Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blood on the Plumber's Hands

I'm poring over old video game instruction manuals for my dissertation research. The why is neither here nor there; at the moment, I'd just like to share my findings on Super Mario Bros. It's pretty typical of Nintendo games of the era; there clearly wasn't a huge amount of effort put into it, and it's questionable whether anyone was ever expected to read it or not. But what I found surprising was the backstory of the game. First, I was surprised that the game had an actual backstory. All right, everyone knows the basic set-up: Lizard monster kidnaps princess, plumber saves her. Repeat, repeat, and repeat, on a dozen different game systems over 30 years. But here, Bowser (or Bowser, King of the Koopa, to give the full title) had a reason to kidnap royalty, beyond the amorous intentions later attributed to him. According to the manual, Bowser is part of a clan of black-magic practitioning turtles, and they've transformed everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom not loyal to them into common everyday objects--bricks, blocks, and the like (you may already see where this is going). And the princess is the only one who can reverse the spell en masse, so Bowser keeps her under lock and key.

The weird part is that whenever Mario finds an invisible block or breaks a bit of wall with his head, he is, according to the instruction manual, freeing a mushroom inhabitant. And when he gets a power up from hitting these blocks, it's a gift the mushroom people gave him in gratitude for their freedom. I guess someone at Nintendo decided that the game needed a diegetic reason for these blocks and power-ups to be there. It still doesn't explain why a flower gives you fire powers, or why collecting coins gives you a shot at avoiding death, but it's trying. (That, or I'm misreading the passage. ...It's very possible I'm misreading the passage.)

Backstory-wise, the really interesting implication, for me, is that it means that the Goombas are really mushroom kingdom inhabitants that accepted Koopa's rules. According to the manual, there's no question in how to deal with these former citizens:

"ONE STOMP AND HE DIES." No mercy for collaborators: that's the harsh, unyielding law of the plumber.

Later Days.


darcy mackenzie said...

This backstory is familiar. I think I must have read said manual as a youth. That must have been a quiet day at Grandma's.

Person of Consequence said...

Yeah, it really felt like something that was written knowing that its main audience would be kids who'd rather be playing the game to begin with.