Everyone knows Mario. He’s the face of the most well-known and successful franchises in video game history. This plumber with a red hat and a fancy mustache is more recognizable than Mickey Mouse, more famous than Dora the Explorer. Mario is recognized worldwide as a symbol of both Nintendo, of video games, and of fun in general. But what about Bowser?
Won’t anyone think of Bowser? You know… that big turtle thing that’s always stealing that one princess from that one game. He’s the guy that gets constantly whooped by Mario. Yeah, that guy. King Koopa. Remember?
He wasn’t always a pushover. He used to be an almost overwhelming presence. But in recent years, Bowser has changed into something a bit different to his original “final boss” stature.
In his early years, Bowser was a distant entity, pushing the screen scroll until the bitter end. Mario was constantly striving to complete castle after castle in order to save Princess Peach. And castle after castle, Mario came up empty-handed until finally, on the LAST castle, Mario got a real taste of what Bowser was: a final boss. At the start of that last castle, Mario has to weave his way through enemies and lava pits when suddenly, he realizes that this is, indeed, the final castle. Fireballs start flying in from the distance. A feeling of imminent danger settles in as Mario understands that the ultimate battle is waiting for him, blasting red hot orbs of fire. That was the original image of Bowser. Menacing. Brutal. The Embodiment of a final boss, a princess’ life hanging in the balance.
Bowser’s final-boss aura maintained with Super Mario 64. As usual, Bowser stole the princess, but throughout the game he was in the air, his voice cackling and echoing off of the castle walls. You have a few run-ins with him, only to discover that he towers over Mario. His footsteps echo off of the floating battlefield. One method to taking Bowser down is by throwing him at the bombs that surround the platform. Bombs. Mario has to throw Bowser at bombs. During the final battle of Super Mario 64, bombs are the only way to defeat Bowser, and this is only after he destroys half of the battlefield. He’s terrifying, and the players know it.
Even in Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64, Bowser has that “final boss” air about him. He goes into Star Haven and steals the Star Rod, a weapon that makes him INVINCIBLE. He steals Princess Peach’s entire castle. Throughout Paper Mario, he’s this ever-looming presence. However, we get a surprising peek at his sensitive side. While sneaking around her castle, Princess Peach finds Bowser’s diary. And of course, she reads a little. Who wouldn’t? It almost seems counter-intuitive, but this is what players wanted. I know that I certainly wanted to know more about the giant, spikey-shelled uber-boss.
At this point, Bowser was already classified as a “Mario character.” Ever since he was a playable character in Super Mario Kart, I’ve been interested in him. But when Super Mario Kart came out, I don’t think that the folks over at Nintendo knew how big this “Bowser” dude was actually going to be.
My personal favorite Bowser appearance is in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. By that point, he was one of the faces of Nintendo, busy riding the coattails of Mario and his fame, and it was high time that Nintendo focused on him. After reading some of his diary in the first Paper Mario, I wanted to see more of this final boss. And with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, I got my wish. He was suddenly no longer this evil, boss-like character. He had depth, and he had character development. And boy, he was hilarious. After growing up with Bowser being Mario’s malicious, unrelenting nemesis, it was hilarious to see him play a comic relief role. In Paper Mario: TTYD, Bowser was always a couple of steps behind Mario for once, and his banter with his minions gets only funnier as the game progresses.
And thanks to Paper Mario: TTYD, we have a very moldable character called Bowser. And in games like Super Paper Mario, Bowser is absolutely, gut-wrenchingly funny. But nowadays, it seems that Nintendo is trying to build Bowser back up into being this scary boss-man. The Super Mario Galaxy series shows him as an evil final boss again. He’s got an air of fear around him throughout the game. At first, it was hard to get used to. I had gotten so used to the funny, and even doofy, Bowser. But Super Mario Galaxy really made me feel like I had gone back in time; I was playing a game that tried to get back to the roots of Mario — and in those early years, Bowser was evil.
In Bowser’s most recent game, he looks like a pretty evil dude. In Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS, he looks menacing. Rather than being hunched over he is upright, his chest even pushed out a little; he stands with poise and confidence. And unlike Super Smash Bros. Melee, he doesn’t drive around on his belly when he’s moving fast. In the new Super Smash, he runs. It’s pretty frightening, actually. I don’t want that huge turtle sprinting at me like that.
In all, Bowser has come such a long way; so far that it’s now coming back around. If Nintendo keeps Bowser on this scary track, I can’t wait to see him in a new Super Mario game. Will he be funny like he was in the Paper Mario series? Or will he be menacing like the older days? All we can do is wait and see! But until then, let’s give Bowser some credit. He’s been getting his butt kicked by Mario for a long time.