What if Nintendo franchises took on new genres? Part 5: Super Mario as a roguelike

Mario roguelike

There’s never really enough Super Mario content to satisfy everyone. We were all disappointed by the lack of DLC for Super Mario Odyssey, and it’s been a long wait to hear a peep about what Nintendo is doing next with its signature mascot. The Super Mario Maker games have let players create their own Super Mario levels, but despite a plethora of standout user creations, it’ll never feel quite the same as a Nintendo-developed Mario campaign. However, what if there were a way to create a Mario game with a handcrafted feel and boundless amounts of platforming content to satiate fans for far longer? This is what Super Mario could look like as a roguelike.

(For the last part in this “what if” series, check out Animal Crossing as a life simulation game.)

Unlimited Mario content

Hits like Spelunky have already introduced platforming mechanics to the genre, but I believe a Super Mario roguelike could take these ideas further. As you’d expect, a Mario roguelike would create a string of levels containing procedurally generated platforming challenges to take on. Levels would be randomized but within the confines of the traditional Mario world system. This means that worlds would have 10 procedurally generated levels that culminate in a boss battle, every world is more difficult than the last, and players would be sent back to the first level upon death. Individual levels would contain familiar Mario staples such as Goombas, timing-based platforming challenges, and power-ups to aid the player. Wall jumping, pipes, underwater areas, and collectibles like the Catsuit or Fire Flower could all make appearances.

Much like Hades, a Mario roguelike could also provide story justification for the repetitive structure of the game and help to make the repetition exciting rather than tedious. In this story, let’s say Mario is attempting to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser on a moving cosmic train. Each carriage is a world and dimension to itself, and death simply pushes Mario out of the pocket dimension, where he is then rescued and returned to the back of the train by Rosalina. While that sounds punishing, it would also raise the stakes associated with failure in a Mario game and therefore provide a challenge to veteran players that have always wanted Mario titles to push back more.

Mario roguelike

Combat involving jumping on enemy heads and using suit power-ups such as Stars, Fire Flowers, or the Catsuit would be a key part of the game. Over time, the game could escalate and introduce weapons, not unlike the wacky guns found in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. Death would result in Mario losing any obtained power-ups and weapons, but he would retain any collected coins. Coins could then be used to buy power-ups and weapons, upgrade them permanently, or even give Mario bonus lives for a run. This would all be done from shops that appear at the midway point of each world, and eventually, Mario could spend large sums of coins to gain advantages like weapons that persist between runs or discounts on said items in the shop.

With each boss stage, Mario could also encounter a fellow member of the Mushroom Kingdom. Upon being freed, characters like Luigi or Peach would then become playable in separate story campaigns that are unlocked after Mario’s adventure is over. Luigi’s campaign might give the younger brother his signature high jumps but could also introduce puzzles and ghost hunting elements with the Poltergust 3000. Meanwhile, Princess Peach would give players a reversal of the main story. In this mode, Peach would start the game by escaping captivity in Bowser’s lair and attempting to sneak and fight her way out of that dangerous predicament. Her umbrella could be used as a weapon but also for platforming abilities such as floating, pogo jumping, or being thrown into walls as an object to clamber on.

Additional modes could add even further replayability to this Mario roguelike. A level maker akin to the chamber dungeon creator in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening could let players piece pre-made platforming sections together into levels and worlds. Online leaderboards could track the fastest completion times, and players could even invade the single-player campaigns of others to impede their progress as a fellow Mario character or world boss. No matter what directions Nintendo could decide to take a Mario roguelike adventure, the platforming possibilities would be endless.

Would you enjoy a Hades-style Super Mario journey?

Chirag Pattni
Psychologist and long time gamer. Has a love-hate relationship with technology and enjoys all things Japanese.