The Nostalgia of Nintendo: Bowser
When July’s Loot Crate theme was announced as “Villains,” I immediately knew what I would have to do for my weekly Nostalgia of Nintendo article. Video game bosses, bad guys and villains are a dime a dozen, and the really good ones truly enhance the gaming experience, as there would be less sense of accomplishment without besting the antagonist in the end. Every good hero needs an equally-matched villain, and in the Nintendo universe, there is one villain that stands out from the rest: Bowser.
Bowser is unquestionably the most recognizable and infamous villain of all the Nintendo franchises. He has been the battling Mario since the very first Super Mario Bros. game in 1985, and has appeared in almost every single Mario game since then. He is a simple villain, driven by simple desires. All he wants from life is to destroy Mario, marry Princess Peach and take over the Mushroom Kingdom. He isn’t driven by some obscure needs or ambitions. Bowser is very forthright in what he is after, and that makes him the perfect antithesis to the classic and legendary hero of the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario.
The man responsible for creating the Bowser character is none other than the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, who is practically the godfather behind most of Nintendo’s exclusive franchises and characters. The original vision of Bowser’s appearance was based on an ox, but another Nintendo designer pointed out that he looked more like a turtle than an ox. The two began collaborating on a new look for Bowser, eventually settling on the original look of Bowser we all know and love.
In Japan, Bowser is named “Daimaō,” which means “Great Demon King.” Over here in the States, however, we got the name Bowser, or the more official title of Bowser, King of the Koopa. The Koopas are the race of turtle-like enemies in the Mushroom Kingdom, most commonly known for being stomped on and having their shells used as projectile weapons. Bowser is the biggest and most powerful of the Koopas, thus giving him the title of King by default, really. There isn’t much backstory on Bowser before his initial role in Super Mario Bros., unfortunately, so the true origins of how Bowser came to power aren’t known … yet.
Hey Nintendo, if you’re reading this, please give Bowser an origin story, preferably in his own game. That would be awesome, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that sentiment.
In the game instruction booklet for the original Super Mario Bros., Bowser is also referenced as “The Sorcerer King.” This, of course, refers to Bowser’s mastery of black magic, which explains his ability to grow to massive sizes, regenerate after seemingly being killed and conjure up things in order to stop Mario from saving the day. While he is naturally bigger than the hero, and definitely bigger than all other Koopas, his standard size changes with each variation of the character. As mentioned before, he has also been known to grow to massive sizes, which is characterized in the Super Smash Bros. series, where his final smash sees him turn into Giga Bowser, a larger and much more powerful and aggressive form of the Great Demon King.
Being a king always has its benefits, and being King of the Koopa is no different. Bowser can always be found hunkered down in his own personal castle, often aptly named Bowser’s Castle. In it, there is always a lot of fire, lava, more fire and the worst of the worst baddies that Bowser can round up as security in hopes of stopping Mario from reaching Bowser’s lair. His castle is almost always found in the volcanic world of which he resides. That world is what Bowser is constantly in hopes of merging with the bright and cheery Mushroom Kingdom, probably just trying to expand his territory and making everything seem a bit more like home. Home being surrounded by fire and lava, of course.
Bowser, being so big and overbearing, still has the ability to jump quite high, as is displayed in the first Mario Bros. game, where Mario can quickly scoot under the giant Koopa and release the bridge, dropping him into his own fiery pit of molten hot magma. Despite his ability to breathe – or spit – fire, it still seems to be a weakness to the giant villain. Over the course of the series, his tolerance for the lava seems to build up, as it almost enhances his evil at some points. There’s even a time where the liquid fire turns Bowser into Dry Bones Bowser, which is a skeleton of him, although still equipped with the same abilities as before.
Despite Bowser’s love affair with Princess Peach, it’s apparent that he has had previous love interests in the past. You see, Bowser is the proud papa of Bowser Jr., who made his first appearance in Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube in 2002. Bowser Jr. is just a little mini version of Bowser, for the most part, with the same bitterness and aggressiveness that his father shares towards Mario, the Princess and the entire Kingdom. Junior is quite a bit smaller, though, which indicates he still has a lot of growing up to do. In Super Mario Bros. 3, the seven Koopalings – or Koops Kids as they are sometimes known – are introduced, and appear to be the children of Bowser. While every indication makes this seem to be accurate, Miyamoto is on record of saying that them being the spawn of Bowser is not official canon. Of course, we don’t really know what IS canon, without the origin story of King of the Koopas, so we as fans are just left to speculate. Also, despite Bowser being a father of one or eight, there is not even a hint as to whom the mother might be, which could make for an interesting article in its own right.
As villain, there aren’t many better at the gig than Bowser. Strangely enough, despite being perfect antagonist in the Mario games, there are a few times where Bowser actually teams up with Mario to defeat greater evil together. Bowser is always hesitant and reluctant to help out his arch-enemy, but when his throne of supreme bad guy is challenged in the Mushroom Kingdom, he has no choice but to team up with the Batman to his Joker. These rare times where Bowser is not THE antagonist always happen in the RPG games, where he is portrayed more as a blundering, goofy villain than an towering, imposing and intimidating boss. Sure, it’s nice to see Bowser out of his element every now and then, and see him show compassion to his minions and such, but the best Bowser is when he is angry, maniacal and ready to go to any lengths in order to come out on top.
Being an integral part of the Mario franchise has led to many other opportunities for Bowser as well. Every time there is a game that features a cast of characters – whether it be sports, karting, fighting or anything else – Bowser is seemingly always part of the mix, as is his castle on many occasions. In fact, his dominance as a bad guy actually landed him a movie role, albeit a small one, as part of the cast of bad guys that met for group therapy to overcome their feelings of anxiety from being bad guys in the movie “Wreck-It Ralph.” Bowser’s claim to fame in that film was his awesome spit-take, that actually resulted in him spitting out fireballs instead of the water he was drinking. He definitely showed his acting chops in that movie.
That wasn’t his only role outside of video games. He appeared on the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, usually using aliases. He also appeared in all of the Mario Bros. cartoons that were produced, and believe it or not, was given his own television show called “King Koopa’s Kool Kartoons,” where he was referred to as King Koopa, and gave away prizes to kids in the live studio audience. While that was a weird representation of Bowser, it doesn’t take the cake as far as damaging the King of the Koopa’s “good” name. In the infamously horrendous Super Mario Bros. live-action movie, Bowser was a humanoid that evolved from dinosaurs. I don’t want to go to much into this film, because it is without question a column for another week, but Dennis Hopper, who played Bowser, admitted that it was his worst role that he’s ever taken on. If that doesn’t speak volumes, I don’t know what will.