He's undoubtedly one of the most recognisable faces ever to grace the box art of a video game, but aside from his blue-collar occupation and a dislike for turtles, fans in the early '90s didn't know a whole lot about Super Mario himself. Beyond the pixels onscreen and information found buried within instruction booklets, there wasn't really any insight into the world that our mustachioed hero was so eager to save; so the Mushroom Kingdom was still a place of relative mystery. However, thanks to the celebrated Nintendo Power magazine, that was all about to change.
Super Mario Adventures originally ran as a monthly comic, first appearing in Volume 32 of Nintendo Power back in January 1992, and continuing all the way through to 1993. Each month a new chapter of an ongoing story would be revealed, and now the entire collection has been reprinted into a colourful, light-hearted comic book that's the right kind of weird. It's not the first time the Mushroom Kingdom has been fully realised as a living place – that honour goes to the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and the Nintendo Comic Systems books - but it did set a wonderfully silly tone that has carried through to the present day, rendering Mario's home as much more than just a series of pits and platforms.
Taking notes from gameplay mechanics, levels and characters all featured in the games, Super Mario Adventures does a wonderful job of fleshing out a fairly basic storyline with unique scenarios and some goofy character turns that still feel remarkably fitting to this day. Mario, for example, is perfectly portrayed as the gung-ho and slightly naive hero, while Luigi is anxiously dragged along for the ride. Even Bowser is as brash and big-headed as you'd expect, and we wouldn't want him any other way. In fact, readers might actually be forgiven for thinking this was a recent release and not a reprint at all, given how well these personalities fit later portrayals in Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario series.
The story itself, broken up into 12 chapters, goes some way to mix up the "rescue Princess Peach" trope, though starts about the same way you'd expect. Mario and Luigi are busy putting in a hard day's work, setting their plumbing skills to the task of sorting out a mess of pipes beneath Mushroom Castle, when disaster strikes. Out of nowhere, Bowser bursts onto the scene in his Koopa Clown Car and gives Peach just one week to accept his sudden marriage proposal, offering his hand through the medium of song and dance no less. Not wasting any time, she gives chase to confront the Koopa King in a heroic turn that's a welcome change from having her simply go to the castle, have a nice cup of tea, and wait for this whole thing to blow over. From there, it's a rapid journey with plenty of familiar faces to meet along the way.
The whole thing was essentially a two-man job, with Kentaro Takekuma writing the scenario and Charlie Nozawa illustrating. Despite the pair being relatively unknown, they managed to combine their strengths and create something that oozes with personality, and more than a little cheesiness for good measure. Their shared talent makes for an effective combination of quickfire jokes mixed with wild variances in the art-style, allowing the use of giant cartoon heads on one page and a hyper-detailed human face on another. It's a treat to flick through and see just how fast-paced and active the comic can be, which is especially unpredictable given the loose borders and ever-changing layout from page to page.
An eclectic bunch of scenarios draw influence from some of the video game's more off-beat quirks, with a great example taking place right in the middle of Boo's mansion. A shy ghost confronts the brothers, but they immediately set a plan into motion so they can escape. What could it be? Why that's simple - they offer the shy spirit a therapy session to ease its anxiety, complete with a dignified Doctor's outfit for Mario and a umm...less dignified Nurses' ensemble for poor Luigi. There's a similar switch later on, as the adventurous Peach ends up swapping outfits with Luigi, causing all kinds of trouble for them both. No expense is spared for the sake of a baffling chuckle. It's equally entertaining when something completely unexpected pops as well, like Friendly Floyd; a sleazy salesman who scams Mario into buying a useless Yoshi translation manual that just repeats the same word for every answer. "Hello" "Yoshi!" "How are you?" "Yoshi!"
To top things off, the collection also includes a short story featuring the villainous Wario, which neatly acts as an introduction to Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. It's much shorter of course, but offers an interesting perspective on these former childhood friends and rounds the book off nicely. A second Mario Vs Wario story is sadly missing from this collection, but there's definitely still plenty here to enjoy regardless.
There are plenty of reasons to seek out Super Mario Adventures, whether it's as a collector's item or a fun comic in its own right. As a piece of Mario history it's a fascinating prototype for some of the character traits we're still seeing in the series today, even more so than the similarly strange animated TV series, but anyone who just needs a few silly puns and some light comic action are also in for a serious treat. The whole package can easily be read in a single sitting, but we bet you'll end up wanting to share it with friends and go back on some of the more memorable moments to bask in nostalgia, and marvel at just how delightfully weird it all is.