Nintendo generally knows when they have struck gold, but there have been a few misses over the years. An obvious example of a fumble? The Koopalings were one of the best inventions in the Mario franchise, and then Nintendo… didn’t care.

Meet the Koopalings

Roy is my boyDonkey Kong had Donkey Kong, and that was all we needed. Super Mario Bros. had the same Bowser at the end of every world/castle, but a troop hierarchy was established by the various monsters that were revealed to be disguising themselves as the big guy. Only upon conquering World 8 did you truly defeat the giant turtle responsible for everything. Super Mario Bros. 2 Japan (The Lost Levels) pulled a similar trick, though did throw a few Blue Bowsers into the mix. Super Mario Bros. 2/Doki Doki Panic, though, did try at memorable bosses. Wart was the leader, and his minions presiding over the various fortresses would never be mistaken for the lesser creatures that populated every other area. Triclyde, Mouser, Fryguy, and Claw Grip were the baddies to beat, and they felt like complete threats with multiple heads or sunglasses doing the heavy lifting of defining a personality. And that was a good start! But Mario needed bosses just as iconic as a koopa troopa or goomba…

Enter the Koopalings. Initially introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3, this septet was responsible for stealing magical wands from seven different countries around the Mushroom Kingdom, and transforming their kings into various critters. Their preliminary appearance in Japan did not individually name them, but by the time Super Mario Bros. 3 was starring in The Wizard, America knew the names of the Koopa Kids. Larry, Morton Jr., Wendy O., Iggy, Roy, Lemmy, and Ludwig von Koopa were all anxious to tear Mario’s fursuit off (it makes sense in context), and each of the Koopalings were the final boss of a separate world. While these turtle-monsters were generally similar in their boss battles, there were enough distinctions to make individual fights memorable. Larry and Iggy were not much to write home about, but Roy and Ludwig were the big boys, Wendy and Lemmy had significant gimmicks, and Morton… Morton tried. The Koopalings were a reliable way to finish off a level like in Super Mario Bros., but had all the personality of their unique ancestors from Super Mario Bros. 2. The best of both Marios!

The Koopalings were never consistent

I know that guyIf you were not around for the Nintendo of the 90’s, understand that this was a company existing in an vague, lawless world. While you could guarantee Mario would be the Mario we would always know in an official Nintendo videogame, if you turned on your television, Mario could be a real American wrestler-captain. Or a wise-cracking cereal mascot. Or Bob Hoskins, for some reason. Similarly, when Super Mario Bros 3. was released, the Koopa Kids had entirely different personalities and names in their cartoon incarnation. Ludwig-Kooky was a mad scientist now? And Wendy-Kootie Pie was the leader? Hip and Hop (Lemmy and Iggy) were twins? Whatever! They were still Bowser’s #1 minions, and, while they may have been altered beasts, they were still recognizable.

And then they were not recognizable.

Super Mario World was a revelation. It was a brand new Mario on a brand new videogame system with a brand new dinosaur mount. And the Koopalings were… Well, they were not brand new, but they were certainly different. The proper term nowadays would likely be “off-model”. Practically the entire Koopa kast appeared to have their physical traits swapped around. And shell color or scale-tone is important when you’re a mutant turtle! This was not without precedent (look at the evolution of Bowser sprites throughout the 8-bit days), but it was very confusing for everyone when Ludwig’s Castle ended with a Ludwig rocking yellow. And Lemmy cutting off his balls? Inconceivable!

Clearly positioning him as the father

But this also taught us a valuable lesson: the koopa kids could be anything, so that meant they could do anything. Want to have them piloting giant robots in the next game? Or become ninja for some reason? How about Koopa Kids that all have their own evil Yoshis? The possibilities were endless, as they had already proven they could work in different ways against across different mediums.

And then… things got weird.

The Koopalings in their Dark Ages

It's always RoyOfficially published by Nintendo, Yoshi’s Safari was a rail shooter meant to showcase the Super Scope 6, Nintendo’s latest light gun. It was a very good, very pretty game for a peripheral that six people bought. It also featured the Koopalings once again acting as the bosses of the piece (with a couple of fill-in bosses for other levels: Magikoopa, Big Boo, Chargin’ Chuck, and a robo-turtle). The Koopalings all had rad vehicles (with the exception of Wendy O., for whatever reason), and it was another fine example of the Koopalings doing whatever the heck worked. Larry has a sun-octopus-squid robot? Just enjoy it, everybody!

And other than that? They starred in Mario is Missing!, the Software Toolworks edutainment title that made learning the least fun activity possible. And then they had Hotel Mario, the CD-I title that dared to ask the question, “What if Mappy was aggravating?” And then…


The Koopalings were replaced

Super Mario 64 was strictly Mario versus Bowser. There were some sub-bosses here and there, but they were highly environment-dependent (Bob-Omb Battlefield has got to have a Bob-Omb in charge!), and there really was not a need for “Bowser’s top minions” across that adventure. Past that, the N64 was home to more Mario “party” games than proper occasions for Bowser to invade a kingdom via airship. Bowser himself wasn’t in the original Smash Bros.! What hope did his kids have?!

And then there was the Gamecube, and with it, this dork…

I do not care for you

There is a reason Bowser Jr. was one of the few Mario characters to suffer horrendous backlash at his introduction. While Bowser’s parentage was always debatable with the Koopalings (at best, it was only ever emphasized in “other media”, and not so much within any given game), Bowser Jr. was a clear statement of “this is his kid” from the beginning. And where were Bowser Jr.’s siblings? Gone forever! Bowser Jr. had an entire game’s worth of development and focus, while Wendy O. only ever had a few rings. How was that fair to the monster turtles that had already put in their time!?

And Bowser Jr. brought one thing to light that Nintendo somehow missed in the decade of Koopaling supremacy:

Every Koopaling could be a Favorite

Look at 'em allThere is an adage in the comics business that any given issue could be someone’s first comic book. And that’s true! I personally read a random issue of X-Men: Age of Apocalypse as my introduction to the “real” comics X-Men (as opposed to those dorks creeping around the Fox animated series), and I have been upset ever since that the likes of Blink or Sunfire are not more prominent in the main line. Similarly, any one of the koopalings could be a player’s favorite for seemingly superficial reasons. Maybe you appreciate Morton’s face tattoo. Or identify with Iggy’s nerdiness. Or feel a kinship with the sheer middle-child forgettability of Larry. Whatever the case, the koopalings can be many things to many people, and the casual nature of having a “favorite” confirms they are ideal for a medium where millions of children play a Mario game every day.

And Bowser Jr. is just… Bowser Jr.

You are allowed to like Bowser Jr. You are allowed to think he is the best of Bowser’s minions. But he is just a petulant little koopa child that looks remarkably like Baby Bowser. Whether you like that or not, he is just one guy(-turtle-thing). The Koopalings are a pack of seven with eclectic personalities and designs. They are everything you want them to be! And you can easily pick a favorite turtle warrior, because they’ve got more variety than those ninja turtles! Seven is more than four, and thus better! “Just one” Bowser Jr. is worse…

The Return of the Kings

Love these dudesBut the curators of Mario eventually learned to rectify this mistake. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga saw the Koopalings return in a silent minion capacity. Granted, they had always been silent, but this was definitely an appearance where they were just kind of “there”. But “there” is important when your last real appearance was a decade prior (which is forever in videogame time). And a meager six years later, the Koopalings returned in the role they were always meant to play: bosses of levels. Bowser Jr. seemed to be their commander, but the Koopalings were the main “generals” of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. They returned with shouts, stomps, and custom rooms/battles that were all influenced by having seven distinct personalities running around. The Koopalings were back on top (of airships), baby!

And it seems like the Koopalings are here to stay now. The Koopalings have been a mainstay of the New Super Mario Bros. series as Bowser’s prominent minions. They have appeared in Smash Bros, Mario Kart, and that mobile Dr. Mario game. They even got retro makeovers to appear in every aspect of Super Mario Maker 2. If you want Mario to fight a hallway of infinite (or, like, 16) Ludwigs, you can make it! Nintendo has finally seen the light at the end of the turtle, and now the whole gang appears everywhere again. We are no longer limited to one Koopa Kid, and the boys (plus one girl) are back in town.

And, for the record, Roy is the best one.

SBC #28 The Koopalings & Super Mario World

The Koopalings in Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Definitely our boy

  • They any Good? I’ve never understood the “point” of these guys. Are they supposed to be the car? Is this what would happen if Bowser had a more interesting moveset? Something like “minibosses throughout the Mario franchise”? What is the theme for all these abilities? Maybe I shouldn’t think about it too hard. They have a good mix of range and power between all of their talents, so I’m a fan. Beating a Mario brother as a koopa kid feels kathartic.
  • That final smash work? It is a shame that this is Bowser Jr. signature move no matter what. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was magic wand-based instead of Shadow Mario? This is one of the last “impacts everything on the screen” final smashes, so at least it makes up for any plot holes with raw versatility.
  • The background work? Let’s pick Super Mario Maker for the kids, as they were the best part of Mario Maker 2 DLC. This stage is seemingly infinitely random in initial configurations, and then changes randomly from there, complete with random music switches. Somehow, despite the prevalence of its unpredictability, it never feels too hectic. As such, it winds up being one of my favorite stages. Love it.
  • Classic Mode: It is always Mama Peach, Where Are You? even if Bowser Jr. is not involved. There is only a 12% chance you’ll choose the koopa kid with mommy issues! This quest reminds us that Rosalina is a mom, Chrom and Lucina are father and daughter, and that Daisy and Luigi have something or other going on. Mama Peach finally shows up with Mario for the penultimate fight. And then we get Master Hand. But it should be (Giga) Bowser, right? Get all Oedipus up in here.
  • Smash Trivia: The Koopa Kids used to wield hammers in their Smash 4 taunts, but they switched over to their signature magical wands as of Ultimate. Does this mean they are beating up monarchs and stealing their stuff between games?
  • Amiibo Corner: No amiibo for the kids, just Bowser Jr. Give us a full roster!
  • Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? Super Mario World is all over Smash Bros, complete with signature stages, items, and Dr. Mario’s cape (wait a tick…). You could even claim Yoshi should count, as this game as his origin point! And Super Mario World sees more representation than Yoshi’s titular game!

The Koopalings in Super Mario World

  • Here we goSystem: The game that launched a million Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems into our homes and hearts. It also had that Gameboy Advance quasi-remake, and a ton of rereleases on every Nintendo system imaginable (except the N64). It is currently available as part of Nintendo Switch’s online service.
  • Number of players: Luigi is barely mentioned, but he is available as a second player. He got unique sprites in the Super Mario All-Stars rerelease!
  • Hatching onto the scene: Yes, this is the game where Yoshi premiered. Yes, I used this occasion to talk about the Koopalings. Yes, this is what Yoshi deserves. You know what he did.
  • Favorite Opponent: Blargg is a lava dinosaur that somehow stopped appearing in Mario games after Yoshi’s Story. What in blazes happened there?! How do you stop using a lava monster in a Mario game? Lava is the Mushroom Kingdom’s greatest resource! Ideal for Blarggs! Bring them back! … Oh? Super Mario Bros Wonder kinda did? Partial credit.
  • Favorite Level: Sunken Ghost Ship at the entrance to Bowser’s domain is an excellent example of combining plotting with nostalgia. For one stage, you are playing through a ruined Super Mario Bros. 3 level, and it 100% works as foreshadowing for “this is where Bowser wound up”. And you can try to eat ghosts with Yoshi! And fail!
  • Pew PewThalassophobia: This is the last 2-D Mario with truly horrifying underwater stages. Super Mario Bros. was annoying, Super Mario Bros. 3 occasionally mitigated things with the frog suit, but Super Mario World gave us that damn lake full of Torpedo Teds. After this, we just had giant eels and dancing fish to deal with, and things got better.
  • Learning to fly: If Super Mario World was somehow released for the first time today, there would be a complete tutorial section with detailed instructions on how to properly fly/slam with a cape. And, while it may sound like I am deriding such a concept with that phrase, understand that I am someone that could not master the cape for… Hmm… probably four years? I only played through Super Mario World about a billion times in that duration, too. I might have brain problems.
  • Hungry Boy: Yoshi can eat the dolphins in the original Japanese Super Mario World, and regains this ability across regions in the Advance releases. Good. Eat that tuna, Yoshi.
  • Say something mean: You ever notice how much standing around is involved with the final boss? It gets hectic by the final phase, but the first two sections are all about lingering and waiting for Bowser to do something. Come to think of it, it is a miracle that we finally got an exciting Bowser battle by Yoshi’s Island.
  • YummyGoggle Bob Fact: I received this game (and the Super Nintendo) for Christmas. I still have vivid memories of having to be practically torn away from the controller so I could join Christmas dinner. I was in the middle of Star Road 5. I was just about to put the key in the keyhole after activating the Purple Switch Palace. When I say I have strong memories of that night, I mean it.
  • Did you know? Blue coins may be found in the unused section of Super Mario World’s code. Were we supposed to see “collect all these specific coins” a console generation before Mario 64? Only Miyamoto knows for sure…
  • Would I play again: God yes.

What’s next? A chimp is going to get even smaller than his big buddy, and we can watch! Please look forward to it!

Eat 'em up

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