roles in three follow-ups: Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis (Nintendo DS, 2006), Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! (DSiWare, 2009) and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! (DS, 2010).

Mario plays sport


Mario and chums have always been sporty types, so it's no surprise that's he hit handheld more than a few times over the years.

It seems that Mario spends more time playing tennis than he does saving the princess. He took to the courts in Camelot's RPG-style Mario Tennis (Game Boy Color, 2001) and Mario Tennis: Power Tour (Game Boy Advance, 2005), plus the vomit-inducing, black-and-crimson mess Mario's Tennis (Virtual Boy, 1995). A 3DS tennis game has been promised.

His friends have gone 18 holes a few times, too. Camelot took its RPG charm to Mario Golf (Game Boy Color, 1999) and Mario Golf: Advance Tour (Game Boy Advance, 2004). Mario and friends also appeared in the Japan-only Mobile Golf (Game Boy Color, 2001), which could be played online over a mobile phone network.

He was also seen taking on Final Fantasy favourites in Square Enix's Mario Hoops 3-on-3 (DS, 2006).

Puzzling Mario games


Although we doubt the veracity of his medical training - being a plumber from Brooklyn and all - Mario donned a lab coat so he could tackle viruses in Tetris-style puzzler Dr. Mario (Game Boy, 1990) and Dr. Mario Express (DSiWare, 2009).

If you fancy something a little more cerebral, Mario's Picross (Game Boy, 1995) had the plumber become an archaeologist so he could dig up artefacts via nonogram logic puzzles. Japan got a sequel, we didn't. It still hurts.

Mario Clash (Virtual Boy, 1995) isn't a puzzle game, but it is a puzzle how this awful, Koopa shell-tossing crapfest exists at all. The same question could be asked of the immeasurably bad Mario Pinball Land (Game Boy Advance, 2004). Give us Sonic Spinball any day.

Blast from the past - console ports and remakes


We really should cherish Super Mario 3D Land, this week. It's been a long time since a console came out with a proper Mario game within spitting distance of the launch date. Recently, Nintendo has been more than happy to simply remake and repackage old console games.

So GBA launched with Super Mario Advance (Game Boy Advance, 2001), for example. A port of Mario 2 on the NES with little more new content than a multiplayer mode and shrill, unstoppable voice clips.

The GBA never saw a new Mario platformer - just ports of Super Mario World in Mario Advance 2 (GBA, 2002), Yoshi's Island in Advance 3 (GBA, 2002) and Super Mario Bros. 3 in Advance 4 (GBA, 2003). Same with Game Boy Color - it had to make do with an enhanced port of Mario's first platformer in Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (Game Boy Color, 1999).

Even the DS wasn't immune, with its day one re-release of Super Mario 64 DS (DS, 2004). Things got better as the dual-screened console went on, with the fresh New Super Mario Bros. (DS, 2006) and Yoshi's Island DS (DS, 2006).

3, 2, 1 - Go! The Mario Kart series


When Mario isn't saving princesses, playing tennis, or fixing toilets, he's doing three laps with his collection of kooky pals. A Mario Kart game is available on just about every Nintendo platform, and handheld is no different.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA, 2001) packed in loads of new courses alongside a best-of compilation of Kart's best retro tracks. The multiplayer mode also forced the richest kid in the group to shell out for a four-way link cable.

Cables were no longer needed, thankfully, in Mario Kart DS (DS, 2005). This was Nintendo's first real attempt at going online, and allowed friends to link up over the web. Dodgy £30 dongles and nonsensical friend codes aside, it was a lot of fun.

Mario Kart 7 (3DS, 2011) will carry on the tradition with a three-dimensional racer later this year.

Mario & Luigi team up handheld-history-mario-and-luigi

In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA, 2003), the plumber teamed up with his lean, green-bean brother Luigi for a monster role-playing game. It took place in the Bean Bean Kingdom and introduced all manner of wacky characters. It was also hilarious, with plenty of insider jokes that poked fun at Mario's legacy and RPG conventions.

The dynamic duo teamed up again in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (DS, 2005). They also called up the services of, rather creepily, themselves as babies from another timeline. Doing battle alongside a prepubescent nappy-wearing infant version of yourself would put anyone into therapy for years.

Once again, the pair returned on DS, with Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (DS, 2009). This time, microscopic versions of the plumber brothers spend about half the game inside the belly of series nasty Bowser. You'll also control the oversized lizard, and when you eat enemies Mario and Luigi can fight them from within Bowser's stomach. Bizarre.

Mario meets his number one rival


In 2007, Mario met Sonic. For big video game nerds of the '90s, this was about as unlikely a meet-up as Captain Kirk doing battle with Darth Vader, or an iPhone running Android. And they weren't even tearing strips out of each other: they were doing sports.

The history-making game got a DS port in the guise of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (DS, 2007), letting Wario play table tennis against Knuckles, or have Yoshi race bikes against Tails. It still all feels like a bad dream, or an ill-thought-out Christmas special.

Speaking of which, plumper and hog met up again in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games (DS, 2009). And they're due another meeting in Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (3DS, 2012). Sooner or later the friendly veneer will wear off, and one will kill the other. My money's on Mario.

And the rest...


Mario's a bit of a party animal at heart. If by "party" you mean giant city-size boardgames, unintelligible point systems, and endless mini-games, that is.

He's partied twice on handhelds, once in Mario Party Advance (GBA, 2005) and again in Mario Party DS (DS, 2007). We can't say we've ever had the pleasure of going to a Mario party on handheld. We obviously weren't invited.

Then again, we'd much rather be home sewing. The (obviously) Japan-only Mario Family (Game Boy Color, 2001), was a sewing machine that was operated by a Game Boy Color. Click a few buttons and the game would automatically sew you a Mario-themed pattern, from Yoshi to a warp pipe.