There’s no shortage of Mario games to play on Nintendo Switch. You’ve got newer releases like Super Mario Odyssey and Super Mario Maker 2 to enjoy. There’s a whole swath of re-releases to try as well, including the new Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. There are even some obscure gems like Mario’s Super Picross hiding in the Switch Online app.
Mario’s history doesn’t just stop at games featuring his name, though. In fact, the plumber makes so many cameos in other games that it’s hard to keep track of his resume. Getting a full picture of his illustrious career requires a deeper dive into the NES catalog. For example, those who want to understand why he’s a plumber need to go all the way back to Wrecking Crew, which is available on the Switch Online’s NES app.
Released in 1985, Wrecking Crew is one of the first games to feature Mario. It landed in Japan just a few months before Super Mario Bros. officially touched down on the NES. While it’s not the very first game to feature Nintendo’s mascot, it is one of the last games to really acknowledge the character’s workman origins.
Wrecking Crew is very different from any Super Mario Bros. It’s more akin to Donkey Kong than anything else.
The game features a simple, arcade-style premise. Players are dropped into different stages where they must destroy everything in sight with a hammer. Concrete blocks, ladders, lockers, you name it. Mario is a full-on construction worker, hardhat and all, who must dismantle levels. Though he needs to do that while avoiding random fireballs, bombs, and sentient eggplants.
Somebody call OSHA. This can’t be up to regulation.
Wrecking Crew is a perfectly fine arcade game, but it’s worth revisiting just to witness the end of an era for the character. When Nintendo created Mario, he was a pretty generic guy. When he first appeared in 1981’s Donkey Kong, he was simply named Jumpman. He was a generic hero whose only distinguishing feature was his mustache and red overalls.
That sort of nondescript look quickly turned him into the kind of blank slate character that Nintendo could slap onto any game. Even go back to the NES’ Pinball and you’ll find Mario on the cover. For a few years, Mario wasn’t the face behind his own franchise, he was just a vague figurehead for Nintendo.
Wrecking Crew was a sort of culmination of that first iteration of the character. It was Nintendo trying to figure out what a Mario game really was. The original arcade Mario Bros. didn’t really have the legs to make a full series, and Donkey Kong was more of a showcase for the giant ape than anything. Wrecking Crew takes the idea of Mario as a plumber and tries to imagine a new genre of game where those powers make sense.
Obviously, it wasn’t the right answer. Once Super Mario Bros. became a phenomenon, the idea of a “Mario game” was cemented. From then on, it was a platforming series where players run and jump. The character would still appear in spinoffs from there, but Nintendo had found his true calling … and it wasn’t as a demolition man.
Wrecking Crew now exists as an oddity in Mario canon. It’s a fundamentally important piece of the character’s history, but one that was immediately overshadowed. It’s like Nintendo wrote a full chapter and then tore the pages out a few months later and replaced them with a second draft. It should have been a new beginning for the character, but it wound up being an end.
Even though it's been paved over by history, Wrecking Crew is still an oddity that’s worth playing. When your friends ask why Mario’s a plumber, you’ll have the answer ready for them.
Wrecking Crew is available for Nintendo Online subscribers through the NES app.