Weekly Video Games Thread Warms Up to Someone

Happy Monday! It’s time for the Weekly Video Games Thread! Here’s our prompt: tell us of a time you met a character you didn’t like at first, only to warm up to them later. I’ll tell a story for my example.

I was never good at video games as a child, playing on my sister’s NES. For Super Mario Bros. 3, I was lucky just to get past World 1. And yet, so much iconography from it stayed in my mind. The Goomba’s Shoe, the Frog Suit; I’d never see these in the game, but they were no less memorable than the Fire Snakes or Toad Houses. Chief among them were the Koopalings, Bowser’s seven “children” (an affectation of the American localization, which was also responsible for naming them—now that part stuck). Larry, Morton Jr., Wendy O., Iggy, Roy, Lemmy, and Ludwig were big to me. They were big to a lot of fans.

The truth is that the Koopalings weren’t, and aren’t, that interesting. Like most of the Mario cast, they run on vibes, but theirs are just a bit thinner. But that’s okay! Their designs are fun, and it is neat that Nintendo did shout-outs to Roy Orbison and Wendy O. Williams. It just means that the mythology built up around them was always fairly weak, and Nintendo—who, again, never wrote them as more than Bowser’s personal minions—didn’t view them with the intensity fans had. Anyway, while the seven showed up again for the unimpeachable Super Mario World, that was it. They weren’t retained for mainline entries or spin-offs, probably because you have to put the whole set in if you wanna use one. That’s kinda their thing.

Anyway, this led to this unique situation where fans had an outsized idea of characters who were, ultimately, fairly minor. And with no appearances other than a weaksauce cameo at the end of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, it set up 2002’s biggest Mario newcomer up for a bad reaction. That was Bowser Jr., an instant retcon who was kind of obnoxious and precocious. I suppose the last thing a Nintendo game needed in the early Aughts was to have a bratty child who walks around with a bib-like mask to be the main villain of their biggest game. And while that part didn’t faze me, as a lapsed gamer who jumped back into Nintendo in 2005, it was a bit frustrating that this new kid was seemingly replacing these older ones. Bowser Jr. was just one of several characters introduced in Mario Sunshine and Luigi’s Mansion who a number of older fans derided. Of course, cut to seven or so years later and people are wondering what the hell happened to Petey Piranha and Professor E. Gadd. These things go in cycles.

Bowser Jr. did get more satisfying roles over time than “secret villain who thinks Peach is his mom and ruins Mario’s vacation.” From his debut onward, he’s show an interesting acumen for gadgetry—full body disguises, magic paint, giant robots—that compliments his dad’s bruiser personality. He’s appropriated his dad’s old Koopa Clown Car but turned it into a Looney Toons-esque flying death machine. But he also kind of, weirdly, become one of the Mario universe’s better characters. ‘Cause he’s whiny and bratty and clever, but he also hero worships his evil dad and is obsessed with helping him. It’s still vibes, just… a bit more bones to them.

I didn’t recognize that, though, until it became impossible to ignore the leaks for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS & Wii U that revealed him as a fighter. He looked really good; his Junior Clown Car had all sorts of wild gadgets. But what was craziest is that his seven alternate costumes were each the Koopalings, all admittedly scaled way up or down to fit his proportions. Whether or not Smash was thinking of this, it did manage to bridge this gap between the older fans who liked the older characters and the newer ones who found “BoJu” more interesting or developed a character. And while I initially expected to just choose the alt of Ludwig von Koopa each time I played the character, I grew to like the default more. Now I’m here thinking “hey, the second Mario movie should use this guy!” This is something those of us who play long-running series experience a lot, I think. Over time, we get more familiar with these characters and see more sides to them (or they get more sides with each new game). I’m sure there are plenty of people who just hated Tingle or Riku or literally any Mass Effect character but eventually grew to appreciate what they brought to the table.

Did I need to bare my soul this much? Of course not. But I did at least make a prompt that isn’t related to Zelda! I deserve some credit for that. Anyway, if you have an example of this in your own gaming life, do tell. And how was your playing this weekend?