Full disclosure: I once donated money to the Patreon page of this series to help fund an episode. Now that that’s out of the way…
Ever wanted to see a Sonic and Mario crossover cartoon series? Officially, we probably never will due to licensing issues. Unofficially, a lot of fans have made a lot of series with this premise. The one that continues to stand out, however, is Super Mario Bros Z by Mark Haynes (AKA Alvin-Earthworm).
In 2006 on Newgrounds.com Haynes released the first episode of this series. It was okay with 2 main draws. The first was the crossover of the two franchises with the arrival of Metal Sonic in the Mushroom Kingdom. The second was the humor from poking fun at the formula seen in the Mario games.
The next episode was significantly better and showed what Haynes could do with fight scenes. Both the humor and action improved as the series went on, with the final episode having a fast-paced, creative, and hilarious battle against Bowser’s army. Unfortunately, it ended in a cliffhanger which was never resolved. Years later the series has now been rebooted, which I think is a mistake. Yes, the animation has gotten even better with the newest episode, but I’d rather have seen that quality go into finishing the story that fans have wanted to see for a decade.
The work that was put into this series is astounding, especially when you consider that it wasn’t made by an animation studio but instead by some very dedicated fans who, at least at first, probably weren’t getting paid. Production time for each episode could take months due to the effort necessary to make the animation work, as well as writing the script and dialogue for the characters.
Haynes is clearly a knowledgeable fan of Sonic, Mario, and Dragon Ball Z as elements from all three franchises are present throughout the series. Sonic and Shadow’s personalities are tweaked enough to make them more closely resemble Goku and Vegeta, respectively. The chaos emeralds are a stand-in for the dragon balls, though a lot of fans have pointed out that this is the intention of the Sonic series anyways. The fighting abilities of all the characters are more fast-paced using techniques from all three series and even a little bit from Super Smash Bros. A fan of any one of these series, or better yet a fan of all three, can enjoy all the references and how the environment and characters are combined to make new possibilities for storytelling.
Let’s talk about the story. The premise is that Metal Sonic came to the Mushroom Kingdom to find the chaos emeralds to become invincible. Sonic and Shadow follow him in order to get the emeralds first. There’s a lot of backstory here and a lot of text which is kept fairly brief for most episodes, enough to explain the plot but not encumber the fight scenes or fun visuals. However, with episode 7 the amount of story and exposition becomes overwhelming for all but the most devoted fans, causing the episode to swell to 55 minutes in length. This is too long for a flash animation and a lot of these story elements feel as though they’re only meant for this one episode, not the series as a whole. Luckily I think Haynes realized this and episode 8 was significantly shorter, with a large amount of its running time devoted to action scenes.
Finally, while this is a great representation of the franchises which inspired it, there are some elements which I wish had been dropped. There are a fair number of standoffs like in Dragon Ball Z. Just attack each other guys, don’t sit there having an existential crisis. Also there’s a subplot with Waluigi and Wario which hadn’t affected the main plot by the end of the original series. Maybe it would have paid off in a big way, but the series never got to that point.
Overall this is a great example of how a fan can pay tribute to multiple franchises with enough hard work. It’s fun and worth checking out, though it can drag at times and I wish the series had continued instead of rebooted. Now that it’s back even more people should see it, so I’ve included the URLs to the series’ pages on Newgrounds and YouTube after the rating.
Rating: 4/5 ★★★★
All Episodes (Newgrounds) – http://www.newgrounds.com/collection/supermariobrosz
Original Series (YouTube) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1kzRQl6o-0&list=PL5CB49DD712A67E4C
Rebooted Episode 1 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5-ErbSrTOc