Among the releases for the Nintendo Entertainment System to feature guest appearances by Mario, it’s hard to get much earlier than Pinball, one of the 18 launch titles for the platform’s North American debut. Alongside Wrecking Crew, Tennis, Golf, and possibly Super Mario Bros., Pinball was the final title to see the plucky plumber protagonist take some role at the start of the console’s life on western shores.
Despite being front and center on the box art (seen above), where he’s sporting a peculiar orange shirt in place of the usual red, Mario doesn’t feature too prominently in the game itself. This simplistic adaptation of its namesake features only one table, with no particular theme evident, but if you can get the ball to land in the opening at the right side of the lower half of the table…
Whoosh! You’re whisked away into a special bonus level, where you control Mario, who is carrying a girder above his head. The goal is to bounce the ball off the girder and match the numbers up in such a way that Pauline — the damsel in distress of Donkey Kong who has found new fame as the Mayor of New Donk City in Super Mario Odyssey, putting in a rare early appearance — will be freed from her holding area, whereupon you need to catch her and escort her to one of the two side exits.
It’s a short, but memorable appearance that is probably better remembered than the main game itself. To that point, it has been brought back in newer titles, such as a mini-game in WarioWare: Twisted! and Volume 1 of NES Remix on the Wii U:
Given how limited the experience is, enjoying it in NES Remix for the Wii U is the optimal way, as it’s mixed in with all the other challenges from many great NES titles. The downside? It’s only in the Wii U version, which is so far not on Nintendo Switch, and it was left out of Ultimate NES Remix on the Nintendo 3DS. That said, the game itself is available as a Virtual Console title… but only on the Wii U (it was on the Wii Shop Channel as well, prior to its shutting down). It’s also in Animal Crossing on the GameCube, if you happen to have that kicking around.
If you’re interested in actually adding the game to your collection, there is the original NES release, as well as an e-Reader version for the Game Boy Advance (which features different, Mario-less box art). And if you really want to have it all, there’s also a Nintendo Vs. System arcade board of the game called Vs. Pinball (which is how I first played it) out there for you to find, as well!