Spinoffs have long been a part of TV and the movies. The Simpsons and Frasier launched off from The Tracey Ullman Show and Cheers, respectively, while Minions is a spinoff of the Despicable Me movies, to name some examples. The phenomenon happens in video games, too, although those spinoffs seem to be a bit on the weird or (pointless) side.
Nintendo’s Mario is arguably the most well-known character in all of gaming. The mustached plumber (and his brother, Luigi) truly became a part of the culture with the Super Mario Bros. games in the ‘80s, in which he traveled into the turtle-filled Mushroom Kingdom to rescue a princess from an evil dragon-man. While that’s pretty weird, it’s not as weird as some of many Mario spinoffs. In 1990, Nintendo released a Tetris knockoff called Dr. Mario. All of a sudden, the heroic plumber was a doctor, dressed in a lab coat and directing players to rack up points by matching up pills that had the same color.
The first time most Americans heard of a video game was when “Pac-Man Fever” swept the country in the early ‘80s. Arcades raked in more than a billion worth of quarters as people of all ages wanted to control a yellow pie-shaped man as it ate white dots and avoided ghosts in a maze. It was a simple premise (as video game technology was still quite rudimentary), but publishers Namco and Midway wanted a sequel, and they also wanted to attract the one demographic that stayed out of arcades: women. The result: 1981’s Ms. Pac-Man. There wasn’t much difference between Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, which starred Pac-Man’s wife. For example, the maze shapes were slightly different, and Ms. Pac-Man had a bow on her head. (A year later saw the release of Jr. Pac-Man. The mazes were larger and traversed by the Pac-Mans’ child, who wore a propeller beanie—the kind kids just love to wear.)
Donkey Kong Junior
Mario’s actual video game debut was as “Jumpman,” the protagonist of Donkey Kong (1981)—he had to save a damsel in distress by climbing ladders and jumping over barrels thrown by the titular primate who’d kidnapped her. Even though he was the villain of the game, players loved the cute, fun Donkey Kong. And so came Donkey Kong Junior (1982). It’s basically Donkey Kong, except now Donkey Kong is locked in a cage by Jumpman/Mario, and players control Donkey Kong’s son as he tries to rescue him.