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Mario vs. Donkey Kong’s “Mini-Marios” are Nintendo’s Most Meta Creation 

Mario vs Donkey Kong
Image: Nintendo

1981’s Donkey Kong wasn’t just the start of the gaming world’s oldest rivalry. It was also the genesis of two extremely recognisable IPs, whose familiarity exploded to an unimaginable degree. With the recent Mario vs. Donkey Kong remake, these two ol’ sparring partners are back.

To me, however, the updated graphics and gameplay on the Switch take a back seat to the self-referential direction Nintendo is going down. But first, let’s head back 20 years. 

Did anyone play 2004’s original Mario vs. Donkey Kong for GameBoy Advance? Yeah, me neither, but maybe I should have. It was the birth of Mini-Marios: adorable toy facsimiles produced in the Mario Toy company, which was funnily enough, established and run by its titular CEO, Mario. So, to break down just how nuts this sounds on paper: Mario vs Donkey Kong is a Mario game in based in a Mario factory where he makes little Marios. 

Mario vs Donkey Kong
Image: Nintendo

Nintendo got even wilder with the subsequent sequels, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!. In those, original Mario was eliminated from the equation completely, instead letting you traverse each level with the Minis . That being said, this latest Mario vs. Donkey Kong doesn’t get that crazy, but what it does do is unlock the pure marketing power of its mechanical creations. 

In honor of the game’s release, the brilliant promotional minds in Kyoto released a little ahemshort featuring the Minis, that not only brought these tiny dudes back into the spotlight, but broke new ground by means of augmented reality. Give it a watch below:

In its ephemeral 23 seconds, a parade of Minis navigate someone’s actual bedroom, accidentally activate the alarm clock and then adorably manage to hit the snooze. The actual Mario is nowhere in sight and Twitter still lit up with comments ranging from “CUTE!!!” to shouts for a line of Mini-Mario toys, plushies and a full-length series. 

By creating AR content based on the Minis, Nintendo is both celebrating its past and exploring new technological and narrative possibilities in the most meta of ways. True, we’ve seen this same type of entertainment in the equally cute Woolly Yoshi shorts from Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World, but it’s not like the original green dino mass-produced wooly clones of himself. No: this is something else entirely. 

Mario vs Donkey Kong
Image: Nintendo

And look, I know this isn’t the first time a Mario game has laughed at itself, or gone deep down its own rabbit hole. The Paper Mario series is permeated with jokes underscoring characters’ self-awareness of their paper world, while hoards of WarioWare games are stuffed with self-referential Nintendo humor. That’s not the point here. 

Clearly, the Mario universe is such a well-oiled machine that Nintendo can still generate the same kind of hype and fervour usually reserved for its prized IP, except with a stripped-down miniature version of itself. Despite the years and numerous iterations the plumber has gone through, it’s remarkable that he can still reinvent himself with no end in sight.

I mean, what’s next, Mini-Marios creating avatars of Shigeru Miyamoto and his crew? If so, you can take my money now, Nintendo. 

Guest contributor // Joshua Furr's problematic obsessions with video games and pop culture have hounded him since the early 90s. A fierce disciple of Nintendo, his tastes bounce around from AAA games like Tears of the Kingdom to indie darlings like Hollow Knight, Stardew Valley and Cuphead. When he's not clacking away, you can find him in the kitchen, playing Mario Wonder with his kiddos or doing some light jogging.