I want you to take a moment and imagine Nintendo's famously beloved plumber, Mario, in your mind. Chances are that you're envisioning soft angles and gentle curves mixed with primary colors. A familiar red hat sporting the iconic M logo is probably in there somewhere along with a cheery smile, bright eyes, and a bushy 'stache. Mario has changed his style gradually over the years, but he mostly remains the same at heart. His general image never really changes. Well, except for that one time when it did. Let's step back a few years to 2005 when Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom associates decided to put down the baseball gloves, park the go-karts, and store the tennis rackets in order to kick around the ol' ball in an aggressive game of soccer ("football" to those of you outside of North America). Next Level Games somehow convinced Nintendo to present a new variation of Mario's world, trading the smiles and sunshine for harsh strokes and coloring outside of the lines. Super Mario Strikers for the Nintendo GameCube presents a much different take on Nintendo's most famous franchise cast and it's the subject of today's Artwork on Parade.
Super Mario Strikers's art style did not charge into existence fully-formed. Varying designs of Mario's new look were created as different ideas were tossed around. This particularly variation holds closer to the Nintendo norm in general style, although Mario's angry eyebrows are something we hadn't seen often. Mario and friends are usually happy at best and blankly neutral at worst. Here we have a general "miffed" expression, as if Mario just caught Donkey Kong drinking sports drink straight from the bottle instead of using a plastic cup.
Still treading away from established norms, here we see Mario reimagined as a cleated thug. It's a decidedly different look, although I don't think it suits him. Meshing his hat into a hood is inspired, but it seems impractical for soccer. I can't imagine that it would stay in place during a match.
Mario's hat picks up a flame graphic here, but what really jumps out in this uniform design are the multiple M logos. I count six, but there's probably at least a seventh on the back of his shirt. Meanwhile, Princess Peach is getting in touch with her inner sexiness by rocking the hot pants. If Rockstar and Take-Two had developed the Super Mario franchise, this is what it would look like.
Several different uniform styles were considered, and at this point we start to see the rough sketch look that would dominate the final concept begin to appear. Check out the GameCube controller used as a belt buckle and that bizarre helmet. I don't know where Mario found that helmet, but it clearly doesn't belong to him. After all, we all know that Mario's hats and headgear always sport his initial. Also, someone please tell him that the popped-up collars are a fashion no-no.
And finally, this is the direction that Nintendo and Next Level decided to go. We're looking at a very sketchy style with rough edges and what comes off more as a competitive aggressiveness as opposed to just being generically pissed off. Mario's primary color scheme remains intact, although the blue on the hat is a departure from the normal style.
Mario doesn't just kick a soccer ball. He kicks it with explosive, electric, fiery force.
We've established the art style, so let's look at some character pieces. You'll have trouble finding an angrier selection of Mario artwork than this. That ball is about to meet some tightly controlled fury.
Luigi works his mean makeover pretty well, giving him an expression of fierce determination. Mario wants to impress you with his skills, but Luigi wants to win the game.
I dare you to find a skimpier outfit on a Nintendo heroine. Peach's short shorts and bare midriff are eye-catching here, as is her pose itself. While you're distracted by her exposed skin, she'll sweep right by you and score a goal. Twice.
As for Princess Daisy, her curvy posterior is the distraction element. The men on the field don't stand a chance.
Toad is just a bit larger than the ball, but I can't help but notice the series of circles that make up his basic design. You can break him down into five circles by my count, what with his mushroom cap, head, body, and two feet that resemble dinner rolls.
Have we ever seen Yoshi wearing a shirt before this image? It's strange to see him in uniform after eighteen years of wearing only shoes, gloves, and a saddle. His legs seem to have been beefed up for this artwork, as I've never really known the character to be much of a kicker. Yoshi typically has stubby little legs, but here he has enough joints and muscle to give the ball a firm kick.
That's a nice ring on Birdo's finger, but like Yoshi, it's odd to see her in "people clothes".
Wario has always sported a twisted character design, but that overly thick tongue is disturbing even for him. And of course he's cheating at the game, too; that soccer ball looks smaller than the ones used by the other characters in their own action/pose shots.
Then there's Waluigi, who even after all this time is still the Super Mario character most in need of his own unique identity beyond "Luigi's doppelganger". He can fit into the crowd in his purple uniform, but he'll never rise above it at this rate.
Anyone who doubts Donkey Kong's strength should take a look at that squished ball. DK appears to be the only character here who is not wearing shorts as part of his uniform, although considering what he's doing to the ball, I can understand why nobody has raised the issue. What does an eight-hundred pound gorilla wear to a soccer match? Anything he wants.
The nice thing about the various Mario sports games is that even the lowliest enemy has a chance to step into the spotlight. Had you asked me twenty years ago if I'd ever expect to see Koopa Troopa and his kin as playable characters in a game, I'd have said you were crazy. Now here's K.T. ready for action with his shell worn both under and over his uniform (note the hard shell exposed in back, but no underbelly seen in front). That has to be uncomfortable.
If you take the hammer away from a Hammer Bros., is he still actually a Hammer Bros.? "Ball Bros." doesn't work as well. Note how his helmet matches his uniform. Even Koopa Troop grunts like to be color-coordinated on the field.
After Strikers, Mario and friends turned back into their polite, solid-lined selves. At least, until the Strikers sequel, Mario Strikers Charged, but that's a parade for another day.
Now, by popular demand, I'll leave you now with Bowser smashing all who oppose him.
(Images via GameHiker)