While the “Mario Mania” series of articles is more for games featuring Mario that aren’t immediately obvious, you can see from the title screen above that Wrecking Crew ’98 is considerably more up-front about who its star is than its worldwide-released predecessor.
In fact, this title, originally released for the Super Famicom in — when else? — 1998, does much more to establish itself as a part of the Mario canon. Its story (yes, there is one) sees Mario return to the Mushroom Kingdom from a trip to find that Bowser has been constructing high-rises that are threatening the local flora by depriving them of sunlight. Mario, donning a construction helmet and taking up a big blue hammer, sets out to tear down the terrible towers.
In addition to Bowser, there are also appearances from Koopa Troopa, Luigi, and Princess Peach, who can each be unlocked to become playable characters. That said, the game remembers its roots by making use of Eggplant Man, Gotchawrench, and Foreman Spike from the original Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System title, as well as adding new characters.
Despite some similar themes, however, Wrecking Crew ’98 sets itself apart from the puzzle-platformer original in a pretty big way. In short, it’s basically a head-to-head Match-3 puzzle game, where Mario (or your choice of character when unlocked) squares off against an opponent who is supposed to be stopping you, yet engages the same demolition practices. Go figure. Like many of those types of competitive puzzle games, setting off larger combos and chain reactions will send obstacles or traps to the opponent’s side.
Three modes are included here, including the single-player story, a competitive versus mode against the CPU or another player, and an eight-player single-elimination tournament that’s unlocked after beating the main game. Incidentally, for those who just want to play the original game, it’s included as well. Neat!
While originally released through the Nintendo Power flashable cartridge download service (with no real relation to the long-running American magazine, by the way), the game would get a full retail release later that year, which should make it a little easier to track down. While Nintendo saw fit to add it to the Japanese Wii U’s Virtual Console service in 2016, they never released it outside of Japan, prompting fans to create an English translation in 2017.