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.
It's easy to forget, in this period of fresh Mario 'main' series platformers every 12 to 24 months, that the mid-'90s brought a notable gap between these releases. In part there was experimentation from Nintendo, and there was a trend of spin-offs and diversions - 1994 was one example. 1995 continued the trend, further influenced by the nature of console generations; the Nintendo 64 was on the way and the SNES was heading into its final stretch.
Super Mario World - released in 1991 - introduced Yoshi to the world, the adorable companion that Mario rode around and occasionally sent to his doom when aiming for a hidden exit. It was clear that Nintendo had a valuable new character on its hands, and a little like with Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 on Game Boy, the companion was given his own proper game - aside from some modest non-platformers - with a bit of Mario branding; we're referring, of course, to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.
Just like Wario's adventure the Mario branding was only loosely valid. Yoshi's Island is a platformer, yes, but it's focused on exploration and Yoshi's unique capabilities; it operates at a lower tempo than Mario's adventure. It tackled some lore, too, with a storyline that necessitated looking after Baby Mario; it's a neat mechanic, but the crying sound of Baby Mario when floating away is famously irritating to some - if not necessarily all - gamers.
Its design earned it many plaudits at launch and continues to do so in the modern day. The gameplay itself is full of clever ideas that are now familiar - such as throwing eggs at any angle - and it was a visual stunner. It took around four years to develop - a hefty undertaking - and it was Shigeru Miyamoto that reportedly drove the policy of adopting the hand-drawn effect. The SNES wasn't capable on its own of the various scaling and visual effects in the game, and as a result it required the Super FX2 chip in the cartridge; it's this technology that's typically highlighted as the cause for the original not coming to the Virtual Console, with the Wii U eShop receiving the Game Boy Advance port.
It's still considered a masterpiece to this day, and the approach of arts and crafts recreated in visuals is a notable feature in current-gen Nintendo games, with Yoshi's Woolly World being a recent example.
Next up in 1995 was a release that certainly counts as niche in Nintendo history. Mario's Tennis was a key part of the Virtual Boy library and packed-in with the hardware in North America - the quirky 3D portable system arrived and was pitched as a futuristic technical marvel, but its red and black hue combined with headache-inducing effects contributed to it being a major flop. It tanked, and never even saw a release in Europe.
As a result Mario's Tennis is often overlooked - the apostrophe and s, along with an entirely different development team, sees it disassociated from the better-known Mario Tennis series. It was single-player only and a remarkably simplistic affair - it does feature Luigi, Princess Toadstool, Yoshi, Toad, Koopa Trooper and Donkey Kong Jr in addition to Mario, to its credit. Despite the limited mileage of this one it did have some nice touches, such as changing backgrounds.
The main gimmick, of course, was the 3D effect. The camera angle suited a significant sense of depth, and though focusing the effect is tricky with the Virtual Boy it can certainly be argued that Mario's Tennis is one of the stronger examples of what the system could do. It should also be noted that Mario Clash, a sort-of spin-off from the original Mario Bros., would also arrive shortly after on the Virtual Boy.
Mario's Tennis isn't a classic, but as a launch title for the Virtual Boy it deserves a respectful nod. We'll take this chance to pitch our Hardware Classics article for the Virtual Boy, too, if you want to know a little more about the system.