Soapbox: It’s Time For Mario’s Weird Minigames To Make A Comeback

Soapbox: It’s Time For Mario’s Weird Minigames To Make A Comeback

Super Mario 64 DS and New Super Mario Bros.
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been chewing over. Today, Jim’s after some more bitesize Mario weirdness, which he got his fix of on the DS…

Super Mario Bros. Wonder was great. It had elephants, it had sweet little blobs of slime, and it had funky music. And yet, as I played through it, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing. “It’s weird,” I thought to myself, riffing on that Wonder Woman 1984 Pedro Pascal meme, “but it could be weirder”.

How could it possibly be weirder? you might (rightfully) ask. Well, let me tell you: weird minigames.

New Super Mario Bros. on DS was hardly the most memorable entry in the series. Sure, it was neat enough and nice to see a fresh visual style being used (good job Nintendo didn’t keep rolling it out for the next 17 years, hahahah… uhh), but I’m not here to talk about the main game. I’m here to talk about poker.

Yes, yes, ‘Picture Poker’ was a minigame in Super Mario 64 DS two years prior, but it was reused (along with a bunch of others) for the 2D DS platformer and this is where I encountered it first. Hey, if I can’t be personal in a Soapbox, where can I?

Super Mario Bros. Wonder with the Wonder Flower Effect
Nope, not weird enough. — Image: Nintendo

Anyway, yes, poker! Mario Wonder did not give it to me. In fact, it did not offer me any weird minigames. There was no ‘Hide and Boo Seek,’ no ‘Trampoline Time,’ no ‘Wanted!’. It offered a semblance of this kind of fun in its wacky Wonder effects, but it’s just not the same. I want my minigames back.

Would I say that ‘Picture Poker’ was the first domino that led to my current Balatro addiction? Maybe.

Let’s get on the same page here. Both Super Mario 64 DS and New Super Mario Bros. are both absolutely stacked with smaller activities to keep you wahoo-ing away the hours. The former is home to 36 unlockable minigames and the latter has 29 — many of which are carried over from 64, though they do have fun versus versions for those after a spot of multiplayer. New Super Mario Bros. even has the option to play a series of them back-to-back. It’s like having a mini Mario Party bolted onto the main game!

Like Mario Party, some of these games are better left alone — I distinctly remember almost passing out trying to get a record time on ‘Balloon Racing,’ which had you blow into the DS make to an on-screen Yoshi fly into the air — but gosh were there some gems to be found too.

Just look at that range!

‘Picture Poker’ started my love of the game (and gave child Jim an early lesson that the house always wins). ‘Wanted!’ was the go-to game for me and my Mum, each determined to spot a tiny Mario face in a wave of decoys before the other. ‘Run, Bob-Omb, Run!’ was my introduction to the bullet hell genre and as short-lived as that passion was, it’s nice that it was there.

Nothing is weird enough.

Safe to say, I adored these game modes. Would I say that ‘Picture Poker’ was the first domino that led to my current Balatro addiction? Maybe. But it is certainly the case that I spent more time on these minigames than I did in the main adventure.

So enamoured was I with them that I assumed (perhaps foolishly) that each Mario game going forward would offer a similar experience. You can imagine my disappointment when Wonder came out and, as fun as it was, there was no moment where you went gambling with Luigi.

To be fair, the series has tried to recapture the magic since. The Mario Galaxy games had a couple of side modes in certain worlds (think ‘Fluzzard Gliding’ in Galaxy 2 or the infuriating ‘Bob-Omb Blasting’ in 1) and you can stumble across something that vaguely resembles a minigame in Mario Odyssey‘s Jump-Rope, RC Challenge and the like.

Super Mario 64 DS with Black DS Lite and New Super Mario Bros
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

The thing is, nothing has been able to recapture the magic. Nothing is weird enough.

Both New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 DS had something special in their extra game modes. They made no difference to the main game and that’s what made them so brilliant. If you were tired of powered-up platforming then you could jump into a few rounds of Mario Party-esque silliness without so much as touching the game cart.

Things got dry in the ‘New’ 2D series and the games disappeared, but now that things are getting weird again, how about we push the boat out in the game mode department too? Come on, Nintendo. Wonder managed to bring back some of that old-school magic, now it’s time to bring back the new(ish)-school weirdness.

Do you have fond memories of the Mario minigames? Would you like to see them come back? Fill out the following poll and then let us know your throwback fav in the comments.

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