Today’s article is all about the cover art from various Super Mario spin-offs, but I don’t mean the kind of spin-offs we’re all familiar with. We all know about Mario’s secondary careers as a doctor or a go-kart driver or a competitor in a multiverse-spanning fighting tournament where he may or may not be a child’s toy brought to life by a magical floating hand. No, these are the really obscure Mario spin-offs. Knitting is involved. We’ll get to that, but let’s begin with something you might actually have heard of.
Mario’s Time Machine, NES

One of several games in the Mario Discovery Series, Mario’s Time Machine is all about learning history. What you’ll actually learn from this cover art, and all the others in this article, is that Mario never, ever closes his goddamn mouth. I think there’s one, maybe two pieces of cover art I looked at for this article where Mario’s gob isn’t hanging open. Sometimes he’s smiling, sometimes it’s the slack-jawed gaping of a man partway through a complex dental procedure, but his mouth is (almost) always open.
As for the rest of this cover, what’s going on? Well, Abraham Lincoln is there, posed in a way that suggests he’s doing his best Tommy Cooper impression. I thought the upside-down bloke at the bottom was Phil Collins at first glance, but I think it’s supposed to be Benjamin Franklin. That’s disappointing, because Mario really does look like the kind of person who would use a time machine to return to 1985 so he can catch the No Jacket Required tour.
Also, the trail coming out of the time machine implies that Mario flew out of that dinosaur’s mouth, promising a level of excitement that Mario’s Time Machine simply cannot provide.

Mario’s Time Machine, PC

The PC CD-ROM version of Mario’s Time Machine also comes with this cover art, and it’s a real artefact of nineties graphic design, huh? Ugly elements placed seemingly at random, logos all over the place and Mario pointing at a bunch of clipart Koopa Troopas. “Look,” says Mario, “Koopa Troopas. I will jump on them.” He’s a simple man with simple needs.

Mario Is Missing!, SNES

He’s right there, Luigi! Are you deaf? Bowser’s not the stealthiest of villains, I can’t believe he’s abducting Mario without making enough noise to get your attention. This is why Mario’s the hero and you’re the sidekick, Luigi. Unless… oh ho, I get it, Luigi is fed up of languishing in his big brother’s shadow, so he lets Mario be kidnapped and prepares to step into the limelight. Well, congratulations, Luigi. You’re the star now. Unfortunately the game you’re starring in is Mario is Missing, so you’ve ended up with a real monkey’s paw of a wish there.

Mario Teaches Typing 2, PC

Mario teaches typing, but he’s not doing a very good job at it. If you follow the trail he’s left behind, he appears to have typed out “wsx.” That might be a word in the Mushroom Kingdom, friendo, but here in the real world it doesn’t mean anything unless you’re showing your appreciation for the obscure and short-lived wrestling programme Wrestling Society X. Phil Collins and unloved wrestling franchises? I’m painting a really weird picture of what Mario’s downtime consists of here.
Aside from his poor typing, there are a couple of interesting thing in this one. The first is that this picture of Mario should clearly be airbrushed on the side of a dodgy carnival ride rather than appearing on the cover of an official product. I can see it now, Mario on the side of a swinging pirate ship ride, in between a picture of a bootleg Batman who looks like he’s just smelled one of Ace the Bat-Hound’s farts and a Minion. The other is the age rating on the right. I think if you reach the age of 102 without having learned how to type, it’s fair enough to suggest you’ll never master it even with Mario’s help.

Mario Teaches Typing, PC

Of course, there being a Mario Teaches Typing 2 means there was an original, but the cover’s not very interesting. Mario looks just like official art that’s been placed on top of a keyboard. Neither cover really sells the idea that Mario’s teaching typing rather than fleeing from a giant keyboard.

Mario Roulette, arcade

To play Mario Roulette, you load a single Bullet Bill into the chamber of a revolver…

Mario’s Early Years: Fun With Numbers, PC

Okay, that last one got a bit dark, but the image of Mario being caught unawares by a photographer, looking guilty as he hangs around a playground full of children, is a whole different thing. Jesus Christ, could you not have shown Mario actually having fun in his usual wholesome manner? You know, maybe avoid drawing him to look as furtive as possible? Instead, let’s focus on the kid at the top, who is definitely about to smash the other kids over the head with that giant number 3.

Mario’s Early Years: Fun With Numbers, SNES

Don’t lie to me, Mario. You can’t have fun with numbers. This is fun on a see-saw, with numbers nearby. Sure, mathematicians will tell you that every aspect of the universe is controlled by numbers and as such all fun springs from maths – especially physics-based fun like you’ll find on see-saws – but who ever listened to a mathematician? Not me! That’s why I failed the maths parts of my degree. Twice.

Mario’s Early Years: Fun With Letters, PC

That’s more like it. You can definitely have fun with letters. Not on this website, but in other places.
Mario’s problems with keeping his mouth shut have reached crisis point in this one, with his gob desperately trying to reposition itself to the back of his neck.

Super Mario Bros. Print World, PC

“Now you’re printing with power,” hah. As someone old enough to remember using dot-matrix printers and continuous paper, I can testify that using those things definitely sounded powerful, by which I mean they made a right racket. But what better use could continuous paper be put to than printing out enormous Super Mario banners? I know if I’d had this software as a kid I’d have done nothing but. Every square inch of my house would have been covered in low-resolution computer copies of Super Mario Bros. 3-era Mario artwork. Getting a birthday card with best wishes from the Mario Brothers themselves? What could be cooler than that? However, some of the print-out choices on this cover are a little strange. “Thank you! Here’s a picture of a fire-breathing snake!” is a weird one, unless you’re thanking someone for helping you beat Tricylde in Mario 2. As for the Super Track Meet banner, I’d imagine Nintendo’s lawyers would be all over you if you tried to hang it in your school or wherever.

Hotel Mario, CD-i

Welcome to the Hotel Mario: such a lovely place, or at least it would be if “Mario” had four syllables so I could do a parody of the Hotel California lyrics. It must be a lovely place, if it’s home to Goombas that dress like Elvis. I know Hotel Mario is one of the least-beloved of all Mario games, but I’m looking at this and imagining the Mushroom Kingdom’s version of Las Vegas, where Elvis-impersonating mushrooms do sets including such hits as “Blue Suede Shrooms” and “Viva Las Fungus.”
I’m not so fond of how the bad guys seem to have undergone the same process that they put Kirby through when he appears on American box art. That Boo’s the worst, their usual spooky mischievousness replaced by a look of genuine rage directed towards Mario. The worst thing of all, however, is the position of Mario’s leg. Take a close look at it, and you’ll notice that it’s sticking directly out of Mario’s crotch rather than being attached to his hips. I’m a little worried it’s not a leg at all.

Mario’s Fundamentals, PC

It looks like Mario’s added “game show host” to his long list of careers, huh? He looks so happy, firing games and pastimes out of his tuxedo jacket. He’s probably just glad he won’t have to jump over any bottomless caverns or lava pits while he’s compering.  The worst he’ll have to deal with is Yoshi eating the draughts board.
As with so many of these covers, this image brings home how just how many times I’ve seen Mario over the years and just how fixed his official image is. Mario’s look shifted around a bit in the NES era and certainly back when he was appearing in arcade games, but since Super Mario 64 he has looked identical in pretty much every single piece of artwork Nintendo have put out. The side effect of this is that you can tell, immediately and at a glance, when Mario hasn’t been drawn by Nintendo themselves. This one’s an obvious case, because Mario doesn’t usually look like an over-inflated pool toy, but even when the images are very accurate they still always seem to be missing that essential Nintendo-ness that marks them out as the real deal.

Mario Party-e, GBA e-Reader

This one’s just nice. Everyone seems to be having a good time together as friends, which implies they’re not actually playing Mario Party. Princess Peach is in a relaxed mood during a rare period in which she’s not an abductee, and she offers the audience a playful wink. Wario and Waluigi look like the inseparable buddies we all know they are. Princess Daisy is shocked by Waluigi’s monster mushroom. However, best of all is Donkey Kong up in the top-left corner. He doesn’t have a bloody clue what’s going on, does he? They should have called this game Mario Party-e feat. Donkey Kong Screaming Invective Into The Uncaring Universe.

Super Mario World redemption game, arcade.

Super Mario’s back and he’s taking quarters, beating up Toads and stealing their dinner money! Finally realised that carrying around those massive Mushroom Kingdom coins is a pain in the arse when he needs to fill up the parking meter, has he? According to this flyer Mario’s the number one most recognisable character in the world, so you’d think he’d be able to park wherever the hell he likes, but I guess not. Relatedly, isn’t it nice that a chubby Italian plumber with a carefree nature and a big bushy moustache became the world’s most recognisable character? When you describe him like that, it’s a wonder anyone remembers him at all and a shock that he’s never been replaced by a “cooler” character. Fortunately, Nintendo seem unconcerned with the notion of “cool.”
As for the artwork, it’s all tracings of official art that seem to have been coloured with felt-tipped pens, so it looks pretty okay. Still, I’m not sure why the artist positioned Mario and Yoshi to look as though they’re about to slam face-first into the ground. The artist’s yellow pen obviously ran out at some point, and it’s strange to see some of these familiar foes coloured in green. I don’t know why Koopa Troopas aren’t coloured green in the first place, actually. Surely turtles are usually more green than they are yellow?

Super Mario Bros. Special, PC-88

Just two quick things to mention with this one: one is the charming expression of slow-witted contentment on the mushroom Mario’s holding. That mushroom might be about to get eaten so Mario can double in size, but it’s just happy to be out in the fresh air and meeting new people. The other thing is the Hammer Brother on the left. Every time I look at it I see the ear-guard of its helmet as its left eye, giving it a strangely Cubist vibe, or more accurately making it look like one of the many, many Super Mario character I drew when I was about seven years old.

Super Mario Bros. And Friends: When I Grow Up, PC

Mario’s quest to become the ultimate dilettante continues as he takes on a job with the police force. Don’t worry, he’ll be bored with it soon enough. He’s only on traffic duty, it’s not like he’s having shoot-outs with drug lords or anything. He’s even convinced Luigi to get a proper job as a firefighter, and aren’t they both having a jolly old time in their uniforms? Ho ho, what fun. Until you see the speed lines coming off Luigi’s fire engine and realise there’s no way he’ll be able to brake in time to avoid committing fratricide. It’s a good job this is happening right outside a doctor’s clinic, they might at least be able to save some of Mario’s organs for transplant. And hey, maybe Donkey Kong’s moonlighting as a nurse or something? That’d be fun.

I Am A Teacher: Super Mario Sweater, Famicom Disk System

Finally, as promised, knitting. Yes, this is a “game” that lets you design knitting patterns for sweaters with Super Mario pictures on them. As far as I can tell, despite the title it doesn’t actually teach you how to knit a sweater. It’s hardly the weirdest thing to have Mario’s name attached to it, not when the Super Mario Bros. movie exists, but it does mean that somewhere in Japan, stuffed in the bottom of a wardrobe and long forgotten, there must be at least one Mario sweater made using this software. You can just imagine some kid pestering his grandparents to make it for them, wearing it to school and showing off the 8-bit Goombas emblazoned across their chest, and that’s a strangely affecting thought. I know I would have wanted a Mario jumper. It’d have made a nice change from the fluorescent-coloured bootleg Simpsons t-shirts I seem to be wearing in every photo from my childhood.

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