Friday, September 21, 2012

Irony In Video Games: Super Mario Bros

I was pondering on what to write about today with little success. Should I speak of a pastime story, a story of a character I incepted in my youth, a review or analysis of a movie I just saw, or should I magically sprout something completely random from the giant wad of bubble gum in my skull?

That's exactly what I'll do.

I have been thinking a lot about video games lately (as always), but not the first person shooters or the games of tattooed fellows fighting mythological creatures. I have been thinking about the classics, the games that made the industry what it is today. You know the ones I am speaking of. Games like The Legend of Zelda and Sonic the Hedgehog come to mind, don't they? But we are not talking about those classics today, no sir! We are talking about a video game that changed the world of gaming for the rest of time. We are talking about a game with as much plot as an 80s action thriller and a Disney animated fantasy. We are talking about a game with legendary characters, iconic settings and environments. We are talking about the classic, the masterpiece, the video game piece of gold that is Super Mario Bros. What can be said about Super Mario Bros. that hasn't already been said at least a gazillion times already? The Italian plumbers, the Goombas, the Toads, the castles, the mushrooms, the fire flowers, the Hammer Bros, the list of characters and items that come to mind when you hear the title of the game goes on and on and on. Like Walt Disney before him, Shigeru Miyamoto has cemented himself as a world changing wonder, creating whimsical fantasies and creatures in a world far different from our very own. Mario is like Mickey, and when you hear the word Nintendo, this overweight mustached plumber jumps right into your head, for he has left an impact like no other character in history has been able to produce.

But what is the irony of Super Mario Bros. that sticks out to me the most? What really sets it in the pot as a game unlike any other game and what BOINGS every time I play the game on an NES or SNES? In other words, what do I like most about the great pixelated treasure and what really sets it apart from most titles of the same video game category? Lets put on our red shirts and blue suspenders and head to the Mushroom Kingdom to have a look!

First of all, lets have a look at our main protagonists, Mario and Luigi. When you play the game alone, you play as Mario. When you play with another person, you play as Mario and the other person plays as Luigi. In the world of early 8-bit titles, there is only a brief explanation of the characters and what they are after, but we can pretty much play out the characters' motivations in our heads without giving it much thought. Mario and Luigi are off to save Princess Peach from the dreaded King Koopa Bowser. It's plain, simple and easy for a gamer of any age to comprehend. And if you really ponder on the matter, you will realize that this harkens back to many tales from decades before. Jumping on the Disney wagon once more, it's very much how the Prince has to free Snow White from the curse of her evil stepmother, with the Seven Dwarves helping along the way. The prince in many ways is like both Mario and Luigi, Princess Peach is like Snow White, and I can't help but think up that the Dwarves are very much like the Toads. SMB also has a Wizard of Oz vibe to it, for Mario and Luigi have to rescue the Princess from King Bowser just like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion have to rescue Dorothy from the wrath of the Wicked Witch of the West. The Mushroom Kingdom has many wondrous creatures just like the Land of Oz has many wondrous creatures, for Toads are like Munchkins, killer trees are like Piranha Plants, and Flying Monkeys are like Koopa Paratroopas.

And I'd be a monkey's uncle if I didn't compare SMB to the cinema glory that is Star Wars. Don't you think that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are very much like Mario and Luigi. After all, they have to fight over the girl just like Luke and Han have to fight over Princess Leia. We may not see it, but we know that it's swelling up inside of them, and one of them is destine to get the hottie while the other gets diddly jack. One of the many inspirations for Mario's character was Popeye the Sailor. In fact, Miyamoto originally wanted to make a Popeye game, but he couldn't afford the rights to the character, so he proceeded to making a game of an entirely new idea, the first game to feature Mario, Donkey Kong. So yes, in many ways, you could compare Mario to the pipe smoking, spinach eating cartoon sailor man. Both Mario and Popeye are thrown into unexpected situations and journeys, most of them involving rescuing the girl from a villainous entity. Both characters eat a vegetable of some sort to get maximum strength. In Mario's case, it's a mushroom, in Popeye's case, it's spinach. And just like I mentioned earlier, Mario and Luigi fight over the girl, much like Luke and Han fight over Princess Leia and Popeye and Bluto fight over Olive Oyl. It's the traditional wrestling match to see who gets the pretty gal and it usually ends with someone falling on their rump while the other gets a big smooch on the lips. There are countless Popeye cartoons where that happens to poor Bluto, and of course, it's Luigi who is shoved aside while Mario and Peach share some puppy love.

The plot is straight forward as said earlier, but there are many elements of the plot that are shrouded in mystery. Why does Bowser capture the Princess? How do Mario and Luigi get involved in the mission to save her? Why is the Mushroom Kingdom overrun by Bowser's minions? Is it all part of a scheme so Bowser can take control of the Kingdom? It is all in the shadows, but to be honest, I think it's kinda neat that way. It leaves you with that feeling where you come up with your own fan scenarios and speculations and you develop plot points of your very own. Maybe Bowser captures the Princess so he can marry her and Mario and Luigi work as Peach's personal protectors. Maybe the Princess' capture was all set up by the Princess herself as a means to test Mario and Luigi's timing and reflexes. Who knows what the holes in the plot are all about, but I really enjoy coming up with my own sort of story to accompany the game. Although the game has a solid, run of the mill plot, it is always a pleasure to come up with your own plot twists and meanings to help expand the story of the game and in many ways, better it, from a certain point of view of course. After all, many movies, novels, comic books, and other video games follow the same formula. How is it that Batman could escape the Batwing before it explodes with the nuclear device in The Dark Knight Rises? You just don't know, but with a little thinking juice, you could come up with your own thing and you could stick to it like glue.

As for the villain, I have a lot to say about good old Bowser. He's kinda like the relentless dirtbag that keeps coming back for more, after all, he has captured Princess Peach in many of the Marion sequels to follow. And you would think after all those captures, Peach would train herself to defend herself against Bowser whenever he's at it again. But nope, she just keeps that pretty smile on her face and gets hurled away to Bowser's castle of doom so he can do God knows what with her! Anyway, Bowser is very much like the common, sinister villain of motion pictures and timeless stories. He's like a monstrous reptilian version of Darth Vader and the Koopas are like his stormtroopers, following his orders and fighting off anyone that stands in his way. Of course, it's the Mario Bros. that stand in his way, and like Luke and Han before them, they are able to wipe out the main enemies' soldiers so they can press forward and rescue the hottie from any harm, if you play the game right of course. Who doesn't love stomping down on those vicious turtle abominations! But what makes Bowser so unique in my eyes is that he has doppelgängers of himself scattered all throughout the Mushroom Kingdom to fool Mario and Luigi into thinking it's really him. Remember when you would get to one of Bowser's many palaces, make your way to the end, fight off the Bowser clone and have an obnoxious Toad tell you that the princess is in another castle? It creates an odd form of suspense and it keeps you playing until you eventually get to the real Bowser and Princess Peach. Like many movies and novels, it has you suckered in all the time. But believe it or not, Bowser is not the first to pull off this diabolical scheme.

In the Fantastic Four comic books, the villainous nemesis Dr. Doom has thousands of robotic replicas of himself to fool the Fantastic Four and trick them into thinking that it's actually him. In the Marvel Movie Universe, Loki is able to produce multiple replicas of himself to trick the heroes (particularly Thor) and knock them to the floor. And I can't tell you how many horror movies I've seen where the protagonist kills who they think is the villain, when it is really someone dressed up exactly like the villain. Remember that scene in Halloween 2 where they run the car into someone who is dressed up exactly like Michael Myers? It all ties in nicely with this thread from the original Super Mario Bros. and it makes Bowser not only a unique video game enemy, but a unique enemy in general. He also lives in a palace just like many classic villains of the era. Instead of using magical spells and lightsabers, he uses hammers, it doesn't get any better than that! I also should point out that Bowser is a lot like a cartoony kid friendly version of Ganon from The Legend of Zelda, but that's just how I look at him as they are two completely different monsters with completely different plans of terror. Bowser also reminds me of Godzilla and the Kraken from Clash of the Titans, for they are all ghastly and reptilian in appearance.

I could go on for an eternity about the irony of this game and what it all reminds me of, but I just wanted to sum this all up in one solid blogpost. I will point out that the early stages of SMB look like a pixelated version of the Shire from Lord of the Rings and that the underwater levels look like something straight out of Atlantis, but that pretty much sums it all up on the irony of Super Mario Bros. inarguable one of the best video games to hit the face of mother Earth. Whether it's the All Stars version or the version for the original NES, Super Mario Bros. is a game that will certainly delight generations of game goers who are looking for a game to please, satisfy and blow away. Mamma Mia!

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