First appearance: Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo, NES, 1990)
Aliases: The Koopa Kids; Larry Koopa, Morton Koopa Jr., Wendy O. Koopa, Iggy Koopa, Roy Koopa, Lemmy Koopa, Roy von Koopa
Weakness: Three jumps to the head

Profile by Sean Gandert? | April 2, 2011

There's no shame in winning the silver medal. As far as the world’s concerned, you’re still the second best at whatever it is you do and you tried your damnedest to get there. The rush for second place is no different than that for first, it just means that maybe you didn’t quite have the genetics to get there, or maybe your timing was a little bit off. No biggie, you still have the world’s respect. What’s really rough is when you make it to the top and then blow it.

That’s the the issue faced by the Koopalings -- once they were the second coming of Bowser himself, today they’re mostly forgotten. The question that remains for most of us today is whether they were really as great as they claimed, or if it was just another fad of the era. Now that the hype has diminished it’s a lot easier to take stock of the former child stars and see how they stack up.

Even the group’s biggest detractors have to admit that the Koopalings’ early infatuation with wands seems a bit dated. They were perhaps overly confident, and why wouldn’t they be? Appearing with large airships under their command and lording over entire continents, they had a right to take things a little easy. That being said, even fans of the era admit that there was a bit too much repetition with their routines, and while there were a few attempts to shake things up, for the most part the Koopalings’ ambition stopped once they took over an area.

Like all great groups, though, these more formulaic early years led to some quite respectable successes later on, when they’d grown more willing to experiment. By then the Koopalings had already captured a big enough audience that they could be assured of success whatever they tried, so the entire gang brought new ideas into their old routines. For the most part these were exciting changes, and if not everyone in the group brought something entirely new to the table, the result as a whole was still fascinating. To fans, this second era for the gang was more indicative of their greatness and the way they’d become mainstay villains. Those who had criticized them as mere one-trick ponies were found loving their new release.

The Koopalings’ descent was as surprising as it was quick. Of course, in today’s fast-moving world it’s no surprise that a villain can’t hang around for more than a game or so. Some of the old greats are still here, such as Ganon, Mother Brain, and of course Bowser, but for the most part the industry has begun moving so fast that if you don’t have a new hit out by the end of the year you’re already yesterday’s news. The Koopalings were a harbinger of this era, one of the truly noteworthy groups who seemed like it had a long, fruitful career ahead of them before suddenly disappearing.

It’s thought by some that the Koopalings were too commercial. Admittedly they did have plenty of TV and comic appearances, but at the time this wasn’t too out of the ordinary. Media saturation was a problem for some, but not them. No, it was first a couple of dicey releases that left fans cold and then simply changes in the industry that left them as yesterday’s news.

First the group helped out with an ill-conceived plot to melt Antarctica. A half-cocked scheme at best, it was obvious that the Koopalings’ hearts weren’t into it by how rote their performances at the time were, leaving given just the slightest provocation. This was followed up with a pure vanity project that took the group to Jewelry Land in what was in fact just a thinly veiled ploy to go on a Safari. Critical reception of both these releases was lukewarm, though moving them from big league releases down to a niche audience largely composed of fans just reliving the good old days.

Following both of these flops, the group was forced to switch to a much smaller label for its next release. In just a few short years the Koopalings had moved from cross-continental hits to slumming it up in hotels. The release flopped and is still almost unknown to all but die-hard collectors. It remains the nadir point of the Koopalings’ entire career and while it stillfetches a high value on the secondary market, most acknowledge that the Hotel-era of their career is just for completists.

At this point the group was thought more or less gone for good. The Koopalings faded out of the limelight and for once pursued life on their own. Lemmy performed in a circus troop he’d been eyeing for years while Roy joined professional wrestling. Wendy O. Koopa starred in a series of B-level flicks while Larry is said to have stayed for a while in India, “trying to find himself.” Meanwhile, their earlier releases gained in stature while fans began to clamor for new material. Their support became especially apparent with the commercially successful but critically panned releases from Bowser Jr., whose material was largely just a rehash of the Koopalings’ material with more obnoxious vocals.

It was almost ten years before the Koopalings would reunite. They started slow, with an appearance that was mostly just a cameo in order to help out one of their dad’s most recent schemes to deal with Mario? & Luigi?, who during the intervening years had become Superstars. While short, their recordings showed that an incredible amount of new material had built up during the Koopalings’ hiatus.

This cult success led the group back to the studio for the first time in years for their own release, something that could stand up with their earlier work yet would show that they wouldn’t be simply resting on their laurels. Shopping around with majors again led them to working with super producer Kamek, who’d worked with Bowser on some of his best acclaimed works and offered to give the group even greater variation in their art. It took years of production time, but in 2009 the group came out with what may be their finest release so far.

Their latest hit combines both the old school styles that the group originated with the level of polish demanded by today’s audiences. Kamek’s work as producer managed to give the already dynamic group even more variety, while still letting them play to their strengths. Most noteworthy of all is that they even reached an olive branch out to their old nemesis Bowser Jr., laying to rest one of the oldest rivalries in the business.

With their newest release a success, the Koopalings are touring once again, both gaining a new generation of fans and reminding older supporters why they were so beloved. The Koopalings have seen more ups and downs than most in the business, but their latest release seems to have confirmed that they can be just as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. While their plans are at the moment still unknown, their successful comeback means we’ll most likely be seeing a lot more from them in the future.

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