There are a ton of games out there, particularly under Nintendo’s umbrella, which have animals as featured or main characters. Donkey Kong, Conkers, Battletoads, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fox McCloud, and the entire cast of Animal Crossing are just a few such examples. But what of the animals that don’t have the fortune of all that screen time? The non-playable creatures whose short or one-off appearance made a game all the more interesting and fun. Well, I’m a sucker for an underdog (no pun intended!) and felt it necessary to remind us of some of the best animal cameos on Nintendo consoles, past and present.
The Laughing Dog (Duck Hunt)
Where best to start than at the beginning? Duck Hunt was a launch title for the NES that released in North America in 1985. This early light gun title had you blasting ducks to smithereens in a bid to ramp up that all important high score, having little regard for the fact you’ve just murdered a bunch of helpless water birds in doing so!
As the title suggests, the game is all about the ducks, right? Well, actually no. Joining you on your little hunting trip is a nameless dog that jumps in amongst it all and collects each successful kill on your behalf. Miss a shot, however, and the cheeky little blighter pops up from the undergrowth and mocks you, laughing at your abysmal shooting.
This kind of fickle behavior has led to the laughing dog being remembered as one of the most annoying Nintendo characters of all time, often making players turn the gun onto the smug canine himself. Unfortunately, it was impossible to shoot the dog, leaving him to torment you until the end of time! The dog most definitely is not your best friend.
King Wart (Super Mario Bros. 2)
Who does Bowser call to fill in for him when he needs a day off? No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It seems that Bowser’s outing and ultimate demise at the end of Super Mario Bros. was just too much for him to take on Mario a second time. Stepping up to the plate instead is the amphibious fat frog and self-proclaimed ruler of Subcon, King Wart.
Wart appeared as the main antagonist and final boss in the 1988 sequel, known in Japan as Super Mario USA. His inclusion in the game was inevitable, given that he was originally created to feature in the Japanese title Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. This game was then converted for western audiences into what we know today as Super Mario Bros. 2.
Wart did well to fill Bowser’s boots in Mario’s second outing, and offered a great but all too easy final battle which required you to throw vegetables into his mouth whilst dodging his regurgitated bubbles. It’s a real shame that despite the success of the game, Wart has never appeared again in the Mario universe (other than the SMB2 remake for GBA, Super Mario Advance). He has had some great cameos in other titles, a particularly notable appearance in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for instance, where he teaches Link the “Frog Song of Soul” in order to progress further on his quest.
So, that being said, I have literally just been over to the Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot page and put my request in. I think it’s about time Wart had another chance to go toe-to-toe with Mario and friends.
Cat Battleship (Parodius)
Unfortunately, Parodius was never released in North America, which is nothing short of a crime, as this crazy side-scrolling shooter is not only a great game but also responsible for possibly some of the most obscure and unique ways to incorporate animals into a Super NES title. To be fair, the game has so many strange and wonderful creatures I could have written a list based on this title alone; from an octopus as a playable ship, to the giant penguin boss dressed as a pirate, you name it and Parodius more than likely has it.
For me, it’s all about the Cat Battleship. Not because I love cats particularly, or battleships for that matter (Super Mario Bros. 3 killed any love I had for battleships!). It’s because it’s such a wonderful example of over-the-top and fantastically weird Japanese character design. It begins as a submarine with its periscope rising up from the water, only then to reveal a cat’s head at the front of the ship wearing a skull and bones bandanna. At the back it has six paws poking out from each side, flapping to keep it airborne as you pummel it with bullets, the cat gently meowing each time you hurt the poor thing. I almost feel guilty…almost!
Labrador Retriever (Super Smash Bros. Brawl)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl may not be considered as well balanced as its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Melee, but there’s no denying that it’s still a great Smash title. It also brought a few new tricks to the table, with a particular highlight being the inclusion of the lovable Labrador from the Nintendogs series on DS.
Originally thought to be a usable item when it was first previewed at E3 in 2006, it later proved to be an Assist Trophy. This meant that players can summon the iconic Labrador (apparently chosen as it was considered the most popular dog in the world) to appear just as he does on the DS, covering the whole screen, pawing and barking directly at you. The point to all this was to obscure the view of opposing players, as well as causing CPU opponents to simply stop moving, allowing you to get a few cheeky hits in before your canine buddy disappears.
Although having the Nintendog as an actual item would probably have meant it was a far more powerful aid, the decision to make it an Assist Trophy was apparently to avoid animal abuse, given that players would technically be fighting against the dog. Wow, those Duck Hunt players will not let it go!
The Cat & Dog Paws (Super Mario Maker)
Super Mario Maker can do no wrong at the moment. The game’s sales have gone through the roof and, to date, uploaded level creations have hit over 2.2 million! So what can make an already excellent and successful game any better? Easy, include cat and dog paws as cursors.
Yes, if you didn’t know already, clicking either of the GamePad’s control sticks will bring up the menu to change the cursor to one of 11 different onscreen options. Granted, most of these options are variants to the human hand, as well as Mario’s gloved digits and the original Mario Paint cursor; however, three of the options do feature paws from our canine/feline friends. It’s a great, albeit small feature that reminds me no matter how conventional new Mario titles may get, there will always be that Japanese influence to make them wonderfully unconventional.
Is your favorite gaming animal appearance not here? Share yours in the comments below.