A number of mascots for video games have come and gone through the years, all appealing to mass audiences to different degrees. While recognizable heroes can help sell consoles, Nintendo has a rare situation where the primary antagonist of their Super Mario Bros. series is probably more popular than a dozen Crash Bandicoots and a pair of Echo the Dolphins combined. Bowser is a household name for all gamers, and even for a large majority of people whose fingers have never graced a d-pad, and yet, how much do you really know about the King of all Koopas?
Bowser might have been stealing princesses since his debut in 1985, but the shelled menace is actually rather complex when you start peeling the petals of this fire flower. In order to make sure that the green guy gets his due and that you never look at him the same way again, here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Bowser.
15. Bowser Has Appeared in Over 150 Video Games!
Other than Mario himself, Bowser earns the prestigious distinction of being in the most video games of any other Nintendo character. Surely when Bowser’s humble beginnings started in 1985’s Super Mario Bros. (where he was still innocently being referred to as “Bowser, King of the Koopa,” not to mention “The Sorcerer King,” in US instruction manuals), Shigeru Miyamoto and company had no idea at what an icon the villainous character would end up becoming.
Bowser fills the role of Mario’s main villain, so it’s not surprising that he’s made an appearance in the majority of the main Mario titles (although notably being absent from Super Mario Bros. 2). On top of that though the character has become a mainstay in the line of Mario sports games, Mario Kart titles, the Super Smash Bros. series, popping up in most Yoshi titles, acting as an antagonist throughout the Mario Party games, and even receiving stand-out attention in the Luigi’s Mansion releases, Super Princess Peach, and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. The character has made such a connection with gamers it’s easy to see how he’s gone on to gain such verisimilitude.
14. Bowser is Named After Korean Cuisine
Various creatures from both Mario and Nintendo lore alike can thank mundane, everyday items for their now famous names. Some enemies and areas lean more heavily into the obviousness of their namesakes than others, but it makes for a nice reminder that such fantastical, iconic characters can get their titles from the most normal of things. The resident Koopa King happens to find his name’s roots stemming from Korean cuisine, specifically the soup and rice dish, “gukbap.” None of this might mean anything yet, but when you realize that the Japanese word for gukbap is “kuppa” (and pronounced “Koopa”), the Tetris blocks may begin clicking into place.
With Mario’s most ferocious foe charting back to Korean cuisine, it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that there was a moment when Miyamoto was considering using the topic as a naming rubric for all of Mario’s enemies. In reality Miyamoto might have gone mad if he was still sticking to the Korean food naming scheme, but maybe the game would end up conjuring a subliminal craving for food as a result.
13. Bowser Has Had Four Different English Voice Actors
Yes, you read that right. The Mario games might not exactly be Metal Gear Solid or Grand Theft Auto when it comes to full, flowing dialogue, but somehow four different approaches have been put into practice for Bowser (in North America alone). Mario himself doesn’t even talk in these games, and yet Bowser has somehow gone through a handful of voice talents in order to properly convey the complex grunt and growl patterns that are the lynch-pin of his vocalizations.
Marc Graue led the pack, beginning his tenure in the role in 1994, with Scott Burns eventually adopting the position in 2002 with Super Mario Sunshine. This period of time actually demonstrated some growth in Bowser’s vocalization department. Beginning with Super Mario Strikers, Kenny James has taken over the role. It’s also worth mentioning that between Burns and James’ time, Eric Newsome also got to put his best claw forward with the role starting in Super Paper Mario. That paper, softer version of Bowser obviously requires a different sort of roar.
12. Bowser Was Nearly in Super Smash Bros 64
It’s a little insane of how much a phenomenon the Super Smash Bros. series has become. It’s a franchise for Nintendo that has easily become as popular as Mario Kart or arguably the main Mario titles themselves. The fighting series has done a successful job at highlighting an eclectic roster of characters from all across Nintendo’s vast history (and some that even land outside of that), but a reliance on characters from Mario titles has never been too surprising. That being said, Bowser’s absence in the original Super Smash Bros. title for the Nintendo 64 is one that is sorely felt on the burgeoning fighting game. Players that main Bowser can at least find some solace in the fact that Bowser was originally in the title, and he wasn’t alone. Both Bowser and King Dedede (who would also later show up, but not until Super Smash Bros. Brawl) were supposed to be in the N64 game and were even both playable characters during the development of the title, but were ultimately removed due to hardware limitations and time restraints. Plus, Nintendo felt the game didn’t need yet another Mario character in the mix, as crazy as that may sound.
11. The Koopalings Are Not Bowser’s Children
Contrary to popular opinion (and even contrary to Nintendo themselves, depending on who you ask), those zany Koopalings children who look exactly like Bowser are not his kids. Or maybe they are. It’s kind of complicated. Okay, so way back when Super Mario Bros. 3 came out, the game states that the seven Koopalings are Bowser’s biological children. This information would continue to be spread for some time until 2009, when the release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii would refer to the Koopalings as Bowser’s “minions.” To corroborate upon this, in 2012 Shigeru Miyamoto stated, “Our current story is that the seven Koopalings are not Bowser’s children. Bowser’s only child is Bowser Jr., and we do not know who the mother is.”
While conflicting information still comes up game by game, Miyamoto’s word is probably the definitive say as far as the Mushroom Kingdom is concerned. Bowser has one kid, and it’s Bowser Jr. But what about Baby Bowser? Come on you guys, you all know that’s just the current Bowser as a baby. You’re better than that.
10. Bowser Plays the Role of Godzilla in Super Nintendo’s SimCity
Something that’s very cool about system-exclusive versions of third party games is the ways in which the company will try to put the certain system’s stamp on the title. How many people rushed to buy the Gamecube version of Soul Calibur II because it had Link in it? Way back in the days of Super Nintendo, a very cool touch that was added into the SNES copy of Sim City is that the sorcerer king himself makes a clever, little cameo. One of the elements of the simulation game is that a Godzilla approximate can sometimes storm your city and rob you of resources. Well, why go with Godzilla when you’ve got Bowser collecting dust in the corner? Bowser fills this role perfectly and it’s also a welcome surprise in the rather mellow title. This also begs the question, why hasn’t there been a “Sim Mushroom Kingdom” made? Sure, there’s Super Mario Maker, but not some top-down, managing your Toad and Goomba resources simulation. If there can be Sim Ant…
9. Dennis Hopper Played Bowser So His Son Could Have Shoes
So let’s just address the giant raptor in the room and get this over with. Nobody wants to talk about the puzzling, embarrassing debacle that is the Super Maro Bros. feature film, but in a discussion about King Koopa you sort of need to discuss his fever dream of a depiction on celluloid. The Super Mario Bros. film takes a lot of liberties, but some of the most extreme are in the case of what the film does with its Bowser. Dennis Hopper might be the one bringing their humanoid dinosaur hybrid to life, but this is no Academy Award winning performance. In fact, Hopper has even gone as far as saying that it was his least favorite of all of his roles. So that begs the question, why?
In an exchange so candid it would surely get Hopper imprisoned by the King of Koopas himself, Hopper recounts when his son actually confronted him over his role choice. Hopper told his son that he took the part so he could buy him shoes, an oversimplification on the financial strain of his growing family life. To this, his son replied, “Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly.” Everyone’s a critic!
8. Arnold Schwarzenegger Was Almost King Koopa
Dennis Hopper is great in his bad performance of Koopa, but you know who would be outstanding in their bad performance of Koopa? Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it nearly happened. While the Super Mario Bros. film was still going through its casting phase, Schwarzenegger was approached to channel his machismo into the toughest Koopa of all time. Obviously an agreement wasn’t reached in the end, but picturing what an early ‘90s Shwarzenegger would bring to that role is just too good to be true. At the least there most definitely would have been an elaborate Koopa fight scene. That alone is enough.
It’s curious that in addition to Shwarzenegger being approached for the role, so was Michael Keaton, which gives you an idea of just how many different approaches the film was considering for the character. This was also during a time when Tom Hanks was secured in the role as Mario, so truly all bets were off at this point.
7. Bowser Doesn’t Actually “Talk” Until Super Mario Sunshine
It’s been an interesting development to chart through the many Mario titles that as much as gameplay might evolve, Mario’s speech patterns and voice acting have more or less remained stagnant. Bowser might not be reading the audiobook of Satoru Iwata’s biography, but his dialogue has shown a significant amount of growth all the same. Before the Gamecube era, Bowser’s voice wasn’t much more than a series of growls, roars, and foreboding laughs. When Super Mario Sunshine came along, Bowser would receive his first spoken dialogue along with it. Scott Burns is the Bowser voice actor in particular that got to enjoy this honor. It’s a somewhat crucial turning point for the development of the antagonist, and wholly surprising that it takes that long to get more than just fire coming out of this guy’s mouth. Bowser’s early iterations are a testament on how much can be conveyed with mere tone alone, with later appearances from the character highlighting some of the weirder personality that lies beneath the shell.
6. Giga Bowser, Dry Bowser, Dark Bowser, and Shrowser Are All Final Forms of Bowser
Some might think that a towering lizard (Koopas are in the lizard family, right?) that breathes fire and commands army of minions would be enough of a threat, and yet in a few select occasions Bowser has gone beyond his usual restraints and turned into something much more intimidating. Giga Bowser is a souped up form of Bowser that has gained a lot of popularity due to its inclusion in the Super Smash Bros. series. First appearing in Melee as a hidden boss and then as a Final Smash in Brawl, this version of the character looks like he’s been hitting the Mutagen a little too hard. Dry Bowser—which is essentially just Bowser’s skeleton—appears as a final boss in New Super Mario Bros., but the morbid take on the Koopa has since become a popular mainstay in the various Mario sports titles.
Shrowser—or, Shroom Bowser—as well as Dark Bowser might be lesser known, but they’re still worthwhile takes on the villain. Dark Bowser occurs after he absorbs the Dark Star in Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, with Shrowser being the result of eating Princess Elder Shroob’s mushroom in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.
5. Bowser Shows Up in a Disney Film
The animated film, Wreck-It Ralph is not only a surprisingly emotional film about labeling, but it also functions as a veritable love letter to video games in all their glory. With the title taking place within a video game, there are naturally going to be a lot of references and in-jokes to the medium, but Wreck-It Ralph truly goes above and beyond. A very satisfying Easter egg occurs in the form of the film’s titular Ralph attending a Bad-Anon meeting. This group session sees video game villains pouring their hearts out about being remorseful for their actions. The best part of this scene is that the film inserts real video game villains in around Ralph to add a certain credibility. This scene resonates a whole lot more when you suddenly recognize Zangief, Dr. Eggman, and of course, Bowser sitting in the chairs. It’s a really touching moment that Bowser is given the prestigious honor of appearing in such a huge motion picture, although it is a bummer that he doesn’t get to open up and share his guilt with the room. Maybe they’re saving it for the sequel.
4. Bayonetta Can Channel the Mighty Power of Bowser
First off, if you haven’t had the pleasure of playing Bayonetta, stop everything that you’re doing right now and get on that. It is blissful, insane video gaming unlike nothing else. If you were in need of any more proof of the series’ awesomeness, they also pay respect to the King of Koopas in a very awesome way. Throughout the Bayonetta titles, the powerful witch summons the energy of mighty behemoths to aid her in her attacks. It’s visually pleasing, but also just a lot of damn fun. When Bayonetta 2 was released on the Wii U (along with a re-release of the original title), Bowser is given tribute by Bayonetta instead summoning the power of Bowser. Bowser’s fists and feet aid Bayonetta in battle if you happen to be wearing the unlockable Princess Peach or Daisy costumes (more awesome fan service).
3. Bowser Was Originally an Ox
Bowser is essentially the poster child for evil reptilian-like creatures. There’s even a whole turtle aesthetic that’s present throughout the Mario titles in terms of the many types of Koopa that are out there. So it’s a little earth shattering when learning the knowledge that Miyamoto’s original vision for the character was for him to be an ox. Miyamoto took inspiration from the film Alakazam the Great’s Ox King character, with him being pleased with how that mold would be suitable for Bowser. It wasn’t until Nintendo designer Takashi Tezuka took a look at the character and told Miyamoto that he thought his ox looked more like a turtle and the drastic re-envisioning would begin.
After having this epiphany, Miyamoto and Tezuka naturally looked towards the turtle-like Koopa Troopas for a base model. If Bowser was their leader, then shouldn’t he also look something like them? Miyamoto was ultimately happy with this character evolution, feeling that his turtle form allows for a much cooler character. Damn straight. The series would have crashed and burned with an ox villain.
2. Bowser is Guinness World Records #1 Video Game Villain
Society has gotten so rank crazy (as you read this off a list) that over time Guinness World Records eventually spun off into Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition that appropriately enough focusing solely on feats related to the gaming world. In the record book’s 2013 publication, Bowser is #1 at the top of their Top 50 Villains list, but who else would be capable of filling such a lofty position? While Guinness is obviously a high-profile name in the public, the character has also topped countless other reputable charts in the online community. IGN placed Bowser at #2 on a list of the top antagonists, with both GamePro and GameSpot putting him within the top ten of their much larger lists, too. Even Empire magazine put him at #11 on a list of Greatest Video Game Characters (not just villains!) in 2011. With all the acclaim that the big guy has gotten, it’s about time he’s given his own game! Bowser’s Inside Story is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t count. People need Bowser Switch!
1. In Super Mario Bros. Only the Final Bowser is Real, the Rest Are Imposters
A little known, but awesome, fact regarding the original Super Mario Bros. is that you know all of those Bowsers that you encounter on the way to the final castle? Imposters! All of them. In a shocking truth that can be revealed courtesy of the power of the fire flower, these Bowsers are actually Goombas in disguise! If you defeat any of these Bowsers with a fire flower it’ll reveal the truth about these Goomba copies who have been transformed via evil Koopa magic. This reveal is pretty cool and a nice parallel to the whole “Your Princess is in another castle” mind games that are played on Mario. What’s even cooler though is that Mario 3D Land for the 3DS actually uses this Goomba imposter tidbit as a functional storyline that works as an obstacle as you try to reach Bowser. The real Bowser. With the game being somewhat of a reboot of sorts, revising this piece of history in a new way acts as a nice way of honoring Mario and Bowser’s roots in the process.
Do you have even more tantalizing Koopa gossip on Bowser? Do you even know who Bowser Jr.’s mother is? Well don’t keep it to yourself; sound off below!
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