Screenshot by Brittany Vincent/Royal Industries Co. Ltd
Mario is an institution in the realm of gaming. As the instantly-recognizable star of massively popular titles like Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Odyssey, this Italian plumber is one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. As such, most of us are familiar with Mario’s “body of work.” We know he’s the star of excellent platforming games, and occasionally stars in kart racing titles or parties down with other characters from the Mario series.
But buried deep within Mario’s history are some games that found the Nintendo superstar stepping out of his comfort zone and jumping into some very surprising series. You wouldn’t expect the Goomba-slaying plumber to be the poster child for a sewing simulator, but in the late ’80s, that’s exactly what happened. We also saw Mario playing tabletop games and teaching typing over the years.
If you’ve ever wanted to see Mario at his strangest, or in a handful of games that seem like total departures from the games that made him such an important character, these are some of the most interesting places to start. And if you’re lucky enough to happen upon some of these rare games, they’re well worth taking for a spin.
I Am a Teacher: Super Mario no Sweater / Jaguar Embroidery-Only Sewing Machine Software: Mario Family
In the late ’80s, Mario was enjoying unprecedented popularity. He and the other members of the Mushroom Kingdom were plastered across a variety of things: cereal, T-shirts, even a TV show. The Japan-only Famicom Disk System console had a title that put Mario front and center as well, though it would never see the light of day in the west: I Am a Teacher: Super Mario no Sweater. Designed originally as a sewing simulator, it allowed players to add their measurements and create sweaters with images of Mario, Luigi, and the rest of the gang.
Creator Royal Industries Co. Ltd. originally envisioned the game as a fun way for players to imagine what designing Mario-themed sweaters would be like. But when the software gained popularity and notoriety, the company decided to allow players to create their own sweater designs and purchase them in real life. This was a short-lived business model, as you can likely imagine, but it was a successful one during its run.
Bringing your own Mario sweater to life by way of a video game is unheard of these days, and it speaks to how popular Mario actually was back then that this kind of software was ever considered. In fact, there was even a sequel for the Game Boy Color: Jaguar Embroidery-Only Sewing Machine Software: Mario Family, that was compatible with the Jaguar JN-100 sewing machine.
The Game Boy Color would link up to the sewing machine to share designs, which could then be copied to fabric. It was an intriguing follow-up that didn’t remain in production long, but the ability to bring pixelated Mario designs into the real world through fabric was one of the most interesting things to come of Mario’s tenure as a video game character.
Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up (Electric Crayon series)
It’s never been that uncommon to see digital coloring books, even back in the early days of consoles and home computers. But it was rare to see Mario and friends available to color outside of games like Mario Paint. Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up was a third-party Mario coloring book series published by Merit Software as part of its Electric Crayon line. Mario and his friends, including Luigi, Peach, Toad, and Bowser came along for the ride, all with their own unique pages with some animated sequences that would come to life after coloring them.
However, instead of picturing these characters going about their business as they would in the Mario games, the coloring book showed each character in various vocations. Mario was shown as an attorney, scientist, race car driver, chef, computer programmer, and a plumber, of course, among other careers. The rest of the gang were shown trying their hands at other jobs, with Bowser crowned a business executive and Luigi shown teaching a classroom. This is the only digital coloring book that puts these characters in real-world jobs, and for that it’s unique.
Players can’t do anything but color the images, and there’s a palette of 16 colors to choose from. You can, however, mix colors together for over 256 different hues to paint with. Each image also comes with a small blurb about all the vocations, giving kids a preview of what to expect from each job. Completed images can be saved and printed, and some will come to life with sprightly animations.
The coloring book is fairly difficult to find, given that few copies were produced. It’s a fun little diversion that’s suitable for all players, and it’s especially interesting to see Mario and the rest of his friends taking on jobs we could in the real world, especially since none of us ever got to grow up into goomba-stomping plumbers.
Mario Teaches Typing
In the ’90s and beyond, it was often common for students to take typing or computer classes. If you weren’t being taught proper keyboarding technique by way of Mavis Beacon, there were other options on the market. Mario Teaches Typing was one such game, and it was so successful that there were actually two different installments.
It’s also notable in that the MS-DOS version of the game features Ronald B. Ruben, Mario’s very first voice actor. It’s the first time the iconic character was ever voiced in a game. His successor, Charles Martinet, would replace him and remain Mario’s actor in the CD-ROM version.
As you can imagine from the title, Mario and friends help to teach players typing using a variety of different minigames and lessons. This includes a mock-Mario platforming level where users must type the keys shown on the screen to attack enemies like Koopa Troopas.
There’s an outdoors version as well as both underwater and underground levels here, where the scenery changes and the level of difficulty rises. Players can also get in some key practice, typewriter style, in the “Mario’s Expert Express” mode.
Perhaps it isn’t shocking that such a kid-friendly character would be used in a piece of software meant to help children learn how to type, but it was strange to see Mario in such a manner at the time, especially the 3D Mario head floating around in the sequel, which was more than a bit odd — and predated the Super Mario 64 head as well. (That was a floating render of — you guessed it! — Mario’s head that you could pinch, squeeze, and shake upon loading the game. Its Mario Teaches Typing iteration was much creepier.)
Mario’s Game Gallery/Mario’s FUNdamentals
Mario is a video game character already, so he has his own games to tend to. Why would he need a collection of minigames adapted from real-world analogues? That’s anyone’s guess, and yet Mario’s Game Gallery placed him as the dealer/opponent in games like Go Fish, checkers, and even a “yacht” dice game resembling the classic Yahtzee.
The Gallery included just five games: checkers, backgammon, Go Fish, dominoes, and yacht. Mario is flying solo here; instead of bringing along his friends from the Mushroom Kingdom, he’s the sole opponent for players to test their skills against. It’s a strange mixture of edutainment and pure variety gaming, and it also happens to be one of the rarest Mario games you can purchase right now.
Still, despite its strangeness, it received a re-release two years after its initial 1995 DOS debut for Windows and Mac as Mario’s FUNdamentals with positive reviews from outlets like The Miami Herald, which called it “excellent wholesome family fun.” Today, if you’re able to track it down, it’s a fun yet weird aberration that reveals, yet again, a very odd Mario appearance that no one would have been able to predict.
Brittany Vincent has been writing about games for 13 years and loves collecting retro gaming and consoles. Follow her on Twitter: @MolotovCupcake.