Tag Archives: nintendo

Nintendo Game & Watch – The Legend of Zelda

Why do I have a sudden urge to listen to The Misfits…?

Before Nintendo was a famous game developer and console manufacturer, it made toys. Some were electronic, and some were not. On the electronics side, the first video games the company released were the Game & Watch handhelds. The first of these devices looked similar to what would become the Nintendo Entertainment System’s controller. It was a horizontal layout with a directional pad on the left and a command button on the right. In the center of the device was an LCD screen capable of displaying simple games. It also had a clock on it which is where the “Watch” part of Game & Watch comes into play. Over the years, the games would grow in complexity and some even necessitated a second screen and a clamshell design which is pretty similar to what the Nintendo DS would adopt many years later. Come the early 90s, the Game Boy was already available and a hit and the Game & Watch had seemingly outlived its usefulness, but it’s a part of Nintendo’s past that the company seems to enjoy celebrating.

Last year, to celebrate the anniversary of Super Mario Bros. Nintendo released a special edition Game & Watch. Nintendo has seemingly found a market for simple, nostalgia, devices like the Classic series of console releases and the Game & Watch feels like an extension of that. The unit was priced at $50 and came bundled with the original Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 (the Japanese version) while also including a classic LCD game, clock, and timer. It was a novelty device and one I wasn’t particularly interested in. I loved the original Super Mario Bros. as a kid, but once Super Mario Bros. 3 came out I effectively had no use for the original and it’s a feeling I still have today. The unit did eventually hit the clearance rack, so I wasn’t sure if anymore should be expected, but lo and behold Nintendo did have a release for 2021: The Legend of Zelda.

Pay no mind to the gargoyle lurking in the rear.

The Legend of Zelda edition of Game & Watch is meant to celebrate the original game’s 35th anniversary. It’s essentially the same, but different, when compared with the Mario edition from 2020. The device itself is rather small and very light, measuring about 4 3/8″ x 2 5/8″ with a color scheme more appropriate for Zelda. The front faceplate is gold while the outer case is green and all of the buttons on the face are ringed with green plastic. The area around the screen is raised and it’s a pretty attractive looking piece, though once handled the toy nature of it all becomes obvious due to the weight and overall feel. The D-pad feels largely like one would expect, but the B and A buttons are rather gummy, like a key on a calculator as opposed to a game controller.

Watch Link conquer Ganon every day!

What hasn’t been compromised is the screen. It’s not particularly large, but it is vibrant and certainly a lot better than the old LCD screens on the original Game & Watch devices. It only measures about 2″ x 1.5″ making it comparable to the Game Boy Micro, but still larger. It needs to only display 8 bit games, so it’s not as if the screen is being asked to do much, but it can render all of the games just fine in their native aspect ratio with no compromise to the color palette or resolution. The sound chip is also just fine for these classic games and is even capable of outputting the superior audio found in the Japanese version of these games, as they were Famicom Disk releases outside of the US, so if you’re sick of playing through the original Legend of Zelda you can switch it to Japanese and get a different experience.

One neat, little, touch is this light-up Triforce on the rear of the system.

Which brings me to the games – just what is included on this thing? Well, you get three games this time around: The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and Link’s Awakening. The first two play as you would expect them to as they’re simply emulated versions of the NES and Famicom versions of the games. The third one, and a bit unexpected, is the original Game Boy release of Link’s Awakening. It is a shame that Nintendo didn’t include the DX version released for the Game Boy Color which looked better and also featured an extra dungeon. There’s certainly enough room on the hardware for it which leads me to believe it was a value issue and not a hardware limitation. Nintendo doesn’t want to give too much away at the $50 price tag, but considering that Link’s Awakening has already received a full-fledged remake I don’t think Nintendo would be harming its bottom-line by including the DX version. Oh well.

A size comparison with the first gen 3DS and a Game Boy Micro.

The games play fine though as Nintendo did add the Select button which was missing on the Mario edition. I read some complaints of the device being too small and cramped for a platformer like Super Mario Bros. to be played comfortably, but for Zelda it’s more than adequate. Especially the original game and Link’s Awakening. Zelda II is a bit more of a stretch as that required more twitch movements. It’s still not on the same level as a platformer or run and gun game, but it is noticeably less pleasant to experience. That also could be due to that being the weakest game on this set and what folks are likely to miss is the ability to utilize a save state feature. Exiting a game at any point does essentially pause the game and save your progress, but there’s no way to reload when you die. This is really only an issue with Zelda II as I don’t find the other two games terribly difficult so long as you know where to go, but Zelda II is an all-together different beast. It’s a hard game that I don’t find particularly enjoyable since the player is heavily penalized for dying in a most annoying manner. As such, I don’t intend to play much of Zelda II, it’s more chore than game, but I will play and finish the other two games, one of which I’m nearly finished with as of this writing. One other presentation note is that Link’s Awakening features the ability to toggle between the original aspect ratio and one that fills the screen. It doesn’t look too terrible stretched to fit the screen, but I definitely prefer the original look when playing it.

Since this is a Game & Watch, I should mention the other aspect of the hardware which is the watch. When not playing a game, the unit functions like a clock. Nintendo included a display base with this one that looks pretty slick, but is just made out of cardboard. I question how well it will hold up over time. The clock though displays it over The Legend of Zelda and when left alone Link will roam the screen battling enemies gradually progressing through a modified version of the game over 24 hours. Come noon, he’ll best Ganon and save Zelda which is pretty neat. If at any point you want to control the action you can, and leaving it idle for a few seconds will revert back to AI control. It’s a fun thing to have on a desk or workspace, though it can get mildly distracting.

Zelda will now be saved on a daily basis.

There’s also a timer, or stop watch, function. It’s pretty self explanatory, but like the clock it displays Link in action. This time, the sprites are from Zelda II and it does function like a game all on its own as you try to defeat as many enemies during a given duration. Or, if you just need it to be a timer, you can let the AI duke it out. It’s definitely not a feature I plan to take advantage of, but it’s fun to have it. Also included is the Game & Watch game Vermin. It’s a game where you just slide a character across the screen as it tries to stop some vermin from advancing past. In the original, the player character was Mr. Game & Watch, but it’s been changed to resemble Link for this release. It’s a simple game that has its moments, but largely feels like it’s included as both an homage to the classic handheld and as a reminder of how far we’ve come.

The unit runs on an internal battery and I’m honestly not sure how long it can last. Most these days seem to last anywhere from 2 and a half to 4 hours. I haven’t come close to draining it in my play sessions, but my sessions have been more of the half hour to an hour variety. Nintendo included a USB cable to charge it, though it’s pathetically short. I’ve had it plugged into my laptop since getting it which means the clock will only run while my laptop isn’t in sleep mode. When not connected to a power source, the screen turns off after 3 minutes, but when it does it displays a piece of vintage art from the old game manuals which is pretty cool. There are some other Easter Eggs as well that I won’t spoil, but if you’re curious, they’re not hard to find online. I should note, the unit is capable of keeping track of the clock when powered down, though I assume if you ran the battery down to nothing and left it like that for a bit it might need to be reset like a console would.

This one also has a few surprises up its sleeve.

The Legend of Zelda edition of the Game & Watch is a perfectly fine, novelty, handheld. Nobody needs this and these games are all readily available in probably more convenient options at this point, but if you find yourself charmed by this little device then I think it’s worth the 50 bucks Nintendo is asking for it. Yes, I wish it had proper A and B buttons and the DX version of Link’s Awakening, but those are nitpicks. The absence of save states is more of a bummer because these games don’t have a robust, built-in, save feature so it is more challenging than it needs to be to do something as simple as switch profiles within the games. It’ll save one action session per game, but if I want to let my son play The Legend of Zelda I need to end my game first and I don’t want to go all the way back to the beginning on the map if I was in the middle of a dungeon or had paused my session right outside of one. I also would have gladly paid an extra 10 – 15 bucks for a better display stand. I love how this one looks, being all black with a gold Triforce logo, but it only looks good from a distance as once up close it becomes apparent the thing is a glorified box.

I suspect if you’re interested in this then you have already made up your mind. It’s for the Zelda fan or nostalgic Nintendo fan. It’s also priced on the fringe of impulse buy territory, and if 2020’s model is any indication, it will eventually find itself on sale. I had no issue tracking a unit down for purchase and I’ve seen them on my weekly trips to Target so, for now, this one’s easy to come by. I suspect once it’s gone then it’s gone and it will gradually rise in price on the aftermarket. You’re probably safe to play the waiting game if you want to take advantage of a sale price, though if units start to disappear before that day comes then you may want to just jump on it at $50. I’m happy to have it, and while I don’t know if it will live forever beside my laptop, but I would like to find a permanent home for it because it’s a fun clock to have around. And hey, there’s some good games on it too!


Dec. 3 – Super Mario World – “The Night Before Cave Christmas”

Original air date October 12, 1991.

Last year, we took a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom (kind of) and watched the Super Mario Bros. save Christmas from the evil King Koopa. Since Koopa failed, it would make sense for him to attempt the same trick at a later date, especially since he would go on to become “King Dad” and Christmas presumably got a lot more expensive around Koopa Castle (or should it be Kastle?). Well, he apparently did not agree as he’s left Christmas alone ever since, but Cave Christmas? Now that, is apparently appealing!

In the early 90s, if anything was popular either in toy aisles or on gaming consoles it had a cartoon, and Mario was at the forefront of that. He first had The Super Mario Bros. Super Show followed by The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, and concluding with the Super Mario World cartoon. Other popular Nintendo, or Nintendo-adjacent, properties had to settle for a cameo on Captain N The Game Master, but Mario was able to front his own toon. None of these cartoons were any good, and as the franchise marched forward it feels like the budget set by DiC just got smaller and smaller. The live action segments hosted by Danny Wells and Lou Albano were dropped, and the voices of the Mario brothers were replaced with Tony Rosato and Walker Boone, respectively. John Stocker, who saw his character Toad written out for Super Mario World, got to keep working by voicing new addition Oogtar while Tracy Moore (who came onboard for the Super Mario 3 show) and Harvey Atkin (the only one to voice the same character from start to finish) continued to voice Princess Toadstool and King Koopa, respectively.

How do we feel about Yoshi’s portrayal in this show? Love it? Hate it? I can’t decide!

Super Mario World, like the video game it’s based on, is set in the fictitious Dinosaur World. Mario and his friends are vacationing there, only to find King Koopa and his many Koopa kids have followed them. They make friends with the cave people, and Princess Toadstool more or less throws her weight around as royalty to take over, and take-in a young dinosaur named Yoshi (Andrew Sabiston). Each cartoon is little more than 10 minutes in length and DiC wisely dropped the use of song parodies so the syndicated cut and retail releases were able to retain the original music this time around. The show was bundled with Captain N to air as a block and both shows mainly exist to sell video games. There’s not much to the plot of each episode, characters experience little or no growth, and most episodes can be drilled down to a simple formula. Only 13 episodes were produced airing from September 1991 into December of that year. The show didn’t seem to find much success following its initial run as the episode count was likely too small to interest most cable networks. It did receive a DVD release from Shout Factory, and the show today is mostly remembered as being pretty bad with certain aspects of it being enjoyed mostly from an ironic perspective as the character of Yoshi is both annoying and ridiculous, which I guess makes him a tad charming?

The fifth episode for the show is titled “The Night Before Cave Christmas.” It aired before Halloween, but since Cave Christmas is a made-up holiday by Mario I guess it didn’t need to air during the Christmas season? As mentioned before, this is the second, and final, Christmas episode from the Mario universe of cartoons as DiC declined to do one in The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. I’d say it’s a shame we didn’t end up with 3 Christmas cartoons, but considering the first one was pretty terrible, and this one might actually be worse, I guess it’s no real loss.

It looks the show is simply titled Super Mario World, but it’s actually “Super Mario-Super-Mario Super Mario….World.”

The cartoon begins with a brand new theme song. The previous cartoon cheeped out by forgoing a traditional theme for just narration over some video game inspired music, a severe downgrade following the greatness that is “The Plumber’s Rap.” This new theme is a bit of an ear worm, despite not being great. It’s full of tribal drums and has a Caribbean feel to it, though I’m skeptical DiC paid for an authentic singer and probably just had some white dude fake an accent. Mark Mothersbaugh is credited as composing the theme, but I don’t know who actually sang on it. The lyrics are a bit lacking as the song closes by rhyming the word blast with…blast! I’m getting flashbacks to the “Wrap Rap” from last year!

Poor little mammoth…

When the cartoon begins, we find Yoshi and Oogtar fighting over some barbecued mammoth ribs, which are pretty small for mammoth ribs (maybe they picked off an infant). Mario starts complaining to Luigi and the Princess about how Oogtar is a pain in the ass who spends all day getting into fights with Yoshi. Luigi points out it’s not just Oogtar, as we pan to see other cave people fighting with each other. One poorly animated boy and girl pair are just hitting each other like Itchy and Scratchy, minus the mallets. Mario then hatches up an idea based on the notion that people start acting really nice to each other around the holidays. Luigi asks if he means Christmas, because it’s currently the middle of August so that doesn’t make much sense. Mario basically responds by reminding him that cave people are stupid and will believe anything they tell them. This cartoon really shines a light on what’s awful about colonialism.

It’s a sparsely populated village.

Mario then goes over to the squabbling Yoshi and Oogtar and starts telling them about Christmas. Mostly, he wants to convey the message that good boys and girls are rewarded with treats and presents, and Oogtar immediately becomes nervous because he knows he’s a little piece of shit. Mario christens it Cave Christmas and hangs a big wreath on one of the stone huts and announces, “Merry Cave Christmas!” to all of the onlookers. Nearby, Koopa pops his head out of what I guess is a trash can fashioned out of a stump. Referring to Mario as a “pipe-squeezer” (which got a chuckle out of me), he questions the plumber’s sanity by noting it’s the hottest day of the year before closing the lid and returning to his hiding spot.

The smell of freshly cut evergreen should help cover the smell of body odor and dinosaur shit.

The gang then sets to making the place look like Christmas. Mario and an unnamed cave person cut down a tree, while Oogtar and Yoshi help the Princess collect nuts from nearby trees. Koopa and his son Bully (Dan Hennessey) watch and Bully informs his dad he wants a Christmas tree too. We then go back to town where Princess Toadstool is trying to hang candy canes on a tree (that has a creepy face), but Yoshi keeps eating them as she hangs them. She reminds him about how he needs to be good if he wants presents from Santa, and the dinosaur promptly regurgitates the candy canes back onto the tree. It’s not made to look as gross as it could have. Bully and King Koopa pop out of the garbage stump and Bully takes note of the Princess’s description of Santa and calls the guy a wimp. His dad agrees, but then the garbage dinosaur shows up and tosses the whole stump (which seems very inefficient) into a stone dumpster strapped on his back.

Looks like someone is getting a savage beating for Cave Christmas!

Since there is a severe lack of toy stores in a prehistoric setting, the Marios have to make the toys for Cave Christmas. In a dome, they’re hard at work building shadow boxes and jack-in-the-boxes. Luigi’s emblem on his hat is miss-colored, a frequent occurrence in this show. Oogtar has snuck in though and is trying to get a peek at the presents. Luigi catches him hiding in a jack-in-the-box. He bolts and attempts to hide in a box of dolls, but Luigi picks him up by his shirt and tosses him out the door.

Even the Flintstones had sense enough not to make their sleigh out of stone

The Princess is then shown piling gifts into Santa’s sack while Mario appears to be constructing the sleigh out of stone and wood. Good luck getting that thing to fly! The Princess remarks how she can’t wait to see all of the kids react to the presents on Cave Christmas morning (she makes sure to include the Cave distinction), but lurking just outside the window is King Koopa once again. He laughs to himself and remarks that the Princess won’t get to see any of that because he plans on stealing the toys so his kids can have a jolly Koopa Christmas (Kristmas?). Considering he is mean and green, I suppose it makes sense for Koops to play the Grinch in our story.

The one true king.

The next day, Mario and Luigi are seen shoving their stone sleigh out the door. Mario expresses joy that its Cave Christmas Eve and prods Luigi by remarking it’s just like being back home, Luigi isn’t buying it though. As they head back inside their makeshift toy factory, Oogtar slips in and heads over to the sack of toys. With an evil look on his face, he lets the audience know he intends to cherry-pick the best toy out of the sack early leaving the crummy stuff for the goody-two-shoes. When he hears someone coming back in, he panics and dives into the sack of toys to hide. He seemed to think it was one of the Mario brothers that were coming, but it’s actually Koopa! Because DiC thinks its audience is stupid, Koopa has to explain out loud that he’s stealing the toys for Koopa Christmas and casually strolls out with the sack of toys and Oogtar inside.

Laughing at Luigi’s hateful gay joke. Apparently, Luigi plays the role of drunk, racist, uncle back in Brooklyn for the holidays.

Mario, who this whole time was just standing mere feet away from the cave-napping, is trying on his Santa costume (What? Did you think he’d actually let Luigi play Santa?!) which consists of a hat, white beard (his black moustache is still visible) and a red toga-like garment worn by the cave people which is worn over his red overalls and looks stupid. When he asks how he looks, Luigi tells him he wouldn’t get away with wearing that in Brooklyn. Mario gives a knowing chuckle and I have no idea how I’m supposed to interpret this joke. This is from the early 90s, so it reads like a homophobic joke. Would they attempt such in a kid’s show? Koopa did refer to Mario as a pipe-squeezer earlier…

How dare Koopa steal fake Santa’s present on fake Christmas!

Mario then notices the toys are gone! They run over to the empty place where the massive sack once sat aghast that someone would steal toys on their fake holiday. The Princess announces she knows who is responsible, which is cute of her since we all know who did it. She picks up a scale from the ground and says it belongs to Koopa, and I say, it doesn’t matter. Koopa and his kids are the only bad guys in this entire world! Santa Mario remarks this is somehow worse than what Koopa usually does (I don’t remember enough of this show to know if that tracks or not, but it sure feels like hyperbole) and vows to get them back!

Well, at least this Christmas special got one thing right.

Mario takes off in his one-dinosaur sleigh as poor Yoshi has to pull that stone monstrosity through the air with his wings power-up. They do find time to pass in front of the moon. Meanwhile, Koopa empties the sack of toys back at his “neon” castle and finds Oogtar inside. Oogtar, apparently lacking any sense of danger, is still preoccupied with getting all of the toys and gets into an argument over it with Koopa who intends to give them to his kids. Oogtar grabs one gift and Koops swats him across the room, rather gently unfortunately. Oogtar rips it open, only to find a ba-bomb inside it which he promptly tosses back to Koopa. He shouts he’s glad Koopa isn’t his dad with a gift like that, but aren’t these all gifts Mario and the gang wrapped? Were they trying to murder Oogtar?!

Merry Cave Christmas, Ratgoo!

The bomb predictably explodes in Koopa’s face, even though he tried telling it that it’s not supposed to blow until Christmas. Oogtar tries to book it, but Koopa grabs him. He’s got something special planned for Oogtar as he strings him up with a pulley system. The rope is a vine and Oogtar finds himself dangling over a pit in which a hungry dinosaur waits at the bottom. Koopa places a lit candle under the vine and leaves Oogtar to his certain death rather than stay and watch. I’d think he’d want to see the little twerp get it, but I guess he has other plans. As he departs, he chides Oogtar by reminding him that his name spelled backwards is “Rat Goo,” an actual worthwhile zinger for this show! I like this Koopa fellow.

Probably not the most discrete way to travel.

Santa Mario and Yoshi arrive and hear the screams of that little baby, Oogtar, coming from the castle. Mario runs over with his toolbox and spies Oogtar through a barred window. Seeing Oogtar in danger, he then runs to a different window for some reason and pulls out some little dinosaur from his toolbox that he uses to bend the bars. Yoshi, who seemingly lost his wings despite not taking any damage, is then advised to help Santa squeeze through the opening he just created, but he’s still too wide. We get a predictable diet joke out of Yoshi, and Mario informs him that a diet is not in the cards and that he needs to push harder! As Yoshi backs up to get a running star, he sees a terribly off-model Boo ghost and panics, crashing into Mario sending both tumbling into the castle where a horde of mecha-koopas descend upon them.

I’ve always felt the Santa suit could use a cape!

We then go into the chase segment. I think every cartoon in this show features one where the characters go running through the castle, avoiding enemies, all while a song plays in the background. The song is almost unintelligible. It sounds like the Koopa Kids making up a Christmas song. There’s something about a sleigh in there and I can’t make much out. It’s not good. Mario rides Yoshi through part of the castle avoiding catastrophe until they have a trio of the football guys from the video game chasing them down. Mario is able to conveniently find a super feather in a block and becomes caped Santa! He grabs Yoshi and the two fly through a pipe that leads them to Oogtar.

Look at this stupid, smiling, asshole. Hopefully Yoshi is happy because he’s thinking about how he gets to fill Ratgoo’s stocking with dinosaur droppings.

Oogtar, unfortunately, is still dangling over the hungry dinosaur infested pit. The vine breaks and Oogtar heads for doom, but Mario grabs the end of the vine. As Oogtar rises out of the pit, Mario goes in! Narrowly avoiding the chomping jaws of the dinosaur lurking within, Mario is able to fly out of the pit, catch Oogtar, and safely land outside the pit while the poor, endangered, creature in the pit is left hungry. Mario does a “ta-da” pose and a puff of smoke seemingly indicates his cape power wearing off, but when the smoke dissipates the cape is still there. Only when Mario starts laying into Oogtar is his cape finally removed from his model. Oogtar tries to weasel out of the discussion, but Mario points out that he’s already gone through all of Santa’s presents. Oogtar finally cops to being a little shit and Yoshi calls him bad (his eyes are all over the place in this segment too and it’s really distracting). Oogtar then promises to be a good little cave kid for the rest of his life, but Mario notes he’s got his fingers crossed behind his back. Oogtar, astonished, asks Santa how he knew and Mario gives a chuckle that he was once a little “bambino” too. Cave Christmas magic!

There wasn’t much screen time for the Koopalings in this one, which is tragic because they’re easily the best characters in the show.

Mario then comes running out of the castle with the sack of toys, which looks much smaller than before. They’re apparently just going to “yadda yadda” over how he managed to sneak into the throne room and grab them. With Oogtar in the sleigh and Yoshi hitched up, Mario tells him to take off, but there’s one problem – Yoshi doesn’t have any wings! Mario retreats to a nearby castle wall and just starts punching blocks until some wings pop out – the solution was so easy why bother even creating the problem in the first place? With the wings in place on Yoshi, they can finally leave, and just in time too as the threats of Bully Koopa start echoing from inside the castle. The whole Koopa clan races out as Santa’s sleigh lifts off.

Don’t fall for his bullshit, Santa Mario!

Back at Dome City, Santa Mario tucks Oogtar into bed. Before he can leave, Oogtar grabs Santa’s shirt so he can tell him that he’s been a bad kid and doesn’t deserve any presents. Being saved from the dinosaur is present enough (I bet the town wishes they could trade the presents they’re about to get in exchange for feeding Oogtar to that dino), but if Santa wants to leave Oogtar something it would make him happy. Mario remarks this isn’t like Oogtar, implying this one bit of manipulation on Oogtar’s part erases how terrible he is. Mario, predictably, leaves Oogtar a present before he and Yoshi fly off into the night.

Way to ruin Christmas, Mario.

The next morning, Mario is snoring away in his very uncomfortable looking vine bed still in all of his clothes. As he sleeps, Oogtar slips in with a wrapped gift as he notes Santa didn’t leave Mario anything. He places the gift by Mario’s bed as the plumber wakes up. Oogtar wishes “Mario dude” a merry Cave Christmas. The episode ends with Mario breaking the fourth wall to ask the audience, “Wouldn’t it be nice if every day were Christmas?”

And that is the rare holiday of Cave Christmas. It’s just like regular Christmas, only Santa is a plumber and his stone sleigh is pulled by a winged dinosaur. Also, the toys look pretty lousy. And it’s set in August. I don’t think I thought much of this episode (or this show) as a kid and have almost no memory of this, specific, episode. As an adult, it’s hard for me to ignore the inherent colonialism in the Mario brothers setting up shop in a remote location among the natives and basically brainwashing them in a bid to control them. It’s actually pretty shitty. It’s made worse by the fact that they’re also spreading a religious holiday to these people, though the religious aspect of Christmas is not touched upon at all, for the better.

Get this piece of rat goo the hell away from my holiday!

Even if I accept that I’m reading way too much into this extended video game commercial, there’s no polishing this turd of a Christmas special. Oogtar is unlikable and pretty damn annoying. I really don’t want to see him learn a lesson or have a merry Christmas in the end, I just want him to go away. He also didn’t really learn anything as I get the impression he just goes back to being a shit the next day once Cave Christmas is concluded. He tried to lie to Santa! Beyond that, the episode is poorly scripted, plotted, and paced and almost demeaning to its audience. The good guys have to be stupid in order to not see a giant turtle monster skulking about town stealing their stuff, and they make sure to tell the audience everything that’s happening because no one apparently trusted the kids to understand this stuff. The only positive I can give this thing is Harvey Atkin is still dynamite as Koopa and he even made me chuckle on two occasions.

You got two tries at a Christmas special, Mario, and you blew it! You are hereby cut off! No more Christmas for you!

If you absolutely must journey to Dinosaur World this Christmas then you’ll be pleased to know that all 13 episodes of Super Mario World are available on DVD. And since the show is bad, you can probably find it for very cheap as nostalgia seekers probably impulse bought it when it was new and then were eager to get rid of it. Nintendo also hates these old cartoons and basically just wants nothing to do with them so no one is actively enforcing the copywrite presently and you can find this one streaming online for free. With seemingly every IP under the sun getting locked into exclusive deals with some official streaming service, this one might actually remain free for awhile since Nintendo doesn’t appear interested in even shopping this stuff around. I’m actually a little surprised they aren’t throwing their weight around to wipe this thing from existence, but I guess their inattention to the show is everyone’s gain. Or loss.


A little Christmas in July

I’ve had Super Nintendo under the tree once before, but never on the tree!

As someone who loves Christmas time, the concept of Christmas in July should sound appealing. Instead, I’ve always kind of thumbed my nose at it. Part of what makes Christmas so special is the fact that it only comes once a year. Even though the actual holiday season is pretty lengthy, it still never overstays its welcome, for me anyways. And when it’s over, it’s over. I always put out my Christmas stuff on the day after Thanksgiving and I’m quick to put it away. Sometimes I leave stuff out until New Year’s Day, but if there is some unseasonable warmth between the 25th and the first then I’ll take advantage of that when it comes to the outdoor decorations.

Christmas in July is something that exists because it’s halfway until Christmas, and probably because Christmas is such a strong performer at retail. I’m assuming most of the Christmas in July mindset is driven by corporations looking to make an extra buck during the summer months and for companies like Hallmark, it’s become the time of year to unveil the latest in holiday décor. As a kid, I can recall Cartoon Network also using it as an excuse to tap into the trove of Christmas cartoons and fill some programming blocks during leaner times. Their Christmas in July programming was never appointment viewing or anything for me, but it wasn’t something I was offended by either. Even though in my household growing up we had a Christmas Tape; a VHS of Christmas specials recorded off of TV. That tape was completely off limits between New Year’s and Thanksgiving and it wasn’t as if it was under lock and key, it was just understood that to indulge in such when it wasn’t Christmas was borderline offensive. That tape, by the way, still exists to this day.

As an adult, I’ve softened a bit on the whole Christmas in July thing. The past couple of years I’ve caught Christmas episodes of popular shows on television during this time of year. Just last weekend Disney aired the excellent Duck the Halls, and getting in an early viewing was actually somewhat pleasurable. In 2020, it was positively delightful to take in some Christmas programming during a long year of lockdowns and isolation and catching a show set in the winter time is a bit therapeutic during a heatwave. No, I’m not getting out the decorations and breaking out the Christmas Tape, but a little holiday cheer in July isn’t so bad.

Isn’t it cute? Sadly, the NES ornament from last year is put away with the other Christmas stuff so no comparison shot with that.

One thing that’s good for Christmas lovers during the summer months is it’s a good time to do some shopping. Around the holidays, anything Christmas related is sold at its peak value, but during the rest of the year you can score some deals. I’m always on the look-out for stuff I like that I don’t have, and I’ll share some of my more recent scores shortly. Things that aren’t cheap or on-sale though are Hallmark ornaments. Like a lot of people who enjoy Christmas, I have probably more ornaments than can reasonably fit on an average-sized tree. And with the kids reaching school age, I’m probably due for a lot more homemade ones too that I’ll have to find room for. As a result, I tend to be rather picky these days with what ornaments I invest in, but one I couldn’t turn down was the new Super Nintendo ornament from Hallmark.

Part of me wishes the controllers weren’t glued down, but I’m sure there are some grooves in the sculpt for them so it probably wouldn’t look as good if someone were to pop them off.

Last year, I grabbed the Nintendo Entertainment System ornament from Hallmark and was quite enchanted by it. The sculpt is fantastic and it plays the theme from Super Mario Bros. when you press the power button. Naturally, I had to pair the SNES one with it when I was made aware of it. The SNES one is modeled after the US SNES and it features two controllers and has a copy of Super Mario World in the game slot. When you press the power button, it plays the main theme from the game complete with sound effects as-if you were watching the demo screen. The Super Mario World theme isn’t as beloved as the Super Mario Bros. one, but it’s still an ear worm all its own and an appropriate choice for the ornament considering it was a pack-in game originally (and I originally received my copy and a SNES on Christmas, as I imagine many kids did who had one). It might have been cool to see a different Nintendo franchise get to shine a little, but it’s also hard to fault Hallmark for just sticking with Mario. The ornament was created by artist Jake Angell and retails for a pretty reasonable sum of $20. It comes with the batteries needed to work the music, though Hallmark continues to cheap out on us by not including an ornament hook or ribbon to actually hang the thing from the tree.

Even the backside is accurate. The only question remaining is will this thing yellow over time like the real thing?!

The ornament itself though looks terrific. It’s pretty tiny, measuring approximately 2 and 7/16″ wide by nearly 3″ long. The power, reset, and eject buttons are sculpted and detailed, though only the power button functions. It also presses down instead of slides. Both the Player 1 and Player 2 controllers are sculpted separately and attached to the ornament; one on the left side and one on the top-rear. The attention to detail is, again, superb as the shape of the face buttons are even accurately represented in addition to the colors. The L button on the Player 1 controller kind of words on my ornament as well, though it doesn’t actually do anything and I’m not certain it’s supposed to have this much play. I am left wishing the controllers weren’t glued to the unit though. If the wires had been done to be bendy that would have been pretty near. Especially because the Player 1 chord wraps under the console so it doesn’t sit perfectly flush on a surface should you choose to utilize this as a desk adornment instead of a tree one. The rear of the unit is also accurately represented with really the only thing missing being the 1-800 Nintendo repair sticker.

It even fits in pretty well with your quarter scale action figures!

It should also be noted, the song is loud! I was pretty surprised when I hit the button for the first time that such a small device can generate such a big noise. As stated though, you get the regular theme from Super Mario World with some sound effects of Mario jumping around and finding Yoshi. It then breaks into the victory theme to close it out which is a nice touch. All in all, if you’re a Nintendo fan then you’re probably getting this thing or someone who loves you is planning on gifting it to you in December. It will probably be a big seller if it’s anything like last year’s ornament so it’s actually a good thing that it’s out now so you get several months to try to score one. They’ll be stocked regularly from now until the end of the year and you can pre-order it from some stores right now so anyone who wants it should be able to get it for retail. It might get harder though the closer we get to the actual holiday.

New ornaments are fun and all, but what people really love are novelty, singing, dancing, figurines which is why I invested in a Santa Dancing Homer. This guy comes courtesy of eBay as he’s no longer in production. He features a 2002 copywrite which makes sense as this was when Simpsons merch was still pretty robust. It would fall off not long after and resurface for the 25th anniversary, though surprisingly little seemed to come out for the 30th. Are we as a culture just officially sick of The Simpsons? Maybe, though I’m not. I hope it never ends! There’s just something comforting about there always being new episodes of a show that’s been on since I was a kid and it’s not some dumb news program or pro wrestling. And yeah, I know, it past its peak in 1999 or so, but so what?!

In case you’re wondering, yes, that countdown is accurate.

Homer is festively attired in a Santa suit which has a soft, though somewhat rigid, texture. Not including the base he’s attached to, Homer is about 12″ tall with the base adding roughly 1 1/4″ to that height so he doesn’t require a lot of room for display. The portions of his body that are visible are cast in yellow plastic and the added details, like his eyes and trademark stubble, are painted effects. I suppose it should be noted this Santa suit is a bit nicer looking than the one he wore in the series premiere, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” though it’s pretty similar to the much later Christmas episode “Grift of the Magi.” The main difference between the two is the original costume came with a scruffy beard.

Homer runs on double A batteries and is not, by himself, posable. When you have fresh batteries in him, you can either activate him via the yellow button or by a switch on the bottom of the base. The yellow button will make him wiggle and utter one of his many phrases or sing a song. The button on the bottom of the base is for activating the motion-sensing function so you can scare people who walk by him. When he does animate, his lower jaw moves and his hips sway. Sometimes he’ll turn his head too. If he goes into song, his arms will move up and down a bit along with the hip swaying and mouth-flapping. The songs are pretty amusing as Homer doesn’t know all of the words. When he sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” he mostly just says the song’s title over and over and ad-libs a bit all while adhering to the song’s melody. The speaker is a little fuzzy, but Homer can be understood clearly and obviously the lines were recorded by Dan Castellaneta. It’s a novelty Christmas item, so how much you enjoy it probably depends on how much you like Homer Simpson. I love Homer, so this decoration is an easy win. It also wasn’t hard to come by, nor was it super expensive. I think I basically ended up paying retail for it, though he’s used. Another neat feature is that you can use a 6V wall plug to power him if you would rather not use batteries. It’s not a bad idea since batteries being left in a Christmas decoration like this one throughout the year can often lead to leakage and a ruined toy.

The last holiday item we’re going to look at is a simple one: this plush Santa Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was in reading the book Rad Plastic earlier this year that I was reminded about the plush line of TMNT toys from the early 90s and it was the first time I can recall being made aware of this Christmas variant. It pains me that the original Fred Wolf cartoon never did do a Christmas episode, but this plush kind of makes up for that. Well, not really, but hey, it’s Christmas!

There’s not much to say about this guy though: what you see is what you get. The tags on him reflect a 1990 release for this guy and that agrees with the book. It’s basically the same as the regular plush turtles that were available, only this one has Santa pants and boots stitched onto it. He’s about 17″ long from the top of the head to the tip of his toe as his feet are kind of outstretched as there’s no stitching to orient his feet in a standing position. The coat can probably be removed, as I don’t see any stitching holding it to the body, but it has white elbow pads stitched to it that are pretty tight and I don’t want to risk messing this up. The white elbow pads are actually a nice touch and the white cuffs on the boots basically line-up with where Raph’s kneepads normally would end up. It even appears he has his red elbow pads on underneath the jacket, though it’s impossible to say if the same is true for the knees. He also comes with a removable hat that mostly just rests on his head. I wish it was a bit bigger, but it’s all right.

“Aww c’mon, man! You’re embarrassing me and the other Raphs around here with that get-up!”

As you can probably imagine, this was another eBay purchase and yet another inexpensive one. For a 30 year old plush, Raph is in pretty good shape. The whites are still white, and the only sign of ware really is on the eyes which are a bit scratched. This style of plush is definitely assembled on the cheap, so there are exposed seems and I don’t really like the material used for the mask as it’s thin and prone to wrinkling. On the plus side, he has no odor which is always the risk when buying an old, used, plush and he’s still quite soft to the touch. It’s probably helped that he’s a Christmas decoration and whoever owned him before me may have had him put away 11 months out of the year lessening the annual ware and tare. He’s kind of dumb, but what can I say, I like him!

Well, that’s about all of the holiday cheer I have in me at the moment. Maybe I’ve inspired you to hit a Hallmark store or check popular resell locations for some Christmas stuff while the getting is good. It’s a good time to be on the hunt right now, but things tend to change quickly. If you need more Christmas in July though, you could always head on over to The Christmas Spot and check out several year’s worth of Christmas goodness. I’m already at work on the 2021 version and I’ve got some slight changes in store for this year, but don’t worry, you’re still getting 25 posts in 25 days about a Christmas special of some kind. Unfortunately, there will not be anything TMNT related this year, but it’s a safe assumption we’ll be heading back to Springfield, at least. And you know what? Mario may make an appearance this year too. Be sure to check back in December! Merry July, everybody!


Dec. 23 – The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! – “Koopa Klaus”

Original air date October 23, 1989

During the late 80s Nintendo was on fire in the US. The Nintendo Entertainment System came storming into living rooms, basements, and dens across the country making Mario and Luigi household names. In addition to video games, there were tons of licensing deals for clothing, school supplies, bedding, you name it. If it could be sold to a kid, then it had a Mario on it. This naturally made everything associated with Nintendo desirable for things like cartoons. Other older video game stars made that leap before Mario and found success, so it’s no surprise that Nintendo was willing to take the plunge as well.

Good old DiC was the first to come calling. By now, DiC is practically on top of the cartoon world in the US. The company has had some big hits while the former Hanna-Barbera juggernaut is starting to flounder and will soon be purchased by Ted Turner. Because of their stature in the world of animation, it wasn’t a surprise to see Nintendo go with DiC. Well, it’s not when you ignore that there are plenty of far more talented animation studios in Japan that Nintendo could have turned to, but their cartoon was clearly being targeted towards Americans so that likely explains the choice.

Danny Wells loves being Luigi.

For DiC’s first stab at a Nintendo cartoon it turned to the Super Mario Bros. It handed things over to Inspector Gadget creator, Andy Heyward, and trusted him to bring Nintendo’s mascot to the world of cartoons. That was hardly a surprise, but what was a bit surprising was the decision to include a live-action component in the show. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! would begin with a segment featuring actors playing the brothers Mario and Luigi. They would have their own plot to untangle that would be setup in the opening act before the show would transition to the cartoon segment. The cartoon featured Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and her attendant Toad as they traveled through the vast Mushroom Kingdom always crossing paths with the evil King Koopa. When the cartoon concluded, the show would go back to the live-action portion where it’s story would progress and then resolve in the final act.

Why did DiC feel the show needed this live-action component? Well, it probably didn’t, rather DiC just saw an opportunity to knock the costs down. Who knows what Nintendo charged for the license, but my guess is the live-action was a lot cheaper to produce than animation. The actual cartoon in each episode is only 12 minutes or so in length. And the live-action part is just shot on a soundstage. There’s no on-location filming, wardrobe is pretty consistent, and they could probably bang out a few of these things in a day. Plus, it also allowed for the show to have some guest stars when the opportunity presented itself.

Monday through Thursday 1989, little dudes like me were “treated” to a Super Mario Bros. cartoon as part of the Super Show.

To add another wrinkle to the program, is that the show was actually 3 shows in one. It was a direct-to-syndication program that aired on weekday afternoons in most markets. Monday through Thursday featured a Mario cartoon and on Friday the Mario cartoon was swapped out for a Zelda one. During the lead-up to Friday, a sneak peek of the Zelda cartoon would be featured too so that when Friday came it almost felt like a re-run. It was an odd setup, but Mario and Zelda were like a packaged deal during this era, if cereal could be believed.

This is not a show with a large budget.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! lasted just the one season before it was replaced with a show based on Super Mario Bros. 3. The show produced 52 Mario cartoons and 13 Zelda ones. It also produced a pair of Christmas segments. One of which is the subject of today’s post, “Koopa Klaus,” in which King Koopa tries to ruin Christmas. The other Christmas segment was the live-action “Santa Claus is Coming to Flatbush.” Why the two weren’t paired up I have no idea. It makes no sense, especially since this one aired before Halloween in 1989 and the other on the more appropriate date of November 29. Instead, this one was paired up with “Little Marios” which is actually one of the more memorable segments for me since it features a ridiculous flashback in which the same actors portray kid versions of themselves. At any rate, it has nothing to do with Christmas so I’m just going to ignore it.

Better than a toilet…

Every episode opens with the very catchy theme song, “The Plumber’s Rap.” There are actually two versions of the rap, the one at the beginning of the show and then a different, much shorter one, that introduced the cartoon itself. Let’s just get it out of the way right now: this show sucks. However, I unironically love “The Plumber’s Rap.” It is perfect for what it is. When the opening credits are done, the episode begins with the first segment in the “Little Marios” plot. Now, I already said I’m going to ignore it, but while we’re here, I’ll just make some observations. For one, Mario is played by former professional wrestler Lou Albano and Luigi by Danny Wells. Both men are, unfortunately, no longer with us. They mostly look the part, I suppose. They’re definitely a little older than how I would have pictured the Mario brothers, but they have the colored overalls, blue undershirt, and big moustache. Albano even shaved his signature beard for the role, which was quite a commitment for him. Their home, which doubles as their place of business, makes no attempt to disguise itself as something other than a set. It’s very open. For some reason, the telephone is always shown in the middle of an actual pizza and it’s covered in cheese and pepperoni. The Mario brothers basically speak in Italian stereotypes and seem to consume nothing but pizza and spaghetti. The show makes very liberal use of a laugh track which makes it feel even more dated than it is.

Behold! Koopa Klaus!

When we get to the cartoon, we get the other opening credits with the modified rap. The lyrics are different and tell the viewer how the Mario brothers came to be in the Mushroom Kingdom (they found the secret warp zone while working on the drain). When the cartoon itself finally begins, we’re dropped into a factory where Koopa Troopas are dumping toys into a machine to grind them up into junk. King Koopa (Harvey Atkin, easily the best part of this show) is decked out in a Santa suit and is delighted to see the toys being smashed. He hates Christmas and he’s made it his mission to ruin the holiday for everyone. The three-headed serpent, Triclyde, approaches and he’s wearing a reindeer outfit. Koopa addresses him as Randolph the red-nosed triclyde. Apparently, Koopa’s sleigh is ready for him and he announces he’s off to Santa’s workshop to bomb it. He takes off with a sleigh full of bob-ombs being pulled by a pair of albatross with bicycle handles for reindeer antlers, a superior solution than what the Grinch settled for.

Mario gets to wear this stupid outfit the whole episode.

Mario and the gang have just popped up out of the ground like fucking Bugs Bunny for some reason in a very cold environment. Mario is dressed for some place much warmer and we find out that Toad (John Stocker) gave him some bad directions which has taken the four to The North Pole instead of Hawaii-Land. It would seem Toad may have done this on purpose for when Princess Toadstool (Jeannie Elias) realizes where they are Toad eagerly suggests they pay Santa a visit. Mario (voiced by Albano, Wells voices Luigi to keep things consistent with the live-action portion) then adds an entry in his “Plumber’s Log” as the gang starts walking towards the work shop. This is an obvious homage to Star Trek, though we never see a physical log book for Mario so maybe he just does this in his head to feel important.

FYI: if you didn’t already hate Toad, you’re about to.

Toad is rather excited about the whole thing with a major focus of his holiday love being the presents. Oh Toad, will you ever learn the true meaning of Christmas? He hopes Santa will give him his present now, which reminds the Princess that she has a gift for the little shroom and pulls it out. It’s a snowboard, and Toad is more than pleased with this development. He zooms around on the thing without so much as a “Thank you,” but the Princess seems to be enjoying this new development that has left her loyal attendant in a more infantile state.

Toad grave. Sadly, it’s short-lived.

The sound of sleigh bells get the attention of the Princess, but when she looks to the sky it isn’t Santa she spies, but Koopa Klaus! He drops some bombs which explode on impact and appear to be a direct hit on Toad. He’s not blown into bits though, he just goes soaring through the air and lands in a pile of snow. His snowboard follows and lands with one end in the ground forming a crude tombstone. When Toad emerges from the snow, he shrieks about his precious present and gives it a hug. The others then surround him and the Princess is rather pissed he doesn’t seem to care about their well-being. When confronted by this, Toad can’t even muster much of a defense aside from “well, it is Christmas” before finally asking the Princess if she’s ok.

This shot of everyone staring angrily at Toad is going to be repeated a lot in this one.

Luigi then rightly forgets about the dumb, little, fungus and wonders what Koopa is up to. Mario realizes that Koopa was flying towards Santa’s work shop which sets Toad off once again. As expected, he’s worried about the toys and the others have to glare at him to get him to add “…and Santa” to the list of things he’s worried about. No one is concerned for the elves.

The icy work shop, and our first animation gaffe of the episode as Mario is depicted in his red overalls.

The gang then comes across Santa’s work shop only to find it encased in ice. I guess somehow Koopa’s bombs can freeze stuff as well as blow up? I don’t know. They’re all pretty shocked at what they see, but worse, there’s no sign of Santa! They then spy Koopa Klaus (and I find it funny they keep calling him Koopa Klaus) flying away with Santa hogtied on the back of his sleigh. Toad starts crying about never getting another present while Koopa (rightfully) laughs his ass off.

That son-of-a-bitch kidnapped Santa Claus!

The Marios give chase as Koopa is heading…to the frozen work shop? I don’t understand his strategy. Mario is also so committed to saving Santa that he’s still in his vacation attire. Anyway, they happen upon a playground and Mario declares it’s a playground for the elves. Usually elves are little old men and women, but okay. Mario especially eyes a teeter-totter, only it’s not what I would call a teeter-totter, but a seesaw. Maybe it’s a regional thing? He tells Luigi to get a block of ice, only it’s too heavy for Luigi to toss over to Mario so he has to hobble it over. Mario then places it on the seesaw and instructs Luigi to jump off of his shoulders and onto the other end. Luigi does as he’s told and the block gets launched through the air and strikes Koopa’s sleigh. He and Santa fall, but Koopa uses his empty bomb sack as a parachute to slow their descent. I guess Mario was counting on Koopa doing that otherwise Santa would have just plunged to his death.

It’s Snoweegi!

When they hit the ground, Koopa keeps a firm grasp on Santa and uses his sack like a wind sail and lets the breeze pull he and Santa across the snow. Mario and Luigi respond with…snowballs. Koopa, who has a big, spiny, shell on his back could probably just weather the storm here, but he actually stops. He catches some snowballs in his sack, then throws it back at the Marios. Mario gets knocked over, while Luigi ends up covered in snow resembling a snow Luigi.

And I bet you thought Bender did it first.

Koopa Klaus carries Santa across the tundra, and it’s at this point I am just now realizing they aren’t leaving footprints in the snow – cheap animation budget! Mario and the others are right behind them, so Koopa does the reasonable thing of using Santa as a taboggan. As Mario and the others watch Koopa race away on his Santa-sleigh, Luigi worries aloud about the potential for thin ice ahead. Luigi, you’re at the North Pole. I’m pretty sure that ice is plenty thick. Toad then says something smart and points out if the ice can hold Santa and Koopa then it must be pretty thick. It must have been standards and practices that demanded they acknowledge the possibility of dangerous ice ahead or something.

This little guy doesn’t have much of a threatening aura to speak of.

The gang slides down on their rumps and crash land on the ice. Koopa then summons his Koopa Flurries, the little ice skating guys from the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2. They enter to the boss theme from the same game and spin-up some ice blocks to toss at the Marios. Their aim sucks, and Mario declares they must fight fire with fire! No, he’s not whipping out a fire flower, but tossing the ice block back at the flurries. Luigi makes the obvious observation that they’re actually fighting ice with ice, while he and Toad help Mario give it a push. All three wind up on top of the block as it whizzes towards the flurries who just…stand there. In tight formation, so we can get a bowling pin joke. No wonder why Koopa always loses.

Looks like certain death awaits you if you go in the cave.

Lamenting the defeat of his flurries, Koopa races into a cave still dragging Santa behind him (Koopa must be absurdly strong considering how easily he yanks this obese man all around the frozen north). The good guys arrive at the mouth of the cave, but hesitate once there. Luigi seems to be afraid of the dark, but the Princess declares the whole world will be a dark place without Christmas! Toad chimes in with a reminder they need to save the presents or some shit, but really this thing is sending mixed messages at this point. It would seem, per the Princess, that there’s no Christmas without Santa. Since Santa is just a jolly fat guy who brings presents, it would also seem that the implication is there will be no Christmas without presents! Hah! Check-mate, Princess!

It’s worth pointing out that it’s only the bad guy who has festive, holiday, attire.

They go after Santa and slide through the cave, though not smoothly. They end up essentially just going through a tunnel and emerge back out on the tundra. Koopa Klaus is above them though with Santa and he’s ready to dump the fat man over a cliff. He also slips into an Edward G. Robinson impression for some reason, as he spells it out. He ends his evil monologue with his catchphrase of the episode, “Bah Hum-koop,” which he shouts over and over until the predictable occurs: he starts an avalanche.

Is the background ice or water? Eh, it’s just a kid’s show.

The horribly animated avalanche falls on Koopa and Santa. In order to save Santa, Mario relies on that tool he’s most famous for, a plumber’s snake! Yeah, not a power star or flower or even a Koopa shell, but a plumber’s snake. He uses it like a whip to retrieve Santa, while leaving Koopa Klaus. When he asks what he’s supposed to do, Mario just makes a diving gesture. Koopa refuses, but has no choice in the end, so he jumps into…the ice? The background looks like more frozen tundra, but the animators layer a splash effect on it and Koopa behaves like he’s in water, but it looks ridiculous. Koopa hauls himself out of the water and onto some ice to feel sorry for himself. He asks “What else could go wrong?” and is greeted by an angry polar bear. We now leave Koopa to die.

Koopa’s new friend.

Back at Santa’s work shop, the big guy is pretty happy about being rescued, but things look dire. Santa (Stocker) doesn’t see how he could possibly unfreeze the work shop in time for Christmas. Surprisingly, no one seems concerned about the elves or reindeer encased in ice. They should be pretty dead at this point. Toad doesn’t give a shit though since he has his snowboard. He races around like a show-off, while Santa cries.

That is one punchable face.

Toad the infinite moron, then asks “What’s wrong?” when Santa walks off to be sad. The Princess has to dumb it down for him, and then Toad gets to flip a switch in his stupid little brain. He hands over his snowboard to Santa and tells him to give it to someone for Christmas. Santa, in an extreme overreaction, embraces Toad and tells him he’s never seen anything quite like the gesture Toad just made. His exact words are, “In all my life, I’ve never seen anyone express the true spirit of Christmas quite like you did.” What an astoundingly stupid thing to have Santa say. The little mushroom donated a snowboard, not a kidney!

Toad using Santa’s beard to dry his tears feels way too clever for this show.

Santa starts crying, and then everything melts because of Christmas. The Princess and Santa spell it out for the kids at home, in case they couldn’t figure it out, that the spirit of Christmas has warmed Santa’s heart to the point where the ice is thawing. It’s dumb, and an easy out. The elves and reindeer even seem fine, and Santa is able to prep his sleigh for Christmas Eve.

Looks like they saved Christmas after all.

Santa is ready to depart, and once again gives all of the credit to Toad for saving Christmas. Never mind that the little brat did almost nothing to actually rescue him from Koopa Klaus. That was pretty much all Mario. He then declares he has a special present for the lot of them and invites them to ride with him tonight to deliver presents. Toad gets to sit beside Santa, while the other three get stuck in the back. Santa is running lean too since he only has four reindeer and apparently two elves. They take to the sky and Santa calls out “Mario Christmas to all and to all a good night!” and does a moon fly-by to close it out.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting the show to have an eight reindeer budget so I’m not even mad about it.

That’s how the Mario brothers saved Christmas. This is a profoundly stupid and cheap Christmas cartoon. I hate the Toad character as he’s annoying even when he isn’t acting like a child and he’s also kind of dumb looking, if I’m being honest. His arc is plainly obvious from the get-go and his selfishness at the beginning is just so over-the-top. Santa should just boot him out of the sleigh when they’re over the ocean.

The rest of the characters are fine, though none are particularly entertaining. Mario, who sounds like he was recorded over the phone or something, is the leader with all of the right ideas. Luigi is just there to be a sidekick and question Mario while the Princess is mostly along for the ride. She explains things, I guess, but in a cartoon lacking subtlety explanation is rarely needed. We don’t get any fun Mario power-ups in this one, and there’s a real lack of bad guys outside of Koopa Klaus. I did enjoy the Triclyde and birds with handlebar antlers, at least.

King Koopa, or Koopa Klaus, is the only redeeming part of the show. He’s over-the-top as well, but it works. He’s just an entertaining villain, even if he’s mostly inept, and the voice of the late Harvey Atkin is just so unique in this role. He and Stocker were pretty much the only voice actors that DiC would hang onto for the other Mario cartoons, as everyone else would eventually be replaced.

The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! is a relic of its era, a licensed cartoon designed to simply boost the profile of the main characters leading to sales of other merchandise. It’s not a good show, and this isn’t a good Christmas special. It is a widely available one though as Netflix currently has the streaming rights. It’s also available, cheaply, on DVD if you for some reason need to own this thing physically. You could also just stream it for free too, as it’s available on YouTube without the need for payment. Like I said, it’s not any good, but sometimes you just have to DO THE MARIO!

Swing your arms…

The Power-Ups of Super Mario Bros. – The Definitive Ranking!

Pay not attention to the mustachioed statue.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a video game post. In the spirit of the season, being Halloween, I decided to dive into…Mario power-ups? All right, hear me out. I’ve more or less exhausted The Misfits and everyone and their mother will have posts this month about horror themed movies, games, and TV shows. And what is a Mario power-up? It’s a costume! Sure, a costume with often magical properties and no real horror element, but a costume is a costume and not everyone gets dressed up as something spooky for Halloween.

Since the Mario franchise as we know it truly launched, power-ups have almost always been a major feature in the games that followed. The only outlier really is Super Mario Sunshine since the gameplay of that one focused on the user of a water pack. The other outlier is Super Mario Odyssey, but there’s a good reason there as Mario was gifted Cappy for that one which basically turns every enemy into a power-up of their own! A ranking of the various things Mario can turn into in that game is a ranking all its own, so I’m going to ignore that one. I’m also ignoring the power-ups removed from the main Super Mario Bros. franchise (like the RPGs) and the ones trapped in Super Mario Maker. I’m also ignoring the temporary accessory items Mario has been able to pick up, like the shoe or the blockhead thing in New Super Mario Bros. 2. I also excluded the intentional game-breaking power-ups like the Invincibility Leaf which gets offered to the player when they die too much. And lastly, I decided not to treat Yoshi as a power-up so he’s not included, nor all of the Yoshi-specific power-ups. What I’m left with was 34 power-ups, so since this is going to take awhile, we might as well get started. And we’re starting with the worst:

Tubular…

34. Power Balloon – The Power Balloon, or P Balloon, first appeared in Super Mario World and will forever be associated with the bonus level Tubular, the level most cite as the worst in the game (and one of the worst in general). It’s actually not that bad, and Nintendo has put far more annoying levels in its games since, but the P Balloon, which simply inflates Mario like a balloon for a short amount of time, is annoying to control. It’s not particularly enjoyable, and just the sight of it is anxiety-inducing. Sort of like an under water level in a Sonic the Hedgehog game since its effects are temporary and when it wares off there’s a good chance Mario is plummeting to an early death.

Even Mario would rather no bother with this one.

33. Spring Mushroom – This little power-up first showed up in Super Mario Galaxy, a game that unofficially brought the power-up back into style for Mario and oddly made them all mushroom-based. It, like the P Balloon, is ranked so low because actually getting the power-up is done out of necessity, not want. No one wants to control a spring-loaded Mario, just as no one wants him to control like a balloon. The Spring Mushroom sequences in Galaxy were, by far, my least favorite.

They’re no Ghostbusters, but they get the job done.

32. Light Box – The Light Box was brought into the universe via Super Mario 3D World and it serves one singular purpose: to thwart ghosts. And it’s good for that, but nothing else. It works, but it’s boring and honestly I almost didn’t include it.

At least he looks cute.

31. Frog Suit – The Frog Suit was one of the many power-ups found in the classic Super Mario Bros. 3. Getting it in World 3 was pretty exciting, until you actually used it. If underwater, the Frog Suit is great as it allows Mario and Luigi to swim faster and with more precision. On land though, it’s a nightmare and you’ll be searching for an enemy to knock you out of it. Maybe if Mario had been given a tongue attack or something it would have worked better.

The evolved form of Gravel Mario.

30. Rock Mushroom – Another Galaxy addition is the Rock Mushroom. It basically turns Mario into a Mario Golem that can roll around and smash stuff. It’s not particularly fun, but since Mario is nigh indestructible in this form it’s not as annoying to control as the Spring Mushroom.

Look at me! I’m a cloud!

29. Cloud Flower – Introduced in Galaxy 2, the Cloud Flower turns Mario into…Cloud Mario! This allows Mario to create cloud platforms to assist him in reaching new heights. It’s useful, just not particularly sexy. Unless you have a cloud fetish, then it’s very sexy.

All right, Bowser, now I’m-ah gonna fuck you up!

28. Canon Box – Mario has always lacked the fire power of Bowser and his minions, but the Canon Box evens those odds to a degree. It turns Mario’s head into a literal canon and he can blast anything in his way. It’s not particularly refined or cute, but it is pretty damn effective!

Sadly, not T-1000 Mario.

27. Metal Cap – The signature power-up of Super Mario 64. That game was a revelation when it came out, but one thing that it always lacked from the start was interesting power-ups. The Metal Cap turns Mario into Metal Mario, which is basically just good for letting him walk on the bottom of a sea floor without the need to swim. And swimming for the first time in 3D was quite the challenge so the Metal Cap was certainly welcomed, it’s just not particularly fun.

Mario’s got a nice set of cherries.

26. Double Cherry – In Super Mario 3D World, Mario gained the ability to split in two, or more, copies of himself. He’s always had the ability to gain extra lives, but never to live them simultaneously! It’s an interesting concept, but it’s less a power-up and more a method for puzzle solving or to get a star coin or something.

Admit it, you probably overlooked this one.

25. Life Mushroom/Life-Up Heart – A very useful power-up without really any “fun” component, the Life Mushroom in Galaxy just doubles Mario’s health. It’s something I’ll go out of my way to get when playing a level, but it doesn’t give Mario a fun ability or cool, new, look. It just makes him stronger.

Weee!

24. Penguin Suit – The Penguin Suit from New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the opposite of the Life Mushroom. It’s really fun and silly looking, but kind of a pain in the ass to maneuver in. It’s not as bad as the Frog Suit, and it gives Mario the ability to slide on his belly and to fire ice balls. It’s also the type of power-up that gets in the way and you may blame a death or two on this one before the level is over.

Angelic Mario.

23. Wing Cap – Mario had flown before, but the Wing Cap in Super Mario 64 was the first time he flew in 3D. And it was pretty cool to do so the first time, even though controlling Mario was a bit tricky and the level it’s available in feels more like a Pilot Wings demo than anything. It would have been a lot cooler if Nintendo could have integrated it into other levels like a more traditional power-up, but there was just no way to do it without breaking the game. I rank it as low as I do for that reason as it’s mainly just a diversion.

Red Star Mario reminds me of Red Son Superman, who was a communist. Is this Communist Mario?!

22. The Red Star – Basically the Wing Cap, but in Super Mario Galaxy. It drops the wings and just lets Mario fly like Superman. By Galaxy, controlling such a thing was far more refined and thus more fun, but like 64 it’s basically just a reward for players who stick with it and doesn’t feel like a true power-up.

He’s certainly owning this look.

21. The Blue Shell – Introduced in New Super Mario Bros., the Blue Shell is basically the Hammer Bros. Suit without the hammers. Instead, Mario can run and do a slide attack. It’s functional, doesn’t intrude on Mario’s basic controls, but also doesn’t impart much in the way of special abilities. It’s fine.

How small can he get?

20. Mini Mushroom – The Mini Mushroom was also introduced in New Super Mario Bros. and it felt like a longtime coming. We had the traditional Super Mushroom that makes Mario big, so why not have a small one that does the opposite? The Mini Mushroom makes Mario tiny and hard to hit while also seemingly boosting his running speed. He’s also light and floaty which makes him more challenging to control, but does let him run across water. It’s another power-up that has a very specific application usually in order to access secret areas. It’s fun to use though and adds a bit of challenge without making things too frustrating.

You best not get any sick ideas while invisible, Mario!

19. Vanish Cap – This one from Super Mario 64 renders Mario intangible. He can’t be hurt and can pass through certain things. Since it’s from 64 it has very specific applications, but it’s cool. It’s just not exciting to look at since it’s just regular Mario only he’s now transparent.

It’s a known fact that when you die your tongue increases in mass several times over.

18. Boo Mushroom – The Boo Mushroom lets Mario become that which he fears most: a ghost! He gets to float around and pass through fences and read a dead language reserved for ghosts, so it has a puzzle component to it. And it looks cool! What more could you want?

I’m-ah coming for you, Culken!

17. Bee Mushroom – The “big” power-up, I suppose, from Super Mario Galaxy turned Mario into an adorable honey bee. It grants temporary flight, the ability to walk on certain surfaces, and grip to others. It’s actually pretty fun and there’s definitely a rush of excitement when a Bee Mushroom is spotted in a level. The only thing that sucks is it’s from Galaxy, so once the level is done you can’t take it with you.

You can probably hear this image.

16. Super Star – The venerable Super Star, around since the beginning and a staple of 2D Mario gaming. It makes Mario invincible for a short amount of time and in some games augments his jump or running speed. Everyone loves a Super Star and it’s one of those power-ups you’ll run after when it pops out of a block, sometimes recklessly. And the best power-ups are the ones you don’t want to get away when they show.

Mario! Smash!

15. Mega Mushroom – Like the Super Star, the Mega Mushroom makes Mario invincible briefly, but only this time he grows to gargantuan proportions and can smash through pretty much anything. The only downside really is that once you’ve seen it and experienced it once a lot of the fun is removed since you literally just go right the whole time. And yet, if I see a Mega Mushroom pop out of a block I’m going all out to make sure I get that damn thing!

I don’t think I’d eat that…

14. Super Mushroom – The venerable Super Mushroom. What’s not to like? It turns Mario into Super Mario bestowing a precious extra hit point to Mario while often granting him an extra ability or two, like the drill jump in Super Mario World. It may be unsexy, but the Super Mushroom is undeniably useful and it has no negative side effects other than a larger hit box, but that’s hardly a trade-off since it makes Mario stronger.

I already made a testicles joke with the cherries, two would just be gratuitous.

13. Superball Flower – Super Mario Land was the first Mario experience on the Game Boy and it brought along the flower power-up. Only since the Game Boy lacked a color palette, Mario couldn’t easily be depicted tossing fireballs so Nintendo chose to go with Superballs! They do work a bit differently as they fire at an angle and bounce around. It’s the main power-up of Land and Super Mario Maker has given it a new lease on life.

And he was feeling good when just wearing the shell!

12. Boomerang Flower – Way back in 1988 we got the Hammer Bros. suit in Super Mario Bros. 3 and we had to wait until Super Mari 3D Land in 2011 to get the logical complement, the Boomerang Flower which grants Mario the Boomerang Suit. It’s the same thing, only Mario gets to toss a boomerang instead of a hammer. It’s pretty cool, but no hammer.

If this list were purely on aesthetics then this one would rank higher.

11. Ice Flower – Another one that took awhile, we’ve had the Fire Flower since the beginning, but the Ice Flower took it’s sweet time in making it to a game as it first appeared in Super Mario Galaxy. In that game, it was a temporary power-up like a Super Star, but it’s since become a permanent power-up in the New Super Mario Bros. series. It gives Mario the ability to toss ice balls which freeze enemies on contact turning them into blocks of ice which also have their uses. It’s not as good as old reliable, the Fire Flower, but it’s pretty fun to have ice powers and it doesn’t come with the limited movement of the Penguin Suit.

And this one would rank lower.

10. Super Acorn – One of the most recent power-ups, the Super Acorn was introduced in New Super Mario Bros. U and is basically the logical evolution of the Super Leaf. It grants Mario the Flying Squirrel Suit which allows him the ability to glide with a one-time height boost per flight to reach high places. He can also flutter slowly, but he descends quickly when compared with the Super Leaf. He can also cling to a wall when in this suit which has its uses. It’s a fun item to get ahold of, but also kind of terrifying as gliding is really tempting and blindly gliding over a level can end badly, especially if Mario loses his power mid-flight. It’s propensity for introducing trouble is why I don’t rank it higher.

More of these suits and powers should probably include a helmet.

9. Propeller Mushroom/Propeller Box – The flying item for New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the Propeller Mushroom which grants Mario the Propeller Suit. Basically, when wearing this Mario can do a double-jump that rockets him high into the air and allows for a slow descend. It’s a simple way to integrate a flying component into the game that’s not game-breaking, but it’s lack of an extra attack limits its use. The Propeller Box in the 3D games essentially functions as the same thing, only without the cool suit.

Like cats? Well, have I got a Mario game for you!

8. Super Bell – Introduced in Super Mario 3D World, the Super Bell lets Mario live out his dream – as a cat. It’s a simple power-up, but one that is always welcomed as it lets Mario run faster, climb walls, perform a dive attack, and gives him a claw attack as well. It’s awesome! And who doesn’t love Mario and his companions in an adorable cat costume?

Is this maybe too cute?

7. Carrot – The somewhat forgotten power-up of Super Mario Land 2 is the Carrot. Not Super Carrot, just Carrot, and it gives Mario…bunny ears? Yes, like the Super Leaf, it gives Mario the power to fly without making much sense, but who cares? Mario can fly! He flaps his new ears to clear large gaps. He can’t go up, but can travel horizontally in the air indefinitely and also slow his descent when falling. It is kind of game-breaking, like a lot of the flying abilities during this era, but undeniably fun to use and the signature power-up from that game.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Fire Mario is the best Fire Mario.

6. Fire Flower – Old reliable! The Fire Flower has been a mainstay and it’s never not useful. It lets Mario shoot fireballs at enemies and most of those enemies are not interested in taking a fireball to the face. It’s certainly been overshadowed over the years by flashier power-ups, but it still remains a hard power-up to pass-up when it shows itself in any given level.

Meanwhile, this look is a bit much…

5. Gold Flower – Everything that is good about the Fire Flower, only it also turns enemies (and a lot of other stuff) into coins and who doesn’t love money?! Sure, New Super Mario Bros. 2 probably went overboard with the whole coin focus, but the Gold Flower certainly fit in and it’s the Fire Flower, but better, so it’s ranked here.

Pure joy distilled into a single piece of Mario art.

4. Super Leaf – The Super Leaf gave Mario a raccoon tail and ears and changed the series forever. For the first time, Mario could fly! It was all anyone wanted to talk about when we first started getting a look at Super Mario Bros. 3. Since that game, the Super Leaf has resurfaced in a neutered form as it often just retains the ability to hover and tail-attack. That original one is still the best as the flying was easy to use and made exploring the levels a lot more interesting than they had been previously.

Mario’s most hug-able power-up.

3. Tanooki Suit/Statue Lead – It’s the Super Leaf, only it makes Mario both more adorable and more destructive! Mario goes full tanooki with the costume and never looked better giving him the same abilities as the Super Leaf. It also has the added ability to allow Mario to turn into a statue making him invulnerable to attack and able to smash stuff. It doesn’t get much better than that which is why it’s at number 3.

Mario! Hammers are for pounding nails, not throwing!

2. Hammer Suit – The most illusive power-up in Super Mario Bros. 3 is the game’s best. It gives Mario the ability to essentially be a Hammer Bro. His hard shell makes him impervious to fireballs when ducking and his hammers do massive damage. If you manage to hang onto the thing all the way through Bowser’s castle you’ll be rewarded with a really easy final battle. If you put it on though and then immediately lose it you’ll be left wishing that old game had a save feature and you could reload. The Hammer Suit is awesome, and if it only had a flight component it would be the ultimate Mario power-up.

All of those years he was calling himself Super Mario when he didn’t even have a cape!
  1. Feather – No power-up for Mario is as powerful as the simple Feather. It gives Mario a bright, yellow, cape and in a video game a cape can only mean one thing: flight. And unlike the Super Leaf, this cape can keep Mario airborne indefinitely once the user gets the hang of it making it the most game-breaking of all the power-ups. It’s probably the reason why power-ups like the Red Star are reserved for just certain areas in its games. And not only can Mario fly, he also gets a cape-attack which is incredibly useful throughout Super Mario World. Useful attack plus unlimited flight? Yeah, the Feather is the ultimate power-up.


Lego 71374 – Nintendo Entertainment System

There’s something almost cathartic about assembling a Lego set. It can be hot and sticky in my house in the middle of the summer, but if I’m fiddling with a Lego set I almost don’t even notice. Considering how unbearably hot and humid it’s been in the north east this summer, it’s a shame I don’t have more opportunities to mess around with a Lego set. Lego presents its own obstacles in that the sets are often pretty expensive and space-eaters. Even if I want something and can afford it, there’s the very real problem of what to do with it after the fact. As such, I try to just to stick to the Disney stuff, in particular anything modeled after an actual attraction at the park. Since finishing the Disneyland Train Station last year though, things have been quiet on that front, but Lego had something in the works I just couldn’t ignore.

It was earlier this year that Lego announced it had struck a licensing deal with Nintendo. This attracted my attention a bit, but I didn’t necessarily expect anything to come of it that would interest me. What I did expect were some Mario playsets, and Lego eventually showed off just that. It’s also not a straight Lego set with Mario themed mini figures, but a bit of an interactive thing where a brickhead-like Mario makes sounds and plays music depending on what blocks he comes in contact with. It’s different, and my son seems to have an interest in it, but it’s not for me. Then Lego went and unveiled something unexpected: the Nintendo Entertainment System.

A few years ago, the NES Classic proved there’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding the venerable old machine from 1985. Nintendo couldn’t even keep up with demand initially and people were scalping the 60 dollar item for triple the price for a short while. Because of that, I suppose it shouldn’t have shocked me when Lego unveiled this set which is a brick reconstruction of the NES, controller, Super Mario Bros. game pak, and an era appropriate TV to pair it with. And just a few short weeks later the set was launched on August 1st with an MSRP of $229.99. The 2,646 piece set quickly sold out at retail locations and the online stock has since sold out as well. Worry not if you missed out as Lego plans to continue making more and it’s a safe bet this one will be a popular item this Christmas.

Fearing a sell out, I rather insanely stayed up the night of July 31st just to make sure I got an order in at midnight. The set actually went up for sale a few minutes early and I had my order placed before midnight. This actually worked against me as there was supposed to be a free gift related to the Mario set, but I think that didn’t go live until midnight so my set arrived by itself. Not that it mattered that much as I only want the NES. It arrived at my door just a few days later and it was a bit of a long day with work before I could get to it.

The set arrived in a box larger than I expected. There’s an inner box that contains the first 7 bags of the set (which all relate to the NES itself) and two booklets: one for the console and one for the TV. There are only three stickers included which is fantastic as I loathe placing stickers on Lego sets. The only stickers are the labels for the game cartridge and a faux informational label for the rear of the TV. I decided to build the NES first and was able to complete it in one evening of roughly three hours of build time. Some of that was spent with my five-year-old son which probably slowed me down some, but it still felt rather breezy.

The construction of the NES is rather painless. You’re essentially just building a slightly irregular box so it shouldn’t be hard. The mechanism Lego has you construct for the game-loader is a bit intimidating to look at, but it’s actually fairly easy to install. Lego made use of a special spring-loaded piece to get it right and the end result is actually kind of amazing. It works just like the old console: you insert the game, push down, and it stays down. Push down again and the game pops back up for you to remove.

Lego took care to make the outer box look like the real deal. There’s audio and video hookups, a channel changing switch, as well as all of the buttons and cosmetic effects you would expect. There’s the ribbed area of the console’s surface which is an interesting part of the build as well as lots of smooth pieces for the top and sides. All of the logos and words are graphics printed on the piece so they look really sharp. The only thing Lego was unable to hide were the hinges on the front cover, but it’s hardly an eye sore. If anything looks a tad off it’s the front of that cover as it’s done with several pieces so there’s an abundance of seems. It probably could have been done in a cleaner manner, but it’s not as if you’re not supposed to know that this is a Lego creation. Lego also couldn’t perfectly replicate the irregular shape of the NES’s controller inputs, but they did a rather good job with it as-is.

The finished product is smaller than the real thing, but not by that much. I had the original NES, in terms of width, height, and depth as: 10.125″ x 3.5″ x 8″. The Lego version measures out as: 8.125″ x 3″ x 7″. The controller is more 1:1 though the Lego one is a touch thinner. It also isn’t a perfect rectangle as the sides and bottom don’t line up perfectly which is perplexing. I guess they didn’t want to engineer a slightly longer, flat, piece? I don’t know why they couldn’t use existing pieces to get it so that it didn’t have such a gap. It’s minor though, but something that I notice. There are also no working buttons on this thing. They look the part, but don’t function, which I expected but it would have been fun if the A and B buttons on the controller at least were able to be pressed.

The included game pak, or cartridge, is another thing you have to build. It’s a very quick build though as it’s quite thin and Lego didn’t feel a need to put a proper back on it, so it’s just the underside of the flat bricks used to craft it. It looks the part though and is undeniably cute in the hand. It’s also smaller than the real thing, and if you’re curious, no, an actual game won’t fit in the Lego NES. A traditional cartridge is: 4.75″ x 0.75″ x 5.25″. The Lego version is 3.75″ x 0.375″ x 4.125″. The stickers look great too and since they’re applied to a flat, black, piece it gives you some freedom in applying them. The smaller sticker even includes the Nintendo official seal of quality, an important touch.

So if you can’t tell, I’m quite pleased with how the NES and it’s components turned out. Since the old Control Deck, as it were called, came with two controllers I do wish this did as well. Since it’s not a functional gaming console though, I understand why it wasn’t exactly necessary to have two. What a Nintendo does need though is a television, because what good is a video game console without video?

Lego could have probably just done the console, and if it were to include a TV it could have just made a big, brick, box. Lego wasn’t content to do that though and wanted to actually simulate a Nintendo game, in this case Super Mario Bros. That’s how we ended up with this rather ambitious television included in this set. It contains more than half of the bricks in this set and is a longer build than the console. The TV is also modeled after the one that appeared in the original instruction manual for the NES, though I am unsure if it’s to scale or not. Regardless, it looks the part of an old TV and has some interesting functionality.

The TV is separated into various build phases. You first start with the base and the “guts” of the device before moving onto the rear and sides. What’s that is complete, it’s time to take care of the screen. See, Lego wasn’t content to just make an era-specific brick-television set to pair with your NES to form a nice display, rather it chose to make this system “playable.” In order to do that, you need to construct a fairly elaborate rotating mechanism with a picture on it all entirely out of Lego. The final product is essentially like those old racing or flying toys in which a picture rotates on a cylinder to simulate movement while the player has a controller or wand with a car or plane at the end of it to move around avoiding obstacles or just keeping the car on the road.

In order to do this, Lego basically has you build tank treads, and it’s the section of the build that is the most tedious. There’s a sequence of bags starting at 14 where you’re basically just making one small thing, but over over. The treads are a bag all by themselves as you link them together to make two long treads. You then need to build 15 joiners which are simple, but certainly do a number on your thumbs. You then need to build the plates to place over them which need to snap into place. They’re not all entirely the same as some need a couple of colored bricks affixed to the end which will work with the Lego Mario figure (sold separately).

Once you get through all of that (which comprises three bags, or steps), you’re finally ready to construct the image. Using mostly flat tiles, you build the scenery of Super Mario Bros. There’s lots of blue and brown tiles as well as some studs. You could conceivably ad-lib this part if you wanted to and create your own background, but it’s meant to be constructed in a specific way to work with the previously mentioned Mario. Lego is generous with the special pieces like the goomba, turtle shell, etc. as they’re small, flat, pieces that could be easily lost. You have an extra of each. The graphics printed on them look great, though the mushroom and goomba shape are a little off since they use a tiny “pie slice” piece. They’re still easily recognizable and are probably my son’s favorite part of the set. This was also a great part to have him help me with since it’s basically just laying tiles.

Once the scenery is constructed it has to be wrapped around a little “cart” the set has you construct which then gets placed inside the TV. It’s a touch challenging to get the scene to hook to itself as there isn’t a ton of give, but it wasn’t as bad as I though it might be. Inserting the finished diorama into the TV was also exceedingly simple even though there’s a lot going on. The only part I didn’t like was the little cap Lego has you build to put on top of it as it’s not engineered as well as it could be. There’s a little gap in the piece itself because of the bricks chosen and when snapping this into place it can come undone. This piece isn’t crucial, and after a few tries I just let it be even though I’m pretty sure one side wasn’t snapped together as well as it should be. It’s basically just a spacer between the mechanism and the top of the TV. Mario is added before the next step and he’s a cute little tile all on his own screen-printed to resemble Super Mario from the original game. He’s affixed to a transparent rod (the same one that came with the Ghostbusters Fire House for the flying ghosts) with a spherical, bubble-like piece behind Mario to guide him over the obstacles.

After that is done, the only thing left was to assemble the front of the TV and the bottom leg supports. This was an enjoyable build that comes together pretty fast. Lego was creative with the television dial by using a gear that just rubs a soft, plastic, green, rod to create a clicking sound when the dial is turned. My kids were quite amused by that and even more amused that this is how a TV was once operated. There are more tiles with graphics printed on them for things like volume control and even a UHF toggle. The last step is to create the TV stand which is rather simple. The finished product rests on top of this with some bricks placed on the bottom of the set used as guides so while it doesn’t snap in place, it fits into a track of sorts so it’s not wobbly.

With the set complete, you’re free to experience what it offers. Turning the crank makes the scenery move and Mario will just slide over it. This means he has only one path and you don’t want to try and force him to go higher than intended or else you risk jamming the mechanism. My son did this as he wanted Mario to stomp more goombas and got it stuck. I had to pop Mario off and some of the other pieces to get it going again. I didn’t have to resort to this, but in hindsight it’s nice Lego includes extra tiles for goombas, turtle shells, etc. in the event one were to pop off and fall into the TV it could just be replaced rather than disassembled to dig out one little tile. It works as advertised though and my kids though it was pretty fun.

If you happen to have one laying around, the Mario figure adds to the fun of the set, though he’s also a bit of an eyesore up there.

Of course, you may be aware that this set contains an additional function. If you purchase the new Super Mario Starter Course set from Lego it comes with a Mario brickhead-like figurine. This figure has some electronics built into it that causes it to change facial expression and also output sound. If you happen to have this guy you can place him on a special tile on top of the television to start him up, then move him to the edge of the screen. When you crank the handle, the colored tiles on the edge of the track alert the Mario figure to what’s happened on the “screen” and he’s supposed to play the proper sound. If Mario stomps an enemy it should make that “pop” sound or if he hits a question mark block that unmistakable sound of a mushroom rising up will play. I went ahead and purchased the set for my son, as it’s more of a toy than a display set. It works as advertised, though I had to update the firmware on the Mario figure via the special app Lego launched specifically for the Mario brand. It’s a neat feature, but not worth $60 for adults who just want to experience the music from the game with this set. The Mario figurine atop the TV doesn’t really complement the aesthetic this set is going for, and the Starter Course is a play set as opposed to a display piece by itself so there’s nothing to gain from owning both aside from getting sound effects into this set. As a result, I cannot recommend it. Though if you want it for your kid, mine seems to love it, so there’s that.

Behold! The Tower of NES! Top to Bottom: Hallmark NES, NES Classic, Lego NES, Original NES.

If you lack the Lego Mario figurine, one substitution for him is the 2020 Hallmark NES ornament which plays sounds from the game. My kids didn’t notice the sounds didn’t sync with the TV and didn’t care as one would turn the handle and the other would hold the Lego NES controller and pretend to play. The console doesn’t physically hook-up to the television, you’re just supposed to place it nearby to complete the look. And this works fine. If the TV didn’t have the image built onto it you could probably fool someone from a distance as Lego really nailed that old school look of a television. And the NES is also quite convincing, especially to people who haven’t looked at a proper console in 30 years.

I am quite tickled by how this set turned out. It was a really fun build, even with the tedious portions of the TV, and was rather frustration-free at that. I love the look and functionality of both the TV and NES. When I first saw this set, and how much it cost, I was a bit grumpy they included the TV as a lone NES would have been much cheaper, I’d wager. However, now that I have it built I’m a little torn on what part is my favorite. The TV is so well crafted and so fun to play with that I can’t imagine the set without it. I’m even curious if Lego will do more with this design. While I have little desire at the moment to build another track, I’d probably have to consider it if Lego released additional games for this thing. Side-scrolling Zelda, or maybe Lego would challenge itself with a vertical scroller? And then there’s the Mario sequels or Duck Hunt with Zapper. I’m not expecting any of that, but it also wouldn’t shock me to see it happen. By itself, this set is a blast for nostalgia junkies like myself. If you can get your hands on it (it’s currently sold out, but it will be back) I wholeheartedly recommend picking it up.


The Game Boy Micro

img_1501I guess this is a great time for me to dust off some of my less common pieces of video game paraphernalia. Yesterday I talked about Popful Mail which I played on a Sega CDX, and today it’s the Game Boy Micro. My timing is also pretty good as the original Game Boy just turned 31 on April 21, 2020 which is still hard to believe. I consider myself a collector of various things, but one thing I’m not really a collector of is video games. I’m certainly a compiler as after years of regrettable trade-ins at GameStop when I was a poor college student I’ve basically vowed to never part with a game again unless I know I’ll never come to regret it. As a result, I have a lot of games hanging around my house with the vast majority coming from the 2000s. I have some older, classics, but not a ton. And some games I have could be considered rare or hard to find, but I have them because I wanted them at the time. I’ve never really bought a video game for the purpose of collecting. The closest I suppose I came to that was buying the collector’s edition of Arkham Asylum which came in a gigantic bat-shaped box. That thing is so big that I don’t even know what to do with it. It just sits in a closet.

I purchased a Game Boy Micro over ten years ago and at the time I bought it simply because I wanted to play some Game Boy Advance software on-the-go. I had traded in my original Game Boy Advance for a Game Boy Advance SP, which I in turn traded in for a Nintendo DS, that was then traded in for a Nintend DSi. That last trade-in was important because I lost the ability to play GBA software. Years later, I wanted to come back and rediscover the GBA. That handheld mostly existed for me during my college years and I really didn’t devote much of my time to it. I mostly played home consoles instead or busied myself with other distractions. As a working man though I had ample time to play portables during my commute to and from work so the time was right.

The Game Boy Micro is Nintendo’s third take on the Game Boy Advance. The original version had a horizontal layout similar to Sega’s Game Gear, but it ran on double A batteries and lacked any sort of backlight. It was still a great little system, just a flawed one. The SP addressed both issues while also reverting back to the traditional, more vertical, layout of the Game Boy but with the addition of a hinge in the center so the screen could fold down onto the unit. It was great to have a front-light and a rechargeable battery, though the choice to return to the old format was odd as the system was quite cramped. The shoulder buttons were tiny, little, nubs and I could never play my SP for much longer than 45 minutes.

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Nintendo mandates that all reviews of the Micro include a shot of it sitting in the reviewer’s hand.

When Nintendo announced the Nintendo DS in 2005, it was insistent that it was not the end of the Game Boy and as proof it offered up the Game Boy Micro. The Micro, as the name implies, was the smallest Game Boy yet. It’s roughly 2″ x 4″ with a thickness of less than an inch. It featured a backlit screen and rechargeable battery. The horizontal layout also had the added perk of making the system resemble a classic Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom controller only with a screen in the center. The LCD screen is even tinier at roughly 1.69″ x 1.89″ making this perhaps the first Game Boy that truly could fit comfortably in your pocket. It’s so small that one has to wonder just how much smaller it could have been had it not needed to accommodate the comparably bulky GBA cartridges and instead had something similar to a DS or Switch card.

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Unfortunately, I do not have a Famicom controller for comparison so the classic NES controller will have to do.

When the Micro was first announced I though it looked kind of neat, but I wasn’t feeling compelled to ditch my SP for it. Plus if I was going to upgrade I would have just gone with a DS which was backwards compatible with the GBA. And since the Micro no longer supported legacy Game Boy software, it was placed in an odd spot where it basically only targeted those who had yet to get a GBA or Nintendo enthusiasts that would buy everything. The only other defining feature it had was the ability to swap out the faceplate for other ones. Perhaps Nintendo conceived of a vast third party network of custom faceplates in addition to its own, but from the start the Micro was never positioned very well.

I basically decided to get a Micro over another model of the GBA for the novelty of it. I did like the idea of a truly portable gaming device, but I also thought the system was just plain cute. And when I settled on one to buy, I even spent a little extra to get the special Famicom edition (released in December 2005) which was colored to mimic a Famicom controller. It came in a box emblazoned with classic Super Mario pixel art and the only drawback to going this route (aside from the added cost, which at the time was actually somewhat minimal) was it didn’t come with a tool to remove the faceplate as Nintendo didn’t think anyone would want to remove the Famicom faceplate. In fact, the faceplate on this model is supposedly non-removable, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not that hard to get off for someone who is determined to do so.

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The Micro in front of a 3DS which is in front of a Sony PSP.

When I received my Micro I did play it quite a bit. I picked up Metroid Fusion, a game I had overlooked when first released, and also grabbed the Super Mario Bros. 3 port to go along with the other GBA software I still had. Playing these games on the Micro, I was taken by how quickly I got used to the small screen. It’s a bit shocking when first powered up to see just how small it is, but once absorbed in gameplay it basically goes away. The screen is said to be much better than the previous GBA screens, though it’s still not as vibrant as modern handhelds. Helping it is the mostly sprite-based art of GBA games with the small screen size reducing noticeable pixilation. The light is strong and can be adjusted manually as well, and I found the battery would last around five hours which was basically enough to get me through a week of commuting.

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Here’s the Micro beside big brother, the 3DS.

Obviously, a system this small does have some drawbacks. The Micro is so small that it’s arguably too small. I mentioned earlier I found the SP to be a bit tight and this unit isn’t much better. I find the layout minimizes the cramping issue slightly, but it gets rough when playing games that rely on the shoulder buttons. Metroid Fusion became particularly challenging after a half hour as the shoulder buttons are used in that game to angle Samus’ blaster. It’s not as easy to play as it probably would be if it were on the Super Nintendo or being played via the Gamecube’s GBA Player, but it was still an enjoyable experience. I beat the game, and would go on to play Metroid:  Zero Mission as well so it’s not like the Micro prevented me from enjoying Metroid. The only other game I ever had issue with was Final Fantasy VI, specifically performing some of Sabin’s moves as the small d-pad and hand fatigue might dissuade you from unleashing the dreaded Bum Rush attack! Games like A Link to the Past or Super Mario Bros. are comparatively simple, though some hand fatigue will still set in after lengthy sessions. Super Mario Bros. even alleviates some hand-cramping by allowing the R button to function as a second B button which is nice for running, though it takes getting used to if you’ve been playing Mario since the 80s and are accustomed holding B all of the time.

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It’s tiny, but it plays just fine.

The system itself has a rather nice feel to it. The stereo speakers aren’t going to wow you, as they didn’t on any other version of the GBA, but the overall weight feels good. The system is quite glossy making it actually far more attractive looking than a plastic Famicom controller. The format does mean there’s no way to protect the screen, but the system did come with a simple cloth carrying case which has always done the job for me. I wouldn’t recommend tossing it into a kid’s backpack or something, but slip that thing on and drop it in a pocket and you should manage just fine. It has a standard headphone jack, and since it’s quite old at this point it obviously lacks any sort of wireless hookup, but considering the Switch shunned Blue Tooth it probably wouldn’t feature that even if it were re-released today.

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I bought this “new,” but as you can see the box had a rough time getting to me.

If I were to sum up the Game Boy Micro in one word it would be “cute.” It’s meant to be a physically appealing gaming device even more so than a functional one. It doesn’t punt on functionality though and it’s a totally viable way to experience the Game Boy Advance library.  When I bought mine roughly a decade ago it was comparable in price to the Game Boy Advance SP with maybe 20 dollars or so separating the two. Since then it’s become more expensive and standard versions of the unit in clearly used condition now command more money than I paid for my limited edition version. As a result, I wouldn’t really recommend anyone buy a Micro if they’re simply looking to experience the GBA library of games. The SP is much more reasonable, or even an older DS. If you don’t mind spending the money though and you think the Micro is charming in pictures then you’ll probably be happy with your purchase. It’s a fun little device that will probably start a conversation if you pull it out in public and as the last official Game Boy it certainly holds a special place in the hearts of many Nintendo fans.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989 Arcade)

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Faithful to the cartoon in every way except the cabinet art. It has since become charming on its own.

What began as a joke between aspiring comic book creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, eventually morphed into a multi-media juggernaut bestowing wealth and status upon the two. Along the way though, few predicted such big things out of a property titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The books sold well, but they were independently produced and in small numbers limiting how much money could be earned. Plus they were pretty violent and would never be considered suitable for a general audience. Eastman and Laird believed in it though, they just needed to convince those with the means to catapult their franchise to believe in it. Toy companies passed though, but eventually doll maker Playmates, needing to add a “boy’s toy” to its portfolio decided to take a chance. In order to help market the toys though, they needed something more suitable than the black and white, ultra-violent, comics that existed and a cartoon was born.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was conceived basically as a means of promotion. A direct-to-syndication order was out of the question, and even a full season was apparently deemed too extravagant. Instead, a five episode mini-series was produced for air in 1987. The confidence in the property was still too low to even warrant a more traditional half-season order of 13 episodes. Five episodes was all it took though, and kids were hooked pretty quickly causing them to flock to stores and leave bare the TMNT section of the action figures aisle. A second season would be ordered, and apparently confidence was still a bit tepid as that was only 13 episodes. It wasn’t until the third season, which premiered in 1989, that the property received a direct-to-syndication massive order of episodes.

Because of the wavering, Turtle-mania basically had to wait until 1989 to really flourish. That’s when all of the merchandise started to arrive now that it was a proven hit. The first movie would arrive the following year, with the second close behind in 1991. 1989 was also the first year when video games started to arrive, and the no doubt biggest video game release of the year for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the arcade game of the same name.

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The Turtles made their arcade debut in 1989.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game gave fans a chance to basically play through an episode of the show. It was as true to the cartoon as any game would get and even featured voice talent from the show. The very first stage has Splinter sending the Turtles into a burning building to rescue April O’Neil and culminates in a showdown with Rocksteady and ends with Shredder making an appearance. The game throws a seemingly endless supply of Foot Soldiers at the Turtles and brings in more characters from the show such as Baxter Stockman (in human form), Bebop, Krang, among others and ends with a showdown against Shredder himself.

The game was created by Konami, who was awarded the license for all of the video games for this era. At this stage, Double Dragon had taken arcades by storm ushering in the era of the Beat-Em-Up genre of games. This genre, in which one or more players controlled a character who fended off wave after wave of enemies, became the preferred dumping ground for licensed software. Konami was arguably the leader in this development as it looked to the genre to support not just the Turtles, but also The Simpsons and X-Men. Konami’s take on the genre was far simpler when compared with rival Capcom or Sega. Rather than introduce complicated maneuvers to the action, Konami focused mostly on performance and presentation making sure their game resembled the source material while remaining accessible.

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Battling Bebop and Rocksteady with all four Turtles at the same time was something few thought was possible at the time.

Even by Konami standards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fairly simple gameplay experience. Players control one of the four Turtles with each one being mapped to a specific joystick on the four-player version of the arcade cabinet (the less popular two-player edition allowed players to select a character). Michelangelo was oddly assigned the color yellow instead of orange, a mistake Konami would double-down on with the sequel, Turtles in Time. Each Turtle could perform just two actions:  jump and attack. Players could combine them for a jump attack, but special super moves were years away. Players simply walked right for the most part and took down whatever came their way. A skateboarding level was tossed in to mix things up, though that just made the level auto-scroll instead of the usual deliberate pace. Still, little tricks like that work wonders on kids and most cited the skateboarding level as the highlight of the gameplay experience. Stages also introduced multi-level layouts and there were some interactive elements in the stages too. The only power-up was a pizza to restore health, a logical decision.

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The skateboarding level was just as mindless as the others, if not more so, but damn was it cool!

The music and visuals were where Konami really distinguished itself. The gameplay may be shallow, but there was enough glitz to sort of hide that. The Turtles looked and moved great and the boss characters were often bigger and a touch more elaborate. It felt like a real technological marvel to battle Rocksteady at the end of stage 1 followed by Bebop in the next stage, only to later take on both of them at the same time! The game was also murder on quarters as it was primarily designed to extract as much money as possible out of kids (or more appropriately, parents) and the game was pretty long to boot. Enemies are not staggered easily, or at all, forcing the players to either be deliberate or just charge in. The game is noticeably easier with 4 players, especially for the final boss who splits into three enemies. My most vivid memory of the game is playing it at a cousin’s birthday party at a roller-skating rink (yeah, dated). We made it to the Technodrome and were in the midst of battling Krang, the penultimate confrontation before Shredder arrives, when a kid who had been hanging around watching the whole time accidentally stepped on the power chord ending the game. My cousin, the birthday boy, was apoplectic while my aunt was probably relieved that she no longer had to feed us quarters. I was disappointed as I think it was the first time I even saw that much of the game, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid who accidentally stepped on the thing.

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The NES port was woefully inferior, but it gave us Tora!

As was the case with any popular arcade game, Konami moved to release the title to home consoles. Since it arrived after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), it had to be re-titled as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Arcade Game. It was a severe downgrade as the sprites all had to be redone with less detail and fewer colors. The Turtles were just green and whatever color their mask was, while the boss characters often were limited to two or three colors as well. Konami tried to make up for this by adding additional stages, but you can’t put lipstick on a pig. It was also a lot easier so the game was actually beatable without a ton of quarters, but it was an immensely inferior experience.

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The Arcade1Up release bundles the game with its sequel, but it’ll cost ya. Plus the smaller scale makes playing as Leo and Raph more than a little awkward.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a huge thrill for arcade-goers and fans of the cartoon in 1989. It had the look, the sounds, and the swagger to get attention and mostly satisfy. In 2020, the nostalgia does make up for the diminished returns, but only so much. This is a simple and depth-free gameplay experience so it’s really only worth playing for the experience of seeing everything, before it runs out of steam. It makes it hard to recommend as an arcade cabinet for one’s home, whether you’re talking about buying an old cabinet or investing in Arcade1Up’s emulation machine as you’re not only devoting a considerable sum of money towards such a thing, but also the space it will occupy in your home or place of business. The NES port holds up even worse, and while I considered it a passable experience as a kid, I think I’d rather play any of the other TMNT NES games over it. The time to get one has mostly passed on it as in the late 90s one could have acquired a cabinet in decent shape for a reasonable sum as the nostalgia wasn’t quite there yet to drive up the price. Still, there are other ways to experience it and those might be worth a look for individuals wanting to take a stroll down memory lane or introduce a kid to the game. If you’re in the right headspace, you can have a bit of fun with this one, just don’t expect the fun to last very long.


Hot Wheels Mario Kart Circuit and Other Sets

mk_circuit_boxToy reviews are not uncommon on this blog, but when they take place they’re almost always about an action figure that I bought for myself. This post is the rare toy post that’s not about one of my toys, but about a toy that belongs to my son. That’s because this Christmas Santa brought my boy a whole bunch of Mario Kart branded Hot Wheels. Given that Mario appeals to me and the Mario Kart series of video games is one of the most popular in the world, it felt like a review was a worthy endeavor for this blog.

My son has mostly been in and out of Hot Wheels since he turned 2. My dad, who tried his best to make me a gearhead, has probably been responsible for the majority of the Hot Wheels my kid has received over the years. He drifted away though with his interests going in different directions, but the Mario Kart set seemed to catch his eye when it came time to make out a list for Santa this past year. This surprised me as I had seen this set over the summer and somewhat tried to get my son interested in it, but he paid it no mind. The main track looked interesting, and the Mario Kart racers looked great. He has some interest in Mario as it is, but the games still frustrate him given that he’s only four. I thought maybe it just wasn’t the right time, but things obviously changed. And since the only other item he was insistent upon receiving as a gift this year was a cheap little game called Dragon Snacks, Santa delivered when it came to Mario Kart.

mk_circuitUnder the tree on Christmas morning was the main racetrack, the Mario Kart Circuit. It’s an oval design of two tracks for simultaneous racing. There’s a launcher to start and then motorized boosters before the second of two long curves. Two additional sets were also present, one based on avoiding a large piranha plant and a second where the obstacle is a massive thwomp enemy. Also joining the crew was nearly every single-carded racer including the likes of Peach, Bowser, and everyone’s favorite, Waluigi.

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Blue should always win.

Leading up to Christmas I had read mixed things about this set. Some YouTube videos were watched, and I saw enough to convince me that my kid would probably enjoy it. We were able to convince him to give up his seldom used Paw Patrol toys freeing up considerable space in the house for these new toys. I assembled the sets and while the main track looks intimidating, I found it rather easy to setup. Four D batteries are required to power the boosters and I don’t know when I last had something that required D batteries before this thing. Stickers are needed to dress the set up and they suck as usual, but at least there aren’t a ton of them. The secondary sets are even simpler as they don’t require batteries. The piranha plant was a little tricky to assemble, but it went together fine. That set just uses gravity to work alongside a wind-up function while the thwomp set has an elastic-powered launcher.

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The set includes a goomba. He doesn’t do anything, but hey, it’s a goomba!

The main track, Mario Circuit, shares a name with a track from the actual games, but it doesn’t really resemble anything aside from the fact that it’s a basic oval design. There’s a goomba in one place and Toad’s house is inside the track and that’s mostly it as far as the big attractions go. The track itself consists of four long curve track pieces connected by straight pieces. There’s a starting gate which features a lap counter function via the two flags protruding from it. You can even “lock” the counter so that when one racer completes all of its laps the opposing side locks forcing a crash. Two launchers kick things off and getting the cars to fire off properly requires more finesse than power. My kids find it hard to produce enough force, but if I try to hit it with what I’d consider is hard force the cars go flying off the track. I found it easy to get a feel for it, but the different sized cars present a challenge (more on that later). My kids choose to ignore the launcher and just feed them into the motorized portion and they seem content with that. While the cars are in motion and racing, the spectators can utilize the turtle shell buttons to try and bump their opponent off of the track. It’s surprisingly challenging, but plenty doable, and helps extend a race.

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Extra parking for all of your racers!

When my son found this under the tree, he started playing with it almost immediately. We had a lot of fun, until one of the long curves started to fail. I soon noticed that the groove under the track had begun to split. Soon enough, the piece wouldn’t even stay connected so after only a few minutes of play the two-track circuit was now a one-track circuit. To his credit, my son didn’t seem to let it bother him and I quickly fired off an email to Mattel. I received a response on the 27th, and had a replacement free of charge on the 30th. It was disappointing the track broke so quickly, but at least Mattel rectified the problem in short order.

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Racers can even hide in the turret.

The track contains room to store other racers, which is great because we have a lot. Coming with the set was Mario and Yoshi in standard karts. The thwomp track came with Luigi in a standard kart, and the plant with a second green Yoshi, but this time in the Mach 8 kart. I appreciate the new kart for Yoshi, but why did he have to be green again when there are so many other colors of Yoshi? The single carded vehicles include Peach in a standard kart, Toad in the Sneeker, Bowser in the Bad Wagon, Waluigi in the same Bad Wagon, Wario in standard kart, Koopa Troopa in the Circuit Special, and Blue Yoshi in a standard kart. Also available is a Tanooki Mario and Rosalina. There’s also a four-pack that features a Black Yoshi and there’s supposed to be another track with Donkey Kong. I’m sure there will be more to come as well.

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Toad even gets his own parking spot behind his house.

All of the cars seem to work to some degree on the Mario Circuit track. The characters in standard karts seem to fare the best, with Toad and the Mach 8 vehicle working just a little worse. With standard carts, I had no trouble getting vehicles to hum around the track with little interruption. The heavier racers, like Bowser especially, are a tad trickier to get a successful launch out of. For whatever reason, the inside track in particular was a challenge and sometimes I’d just give up and start them off in the booster area. Koopa Troopa works all right in his elongated vehicle, but he’s practically unusable in the smaller sets as his vehicle gets hung-up on the turnarounds. Even though they don’t all work as well as each other, the vehicles are still worth having because they look great. The only one I’m not as into is Toad and that’s because Mattel didn’t paint his steering column and wheel leaving it flesh-colored, which just looks weird. And since the dimensions on these karts are essentially the same as other Hot Wheels, they should be usable in other sets.

The smaller sets are far less impressive than the main track. Of the two, the piranha plant one works the best. You simply wind-up the plant and watch him slowly spin and dive at the track in an effort to consume a racer. The cars are gravity fed, so you just wait for an opening and let them go. It’s very easy to get a racer past the obstacle, but my son seems to like it. The thwomp track is less enjoyable. You pull back on the golden mushroom and select from three different release points, with really only the first one being usable. When the racer is fired it hits a little flapper which causes the thwomp to fall at random. Sometimes they get by, and sometimes they don’t – it’s all predicated by chance.

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Mattel would have you believe incorporating more pieces is the ultimate goal, but that is not the case.

The appeal of the smaller sets on their own is minimal, but the real draw is that the plant and thwomp can be incorporated into the Mario Circuit track set. Mattel’s instructional images put the thwomp just after the starting launcher and the plant just before the booster piece, while some promotional images (above) feature a different, but still long, layout. When added it certainly gives the track more personality, as my main complaint with it in its base form is that it needs a touch more Mario in terms of its visuals. Unfortunately, that’s really all they add to the track. Incorporating the two of them means adding considerable length to the circuit, and the boosters just don’t provide enough power for a longer track. The standard cart characters can basically only compete a lap or two before they just fall off, while the heavier racers can’t even pull that off. It’s really not even usable in this form, which is a shame since it’s a big piece of the appeal of the set.

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The preferred layout in my house.

The good news is, you can still find other ways to make this track work. Finding the wind-up feature of the plant a bit too annoying to use with the main track, my son and I opted to simply remove it. He likes that small set on its own, so he can play with it in that fashion. We kept the thwomp, but moved it to where the plant was. This meant we had to remove a corresponding piece of track to make it fit, but the end result is we added a fun obstacle with visual flair while keeping the track still usable. It worked well when tested on a hardwood floor, though once I moved the set to my son’s room and placed it on a thin foam mat (which is on a hardwood floor) the performance dipped. That could be a result of the playing surface, or the batteries may be weakening as the cars aren’t firing from the booster with the same velocity and after a few laps some are falling on the long curve immediately after it. I hope this thing isn’t going to suck batteries that fast as it’s barely been a week.

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New to retail in January 2020 is the Light version of the track.

Overall I do mostly like the main Mario Circuit track. The other two I could take or leave. I like that the track attempts to make it a competitive race with a little chaos tossed in, and it has lots of space for other cars to be parked. There are supposed to be more sets released as well. I’ve seen images for a Mario Circuit Light which is the same track, but smaller. It has launchers with warp pipe adornments which I like, but not motorized boosters which I do not like. The listings at Target’s website reference a Chain Chomp Challenge set as well, but I have not seen any images for it. These things seem to sell well, so I assume it’s still coming. I do have concerns with the performance long-term. I had one track piece break and I’ll give Mattel the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s an isolated instance, but I’m concerned it could happen again. And if my batteries are already weakening that could be a problem. If I feel the need to, I’ll return to this review and update it accordingly. For now, I’ll continue playing with my son as I keep an eye out for new racers showing up at retail.

As a final note, these sets appear to be exclusive to Target for the time being, though it looks like Amazon may now be selling them as well. The Light version of the track might not be exclusive to anyone though and a four-pack of vehicles is coming to retail soon. My assumption is this brand will expand to other retailers in time, but it’s just that – an assumption. The small sets will run you around $19.99 while the larger track retails for $79.99. I have seen it on sale numerous times though for $69.99 so you probably don’t need to spend more than that if you wish to take the jump. Individual cars are $4.99.


Dec. 23 – Missing in Action Christmas Specials

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The closest the original DuckTales got to Christmas was this TV spot.

When you do an annual advent calendar-styled countdown of Christmas programming, you start to realize the brands you can rely on and what you cannot. It can be a challenge to find 25 worthy topics, so in order to prevent a time crunch every fall I keep a list of specials I can source from. Throughout the year if I stumble across one I’ll add it to the list. Sometimes I’ll think I’ve found something only to find out it was a misleading title such as the episode “It’s a Thunderful Life” of the not well-remembered The Terrible Thunder Lizards program. And then there are times when I’ll find a special and I’ll view it, only to find there’s nothing to talk about. It’s not good, nor is it really bad, it’s just bland and forgettable.

Inevitably, I’ll take a look at my list at various times throughout the year and I’ll be surprised at an absence. I’ll then seek out the special I think I’m looking for only to be reminded that, “Oh yeah, that show never had a Christmas episode.” One of my top offenders each year was DuckTales. The original run for that show ran for over 100 episodes and never broached the subject of Christmas, even though Scrooge McDuck debuted in a Christmas comic book! Disney was new to television with that series and also new to syndication. Television stations typically don’t like syndicated programs to feature seasonal episodes since they don’t want to have to worry about when the episode airs. Who wants to see a Christmas episode in May? It’s an overblown issue though, which is probably why many syndicated shows would toss that aside and go with whatever stories they wanted to tell. The new version of DuckTales rectified this problem, as we saw way back on December first, which is why I’ve decided not to include the 87 version in this post.

In the spirit of this phenomenon, as it were, I want to highlight the cartoons that decided against doing a Christmas episode. These are the shows I’m most surprised by, and some of them have tripped me up more than once. I’ve looked through the episode list for these programs repeatedly looking for key words like Santa, Christmas, presents, or even snow. Alas, I guess when it came to Christmas and these shows, it just wasn’t meant to be.

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Despite their numerous rescues, the Rescue Rangers never saved Christmas.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

Hot on the heels of DuckTales came Chip ‘n Dale:  Rescue Rangers. This show took the comedic duo who harassed Donald Duck and Pluto on numerous occasions and gave them their own show where they solved crimes a d helped those in need – quite a turn for the former mischief makers. They were paired with some newcomers in the inventor mouse Gadget and the cheese-obsessed Monterey Jack. Zipper the fly completed the group and they were often tasked with solving crimes or rescuing someone. The show was another direct-to-syndication affair with a 65 episode order that premiered in the fall of 1989. And like DuckTales, there was no Christmas episode for these adventurers even though one practically would have wrote itself. The diminutive heroes often found themselves helping kids, so helping a kid get on Santa’s good side could have been a plot. Or having the Rescue Rangers just plain save Christmas from a Grinch-like villain would have worked fine. Seeing the Rangers ride around in Santa’s sleigh would have been a great and festive way to end an episode. Pretty much all of the Disney Afternoon programs that followed would get a Christmas special. The only one off the top of my head I think did not is Gargoyles. I also don’t think many of the shows based on film properties (e.g. – Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Timon and Pumba) had Christmas episodes either. Alas, we’ll just have to make due with the classic Disney shorts Toy Tinkers and Pluto’s Christmas Tree if we want to see the chipmunks in action around the holidays.

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There is a ton of TMNT Christmas merch out there, but surprisingly no television special to go with it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a marketing bonanza in the late 80s and into the early 90s. The show basically existed because Playmates needed it to in order to sell toys, which is how many cartoons from that era came about. And it was a great vehicle to do so as the Turtles often had new vehicles and inventions to make use of and there was always a new mutant to battle who could quickly become an action figure. That merchandizing tie-in aspect of the show makes it a bit of a surprise it didn’t bring along Christmas, the time of year when more toys are sold than at any other point. Playmates could have been handed holiday versions of the Turtles and other characters in which they’re wearing festive sweaters or are even decked out like Santa and his elves. There could have been a mutated reindeer friend for the Turtles, maybe one with a radioactive, glowing, red, nose! A sleigh that is rocket-propelled and drops bombs or a gnarly snowboard for Mikey to hit the slopes with. Plus, there was a Christmas story all ready to go in the comics in the form of the Michaelangelo one-shot issue from Mirage in which Mikey busts up an illegal toy-smuggling ring. That episode would be adapted for the 2003 cartoon and titled “The Christmas Aliens,” but it amazes me it took over 15 years for that to happen.

dragon ball christmas

Yes, it would be silly and possibly stupid to have Goku face-off with Santa, but I bet it would be a lot of fun!

Dragon Ball

One of the longest running anime ever has produced hundred of hours of television, and not once has Christmas been relied upon to drive an episode. Dragon Ball and its many iterations has been entertaining kids and adults since the mid 1980s. It’s known as much for its action as it is for its silly and sometimes juvenile sense of humor. It’s that aspect of it that seems to make it ripe for a Christmas special. An ignorant Goku could have been introduced to the concept of Christmas by one of his friends and found the custom confusing. He could have ended up giving weird gifts, or doing something selfless and noble, either would be in-character. I think a somewhat comedically dark ending with Goku out in the wilderness seeing Santa and blasting him with a Kamehameha could have been entertaining too. Maybe the episode ends with him roasting a reindeer after Santa fled in panic with Goku clueless over what he had just done. These are all more Dragon Ball-styled plots. A Dragon Ball Z or Dragon Ball Super plot would obviously involve Goku challenging Santa to a fight. Santa would either be super powerful, or super not with Goku accidentally really hurting him in a slapstick kind of way. Maybe following such an injury, Goku has to take over as Santa for a night which has comedic potential as well, so much so that I’ve basically talked myself into wanting this. And it all ends with Oolong getting a stocking full of women’s underwear on Christmas morning. Now that’s a sentimental sort of ending.

Goofy-Art-of-Skiing

Goofy has experienced Christmas via Mickey and Goof Troop, but he never got to star in a holiday short of his very own.

Goofy

In the 90s, Goofy received his own show. It was basically an animated sitcom, and it put Goofy in the role of a single father. Goof Troop was a surprisingly poignant show and a different take on the character than what we were used to seeing. Goofy had shown a domesticated side on occasion in his old shorts, but nothing really like this. Goof Troop received it’s own Christmas special, and the characters returned in the same role for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas years later with a different Christmas outing. That’s good that Goofy got multiple looks at it because he was the lone holdout back in the days of the cartoon short to not have a Christmas episode. Donald Duck received Toy Tinkers, while Mickey and Pluto both got to star in Pluto’s Christmas Tree, but Goofy got nothing. That’s why when packages of cartoons were shown with Mickey’s Christmas Carol on television the Goofy short often shown was The Art of Skiing, a quality short for sure, but not a Christmas one. Goofy comically trying to setup a tree or decorate a house seems like a great way to use his brand of physical comedy. It could have even been in the form of one of his classic “How to” shorts such as “How to Prepare for the Holidays.” Goofy playing Santa, Goofy cooking a turkey, Goofy wrapping gifts – it’s almost too easy! Maybe that’s why it never happened?

captain n link

This show was just a commercial for Nintendo products so it’s surprising that they didn’t add in the wonder of Christmas at any point.

Captain N: The Game Master

Captain N was possibly the only show more cynical than Masters of the Universe or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it came to hawking merchandise. It was basically an animated commercial for Nintendo as the main character, Kevin, sported a Nintendo controller as a belt buckle and armed himself with a zapper. His allies in the show were all stars of their own video games like Kid Icarus and Simon Belmont and they even made the Game Boy a character later on. Maybe the showrunners felt that doing a Christmas episode would be too on the nose, but I think it would have fit the mold just fine. Imagine all of the Nintendo products that could have been piled under that cartoon tree. I’m not saying it would have been good, as this show is pretty terrible to revisit, but it may have at least featured some ironic humor. At the very least, we could have seen Dracula’s castle covered in snow or found out if a Game Boy can function during a blizzard.


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