In this series of articles we'll write about one Mario game every day for 30 days, each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
In this daily series most entries have been 'main' Mario titles across portables and home consoles, with just a couple of spin-offs and cameos making the grade. Yet 1994 was a quiet year for Mario, as we were between major arrivals - that said, there were a couple of titles that changed up the franchise in good and not-so-good ways.
Let's start with the good. In a move designed to tie-in a new experience with a familiar brand, we had the clumsily-named Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 on Game Boy. Wario first appeared as Mario's alter-ego and as the villain in the brilliant Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Nintendo had continued the trend of expanding the Mario universe with its Game Boy series, and clearly appreciated its new villain enough that it decided to explore gameplay options that would be unique to the character. Bolting Super Mario Land 3 onto the title did make sense from a marketing perspective, it can be argued, especially considering the fact Wario was introduced in the Land series.
Many of the mechanics and ideas in Wario Land did go on to become the standard and established controls and approaches for the character. The obsession with coins, treasure and wealth is core to the story, and Wario has his shoulder charge move that's become an ever-present in his platformers.
As opposed to Mario-style power-ups, Wario had three helmets that enhanced his abilities - the Bull helmet improved his shoulder charge and allowed ground-pounding, the Jet helmet boosted his jump and allowed some flying, and the Dragon helmet opened up fire breathing. Each had pros and cons and were integral to the experience.
Wario would, in future games, fly solo without the Mario name, and Wario Land still stands up as a real technical show-piece on the Game Boy; it's arguably one of the portable's finest games.
We now come to our second and quirkier game in this entry - Hotel Mario. This is a unique inclusion as it was on the Philips CDi; this system was the off-shoot of an abandoned plan to bring a CD-based add-on to the SNES. For those of you interested in history, let's not forget that this Philips partnership came after the remarkable tale of the so-called SNES PlayStation.
When Nintendo decided not to pursue a CD-based add-on system, it maintained sufficient relations with Philips in allowing it to utilise key IP for its CDi platform. An extraordinary decision in the modern context of Nintendo's cautious approach to its IP appearing away from its own hardware, it delivered legendarily disappointing licensed games on the system. The Legend of Zelda CDi titles are examples of projects rushed and pushed out by an ill-equipped third-party studio, though Hotel Mario was produced by Philips' own Fantasy Factory team.
Initially Philips planned multiple Mario games, including an ambitious Super Mario World-style title called Mario Wacky Worlds; ultimately only Hotel Mario was released.
A key feature that showed off the CD technology was a range of animated sequences throughout the game; they may look crude (and rubbish) now, but in the early-to-mid-nineties the idea of video running off a disc was pretty impressive; it's all about context. The gameplay itself blended puzzle and action styles, as you run around a single screen moving between floors and closing doors; some power-ups are also thrown in. It was modestly received at the time and has been panned retrospectively in more recent years. Ultimately it's a simplistic, unremarkable game on hardware that flopped.
It's an intriguing side-show in Mario history, though, due to that unique relationship between Nintendo and Philips. In not only allowing Philips to use two key franchises but also failing to take part in the development process, Nintendo showed a laxness in IP management that seems almost inconceivable today. We may still get slightly iffy Mario spin-offs published by Nintendo but developed by other studios, but we're doubtful that a release quite like Hotel Mario will ever happen again.