Video games were all the rage in the 1990s, and it wasn’t uncommon to see Nintendo and SEGA properties adapted into cartoons and comics. Sonic the Hedgehog, SEGA’s attempt to dethrone Nintendo—because they do what Nintendon’t!—got its own comic series the same year Super Mario Adventures began its run. A glorified commercial for Super Mario World, which came out three years prior, the comic featured characters and assets from the hit Super Nintendo game. Super Mario Adventures is a fun slice of video game nostalgia, and while it doesn’t hold up for adults, children five and under will find joy in the goofy adventures of gaming’s most famous plumbers.

Originally serialized in issues of Nintendo Power magazine in 1993, Super Mario Adventures is a collection of episodes about Mario and Luigi’s latest attempt to rescue Princess Toadstool from the clutches of King Koopa, aka Bowser, and the rowdy Koopa Kids. After the brothers fix a few busted pipes in the Mushroom Kingdom, King Koopa appears to threaten the peace of the fungal monarchy and declare his intent to marry the princess. Why? It really doesn’t matter. The fiction of Super Mario Brothers notwithstanding, there’s no real benefit to Koopa’s numerous incursions to woo the princess. He doesn’t really care about gaining power and extra sovereignty, and in the comic, he pretty much just wants the princess around to help keep an eye on his kids. That’s not really a bad thing, right? I mean, from the sound of it, Koopa really wants to create a stable environment for his spawn. Just because he’s a bad guy doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy, amirite?

Because this is a Super Mario story, Koopa’s devious nuptials are disrupted by Mario and Luigi as they bumble their way into Koopa’s fortress to save their friend. Along the way, they encounter an out-of-sorts traveling salesman; meet up with cutesy green dinosaur Yoshi, whose hunger is insatiable; and face the gamut of unique Super Mario World enemies like Magikoopa, Rex, Reznor, Big Boo, and Wiggler. Yoshi’s existence falls in line with the in-game fiction of Super Mario World, being used as slave labor by Koopa’s war machine—but other than details like these, Super Mario Adventures doesn’t follow the main narrative of Super Mario World because, honestly, there is none.

While Super Mario Adventures is all in good early 90s fun, it is also painfully outdated. The humor is thoroughly juvenile, but not in an inappropriate sense; rather, it’s cringeworthy, corny, and devoid of any meaningful content (e.g. Koopa raps poorly while other characters drop bad puns left and right). While this may sound like a critique from a cynical adult, the truth is that there’s nothing here that respects the reader’s intelligence. The content has the same intellectual depth as an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, relying on pure physical comedy and big explosions to entertain. Mario and Luigi are put through the physical wringer as they are blasted out of cannons, chased by Koopa Troopas, and bitten on the butt by Boos. These antics would probably get a laugh out of anyone under the age of five; nostalgic adults will soon realize that it’s little more than saccharine commercialism.

The comic’s artwork is likewise outdated, and it evokes other Japanese creations of the era. You know that feeling when you watch Robotech today and know that it came from 1985 based solely on the quality of the animation? It’s the same with Super Mario Adventures, but that’s not a knock against the comic’s artwork; I like the book’s retro charm, and at their best, the characters look quite similar to the line art used in the old Super Mario Brothers instruction manuals.

If there’s one praiseworthy element of Super Mario Adventures, it’s the characterization of Mario, Luigi, and Princess Toadstool. For years, Mario has been portrayed as the happy-go-lucky, noble, and kind-hearted hero of the Mushroom Kingdom; while Luigi has a good heart too, he plays second fiddle to his brother as the fearful coward (even in Luigi’s Mansion, his own game!). In the comic, Mario and Luigi channel Abbott and Costello: naive and a little dense, they think with their stomachs and overreact in every situation they stumble upon, reminiscent of their portrayal on the classic cartoon The Super Mario Brothers Super Show. Meanwhile, Princess Toadstool, aka Princess Peach, receives the best treatment the character has ever had. Since her appearance in Super Mario Brothers, she’s become the quintessential damsel in distress: she can’t go two minutes without being kidnapped by King Koopa and friends, screeching for Mario to come save her. When Toadstool got her own video game, Super Princess Peach, one of her special skills was to sob uncontrollably! But from the moment Koopa makes his presence known in Super Mario Adventures, Toadstool springs into action, fiercely protecting herself and her people from the evil dinosaur’s brutish demands. While Mario and Luigi waste time coming to grips with the situation, Toadstool leads a squad of Toads to assault Koopa’s castle, and when she’s caught by the Koopa Kids, she engineers her own escape and fights her way to freedom. This version of Princess Toadstool is an action hero with a tenacity that would make Liam Neeson nervous; it’s a real shame it never manifested itself outside this comic.

Super Mario Adventures serves as a quaint time capsule of a world gripped by Mario Brothers fever. Its low barrier for entry makes it accessible to kids of all ages, but its brand of comedy doesn’t offer much in the way of sustenance. It’s a nostalgic piece for those who grew up with their Nintendo Power magazines, but not much else.

Super Mario Adventures
by Kentaro Takemura
Art by Charlie Nozawa
ISBN: 9781421588643
VIZ Media LLC, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: Juv (5+)

  • Allen

    Past Reviewer | He/Him

    Allen Kesinger is a Reference Librarian at the Newport Beach Public Library in California. He maintains the graphic novel collections at the library, having established an Adult collection to compliment the YA materials. When not reading graphic novels, he fills his time with other nerdy pursuits including video games, Legos and steampunk.

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