There is a lot to unpack about Mario's entire media empire, no doubt about it. But we tend to write off games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. as non-canonical, "pretend" side games that don't really count and aren't meant to be scrutinized—such as questioning why Mario can peacefully co-exist with Bowser in a race or how Luigi can have a fist fight with Pac-Man.
As it goes with a lot of other game franchises that have a "main series" and various side games, the core Super Mario line of platform games is generally meant to be the official universe of Mario and company. The rules tend to be more defined, the characters all play roughly the same role from one game to the next, and there are even sometimes references back to previous adventures, seeming to acknowledge that they have all actually taken place within the canon.
That makes the following list of errors, inconsistencies, and other mysteries focusing just on the core Super Mario series all the more interesting, as that is usually where Nintendo keeps things more focused and consistent. But there's really only so much you can do to keep such a bizarre central foundation sensible and without mistakes, we suppose. It's obviously best to just play the Super Mario games and enjoy them for what they are and not question how a chubby-but-nimble plumber found his way to a magical kingdom of mushroom people led by a princess who is constantly being captured by a bipedal dinosaur/turtle beast. But some things are just impossible to gloss over, even under those circumstances.
One of the big innovations introduced in Super Mario World—besides those fancy-pants 16-bit graphics and that hard-to-master cape—was the introduction of a dinosaur sidekick that Mario could ride on named Yoshi. The game sets things up to imply that Mario and Yoshi are meeting for the first time—something that is immediately undone by that game's sequel.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island is all about Yoshi interacting with Mario as a baby... but how could that be?
Why does Yoshi seem to show zero knowledge of his previous adventures with Mario? And sure, Mario isn't going to remember being a baby, but how did he then go all those years before so much as crossing paths with a Yoshi again?
Super Mario Odyssey setting up the ability for Mario to buy a variety of different outfits—some to match a given world, and others just for fun—has been an aspect of that game that players have really enjoyed. In fact, Nintendo has continued to dole out outfits over time to get people to dust off the game and put a few more hours into it.
There's a big problem with being able to buy new hats, however. Cappy's whole deal is that he can change into any kind of hat, as he immediately does when he becomes Mario's iconic red cap. Why, then, do we have to pay thousands of coins for "new hats" when Cappy can seemingly just change into them at will?
Peach has become quite the iconic character, probably as popular and recognizable as any Disney princess or even real-life royalty. But long before she was the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pink-dress-wearing Peach, she had a much different look and name.
Old-school Mario fans remember that his love interest used to be known as Princess Toadstool, and had red hair and a white dress.
Various incarnations of the character even showed her as having brown or black hair, and dresses of varying colors, before her blonde locks and pink dress was finalized as her official look in the mid-90s. And what of her name? Is her full name actually Princess Peach Toadstool, then?
Not counting Donkey Kong, Luigi has been by his brother's side since Mario's very first headlining game. After all, the original game was called Mario Bros. And although he was just a palette swap in that and Super Mario Bros., he soon developed his own look and personality.
That said, Luigi has seemingly sat out several entire Mario adventures. Where was he while Mario was rescuing Peach during the events of Super Mario 64? And why does Luigi wait until Mario completes his quest in Odyssey before he shows up just to stand around and play with balloons? It seems like a given he should just permanently be fighting at his brother's side—so why isn't he? Does Daisy keep him on lock down?
Since making his debut in Super Mario Sunshine, Bowser Jr. has been a mainstay in the Mario series as his dad's right-hand villain. But the immediate question we all had is how could possibly be Junior's mother?
Junior confronts Peach and calls her "mama," to which she acts... strangely.
As a woman, you tend to know if you gave birth to a child or not. Peach should immediately know that she isn't Junior's mom, unless... she is. Eww. And this doesn't even address the Koopalings that debuted in Super Mario Bros. 3, which were initially positioned as Bowser's children until Nintendo backpedaled on it. So who are their parents, then? Does Bowser have siblings, and if so, where are they? We need you on this one, Maury.
While Peach could float for a few seconds in Super Mario Bros. 2—and Luigi could jump so high it was almost like he was flying—the introduction of actual flight in Super Mario Bros. 3 completely changed how we played a Mario game forever.
So what power-up enabled Mario to take flight for the first time? A raccoon tail and ears, for some reason.
Rather than just picking an animal that actually has the power of flight, Nintendo opted to have Mario stretches out his arms and flap his raccoon tail in order to take to the skies. Sure, why not.
Yoshi is obviously meant to be a dinosaur. Between the prehistoric tribal-style music that kicks in when you're riding him to just his basic overall design, there's little question that he is the interpretation of what a dinosaur would look like in the world of Super Mario.
If that's the case, then what's on his back? Initially, it seemed like maybe it was just a saddle—except that later designs of his character made that red, white-ringed thing on his back look an awful lot like a shell, similar to a Koopa shell without the lines. So is it a saddle permanently grafted onto his back, or is he a dinosaur with a turtle shell? That debate rages on.
While water levels in platform games have gotten much better over the years, in the 8- and 16-bit days, seeing that a level was going to take place primarily underwater typically had gamers rolling their eyes. Water stages often just felt like an excuse to inflate the difficulty by forcing your character to move in slow motion, have awful controls, and depending on the game, have a limited air supply.
Unlike the Sonic the Hedgehog games, Mario could indefinitely hold his breath under water... at first.
Then, in Super Mario 64, he couldn't anymore. And then he could again. And then he couldn't. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to why his lung capacity goes from realistic to infinite from one game to the next.
A lot of Super Mario games are built around a specifically gameplay gimmick. Sunshine had the F.L.U.D.D., Galaxy had funky gravity, and Odyssey had Cappy's capture and possession ability. Much praise was heaped upon the innovative gameplay mechanics of Cappy, with people pointing out how cool and unique it made the game.
There's just one small problem: That's literally what Kirby had already been doing for like the last 25 years. We suppose it's fair since it's Nintendo stealing an idea from Nintendo, but still—for Mario to take Kirby's whole shtick and hog all the glory for it is more than a little sketchy.
Nintendo has long prided itself on—and subsequently taken a lot of heat for, especially in recent decades—being the video game company that makes products for kids and families. In spite of the occasional detour into Conker's Bad Fur Day and Bayonetta 2 type territory, Nintendo games are generally safe for gamers of all ages to play.
However, the entire Mario franchise is built around messaging that should never be put in front of children—or even adults, really.
And that message is that ingesting a mushroom gives you fun, crazy powers. Couldn't Nintendo have chosen a food that isn't also used for less-than-innocent purposes in real life?
The final boss battle in the underrated Super Mario 3D World presents a surprising revelation: Bowser is apparently able to use the same power-ups that Mario does. He not only uses a bell to turn into a cat but also cherries to multiply himself. It immediately begs the question of why Boswer hasn't been doing that all along.
Why let Mario have access to all these power-ups, that apparently everyone is free to pick up and use, but never use any of them himself?
Could it be that he actually enjoyed the challenge of battling Mario and wanted to handicap himself for said battles? More likely, it just never occurred to him... which seems kind of silly.
While we're talking about Bowser and his apparent lack of common sense, there is an interesting trend that most battles with him have in common: Mario rarely actually physically defeats him.
In the original Super Mario Bros., Mario just has to collapse the bridge Bowser is standing on. In SMB3, Bowser eventually destroys the floor he's standing on and plummets to his doom. And most Bowser fights are like this. How can someone who rules over a legion of villainous soldiers and successfully hatches plans to capture princesses be so easy to outsmart into offing himself time after time after time?
So is there a character named "Toad," or is Toad the name of the entire race of mushroom-headed—and yes, it's his head, not a hat, as Nintendo recently confirmed—elves? And is there a dinosaur named "Yoshi," or is "a Yoshi" a type of dinosaur of which there are many?
It would seem that Toad is either just a single character named Toad, or a whole race of Toads as a specific game dictates for its own story needs. Ditto for a single Yoshi or a type of dinosaur called Yoshis. However, there is a Toad named Toad and a Yoshi named Yoshi, as well as Toads not named Toad—but all Yoshis are apparently named Yoshi. Does anyone else's head hurt yet?
Mario has been rescuing Peach for about as long as he has existed, longer than half of the kids playing Fortnite right now have even been alive. It's easy to think that Peach was the only woman he's ever had eyes on—but Super Mario Odyssey reminded us of Mario's original crush.
Mayor Pauline is none other than the modern version of the damsel that Mario had to rescue in Donkey Kong.
So what happened after that game? Well, he got eyes for a princess, obviously, and decided she was a step up from Pauline. Meanwhile, Peach has gradually changed her look to match Pauline's at the time—while Pauline went the other way, darkening her hair closer to Peach's original look. Awkward.
There's no nice way to put this: Mario isn't the most politically-correct interpretation of an Italian-American. From his early days as gruff Brooklynite plumber obsessed with lasagna, to his high-voice reinvention has a character who can't-a seem to say anything without-a adding a little too a-much broken English, Mario has never been the best example of a well-rounded representation of his supposed ethnicity.
Furthermore, most backstories for Mario say he's from New York, or at least the United States. So why does he talk as if he grew up in Italy and only just learned English a few years ago? None of it makes any sense at all, pisanos.
Mario and Peach are just trying to take a nice vacation at a place called Isle Delfino when its residents are all-to-willing to let Mario be framed for a crime and have to fix all of their problems as penance. And thus kicks off the events of Super Mario Sunshine and the hunt for Shines.
Fine, so Mario has to collect the Shines that his shadow doppelganger stole. But what about all the others?
If Isle Delfino has grown dark because the Shines have been scattered, why are so many residents of the island just hanging on to them in their pockets or closets and don't give them up until Mario does menial chores for them? Who are these people and why are they awful?
If people are known as the "___ brothers," typically whatever is in that blank would be the brothers' last names. The Marx Brothers, the Coen Brothers, the Blues Brothers, etc. Following this logic, what would that say about the surname of the Mario Brothers?
Well, that would make their individual names Mario Mario and Luigi Mario, wouldn't it? The live-action Super Mario Bros. movie confirmed this to be the case, and so did Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto at one point. But later—as Nintendo does—he backtracked, saying that wasn't the case and that the brothers are just meant to be one-named characters. So why are they called the "Mario Brothers" unless to just stick it to poor Luigi? Actually, that kind of makes sense.
In the second installment of the Game Boy Super Mario Land series, we are introduced to a new big bad, a character by the name of Wario.
As his name suggested, he was the opposite of Mario—his villainous twin, if you will.
Wario was such a popular character that he got his own self-titled spin-off series, which was well-deserved. But he was also an excellent foil to Mario, and after their initial game together, Wario was never seen again in another core Super Mario game. What's the deal there? How is there just a villainous version of Mario walking around that Mario sees fit to just leave alone to be greedy and gassy and soil his good name?
Though Yoshi might appear largely gender-less, the character is frequently referred to as "he," has a typically male name, and has a voice that is more consistent with male characters. There is just one little problem: Yoshi also lays eggs.
To be fair, there are various real-world animal species where the males lay the eggs or otherwise give birth to offspring, or are capable of switching genders as needed—remember, the latter is what caused the events in Jurassic Park. So there are many ways to explain away how Yoshi could be male and also lay eggs. It's still a little odd, though—and was even poked fun at during the story mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
We had always been led to believe that, within the Super Mario universe, that Mario and Luigi were humans from the "real world" who got transported to the Mushroom Kingdom somehow. And we had no reason to question that until Super Mario Odyssey was released.
We finally see what humans truly look like in the Mario canon in Odyssey's Metro Kingdom... and it's nothing like Mario.
So what gives? Is Mario human, or isn't he? Why is he so much smaller and so oddly-proportioned next to Metro Kingdom's citizens? And furthermore, why is Pauline the size of Metro's citizens but has a more cartoony look like Mario? Is she the missing link between the two? It's all so very bizarre.
The story has basically been the same since the original Super Mario Bros.: Bowser captures Peach, Mario defeats Bowser, Peach is grateful to Mario, and cake is usually involved somehow. It's all pretty cut and dry, and is the natural flow of how those types of things typically go.
Which makes the ending sequence of Super Mario Odyssey so bizarre. After rescuing Peach, Mario is of course trying to give her flowers and be chivalrous and whatnot, but so is Bowser. Seems like a no-brainer what Peach's reaction should be to that, right? Well, for reasons known only to her, she gets annoyed at both of them and storms off in a huff. Wait, what? What did Mario do wrong there? Typical ungrateful princess.
Nintendo games rarely required blind exploration and just trying random, obtuse things to find items and pathways like many other games of the 1980s and early 90s. There's generally an order to things, and hints to be found if you look for them.
All of that logic goes out the window when it comes to getting the warp whistle in world 1-3 of Super Mario Bros. 3.
As we all know, you find a certain block near the end of the stage, duck on it for 5 seconds, drop down "behind" the stage, and go to the secret door. But it's a bit too random for a Mario game, and we doubt anyone figured it out without Nintendo Power.
Beginning with Super Mario 64, many instalments of the franchise begin with Mario being summoned to Peach's castle for some such reason—usually cake, a party, or a party involving cake—and that's typically when things go awry and Bowser shows up.
If you dig a little deeper on that, you'll realize that Peach having to lure Mario to her castle with the promise of freshly-baked treats implies that Mario isn't already living there. Even after Mario has saved her multiple times, and the two are clearly an item of some sort, Mario isn't worthy of having his own living quarters within Peach's spacious castle? So where is he living between adventures, then? Just curled up in a pipe somewhere?
So the deal with Mario was that he was just a regular, blue-collared dude who had access to the various power-ups strewn about the Mushroom Kingdom that powered him up to superhero levels.
Other than an infinite well of bravery and maybe an impressive vertical leap, he was supposed to just be a plumber/construction worker/whatever before he chowed down on a mushroom or touched a fire flower. How, then, does he seem to be so powered-up already in subsequent Super Mario games even before he touches any sort of power-up—if he even touches one at all? Is it a Superman-type effect where the Mushroom Kingdom's sun gives powers to humans? Or is it just residual magic from 30+ years of ingesting those mushrooms?
Mario and Yoshi have history that—illogical though it may be—goes all the way back to Mario's infancy. Mario and Yoshi should be best buds who are always there for each other and have the kind of bond that only a guy with a lifelong pet can have.
So why, then, is Mario so easily able to sacrifice Yoshi's life for completely selfish reasons?
Not even addressing the fact that Mario is clearly punching Yoshi in the back of the neck in order to get him to stick out his tongue, Mario has sent countless Yoshis plummeting to their doom for reasons as arbitrary as trying to jump a little higher. Maybe Mario isn't such a great guy after all. In fact...
Back in the NES era, the only reason you knew any backstory for most games is if you read their instruction manuals. And in the case of the manual for Super Mario Bros., we were informed that Bowser—nee King Koopa—had transformed the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom until the bricks that we see floating in the air throughout the game.
If you're mouth isn't agape in surprise right now, you clearly missed the point here: as Mario goes through the game smashing brick after brick into dust, he is obliterating all of the transformed citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom! Most magic spells are reversible, Mario. At least wait and see if they can be changed back before you come in like a wrecking ball.