The Mario cast changes less than the law of gravity. They're the most popular video game characters of all time and remain the reason 99 percent of all defeated video game enemies have footprints instead of haircuts. In Mario, Nintendo has the sort of brand identity Steve Jobs could only dream of, because you sure as hell wouldn't buy iGolf.
Or Dr. Jobs.
As a consequence, Bowser and Mario have been going at it for 25 years, longer than most real wars last. Figuring it was probably time somebody honored their eternal antagonism by checking the scoreboard, we dug in for the long, pedantic process of picking a winner in a fictional conflict. What we got instead was the story of the most depressingly one-sided rivalry in the history of not just video games, but possibly the world.
The plot of Super Mario Bros. is essentially the tale of one long real estate struggle, as Bowser attempts to take over the Mushroom Kingdom and Mario shows up way too late to prevent him from doing so. Despite forming the kingdom's entire defense force, Mario rarely hears about an invasion until after Bowser has had enough time to build a series of castles. Archaeologists have responded to invasions faster. At a certain point, Mario has to feel less like a hero than a Rascal Scooter -- prolonging the lives of thousands of terminally mushy creatures who would have been no match for evolution if left to their own devices.
"At least Bowser makes the trains run on time."
While Mario is always in crisis mode, Bowser's motives seem to oscillate between good old-fashioned land lust and not having anything better to do on a Sunday. One of the few times Mario arrives early enough to see Bowser make off with the Princess (Super Mario Galaxy 2) was when it was such an incredibly minor part of the plan, Bowser was clearly doing it just to piss Mario off. And when you can mount a planetary assault just to shout "Screw You!," you're winning so hard the scoreboard turns into a diamond.
The instant Bowser wants the kingdom, he has it -- his life is what the God of the Old Testament would wish for if he was given a magic lantern from the spirit of Alexander the Great. He just sits back on his throne of fire and watches Mario scamper through the obstacle course that he designed. Hell, some of the time, he probably stages an invasion just because there's nothing good on TV.
"It's this or No Ordinary Family."
Mario's the most recognizable family-friendly hero this side of Mickey Mouse, yet he's fighting to defend his home against a villain who is better at that as well. Bowser has a bigger family than Catholic sumo wrestlers, while the most famous hero in gaming is a 40-something bachelor, presumably still living knee-deep in mushroom pizza boxes, since we know he doesn't own more than one set of clothes. There are college students more mature than him -- at least they don't have to gather coins on their way to meet their girlfriends.
And all those gold stars take up an obnoxious amount of shelf space.
We know Bowser's home life has to be good, because even in the most annoying embodiments of the "rebellious teenager phase" possible, Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings still hang out with their father, learning the family trade. We never see his wife, probably for the same reason that Tony never brought Carmela along when he was staging a gangland takeover. Bowser keeps the woman he loves safe from harm and out of the games.
"My husband is a garbage-man!"
The closest thing that Mario has to a stable relationship is the perpetually kidnapped Peach. While the game presents her prolonged disappearances as something between a shell game and a hostage situation, she's never as thankful as you'd hope when you rescue her.
Meanwhile, she's perfectly happy to race Go-Karts against Bowser. Their continual kidnapping/getting rescued game of cat-and-mouse seems more flirtatious than anything. In the real world, after the third time a woman disappears with the same man, either common sense or the police usually tell you to stop filing missing-person reports, let alone smash up his place trying to get her back.
So Bowser's got Mario's girl and a Mrs. Bowser somewhere tending a beautiful three-bedroom castle. Mario has the worst job in the world, and in his downtime, he's a lonely plumber.
You can't blame Mario for having less natural talent than Bowser. He's just a tiny plumber in a magical world where both flora and fauna are deadly to the touch. Bowser, on the other hand, is made of spikes and flame in a world where those are the most unavoidable causes of death. He's also apparently the master of industrial-level technology, while Mario relies on druid-level flowers and mushrooms for weaponry.
When your enemies have giant airships, you may want slightly more power than a fox tail provides.
When you've got that much going against you, the only way to even the odds is to adapt on the fly and innovate new strategies in the face of defeat. The good guys in the Mario Bros. universe are more like a man called "Lefty" having another try at unblocking that garbage disposal. They're so bad at learning important lessons from their mistakes that they make the bad guys from G.I. Joe look like the good guys from G.I. Joe. Defending the Mushroom Kingdom should not be hard: It's a magical kingdom of unlimited fantasy where stars are cute, flowers grant magical abilities and everything with a shell is trying to kill you.
All they would have to do is station guards at every entrance and give them very simple instructions: If someone trying to enter the mushroom kingdom has a shell, he's not allowed in. Just stop him, turn him around and get ready to do it again in 30 seconds when he bounces off something else and comes back. That's not racial profiling; that's common sense. This is a land so easy to defend that even TSA agents could manage it.
For the 40,058th time, TURN AROUND, SIR!
Bowser, meanwhile, has learned every lesson the games have to give him -- and those lessons are all "Have a party, buddy!"